Next crapometer

Dear MS,

Should you forget your vow at some point this year and begin to think less heatedly about one of these again, you are welcome to email me. I hereby PROMISE to reach through the computer and shake some sense into you.

No charge. : )

Golly, it's good to have friends!

Exclusives to editors from agents

Dear Miss Snark,

We've (hopefully by now) learned that exclusives to agents suck. Do you send exclusives to editors? Years ago, my agent at the time sent my ms to one editor, and we'd wait. Then on to the next one. Is this common? I thought at the time it was. What do most agents do?

well "most agents" I don't know, but I send exclusives to editors sometimes. I have a ms out to one editor right now just cause we were yapping on the phone the day I got the ms in and was extolling its virtues. He asked to see it, I sent it. He's got it exclusively cause I don't have a cover letter for it, or any of the other stuff I'll need to send it out to other people. I have a pretty fair idea of what I"m going to get for this debut novel so if this editor comes back with that number, we'll probably do the deal. It helps that I know and like this editor a lot.

I am also getting ready to send a very very very hot novel out on an exclusive early read to a very very hot and busy editor. She gets a week to read as much of it as she wants and tell me if she's interested. If she is, she can read it exclusively for another week, and then get back to me with a pretty serious number. I'd be happy to sell this to her that fast cause she's a really good editor and her publishing company is one of the major ones and they'd be a nice launching point for this author.

Here's the difference between me sending exclusives and you giving exclusives on your work: first, I know these guys, have worked with them before and I have a pretty solid idea of what they can and cannot do. Second, exclusives are part of an overall strategy that suits my clients needs (and mine of course) rather than the editor's needs. Third, you'll notice none of those exclusives are open ended or for very long at all. Fourth, there's a much more even distribution of power between agent/editor than querier/agent.

The tactic you mention of one editor at a time is not something I do. I simply don't have that kind of time to waste. I either send something to one editor early for quick first look, or I send it to a bevy of editors and tell them they better get cracking or lose this hot property to someone who was quicker off the mark. (You can only say that on the phone when they can hear the laugh --those kinds of comments in the one-dimensional style of email don't work even with emoticons!).

Hiring an editor

Dear Miss Snark,

Do you think it's a good idea for new writers to work with freelance editors? I spoke to a very established editor who charges over $7,000. It seems the average price is 4k. Most of his clients already have agents. I do not.

Is this normal? I know you get what you pay for, but this is completely out of my price range. Am I reducing my changes of getting an agent if I don't have an editor look at my manuscript first? I want my book to be as strong as possible. I have had several very talented writers and readers look at it and give me notes.

You don't need to hire an editor.
I'm pretty sure (I haven't asked) that none of my novelists hired an editor. They worked at their craft, and wrote attention grabbing novels.

Freelance editors are valuable if you are not a writer. Several of my non-fiction clients have used editors. The clients had great ideas, great stories, great platform, but knew they were not writers and so brought in someeone to do the writing or editing.

And even if you DO have an editor on board, you don't mention in it in your query letter.

Before you start spending wads of cash join a critique group.

In The Beginning

One day Miss Snark was minding her business, giving her ficus tree its daily watering and bemoaning the Ginmaker's Strike when a query arrived at her door:

Dear Agent:

I wrote a fiction novel. It is 183,000 words and is about a boy and his cat who get abducted by aliens and go to live on the planet Zicam. I know you don't represent science fiction, but I think you will make an exception for my book because I put years into deciding on the perfect font and I used a spellchecker.

Call me and we'll arrange terms of contract.


Alfred E. Neuman

"Hark! What's this!?" Miss Snark barked. "I've had it with these nitwit writers, they don't know anything! I can't handle it anymore. Since the Ginmaker's Strike, I just can't cope."

"Yap!" cried the poodle.

"I know! I'll start a blog, like everybody else in the world and get this off my chest!"

"Yap!" cried the poodle.

"I can't put my name on it, though, 'cause you can only snark in private. In public everything has to be gumdrops and lollipops, fluffy clouds and that awful glitter these numskulls keep sticking in their queries to grab my attention."

"Yap!" cried the poodle.

"I'll start an anonymous blog. I'll give myself an anonymous name and post my anonymous rants. Nobody will pay any attention, but I'll go and post there whenever something annoys me and it will be my little secret. My little, obscure secret. And once the gin deliveries are back on a regular schedule, I'll close it down and nobody will be the wiser. It won't take any time at all."

"No. No time at all. No time at all..." Miss Snark stroked the poodle, while those little Fairies who sprinkle Doomsday Dust over our best laid plans flitted from one corner to the next dropping unicorn stickers as they went.

The poodle chuckled. Miss Snark tossed him a Liver Treat.

"And what shall we call you, my pretty?" she mused.

(from the pen of the low slung gin fizz ironed underpants spinetingler babe)


More on exclusives...which stink

Hi Miss Snark,

So glad you finally reemerged and are, again, putting out flaming tresses.

We all know that EXCLUSIVES SUCK. So here's the dilemma: A number of agents request sample chapters (often up to 50 pages) as part of the initial query process. A couple others always request the full, skipping the partial step, when they are interested. The full and/or query + partials then languish for months in the slush.

Is it then, a little white lie or a whopper to send requested materials on an exclusive basis (Just for laughs, assume the exclusive period is a short and well-defined one.) if, in fact, partials and fulls are in limbo somewhere at the bottom of a crushingly-huge slush pile or floating ethereally in cyber-neverland?

What to do; what to do?!

Kisses to KY,

It is NOT ok to lie. You must say "I'm glad to send you my ms, but I have had serveral querie/partials/fulls out previous to this and while I've not heard back from these agents, they do have the work".

If an agent doesn't choose to read something after hearing that, well, you're disappointed but you're NOT in danger of looking like a duplicitous scoundrel.

Exclusives stink for a lot of reasons. One of them is that it puts prospective clients in awkward positions for OUR convenience. That really stinks.

I never ask for exclusives. I do ask if anyone else is reading the work. I know if four other agents are interested, I'd better be prepared to read promptly AND be persuasive about the charms of hanging your hat at Snark Central. To sign a client without letting them explore all their options is BAD AGENTING.

There's no business reason or advantage to a client for exclusive review. None. If any of my colleagues care to dispute this, I'll be glad to post it and let the discussion rage.

(KY says "enough with the love talk; where are the cookies?")

follow up

Miss Snark,

Once a manuscript has been submitted to an editor by an agent will an editor make a point to send back a response, whether positive or negative? Or is it customary that the particular manuscript only be brought up again if the editor is interested? Does an agent having to follow-up with an editor inherently bode ill for the project?

Some editors get back to me promptly.
Some don't.

I've sold books to editors I've had to track down with a Snarkscope, duct tape, and Killer Yapp riding shotgun.

There is no industry standarad on this. You can't even say all the editors at one publisher respond the same way.

Every agent I know follows up on submissions. It's just part of the job.

What to look for in an agent: results

I came across this statement recently at agentinthemiddle.blogspot.com by a NY literary agent in the biz for 20 years with more than 2000 titles sold (according to his/her own description). Answering some questions for a new client:

"4. When will I get the Author/Agent contract, and how?

I work on a handshake."

I am somewhat flabbergasted by that. Also by the statement that titles go out to AT MOST 15 publishers. What do you think?

A lot of very good, very reputable agents, agents you'd be WELL advised to work with, work on a handshake. I don't see it as a problem at all.

And if these guys can sell your book by sending to only 15 places, who am I to argue? I've sold many a project on fewer than 15 submissions.

Results are what count.


Another Candidate for the Vat

When are you next accepting synopsis for review?

When my buddy Satan starts skating to work.
When Brady Westwater starts writing gothic romance.
When the low slung gin fizz isn't funny.
When Miss Calhoun starts swearing.
When Miss Snark stops swilling gin.

Hilarity aside, let's all remember that this blog isn't my job. It's more like my nemesis. That crapometer sucked up a MONTH of after-work hours, and holiday days.

The next one is far far far off ...if ever.


Write well..and?

Dear Miss Snark,

Would you kindly shine the snarklight on a topic mentioned in a recent comment? I was unable to find the original post in your archives.
What's your best advice, in addition to writing good books, for either a published or first-time mature writer seeking an agent?

I gather that agents are reluctant to take on writers in their 40s or 50s or older. I'm a little surprised, since a potential 20-30 years of working together sounds like a respectable run even with a younger writer.

Many thanks for your recent Crapometer. I wrote several hooks based on the discussion and scored not only better hooks but two new book ideas.

I'm not sure why you would ever mention your age in a query letter. I certainly don't ever ask. I've been surprised more than once to discover the number of rings in the tree (or lack thereof as well).

Don't tell me you're 168 and I won't ask. You don't have to tell me you're 15 either..but your mom can't call me up and bitch me out if I send you a form rejection letter.

Write well, and Don't Be an Idiot (tip of the pistachio muffin to Miss Genoese for that gem).

Adios dos uno dos, hola Iberia!

Dear Miss Snark,
I was recently in Madrid, Spain and saw this billboard and thought of you. For an idea of how LARGE this actually is, use the red BUS at the bottom of the photo for reference. Our hotel was right around the corner and every time we passed by my husband and I would call out "Hola, George!" (there was also a very cute Nescafe commercial with him in it on Spanish and Portuguese TV)


Madness..but ok

I swear, some of you are unhinged.

Ray Rhamey for example. Perhaps he needs a good stirring in the vat now that Brady Westwater has escaped.

Mr. Rhamey vatted for what purpose you ask? Oh my dear dog...he's asking for pages. He'll read them. Probably give them more than four minutes you got here at HH Com 2 too. (He calculated the average time I spent reading..and he's probably close).

Here's the link.

He's also got a book called "Death Sucks". You gotta love that.


Dear Ms. Snark:

What's your opinion on ebooks? Do you look favorably on them, or do you think publishing one is a potential determent to a writer's career?

ebooks are books read in little e-book readers, or online. Why would they damage your career? Are you confusing e-books with POD? They aren't the same thing at all.

E-books, acquired and edited by someoone-not-your-mom, is a legit publishing credit. They don't sell vast quantities but they aren't anything to sneeze at either.

Here's an example of a legit, e-book publisher: Linden Bay Romance.

Nitwit of the Day

Dear blog author:
We recently came across your site, misssnark.blogspot.com, while searching for bloggers who blog about the hit tv show American Idol, now starting its sixth season.

A small group of us have started a new site called American Idol Bloggers. Our intent is to bring American Idol bloggers closer together, and make a positive contribution to the Internet community.

Would you be interested in joining American Idol Bloggers? Please take a few minutes to have a look at what we are trying to do, and if you are interested, there is a sign up page to get the ball rolling. We would greatly appreciate your support in this endeavour.

If you do not feel that your blog would be a good fit for American Idol Bloggers, but are an American Iool fan, come visit us and one of our member bloggers. You can also check our FAQ Section to learn more about American Idol Bloggers.

We look forward to hearing from you and seeing you on American Idol Bloggers.

Craig Cantin
American Idol Bloggers

Shaddup about it

Miss Snark,

Although you've already referred to this, I have another question re. the Gawker American Idol contest. If one was to enter this contest, despite reservations, and subsequently be rejected, would you be compelled to let an agent know in the future? My major hesitancy about this contest is that I haven't shopped my novel around at all yet, since I'm a first-timer and while I have a manuscript, I want it to be blindingly good before I begin the querying process. So if I put it up there and got rejected, I should probably let a prospective agent know, right?


This is like discussing the difficulty of French seams when someone admires your dress.
This is like discussing the travails of the kitchen when someone says "yummy".
This is like showing your surgical scars when someone ogles your bustline.


Just cause

"Epiphany Poem"

Let it be the shepherd – quiet and cold at midnight

Let it be the Kings – bedaggled in robes and carrying gifts

Let it be the parking lot attendant – lonely and wondering

Let it be the tailor – stopped mid-seam – for a moment

Let it be the DJ – skipping a beat on purpose

Let it be the waitress — handling three orders & taking a second to think

Let it be the teenager – in between text messages

And the water carrier – burdened and late but mysteriously smiling

Let it be the playwright, the postman, the pastor, the poet

Let it be us — you and me — when we least expect it

~ Marianna Houston

Contest for unpubbed mystery/thriller writers

If you're unpublished in novel-length fiction, you know there aren't a lot of opportunities for mystery, suspense and thriller writers to get feedback on their work prior to sending it to an agent or editor.

For that reason, the Popular Fiction Association of Idaho, a non-profit organization dedicated to literacy and promoting the reading and writing of fiction, is sponsoring a writing contest in connection with the Murder In The Grove mystery conference.

Contest participants do NOT need to attend the conference or to be residents of Idaho.
There is room for only a limited number of manuscripts, and the grand prize is a great one.

Even if you don't "win," everyone who enters is a winner because you'll receive detailed information on how your work was judged, which can be invaluable in helping with revisions and corrections.

Don't miss out. Go to Murder In The Grove and click on "Contest."


Also, if you are interested in attending the conference, it will be held June 8-9, 2007 in Boise, Idaho, with Guest of Honor Robert Crais, a full day workshop for writers with highly acclaimed writing instructor Margie Lawson, and a whole host of agents, editors, forensic experts, and mystery authors conducting panels and workshops for both readers AND writers of mystery fiction.

Agents and editors will be holding appointments to discuss your work with you. This year's conference will be bigger and better than ever.

What I like about this contest: it's affordable; they limit the number of manauscripts so you have a reasonable assurance the ms will get focused time and attention; it's offered by a group that runs a well managed and focused conference too.

What I think is hilarious: manuscript evaluation is a $35 value! There are days it's worth a lot more, and there are days it's worth a lot LESS here at Snark Central!

And Robert Crais is the cat's pajamas so if you go to the conference tell him hey from Miss Snark.

(announcement stolen in broad daylight from the DorothyL list)

Results are in!

What better way to celebrate the end of the Crapometer than a completely non-scientific, subject to terrible chad-hanging, and abuse of process Vote!

Herewith the results:

Category 1: If you had to pay cash money to read the next page, which entry would you "buy".

a LOT of entries got just one vote so everyone wins third place!

Tied for second place: Round 2 #20, and #34

Winner of the Cash on the barrelhead HHCom Award (in pretty much a landslide) is #54 (38)

Category 2: Which entries reveals Miss Snark to be a loon, or have no taste. Again, a lot of single votes, a lot of undervotes (ie voting for none) but one clear winner:

#22 (364)

Category 3: Which entry would you read despite the hook?

Winner in a landslide: #36 (518)

Grand prize winner in the famous last words category: "I'm never doing this many again" said by Miss Snark on 1/1/2006. I'm saying them again now. This time I really really mean it.

We'll probably do some version of the COM again but I just can't do this many again ever. Considering we've done almost nothing BUT this crapometer for a solid month, I'm sure no one will object to getting back to business!


And that as they say is vat...err that.

Brady Westwater's evil twin has escaped the vat.
Spurs still missing.
Vespa riding thugs off to Florida.

Miss Snark is finished with the crapometer.
If you care to vote on some winners, that would make a nice tidy closing.

#1: If you had to pay cash money to see the next 750 words, which entry would you choose?

#2: Which entry reveals Miss Snark is a loon or has no taste, or both.

#3: Which entry was something you'd read despite the hook

Voting in the comment column or by email. About 12 hours for the polls to run. Tomorrow is a work day and I've got to get stuff done or die trying.

HH CC Rd 2 #59 (483)

hook here


Moving from Honolulu to Seoul, in the middle of winter, a week before the eighth-grade Valentine's dance, was cruelty in the extreme. I'd never forgive my parents. On my last night in paradise, I gently laid out my favorite muumuu, envisioning the brightly flowered dress as a burial shroud. The next morning, a blue knit skirt with matching blouse, a thick green cardigan and white tights lay in the muumuu's place. Mom wasn't allowing "martyrs", just fashion victims.

As we left the house, our neighborhood friends bade us farewell with homemade leis of pale blossoms. "Aloha! Don't freeze too much, ya?"

I hugged them somberly, but skipped over Kimo, who'd given me five black eyes over the years. His mom must've made him come to say farewell, even though her response to each black eye had been, "That's what happens to girls who fight with boys."

(start here)
My best friend, Malia, was the last to hug me. "If Danny Leong asks Kuulei to the dance, I'll kick him for you."

I wiped at my eyes, afraid to say anything that would unleash the kind of tsunami crying that led to blood-shot eyes and wayward snot. "Thanks," was all I managed.

My new, closed-in shoes clunked along our driveway. I wondered how fast I could bolt in them. Dad would catch me in a minute though and the escape attempt would just end up being another "undignified" episode for my friends to remember. Apparently, there'd been enough of those lately with my hints of wanting to be adopted by their families, two staged runaways, and a door-to-door fund drive to collect money to make up for Dad's lost job. My parents yelled the loudest after the last of these and were heartless enough to make me return the $23.55 I'd collected.

Since the worst dad on the planet had sold our car the day before, we rode off in the Takahashi's sand-gunked station wagon. I pressed my forehead to the glass, staring at the images of home: the bee-infested guava bushes, the mountain with the Pinto-shaped rock on top, the wiliwili tree where Malia and I had shared so many secrets. I tried to memorize the scent of plumeria, sniffing so hard I couldn't smell anything by the time we reached the airport. When the plane door closed with a suffocating hiss, I knew that my months of pleading had been useless. We really were leaving. No last minute pardon. I cried non-stop on the twelve-hour flight, running to the bathroom so often that the other passengers shot me annoyed stares. And still, the stewardess refused to serve me an alcoholic beverage.

When we changed planes in Tokyo, I barely glanced at the bright advertisements featuring geishas and cherry blossoms. My sister Gina had stopped mourning two hours out of Hawaii for the price of a candy lei. She squealed and pointed to a billboard for Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

I scrubbed at my raw nose with a damp tissue. "So what? We've already seen it." I snuck a peek anyway, intrigued by the Japanese characters blazing across the sky. I could swear they'd even done something to the seagull to make it look less American.

By the time we reached Seoul, my vision was blurry and my head throbbed. It seemed like we drove in circles for hours between Kimpo Airport and the Chosun Hotel. I tried writing a post-card to Malia, but the taxi's jerky starts and stops, along with my crying, left the card blotchy, poetically ruining a little drawing I'd labeled "Tear Drop Lake". Giving up on the card, I cracked open my window, hoping to dilute the smoky smell of the taxi's upholstery. Maybe the tears on my cheeks would freeze into a mask of melancholy my parents couldn't ignore.

Gina, stuck in the middle, leaned around me. "That bus must have a hundred people on it."

In the far left lane, a rusty hulk teetered through the gray slush. Pressed into the windows was a jumble of faces. The bus moved in close enough to push a fresh cloud of diesel fumes our way, then sped up and swerved past us in a ruffle of black exhaust. Our taxi driver hadn't slowed down or deviated from his lane, even when the bus came within inches. I wondered how many people a year died in bus accidents. Or in taxis.

If I were on that plane, I'd do more than shoot her an annoyed glance, I'd shoot her out the emergency exit.

You're starting at the wrong spot. Start in Korea.

And this doesn't feel like a kid talking, to me. I don't think sardonic or sarcastic humor works as a middle grade voice. Most kids are too self conscious at that age, or too unsure of themselves for that kind of humor.

HH Com Rd 2 #58 (611)

Hook here



On a simmering afternoon in late August, 2791, Richard Bruce “Dick” Cheney was out playing bocce with his bestest buddy ever, Kimo.

“Man, these are good times. Pass me another, would ya?”

“You said it, Dick.” Kimo clicked open the Beer-On-Demand 20,000 and set the dial to “Bud.” The machine whirred into action. After 72.4 seconds, the bottle dropped into the Tolzi box and Kimo tossed it over.

Dick eyed the bottle. “I think your clock is busted, Kee. It says the born-on-minute is 16:35:17.1, but I bet it’s not even 4 o’clock yet.”

“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to get it looked at. But hell. If it’s in the shop, then fuck—no beer!”

“I hear you, bro. No worries.” Dick took a swig. “Say—you wanna head to Peachtree for the long weekend?” Clinton Day was Monday, honoring the nation’s first female president, so everyone had the day off. There had been several female presidents in the 740+ years since 2048 when Chelsea became president, but a movement for the bicentennial in 2248 made the date a permanent holiday.

“Oh, sorry. I forgot to ask you. My bro is out of town, so he said I could borrow his Fuepi. I was actually thinking of checking out Firenze 1481 or perhaps Nantes 1847. Wanna come with? We could always hit Peachtree next month.”

Dick smiled. “Dude, you’ve been wanting to go to Nantes for years and years, but something always comes up. What makes you think you’ll actually make it this time? Why don’t we just hit Stebold 2772?”

“Nah, man. High school is a thing of the past. You need to move on.”

“Well, Nantes 1847 is even more past.”

“You’re stupid.”

“No, you’re stupid.”

“I’m not the 37-year old with the hots for a 17-year old.”

“Hey—Katie Driscoll is not 17. She’s the same age as us.”

“True.” Kimo sipped his Bud. “But you don’t want to go to Stebold 2791.”

Dick had been to 2772 a few weeks earlier, but wasn’t sure he wanted Kimo to know yet. Even though Katie Driscoll totally hated his guts in high school, she was developing a crush on 2791 Dick. But that’s not the type of thing Kimo would ever let him live it down. So he let it drop. “How about Chouli in 3416?”

“Dude, Chouli hasn’t happened yet, so how the hell would we know if it was worth checking out? Besides, I heard there were some fine-ass bitches in Nantes 1847.”

“Whatever, Kimo. Count me in.”

More than spending time with Kimo, Dick was looking forward to another weekend away from his old man and his eternal “If you ever get a chance to save the world…” lectures. God, they sucked total ass. If his dad had so much as one ounce of booze, he was off and running on his favorite topic.

They made plans to meet the next day at the D & P. Then they drank some more Bud.


Time for change

I have the report for you, sir, said Lackey #1. He handed it over.

The man quickly glanced over the document. Good god, said the man. This says that it happened sometime on Al Gore’s watch, way back in the…well, it must have been the twenty-first century.

Yes, sir.

When exactly was it—I need to know.

It’s not entirely clear, said Lackey #1. It could have been anytime between 2001 and 2008, sir. But we’ve definitively pinpointed it to those coordinates.

That’s it? Nothing closer. And just the time, not even a location?

No, sir.

The man sat back and sighed. Well, then. I hate to do this. But I have no choice. His entire presidency has to go.

But, sir—that means no declaration of universal peace with North Korea ! That means no ‘Axis of Hope’ with Syria and Burma ! Why, this would mean—(gulp)—no mandatory free internet access at all filling stations.

If that’s what it means, that’s what it means. We have no choice, Lackey #1. It’s our last best hope for survival. And if it began with Al Gore, then it must end with Al Gore.

Yes, sir.

Gore must go.

I'd read this. I doubt I could sell it. On the other hand, who knows. I'd be worried about the freshness factor past 2008 but I'd still probably read it.

I'd want it to be something different than Bill and Ted's excellent White House adventure though.

HH Com Rd 2 #57 (300)

Hook here

Two troublesome facts jerked archaeologist Taylor Masterson from his favorite recurring erotic dream.

First, he'd fallen asleep face-first onto his folding tray, and now miscellaneous debris clung to his chin like a dirt goatee.

Second, the curvy blonde struggling to free herself from the mosquito netting looked nothing like his assistant Linda--the only female on Taylor's crew--and more like one of the hotties populating Hef's mansion and Taylor's dreams. How long had it been since he'd laid eyes on a woman who wasn't covered in dirt? Three weeks? Four?

Taylor rolled back his bunched shoulders, lifted up his head, and squinted at the woman tangled in the heavy netting. A dusty tent on the edge of a Costa Rican rain forest was an unlikely place to encounter a moonlit silhouette like the one knifing up his netting. Maybe he wasn't quite as awake as he'd thought.

"Er... May I help you?" he ventured, the words scratchy against his dry throat.

"Shh, little Angus," came the soft reply. "Go back to sleep."

Little Angus? Who the hell was Little Angus? Taylor rubbed the heel of one hand across his cheeks, dislodging the remaining dirt. Usually, the women in his dreams had better names for him than Little Angus.

"I'm not little," he muttered, struggling to his feet. "Or Angus. Who the hell are you?"

"I'm a tooth fairy, of course." With that matter-of-fact proclamation, she jerked her ankle free of the strings binding the netting to the lining of the tent. The canvas flaps fluttered closed, enshrouding them in darkness. "Now, go back to sleep or I won't leave a silver dollar under your pillow."

"I don't have a pillow," Taylor ground out. "And it will cost you more than a silver dollar to replace my mosquito netting."

He groped for the fallen Mag-lite underneath the folding tray and aimed the mega-watt beam at the curvy intruder.

Chin-length silver-blonde hair fluttered above bare shoulders. A barely-there Tinkerbell-style dress shimmered from breasts to thighs. Thin black cat-eye glasses framed wide green eyes. But even more bizarre than the bare feet was the pair of oversize glitter wings protruding from her back.

Either Halloween started in May this side of the equator or something was seriously wrong here.

"Give me that, you bad boy." The woman lunged forward, snatched the flashlight out of his hand and pointed the beam at Taylor.

Her gaze heated as the light traveled from the tiny bones and broken rocks cluttering his folding tray, to his unshaven face and his bare chest, to his cotton covered thighs. The stifled gasp and wavering light indicated that his well-worn khakis did a poor job of hiding the effects of a good dream.

Taylor freed the flashlight from her trembling fingers and knelt to light his battery-operated camping lanterns. What kind of woman crept around the Costa Rican countryside in glitter wings and painted toes? Taylor wasn't usually one for Velcro wings, but painted toes on the other hand...

"Who are you really?" he demanded, gripping the flashlight in one hand and attempting to subtly adjust his cargo pants with the other. "And where are your shoes?"

"I'm Daisy le Fey," she answered. Daisy darted another glance toward his lap. "And tooth fairies don't wear shoes."

Taylor stalked forward, using his size to edge her closer to the opening of the tent. "Why wouldn't fairies wear shoes?"

Her back hit the netting. "Some do, just not tooth fairies. It's not part of the dress code. Now, where's Angus?"

He blinked. "Who?"

Daisy's palms shoved at his chest in exasperation. "Angus, dummy! I need to give him a dollar."

"Listen, lady." He brushed her hands from his shirt. "None of my crew is named Angus. Furthermore, none of my crew is named Daisy. This means, cute or not--you don't belong here. I'm going to have to ask that you leave the dig site immediately."

Daisy ducked under Taylor's pointing arm and flopped down onto his sleeping bag. "How can this be happening?" She heaved a dramatic sigh, rolled onto all fours, and began feeling around inside the bag.

Her minuscule green dress didn't cover much from this angle, and Taylor learned another new fact about tooth fairies: the dress code apparently included lacy lingerie.

Prune ruthlessly, starting with everything in red.
I'd give this five pages probably, but I'd want a synopsis very early on to see what kind of plot I'm going to find under my pillow.

I do like this though..it's fun!

HH Com Rd 2 #56 (389)

Hook here

I’ve been beaten up on my doorstep before. It’s an occasional hazard, when you’re in a tough business and people know where to find you. Business associates, disgruntled clients, local law enforcement – and the odd outraged husband. They’ve all had a shot, with varying degrees of success.

Mostly they were big guys, with broken noses. It takes a certain sort of vicious confidence to swing on a man at his own house, particularly when you don’t know who else might be there. In my experience, that kind of confidence mostly comes with size. The broken noses are probably just an odd coincidence.

These two were different. They were both short – real short, around five foot - and they could have been brothers, with curly blonde hair, rosy cheeks, black suits and a bunch of puppy fat around their chins. They looked kind of cute, if you were that way inclined.

There was nothing cute about the squirrel grip that the first one applied to my nether regions the moment opened the door.

“Are you Tony Vidmar?” he asked, planting his other hand on my chest and shoving me back through the door and up against the wall.

“No,” I squeaked, as my eyes began to water.

“Are you sure?”


He had a grip like a fireman, and he didn’t even flinch when I got a hand up and slugged him on the jaw, so I gave up punching and decided to concentrate on trying to pry his fingers apart.

“So you are Tony Vidmar?”

“I don’t know,” I replied.

His friend strolled into my entrance hall stood in front of me. He hooked a finger underneath my chin, and leaned in to my ear. He spoke slowly and softly, like he had all the time in the world.

“We’d like to talk to Fred Hollis and we can’t seem to find him. We understand you’re acting as his agent. Is that true?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Then you can take a message. Tell him that we know what he’s doing and We… Don’t… Like… It… At… All.”

The one who had the squirrel grip applied emphasised each word with a squeeze of his hand. After a last clench of his fist, he let go and stepped back to straighten his jacket. I collapsed onto my side and curled up, wheezing.

“Can I say who called?” I asked, hoarsely.

The one who’d been mauling me smiled down, straightening his tie.

“You can tell him it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” he said.

“The real ones,” added his friend, dropping a business card onto my chest.

* * *

A café on stilts sits on the hillside overlooking our construction site. It’s run by a greying Scottish couple and it would have had lovely views before we came along and filled the valley with cranes and trucks and scaffolding. Now it overlooks a kud pit. Their clientele has changed as well – they used to serve omelettes and eggs florentine to courting couples. Now it’s strictly steak and eggs, and their daughter doesn’t waitress any more.

I don’t think they’re unhappy, though. I pick up the tab for breakfast every week with my sub-contractors, and it makes me wince. Scottish jokes aside, I think by the end of the job they’ll have made enough money from us to pay off the mortgage on this place and buy another café in a place that still has some picturesque left.

They have a great view of the site. At ground level, pretty much everything has been covered in a thin sheen of red mud, making it difficult to tell who’s put what where, and what’s actually going on. It’s all slipping and sliding and swearing, and everything is happening in a crazed panic. From above it looks like a bustling and efficient construction site, and we can kid ourselves that we aren’t a month behind schedule.

The McCluskers have given me a permanent table on the veranda, with an ashtray and a non-stop supply of espresso. I sit there for a couple of hours most days, and ring through stupid questions to Luc and Dave, my site managers. Questions like: ‘Why are the guys on the gate letting someone steal that truck with 5 tons of cement on it?’ and ‘Who set fire to the canteen?’

It’s been a job with a lot of bad luck, a lot of outside interference, a lot of local trouble and the kinds of delays that the owners really can’t afford. That’s why they hired us.

I’m at my table when they arrive, flipping the newly acquired business card around my knuckles.

Those three stars are where I want to slap you silly.
And I'm not even a Jehovah's Witness.

You go from familiar but still wonderful mayhem...to steak and eggs? Cafe society? Family owned hash house??

William Howard Taft on a raft that transition was a crash and burn. Prune. Prune ruthlessly-like everything in red.

I love this kind of wild ass energy stuff but it's got to be as lean as an elite marathon runner. No Clydesdale category paragraphs allowed.

HH Com Rd 2 #55 (487)

Hook here

Hook here

Nathan Harper adjusted his tie and checked that his fly was shut. Damn big house, he thought, staring up at what would have been an exact replica of Frankenstein’s castle except it was smaller, had fewer bolts of lightning overhead—there were none, in fact—no pitchfork-wielding villagers were milling about, and, also, it didn’t look anything like a castle. It was very big, though, with massive, stone blocks that must have taken a long time to cart into this valley and glue together. His eyes blazed intently as he approached an immense oak door. There was an aura that came from this non-castle, a sense of intense activity of global importance going on inside, work that would change the world, inventions and devices that would allow future generations to be even more sedentary and brainless. What better thing for a teenager to be a part of?

Nathan raised a huge, brass-ringed knocker then let it crash against the door, making him jump. He glanced at his watch, which said it was five minutes before ten in the morning. At least he wouldn’t be late. He lifted up the heavy ring again before it had stopped shaking and flinched as it clattered against the door once more. He could hear activity going on inside.

“Who put this here?” he heard someone say, followed by quick steps across a creaking wood floor. “I don’t have time for this!” came from the same person a moment later. A second of silence passed before a loud crash of metal objects startled Nathan once again. “I’ll fix that later,” the voice said.

Nathan nervously rechecked the address on the job application. Yes, this was the place. Here was where the “works of greatness, utilizing all aspects of science in the pursuit of knowledge and the furthering of the evolution of human endeavors” supposedly went on. The description of the lab assistant job he was here for said there would be much danger involved, lasers quite probably, no doubt a robot or three, perhaps magnetic, gravitational, and nuclear experiments, and also some occasional heavy lifting and lab upkeep. “The wonders of the world begin in the humble laboratories of Earth’s great inventors” the advertisement had said, finishing with “candidate will benefit from having some chemistry and metal-work skills, quick reflexes, and a high tolerance for unpredictable odors and unexpectedly flying objects”. The door swung open suddenly and Nathan resisted the urge to take a step back.

The man in front of him stared with manic eyes that appeared to need a lot more sleep than they were getting and peered around Nathan as if they were looking for an escape route. The man’s unkempt blondish hair, what little there was of it, spilled out over the top of his head and down in every direction. Nathan couldn’t tell if he was balding or the victim of one of his experiments. The lab coat the man wore was a checked shirt several sizes too large on his skinny frame. His face was pale and the glasses that sat askew on his nose were wire-rimmed with splotches of solder all over it from quick, and obviously frequent, patchwork. The man’s eyes squinted as if he were unaccustomed to bright sunlight, never mind the fact that it was cloudy, and his lower jaw jutted out with the same misplaced outrage that Nathan’s four-year-old brother used on everyone when he forgot to wear pants.

“Can’t you see I’m cleaning?” the man shouted. “What do you want?”

Nathan’s mouth opened and closed, opened again, and emitted a single “I-“.

“You’re late,” the man said, eyeing him more closely. “Do you intend to be,“ the man checked his own watch, “three days late every time you come to work, Mr. Harper?”

“Three days? I’m not three days late,” Nathan shot back. He looked at his watch again, which oddly still said five minutes before ten.

“That probably won’t work here,” the man said, waving his hands wildly “-magnetic field everywhere, really big, not good on fillings either-” before one hand leaped out and shook Nathan’s hand holding the job description.

“Mark Garden,” the man said as the paper floated to the stone at their feet. As Nathan leaned down to grab it with his free hand, he was yanked bodily into the house.

“Excuse the mess,” said Garden. “I’m preparing for Jenna- ah, for a demonstration tomorrow.”

Been here, seen this.
I challenge anyone to not see Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox here. The images and the characters are just too familiar to be interesting to me.

Your hook didn't sound at ALL like this and had some interesting fun ideas. Prune all this stuff away and get to your story--the good stuff.

HH Com Rd 2 #54 (38)

hook here

Doctor Egglometus, Evil Overlord

There is something about a clockwork cat that makes me squirm, and it's not just that awful clicking noise the neck makes when it turns to look at you. You expect creepiness from a robot cat -- all of those lines of computer code hiding worms, bugs and viruses -- but clockwork cats get tics that shouldn't happen in instruments made with Swiss precision.

I heard the click-click-click of Rasputin's neck and felt more than just the heat of his stare on my back; it was his laser eyeballs. I jumped out of my chair and shouted downstairs.

(start here)
"Mom, the cat is trying to x-ray me again!"

"Did you wind him today?" Mom called back up at me. I heard the muffled boom of a small explosion in the kitchen and Dad said something about night-vision goggles that I didn't catch completely over the whooshing sound of a fire extinguisher.

Rasputin's tail dipped between his legs and he shuddered. Then he shuddered again. And one more time. It was like watching the second hand on your watch struggle to jump forward as the battery is running down.

I held Rasputin's tail and wound it around in a circle. On the fourth time around he jumped forward and purred -- a sound like a car engine trying to start on a cold morning. I gave his rear end a shove with my foot to get him out of my way and even though he's full of gears and levers, I swear he squinted his eyes at me and frowned on his way out of the room.

Dad was already at the breakfast table studying a large diagram spread out over his plate and most of the rest of the table. The smoky air had cleared, but the faint sweet smell of the Halon fire extinguisher hung over the table.

I reached for a piece of blackened toast and the miniature radiation monitor on my jacket crackled like popcorn. Mom was cooking with leftover radioactive isotopes again.

"Nuclear toast?" I asked, picking up the bread with my sleeve and sniffing it.

Mom's lips pressed together tightly and she smeared margarine on her bread hard enough to let me know that she was annoyed.

"It's within EPA Protective Action Guidelines for radiation exposure… and if you don't like the breakfast that I made for the family you can just get your own food." She took a bite of her own bread and considered for a moment. "But leave the eggs. They're for… something else."

I dropped my slice of toast back onto the pile. School had breakfast; healthy breakfast prepared with ordinary non-radioactive toasters by women who didn't hold the butter knife like a ninja star while talking to you.

All three of us heard a high-pitched squeak from behind the refrigerator. Dad leaped out of his chair and made it across the kitchen in two long steps. Mom had barely moved, but now the butter knife was poised toward the fridge.

Dad stood perfectly still and signaled with his hand. One of something. On the move in a westerly direction. Hold for his signal.

Mom slipped off her shoes and, standing on her chair, silently grabbed hold of the light fixture over the table. She swung on it carefully, with just the tiniest tinkle of her rings against the glass, and alit on top of the kitchen counter nearest the fridge, crouching in a ready position.

I shoved last night's homework into my backpack with a crunch and my parents' heads whipped around with stern looks. I mouthed, "Sorry," and zipped the backpack closed slowly and quietly.

Dad raised his hands and signaled again. Three. Two. One. Go!

He jumped in front of the crack between the fridge and the counter and shouted, "Aha!" paused for effect, then continued.

"Now I have you. You were naïve to think you could get away from me. You have underestimated my cunning plans. Once you step onto the platform and take the cheese, you will have fallen into my trap. I will have you in my clutches and you will be out of my way forever!"

My father tipped his head back for a big belly laugh, but my mother shrieked, "He's getting away!"

Something light and furry ran over my foot and I jumped involuntarily. I might have screamed a little. I'm not scared of mice… I was just startled. Really.

I loved the hook.
I love this.
I'd read it.

Why this work: it's funny. The parents are the bad guys. The good guy is bad for being good. And dear dog, who can resist a robot cat. (or a ghost cat named Smell for that matter!).

HH Com Rd 2 #53 (548)

Hook here

It was three days since Frank emptied the last of the poison into her food.
She still looked shaky but the colour was coming back to her skin. The damned stuff had not worked as well as he had hoped.
His mug of coffee tilted as she lowered it to the table.
“Careful, mum,” he said. “It’ll take you ages to clean that out of the carpet.”
He stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray and shook his head.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that in here,” she said, glaring at the assortment of cogs and gears arranged neatly on the floor in front of him. He shrugged.
“I’m using newspaper.”
She tutted and went back to the kitchen to get her own drink. “I saw Helen at the surgery again, today.” Her voice sounded shrill, even from the other room.
“Yes?” Frank said, carefully greasing a metal disc and slotting it into place.
“She wants to do more tests. I feel more like a pincushion every day.”
“What is she testing for now?”
“I don’t know; something to do with heavy metals. I’m feeling much better, though. I think I’m over the worst of it.
Frank nodded. She certainly was. He looked up at the clock and sighed. Helen would be at the bingo hall for at least another hour.
The light of the television flickered in the corner of his eye as his mum began trawling through the channels. He began to place the discarded ends of rubber tubing into a careful pile beside his untouched coffee as he stripped the ends of the cables and wired the device.
“Oh, before I forget,” his mum said. Frank paused, holding the ends of the wires away from each other. He breathed deeply. “Margaret called earlier. She wanted to know if you could pop over there and take a look at her pipes.”
“From number forty-two?”
“Yes, that’s right. She wouldn’t have asked, but her husband won’t be back for another month yet. I think his ship is still somewhere near Gibraltar.”
Frank nodded. Her timing could not have been better.
“Alright, mum. I’ll just finish this first. Did she say what was wrong?”
“I think it’s that kitchen pipe again. I keep telling her not to pour old fat down the sink but she won’t listen.”
Frank put the last pieces in place and got to his feet.
“I hope you’re not going to leave that there.”
He rolled his eyes. “I was going to put it in the cellar. Could you get the door for me?”
She followed him out into the hallway and opened the cellar door. “It’s freezing down there,” she hissed as a fist of cold air rushed up to meet them.
“The heater’s broken,” Frank said. “I told you last week.”
“Oh, that’s right. Listen, can you fetch me a bottle of wine? Helen said she might come over after bingo.”
“Sure,” he said. She usually did.
He went down the stairs and very carefully placed the device on the shelf. It looked snug, sandwiched between two pyramids of jam jars filled with nitro-glycerine.
Frank set the clock and walked slowly back to the stairs.
He paused by the wine rack and picked out his mum’s favourite. As he climbed the stairs he slipped off the marigolds and left them dangling like a deformed pair of hands over the rail. He shut the door behind him and took the bottle through to his mum.
“I’ll be as quick as I can,” he said, giving her a peck on the cheek. Up close he could see the coarse hairs that sprouted randomly on her chin. The perfume she wore was sweet and cloying. He was glad he would not be home when Helen arrived.
She looked up at him from the corkscrew and smiled. “See you later.”
“Sure,” he said. He glanced around as he took his coat off the hook and nodded to himself. “Bye, then.”
He stepped out onto the dark street and lit a cigarette. It was a chilly night but at least the rain had stopped. The dark tarmac shimmered gently under the harsh sodium glare of the streetlights. In the distance a dog barked.
He began to walk slowly along the pavement, enjoying the tranquillity. Dylion Crescent was close to a mile long from end to end and formed a crooked smile on the side of the quietly industrial Devonian town.

scary sod indeed.
I'd be asking for pages via email on this one.
At some point, I'd need a damn good synopsis to make sure there's a plot lurking somewhere. Very black comedy is a tough sell, but I'd probably try to call it something else if I really loved it a lot.

HH Com Rd 2 #52 (561)

Hook here

Six weeks ago, Julia Cosgrove shook the world. In ninety-six seconds, the earth would return the favor.

The first female president would soon sit in the Oval Office. This morning, she reclined in a glove-leather patient chair in Dr. Phillipe Delgado’s Costa Rican medical spa, preparing to be peeled, pulled, and plumped.

"Ready?" inquired Dr. Delgado.

Resigned, perhaps, but not ready. As she’d done for prior procedures, Julia Cosgrove ran the rationalizations through her head. This wasn’t about vanity. It was about political reality. Personally, she didn’t give a flying fig if her skin looked like dragonfly wings. Or if her eyelids sagged. Or if her smile lines were deep enough to germinate soybeans. She didn’t even care if her upper lip ran off to wherever it is that middle-aged lips go.

But voters cared. They claimed to value strength, experience, wisdom, leadership. But to hell with anyone old enough to have it. Gravitas, yes. Gravity, no.

Besides, she told herself as the Valium kicked in, it’s not as if she’s the first president to be filled and spackled. Thomas Jefferson underwent a bit of facial futzing of his own. Granted, it occurred well after his death, and not on his actual face.

The creators of Mount Rushmore, faced with a gaping hole in Jefferson’s lip, filled the old boy with a compound of white lead, linseed oil and granite dust. Geologic collagen. Americans expect their presidents to have lips.

Dr. Delgado tilted the patient chair and pulled the swing-arm lamp in close. He began with Julia Cosgrove's lips.

Thirty-five kilometers away, Arenal erupted with hot fury. Molten rock lit the sky orange; smoke and ash shot from a side vent. Instantly, the news hit the wires, racing along fault lines running beneath the earth’s crust in Alajeula province.

The first jolt jerked Dr. Delgado’s hand upward, jabbing the needle into Julia Cosgrove’s right nostril. Her mighty yelp fractured into panicked squeals. She grabbed at her nose, fingers closing around hard plastic. The second jolt threw Delgado flat across his patient’s face.

More yelps. Much Spanish. Considerable thrashing. And then, it was over. The floor steadied, and Delgado slowly righted himself, retrieving the now empty syringe.
Julia squinted down the right side of her nose, where there appeared to be … a portobello mushroom.

Julia Cosgrove really, really wished she’d listened to Stanfield Mercer.

Stanfield Mercer had been livid about Costa Rica. He didn't know about Dr. Delgado. Like everyone else, her chief strategist and political advisor believed the trip to be an annual romantic getaway.

"There’s no time for this, Julia. Absolutely not. Out of the question." Stanfield Mercer paced the floor at transition headquarters in Washington D.C.

"Stan, we’ve been over it," she said. "Andrew and I have done this ever since the kids left home. It’ll be four years til our next chance."

"Eight," he corrected. "Two terms, Julia. Two terms."
At the end of two terms, she’d look like Lyndon Johnson.

"You’re staying put," he insisted.

Julia laughed. Stanfield was presumptuous, arrogant, and smarter than hell. There were only two people he couldn’t play: his ex-wife and Julia Cosgrove. She fell silent and leveled a look. "Sit down, Stan." He didn’t.

"Okay, then a working vacation," he said, pacing and gesturing. "We pack up the transition team, bug spray, do the 100 day plan, get your cabinet nailed down. Have you given thought to where we’re going to put Licklighter?"

Yes, in fact, Julia had given thought to where she was going to put Licklighter. It involved shipping crates. She’d also given thought to her cabinet. Two years ago. She’d lined up the key people before she’d even hired Stanfield Mercer.

"The issue’s closed, Stan. Bring it up again, and you’re Ambassador to Frickistan. Oh, and tell my Secret Service detail to take the time off. They need a break."

Stanfield Mercer’s glare was half panic, half incredulity. "Have you lost your mind?"

Yes, she thought, maybe I have.

Gawd, sometimes she wanted to smack herself. Why did appearances matter so? Did it matter to Indira Ghandi? Margaret Thatcher? Golda Meir? Julia felt ashamed in their shadow. But then, they served before high-definition TV.

Stanfield Mercer was adamant. "Secret Service goes where you go. Non-negotiable."

"I’m still a private citizen," Julia reminded him. "I cannot be compelled to accept protection. Besides, there’s precedent. Richard Nixon did it in 1985."

Stanfield Mercer slapped a palm to his forehead. "You’re inviting comparisons to Nixon?"

What, Lyndon Johnson’s better?

well, ok, this is going to be a non-starter for me cause I prefer my female heroes to kick ass rather than whine about plastic surgery. The comment trail on the hook kicked up a lot of objections to Costa Rica and I agree with that.

The essence of comic is starting from a known spot, a believable spot and then moving into the unknown/surreal/comic. This starts in the wrong spot. And after Olivia Goldsmith died during "routine, minor" plastic surgery, I'm not much laughing about it anyway.

I always end up with a couple queries where I think "what the heck, let's take a look". This was one of those. They don't work out often, but they can. This one doesn't.

HH Com Rd 2 #51 (188)

Hook here

Sathren bent down to gently pull the tiny red flowers from her morlin plants as quickly as she could. Every morning it seemed there was never enough time to spend in her garden, but the needs of her business had to come first. Her small shop was the pride of her life and Sathren was determined to make it a success. (this is telling not showing)

She straightened up to ease her back, then frowned. Some bushes along the fence were yellow and wilted. She set her basket down and went to investigate.

It only took a few moments to see that the plants had been dug up and then badly replanted. Sathren glared at the large house on the other side of the fence. "If that imbecile is hiding money from his wife again, I've half a mind to keep it," Sathren muttered under her

She carefully moved the damaged bushes aside and began scooping the loose dirt with her hands. After several minutes of digging, her fingers touched something soft and spongy. She jerked her hand away. "Wonderful. Simply wonderful." With a scowl Sathren marched to the
small shed nearby and grabbed a shovel.

"Sathren? Oh, Sathren!"

"I'm in the garden," she called. "The gate is open."

She waited as her friend Giliria hurried down the path. "Oh, there you are. I just had to rush over to tell you the news." Giliria froze and wrinkled her nose. "What is that smell?"

"I think someone buried a pet here."

"And you are digging it up? Ew."

"I want to see if I recognize it. I want to know who thinks it is fine to destroy my plants rather than muss a single petal of their own garden." Sathren returned to her digging.

Giliria said in a choked voice, "Um… Sathren?"


"That does not look like a paw."

She stared into the hole and saw the tips of bloodless fingers. Rapidly she cleared away the dirt and a hand, then arm was visible.

"Oh, oh, oh!" Giliria's voice rose hysterically.

Sathren stepped to block out the sight of the body and begged, "Don't scream, please do not scream. You will wake the entire street."

"Hand. Hand. Sathren, it was a hand. Why is there a hand in your garden?"

"I don't know." She looked around anxiously. "We'll send for the armsmen and leave everything up to them. Then I'll make you some tea. Citril, your favorite."

Giliria nodded, then gave herself a shake. "Someone should stay with him, um, or her. Oh dear, we don't even know, do we?"

"You go. There is usually an armsman at the west end of the street."

"All right." Giliria raced up the path and vanished through the gate.

Sathren turned back to the hole and winced. She scraped the soil away bit by bit until she had uncovered the entire body. (start here) She stared at the naked corpse for a long moment.

The man was young, that at least was obvious. Dark hair splayed across his discolored face. The cause of his death was no mystery, not with three knife wounds in his chest. "Who in Erynal are you? And what are you doing in my garden?" Sathren said in exasperation.

Giliria returned, two armsmen in tow. The older of the two took one look at the corpse and glared at Sathren. He snapped, "What do you know of this, young woman?"

"Well, I was…"

"And who is this man? Who killed him?"

"I do not…"

"I must warn you that Guildmaster Dourse handles this sort of thing very harshly. Very harshly indeed."

Sathren's eyes narrowed. "I never caught his name before I killed him. The whole garden is filled with bodies. They make the plants grow just beautifully."

The younger armsman rolled his eyes and said, "You deserved that one, Carn."

Carn gaped at her. "Am I to understand that you are confessing to killing this man?"

"Of course not. But it was the only way that I could get you to quiet yourself so that I could answer."

He drew himself up and cleared his throat. "I should carry news of this to the guildhall. Wilms, handle the situation until I return." He left at a pace a bit too brisk for dignity.

Wilms gave Sathren a wry smile and said, "Forgive my guildmate. A real crime was too much for him."

I liked your idea and I think this could work but it's flabby right now.
First, you know how I feel about set up rather than "getting started" right at the start.

And telling rather than showing is one of my big bugaboos. To help with this, imagine there is NO narration at all. Sathren's shop is the pride of her life. If you're just standing there, watching her, how do you know? What does she DO that you say "aha! she's very proud of this shop". That's showing, not telling and it's one of the most powerful tools at your disposal.

I'd read five pages but this isn't getting started with enough verve to hook me much past that.

Hh Com Rd 2 -50 (177)

Hook here

TITLE: Shooting the Moon

I stood outside the guy's door--a basement room in a 4th Ward megabloc. I flexed my right hand. I squeezed--fingers tight around titanium. Most guys these days use stunstiks or shock hammers--less work, less mess. Fuck that. You blow beaucoup bills on some surplus NorKor military package and you're afraid to break a nail? I kept it simple: weighted 'brass' knucks and a good right cross.

I stood. I squeezed. I scoped escape routes. I scoped surveillance. It was ideal: a cramped alley, zero foot traffic, easy street access, windows blocked or covered. No camera concerns out here in the Burbs--any data that went into the FreeNet was too corrupted to be worth a damn anyway.

Back before they walled off the City networks they tried meatfitting video feeds into rats and stray dogs--total surveillance/war on crime shit. These days rats didn't last much longer than cameras.

I stood. I squeezed. I felt the knot in my gut. Pipes sweated overhead--rusted arteries sprouting veinwise from concrete skin. Water dripped down my neck.

Cash said this one should be cake. Cash was throwing me a bone. Cash was giving me one last chance. Cash didn't ask if I wanted it. We both knew I didn't have a choice.

* * *

Cash always called when I was hung over.


"Stubbs." Cash's voice fit his looks: blandly handsome, carefully nondescript. "Got a job for you. Some deadbeat over in the 4th owes some people some money."

I said nothing. My pulse twanged in my neck. Cash kept talking:

"...some Burb shitheel--nothing you can't handle. Tiny's got his hands full right now, so this one is all you."

Unspoken: this is a test. That last fuck-up signaled slippage. Let's see if you can still hack it.

"Swing by the office at three. I'll give you the details."

* * *

Cash worked out of a crappy starter community. I logged in as a guest--security swabbed my cheek; ran my DNA against the invite list; sent me on my way. They didn't even hassle me about Stubbs Jr.--too down-market for animal quarantine.

It was drizzling. Droplets beaded the brim of my porkpie. Welcome to myTown #14: megastores and insta-housing, everything too loud and too bright--aggressively cheerful covering for cheap and shitty.

Locals swarmed the sidewalks. Locals flaunted their skull phones--gaudy plastic covers socketed behind one ear. Locals talked loud--cheap phones/shitty reception.

They were living the dream. They felt sorry for losers like me--no community/no CityNet. They considered themselves lucky.

It was twelve blocks to Cash's office. I popped sweat. I huffed. Stubbs Jr.'s tongue lolled. He huffed. My wraps fogged at the edges. The streets were crowded--people talking to nobody.

Tiny opened the door. Tiny was geeked out with a Zanshin pit-fighter package--reflex maps/grafted muscle/reinforced bone. His hands were too small--doll-like things beneath bulging forearms. He smirked. "Let me guess--old-timer's day?"


He eyeballed Stubbs Jr.: short, thick-necked, with an oversize wedge-shaped head and one mangled ear.

"I swear it gets harder and harder to tell you and that dog apart."

"Your mom has that problem too."

"What the fuck did you say?"

"Stubbs?" Cash's manicured voice. "Come on in."

Tiny moved over a step. He made me push past him. The logo on his neck twisted: a 'Z' into crossed swords, back and forth.

Cash's office: two rooms--dingy corners and water stains. Cash sat at a cheap metal desk. He looked out of place in his fitted suit and surgery-smooth skin.

"Stubbs. Grab a chair."

I sat. Cash laid out the job. Cash said it should be a snap.


He nodded. "It's a Latin Kings 'bloc. I spoke to the madrino, made a donation. We're covered."

We sat. It hung in the air between us. I said it: "What about this guy? Anything I should know? Any mods?"

Cash smiled his bland, perfect smile. "Would I be sending you if there was?"

My neck got hot. Tiny snickered. I turned. "Tell me something--is it true all that extra muscle causes impotence?"

"What did you say meatstick?"

"I said the only thing keeping your dumb ass breathing is that Zanshin package."

His piggy eyes went pinpoint--grafted muscle bunched in his neck. I stared back. Stubbs Jr. growled low in his throat.

"Enough." Cash's tone didn't change. It was an order notwithstanding.

"No wonder he drags that dog everywhere." Tiny said. "They're like twins--old and fat and mean."

I spent the morning reading The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski so I'm ready for this crisp, no backstory, just get going kind of thing. A little goes a long way though and one thing I notice here is there's very little variation in the short staccato sentence rhythm and there just might be a tiny bit of overkill in the testosterone posturing. That said, of course I'd read this, and probably ask for 50 pages too. I wouldn't call it SF either. I think it's called Urban fantasy but I call it dystopic crime noir and I love it and it sells.


HH Com Rd 2 -#49 (526)

Hook here


Stumpy Meeks lay on the couch sleeping off a two-day drunk when an explosion knocked him butt-first onto the floor of his trailer.

"Come in," he said.

It took him a couple of seconds to realize nobody was knocking on the door. His brain was working slower than usual. Drinking Vodka Bombs--Red Bull mixed with Stoli--had that effect on a man, and he scribbled a mental sticky note not to combine the two again.

Just as he'd crawled up to the couch and was resting his head on the cushion, another blast ripped through the night. The shock wave buckled the walls of his trailer and cracked the windows in the living room. Stumpy crawled screaming under the couch as glass fell out of the window frame and fell onto the shag carpet.

This time, he knew it wasn't the Vodka Bombs going boom in his head. Something else had exploded, and he was torn between hiding safe under the couch or going outside to take a look around. It really wasn't a tough decision. Having more curiosity than sense, he waited a minute or two and then crawled out.

He stumbled to the door, clicked on the porch light, and squinted into the night. There was a fire burning down in the hollow. The Harper place had blown all to hell, and a line of burning debris littered the hill leading up to his yard.

"Jesus Christ Jones on a crutch," he whispered and stepped out onto the patio, intending to call the law to report the fire. Instead, he found himself mesmerized by the fire.

The smell of gunpowder had burned the air, and though it was a cold and wet December night, his nose could've sworn it was the Fourth of July. The concrete patio felt clammy on his bare feet. He took a few steps then stepped on something warm and hard.

Stumpy picked the thing up and held it up to the porch light to get a better look. It was a human finger covered in blood and wrapped by a diamond wedding band. He screamed and dropped it, then danced away backwards and fell butt-first into the living room. Safe inside, he crawled over to the kitchen window and peeked outside.

There it lay, right where he'd dropped it. It was a human finger, all right. No mistaking it. It had to belong to somebody, and probably, they'd want it back. So it was up to him to save it.

After extracting a pair of hot dog tongs and a sandwich baggie out of the junk drawer, Stumpy headed back outside. He crouched over the finger for a moment, the horizon lit by the fire in the hollow below, clicking the tongs and thinking of the best way to go about this. Should he grab it sideways like a hot dog? Or on the tip for a better grip?

"Get on with it, Stump," he said and popped the finger into the baggie. He sealed the strip so that red and blue made purple. When he stood up, the whole world spun around. Too much blood had rushed to his head. Too much vodka, too.

Inside, he dropped the baggie in the freezer next to the ice cube tray. While at the fridge, he grabbed two cold ones for the trip back to the couch. He popped the tab, took a long swallow of Pabst, and wondered who had busted out the glass in the front windows. Seemed like there was something else he needed to do, somebody he ought to call, but the phone was all the way down the hall in the bedroom, and whatever it was could surely wait until he'd gotten some sleep.

Stumpy leaned back on the couch and was snoring before he finished the beer.


Boone Childress was driving down the freeway, and his back was killing him. Fucking killing him, and this from a man who didn't drop f-bombs like sugar from powdered donuts or complain about daily aches and pains. In twenty years as a firefighter, he'd broken about six bones, torn an ACL, and dislocated both shoulders so many times the joints popped out easier than eyeballs on a Mr. Potato Head. Nothing else pained him like his back.

Except maybe his ex-wife. He'd just ignored three cell calls from her, the last as he popped two more ibuprofen and took the exit toward Altamont, where a burnt-out double-wide trailer awaited him.

I want to like this more than I do. It's funny but (and what does this say about fiction!) severed fingers in doggie bags with tongs are yesterday's gruesomes. You're telling us about Boone rather than letting us see him in action and understanding what he's about from context.

All the things you mentioned in your hook are usual kinds of plot points. You're going to have to give them a fresh coat of paint and a shiny new whistle to get my attention past page five.

HH Com Rd 2 #48 (359)

Hook here

It was late September. The nights were drawing in, the sun was sinking below the crest of the mountains, and for the first time a slight chill filled the village of San Gregorio. Lorenzo Compagno sat on the low wall outside the village's only restaurant - his restaurant - and gazed across the valley. In the distance, the town of San Demetrio was lit up by the last rays of
the evening sun. Beyond the town, a chain of mountains separated the broad valley of the Aterno River from the Adriatic coast. Lorenzo looked up at the mountainside, trying to pick out the lights that marked out the Stations of the Cross. Every Easter he would make the trip from San Demetrio up to the hermitage at the top of the ridge; at each station he would stop and rest. From the top there was a clear view down to the sea, but Lorenzo would always look back into the valley. He would look down towards his own village with its clutch of red roofs, and to its castello, where long ago the villagers would seek refuge.

Behind San Gregorio, another line of mountains, lower, but no less wild, formed the other side of the valley. Beyond them lay famous places like Napes, Pisa, Rome. In the distance above and below the village the two chains appeared to meet, walling in the tiny kingdom with its green fields and rolling hills. Far off to the left, the spire of the cathedral at L' Aquila was just visible over the top of the castello.

Behind him Lorenzo could hear the clattering of knives and the conversation as the restaurant prepared for another evening's service. For as long has he could remember, Lorenzo had lived above the restaurant. His first memory was of his father taking him into the kitchen and teaching him how to chop parsley. He had spent most of his youth working with the old man in the restaurant, serving at tables, learning the trade. All too soon it had been his turn to take over. And now, he himself was an old man, and most of the work was done by his sons. But it was still his restaurant; it was his world, everything he knew, and the one place where he could be sure things would always be done just right.

Lorenzo spent a few more minutes gazing across the valley, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of the country. He watched a car winding up the road that lead to neighbouring San Benedetto. He heard the whistle in the distance of a train approaching the village station with its level crossing. Then he turned and headed into the kitchen.

The kitchen was a scene of frantic but controlled activity. Giuseppe, Lorenzo's oldest son, was in charge; Sophia, Lorenzo's daughter, was chopping vegetables; and the boy Gino was stirring a pan of sauce. They all fell silent as the old man entered the room, and carried on with their work even more conscientiously than before.

"So, what's for dinner?" Lorenzo asked.

Giuseppe looked up at his father. "Antipasti, with some of that smoked boar sausage your cousin Domenico makes; Ravioli stuffed with wild mushrooms; and Saltimboca alla romana."

"Alla romana?" Lorenzo said. "Al' San Gregorio, I hope you mean."

Sophia stopped chopping and looked up, a smile on her face. Lorenzo turned to face her.

"I don't mind you serving foreign food, but that was your grandfather's recipe and he invented it here in San Gregorio."

"Honestly, father," Sophia said, "anyone would think you thought Rome was another country."

Lorenzo glared at her. "They don't talk like us; they don't look like us. They definitely don't cook like us. And that makes us like them ... how?"

Sophia shook her head, still smiling, and returned to her chopping.

"You know what I heard they eat in Rome?" Lorenzo continued. "Pizza with ham and pineapple. Can you believe it? Pineapple! Antipasti, main course, and dessert, all in one. What's that all about? If that's not foreign, then what on earth is?

Giuseppe smiled; Dino grinned nervously. Lorenzo looked at Sophia for a reaction, but she said nothing. At length he abandoned the subject and walked around the kitchen, inspecting the work that was going on, looking into the pans.

"You need to cut the onion a bit more finely," he chided Sophia. "Has that brother of yours taught you nothing? I told him I should show you how to do things, but no, he says, I need to rest."

You have a great idea in your hook. This buries it under too much backstory and set up. When you come to a good restaurant for a meal, you start with the appetizer NOT chef's grocery list. Get past the prep work. Sautee some onions, pour some wine and let's see some ACTION.

HH Com Rd 2 - #47 (275/272)

Hook here

From the other side of the two-way mirror, the Devil smiled.

"Seven-figure salary, for starters," he said, tipping back in his ergonomically-designed executive's chair. "And a company car – you like the new Lexus?"

The mark furrowed his brow, still staring at the contract. "What about a BMW?"

"A Beemer man, huh? Hell yeah, you can have a Beemer!" His grin widened. "And let me tell you, my friend, that's just the start of a long list of bennies. I'm talking stock options. I'm talking write-ups in Fortune. And that's just one side of the coin." His tone grew low, seductive. "When you're the CEO of a major corporation, every man wants to be your friend. And every woman…" Skimming his tongue over his lips, the Devil sighed. "But we mustn't get bogged down in the dirty details of the thing, hmm?"

The mark's hungry expression made it clear that he wouldn't mind hearing all about those dirty details. But the Devil didn't have time to waste.

"So that's my offer. Take it or leave it." The Devil's grin widened even more. He tucked his hands behind his head and leaned back again.

The mark sighed. He was twenty-six, fresh out of business school, and floundering at a lousy job when the Devil found him. The promise of immediate fame, fortune, power, and direction would be enough to sway him; the Devil had seen that from the beginning.

"So," he said cautiously, "I get all that…"

"Success beyond your wildest dreams, right."

"And in return, all you want is – my soul?"

"No better deal in the world." The Devil favored him with his most suave smile yet. "All you've got to do is sign."

The mark waited only an instant more, then seized the ornate fountain pen on the Devil's desk and scribbled his name, with the wild loopy exaggerations of a practiced CEO-style signature, at the bottom of the contract that lay before him.

"Hey," he said. "Red ink."

"That's not ink, buster," said the Devil. "That's your own blood."

Before his mark could respond, the paper snapped itself up into a neat scroll and exploded, leftover bits drifting down like confetti.

"There. That felt suitably symbolic," the Devil said. He reached into the pocket of his suit-jacket and drew forth a small silver rectangle. "And here you go."

The mark reached forward to take it. "What's this?"

"Your payment."

The kid's hands shook as he tore off the shiny wrapping. The Devil could barely keep from snickering as his face registered confusion.

"Why – why – what's this?"

"That, my friend, is a stick of gum."

"But – I don't understand…"

"Peppermint, I believe."

"But what do you want me to do with this?"

Aha. This was the fun part.

"Hey, you signed the contract; it's up to you now. Personally, I recommend chewing it. There's not much else you can do with gum. Or you could save it for when you're back here again. In Hell, all your neighbors have halitosis."

"But what does this have to do with my contract?"

"Oh, really." The Devil gave a melodramatic sigh. "That was just a moment ago. Need we review it again?" Before the mark could answer, he held out his hand, into which the scroll materialized, and read aloud. " 'I, Ronald Maxwell Sharpe, hereby sell my eternal soul to the Devil, payment to be made upon my natural death, in exchange for one stick of Extra peppermint gum.' " He raised his eyebrows. "Ooh, Extra. Sugar-free."

Ronald Maxwell Sharpe leapt up, brandishing the stick of gum. "Let me see that!"

"Calm down, my friend," said the Devil. "May I call you Ron?"

"No," he said, glowering.

"Very well, Ron. Read it again."

The scroll bobbed forward and quaveringly unfolded itself before Ron's eyes – which widened.

"It did not say that before!" he yelled, jabbing the gum at the paper, which recoiled and retreated to float above the Devil's shoulder, like a pet macaw.

"Of course it did," said the Devil.

"No, it didn't!"

"Yes, it did."

"It did not."

"Look, we can go back and forth all night here, Ron, but it pretty much comes down to my word against yours. Let's review: I'm Lord of the Underworld; you just got your MBA." He shrugged. "Just remember to read deals with the Devil before you sign them. And really, don't sign things in your own blood. How gauche."

Ok, this is funny. Not exactly new and fresh, but funny. I'd give this five pages or more to get to to fresh. I like the writing. (Take out the stuff in blue). We all know how Miss Snark loves Satan so she's always glad to hear about his antics.

HH Com Rd 2 #46 (635)

Hook here

"Lia, who's at the door?" Wel leaned forward in his chair and squinted into the entryway.

"It's the king's guard, Uncle Wel," Lillia said.

"So? What do they want?" He didn't understand the fear he saw in her face. Irrational. Lia had no reason to fear the king's guard.

"They want--." Lia paused. "They say that they're here to arrest me."

"Arrest you? No, girl. Don't be foolish." Wel pushed Lillia gently aside and took her place in the doorway. He studied the two BlueVests standing on his porch. "You're giving my niece a scare," he said. "Tell me. What can I do for you?"

"I'm sorry, old jonn," the guard said, "but the woman heard me correctly. We're here to take one Lillia Brushmery into king's custody."

"Wha-- Lillia? Why?"

"Theft," the BlueVest said. "She was convicted this morning."

"Theft? The girl has never stolen a thing in her life!" Wel let out a grunt of protest as the BlueVest took him by the shoulders and shifted him to one side. Then the guard walked through the front door --Wel's door!-- and into his house. What in Galerie was going on
here? Wel looked at Lillia, his eyes wide. What kind of ridiculous mistake was this?

"You need to come with us, Miss Brushmery."

"Wha--? Wait!" Wel said. He darted forward and put a hand on the BlueVest's arm. "Wait just a second there, young man. You're not taking my niece anywhere!"

"I'm sorry, she must come with us to the palace." He turned toward Lillia. "Come along, Miss. It's--"

"No, no, no!" Wel said. "You listen to me, boy. I worked for the kingdom for thirty years! I'm a loyal subject and this is a law-abiding family, and I'm not going to let you come into my home and drag Lia off to The Burrows because of some idiotic mix-up!"

Wel glared at the young guard. The boy frowned and motioned for his companion to join them. The two loomed side by side in front of Wel. They were huge lads but Wel wasn't going to be threatened.

"Uncle Wel, please."

He turned to face her. "Do you know anything about this?"

She shook her head. "No. I don't know anything about a theft." She glanced at the guards.

"You see?" Wel turned to the head guard. "She doesn't know a thing about it!"

"Uncle Wel." Lillia put a hand on Wel's arm.

"Just a second, Lia. Let me talk to them." He turned to the head guard. "What in Galerie is going on here? You can't just convict somebody without a trial. We have rights!"

"Uncle Wel," Lia repeated. "Stop it, Uncle."

Wel turned to her. "Stop what? Stop trying to keep these idiots from dragging you off to The Burrows?"

"It looks like they're set on it either way," she said. "I don't want you to get into trouble, Uncle Wel. Please. I'll go with them tonight and you and Keltin can get this straightened out tomorrow."

"No, Lia. This doesn't make any sense."

"It's okay. Really. It's just one night, I'll be fine." Her smile was thin.

"But…" Wel sighed. But what? The girl was right; there was nothing he could do now.

Lia turned to face the guards, eyes narrowed and shining with tears.

"Well, what are you waiting for? Don't I look ready for my hanging?" she asked. Her voice was harsh, angry. The head guard reached for Lia's arm and she jerked it away. "What, your beloved king didn't ask you to put me in irons?"

What was she talking about? The guard looked as puzzled as Wel felt.

"Lia, what's all this about a hanging?" Wel asked. "You don't have to worry, sweetheart. We'll get this taken care of tomorrow."

"I know, Uncle Wel. I guess I'm just scared." She continued in a broken voice. "Please go down to the brewery as soon as you can and tell Keltin what happened. Tell him… tell him he was right. And that I love him, and I'm sorry I couldn't say goodbye. I love you, UncleWel."

"I-- I love you too, Lia. Keltin and me, we'll take care of this in the morning. Don't be scared."

Lia nodded, spilling a tear down her cheek. She straightened her shoulders --so slim next to those two giants-- as the BlueVests flanked her. Wel stood in the doorway and watched as they lead his Lillia out into the clear spring night.

It's not zippy writing in that we don't feel much urgency, but it's not overladen with description and backstory. I'd give this one some more pages because I liked the idea in the hook, but I have a feeling this is in that dreadful category of "nothing wrong but not enough right" which is just impossible to critique.

HH Com Rd 2- # 45 (69)

Hook here

Stockton St. San Francisco, CA Wednesday, April 9 4:00 PM

The procession that filed out of the red house on the street near the piers was not a happy one. It was led by a balding man in a tan overcoat, a squat figure who carried himself with all the grace of a Prohibition era enforcer on his way to a speakeasy. The two men that followed were taller and somewhat younger, but otherwise the same as the first. All three wore expressions similar to those etched on statues at war memorials.

The last was different. A casual observer might have pinned his weary look and lumbering gait to the oppressive heat that was melting the rest of the Golden Gate City. Yet, he was not only the youngest by far, but was also dressed the lightest in his white polo and khakis. Once outside, he turned and took a long look back into the house. Then, he eased the door shut and wiped the doorknob with his sleeve.

(start here)
The first man watched him come down the stairs.

“There was no point to that,” he said. “The next person in would have done it for you.”

“I thought we weren’t supposed to take any risks,” The younger man joined him on the sidewalk, but looked the other way, squinting at distant high-rises.

“Some risks are acceptable.”

“Yeah,” said the younger in a hushed tone. “As long as you’re not the one taking them.”

“He knew what he was dealing with.”

“Did he?” The younger man turned and studied the side of his face.

The other two had been watching, but looked away at that. The older man fell silent for a while. “Perhaps not fully,” he said. “But he did have a choice. And he miscalculated. That’s not our fault.”

“And the blame falls off your shoulders? Just like when-”

Without looking, the older man delivered a backhand that snapped the young man’s head back the other way.

“Pull it together,” he said. “We lost an asset, that’s it. If you really want to help your friend, you’ll make sure the tapes he pulled get where they need to. Now are you sure they’re in his apartment?”

Still rubbing at his cheek, the young man nodded once.

The rumble of an engine grew over the crashing of the bay and the dull roar of the city. A dark green SUV turned into view, and made its way up the hill, coming to a stop in front of the group. While the other three climbed into the back, the older man took the passenger seat.

“We’re going to Berkeley,” he said.

The driver nodded, glanced at the rearview mirror, and continued up the hill.


The woman closed her eyes as the green SUV passed the intersection. It wasn’t necessary, but it helped her focus. There was the usual jumble of noise, but then she heard.

“Berkeley,” she said.

“Has to be his apartment,” said the voice from behind. “Let’s go.”

The frame shook as her passenger raised his feet. She pushed the bike away from the curb and did the same. The light at the intersection turned from red to green, and she only needed to rev the engine once to turn onto Stockton. Gravity took over from there. She coasted downhill and eased into the driveway of the red house.

The man got off and came up along side. She raised her helmet visor to meet his eyes.

“Now remember,” he said. “If you can get to the tapes first, then get them. Otherwise, just hang back. If they know we’re still out here, things will get tough.”

“I know.”

His expression darkened and he turned to the house. “Look, I know what happened here, but you can’t just-”

“I won’t do anything stupid again,” she said. She’d worked too hard avoiding this conversation at the intersection to be pulled into it now.

It was clear the response didn’t satisfy him, but after a bit of silence, he conceded. “Alright,” he said, “call me once things start happening.”

“How long do you need here?”

“Ten minutes to tidy up his body. A few more to set up the rest. I’ll be done long before you could need me.”

The man started up the stairs. The woman rolled the bike back onto the street. She stood there and stared at his back, watched him fiddle around with the doorknob. She knew she should trust him, that there was no reason not to. But without a chance to confirm it herself…

This is badly over written. For starters take out everything in blue.
You need to prune ruthlessly.
We don't need you to tell us what those guys look like; you can show us with how they talk and what they say.

You've got a good idea and I was willing to read to see if you'd pull it off but this one would have gotten the dreaded form letter after five pages. You can save this with careful editng.