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Doris Ex Machina, Part the Third

It was my plan to post a new blog yesterday but Jeff was hogging the computer.  He was mumbling about line edits and cursing periodically, but mostly he seemed happy with his progress. Which is, I think, a good thing. Being dead, I am not such a good judge. Anyway, last week I introduced you to our synchronized swim coaches, Irina and Paul Cojocaru. So today I should be telling you about our progress in the pool. But I think perhaps I feel sad, or maybe guilty that yesterday was my dear Mother’s birthday and I didn’t tell you anything yet about Stela. Stela was a seamstress, a beet farmer and a chanteuse.  Here she is, between sets, at our most famous of Romanian nightclubs.

Stela was much beloved. Here you see her most loyal fans. Please to excuse their rowdy behavior, but they are most eager for Stela to return for the second set.

Stela was a most perfect mother and I miss her dearly. She is dead now a very long time. Of course, I am also dead a very long time, so anyway there is that. I should tell you that Stela was jealous of my relationship with Irina, but not today.  I think they call that picking a nit and I will not pick even one of my dear Mother’s nits on this day.

Besides, I am running out of the time and I still need to tell you about the murder of my cousin Vlad, in Doris' dressing room on Romania's Got Talent.


Adelina was born in Bucharest in 1887.

She died of tuberculosis in Brooklyn in 1936.

Being dead, she has time to blog.

Doris Ex Machina, Part the Second

Where did I leave off? You will excuse me, but my memory is not so good any more now that I am dead.

Anyway, if I am remembering, my cousin Iulia gathered us all in the kitchen to tell us of what she would daydream. We were very much surprised when she told us of her hope to become a member of the Romanian Olympic Team.  That we would all become members of the Team. Iulia explained that we must all agree on a sport. Tunde suggested gymnastics. Doris said, what were the chances that Romanian girls would ever become world-class gymnasts? Doris is the smartest so we agreed that gymnastics was a bad idea.  We waited for Doris to suggest another sport. After much time, she suggested skeet shooting. Andreea had not so very long ago joined PETA. She explained to us how skeet are like humans, with hopes and dreams, with feelings and thoughts and a central nervous system and we were all deeply shamed by our willingness to murder poor defenseless skeet.

It seems that our Olympic dream would die there, until Vlad suggested that we form a synchronized swimming team. Vlad said he would be the team leader as he was of all the cousins the best at swimming.  If Vlad could tell you the story, which of course he cannot, he would tell you he was the best at everything. So you will not be surprised when I tell you that when we decided to perform a Greek classic on Romania’s Got Talent, that Vlad would play the part of God and that the rest of us would be the Greek chorus. Also that our acting troupe would be known as Vlad and the Impalerettes. But you are not ready to hear that part of my story. So please to forget about the Impalerettes. (I know, it is a hard thing to forget, but promise me you will try).

Because I am still needing to tell you about the Olympics. We were fortunate to secure the two best coaches in all of Romania, Paul and Irina Cojocaru.

Here they are at their home on the Black Sea. That’s Irina on the left.

We were fortunate indeed.


Adelina is the pretty one. She was born in Bucharest in 1887.

She died of tuberculosis in Brooklyn in 1936.

Being dead she has time to blog.

Doris Ex Machina, Part the First

Jeff assigned me the responsibility to blog for him while he’s busy dealing with chapter business. He assured me that people would be interested in my experience as a contestant on Romania’s Got Talent, and perhaps he is correct, but so far it seems that he is not. Don’t tell him I said this, but Jeff is not correct about many things. Still, he trusted me with this blog and I feel some responsibility, in his absence, to build for him the audience. You may be wondering who I am. I am Adelina, Jeff’s dead Romanian ancestor.

Anyway, Jeff says I am supposed to tell you about how I discovered my cousin Vlad’s body, in Doris’s dressing room, on the set of Romania’s Got Talent. As if I could begin the story at such a point. I do not understand how Jeff can find a publisher who will pay him any money at all for his stories when he does not seem to understand that a story must have a proper beginning, middle and ending.

And, of course, a title. A story must have a proper title.

So today I can only begin to tell you the story.


My name is Adelina. I am the pretty one. The others in the photograph are my cousins, Andreea, Iulia, Doris, Tunde and Vlad. (I do not understand how a boy with such a tiny putz can gain the nickname The Impaler. I asked my cousin Tunde. She smiled, but would not say).

We did not start out to become contestants on Romania’s Got Talent. We did not start out to be anything. We did our chores and studied the Talmud and daydreamed about our future husbands. (I do not know what Vlad dreamed about.)

Also, I did not know what Iulia dreamed about until one day, she gathered us all in the kitchen and told us of her plans. And that, I think, is as much as I can tell you today.



Adelina is the pretty one. She was born in Bucharest in 1887.

She died of tuberculosis in Brooklyn in 1936.

Being dead, Adelina has time to blog.

What’s in a Query? Everything and Nothing.

paper with who what why when how written on it is on the desk with a cup of coffee and a ball pen aside.When I tell people that I’ve never written a query that didn’t result in a request for pages, they can’t believe it. When I tell them I only ever sent out three (or six if you count the random assignments I was given to pitch to at conferences) queries, they are shocked.

But here’s the thing: I researched before I sent out my original set of queries. I looked not only at who represented what (which you can generally find on websites) but who sold what (which you can find out on Publishers Marketplace). I don’t care if an agent loves thrillers, if every sale she’s ever made is a cozy, she is probably not going to have the right set of contacts for thriller writers.

Because I belong to RWA, MWA, HWA and ITW, I am involved in a lot of discussions about queries. And I can also say that any query I’ve ever edited for someone has also resulted in a request for pages.

Your query is an enormously important piece of writing. If you’re looking for an agent or editor, it may be the only piece of writing the people you want to take you on ever see. If you’re self-publishing, think of it as your cover copy—it’s the thing that’s going to make readers pick up your book.

A query letter has some basic pieces, but the one most people get wrong is the part that is like cover copy, the part that hooks an agent or editor and makes them want to find out more. Because that’s the trick—it’s not a synopsis that gives away everything in your book, it’s just a taste, a tease, a tempt.

Here's a look at the cover copy for Every Dead Thing, which would make a perfect query:

Former NYPD detective Charlie "Bird" Parker is on the verge of madness. Tortured by the unsolved slayings of his wife and young daughter, he is a man consumed by guilt, regret, and the desire for revenge. When his former partner asks him to track down a missing girl, Parker finds himself drawn into a world beyond his imagining: a world where thirty-year-old killings remain shrouded in fear and lies, a world where the ghosts of the dead torment the living, a world haunted by the murderer responsible for the deaths in his family—a serial killer who uses the human body to create works of art and takes faces as his prize. But the search awakens buried instincts in Parker: instincts for survival, for compassion, for love, and, ultimately, for killing.

Aided by a beautiful young psychologist and a pair of bickering career criminals, Parker becomes the bait in a trap set in the humid bayous of Louisiana, a trap that threatens the lives of everyone in its reach. Driven by visions of the dead and the voice of an old black psychic who met a terrible end, Parker must seek a final, brutal confrontation with a murderer who has moved beyond all notions of humanity, who has set out to create a hell on earth: the serial killer known only as the Traveling Man.

The cover copy answers the three essential questions of a mystery or thriller query. (Different genres have different questions.)

    1. 1. Who is the protagonist? What drives him?
    2. 2. What's the conflict? How does he get sucked into something he can't deal with (and, of course, what is it that he's sucked into)?
    3. 3. What's the setting and mood?

Your query should show the mood of the book—you can tell me it's a humorous cozy, but your query should also be written in that voice. Setting is also important because in your book, setting should be a character (major or minor role, it's up to you, but it's there). You can see from the "bickering career criminals" that there will probably be some black humor and from the language — "shrouded", "fear", "torment"—that it will be grim. That's part of what an agent or editor is looking for. Not only what your story is about, but also that you're the right person to write it.

So take the time, polish your query over and over. Think it over. Send it to friends in a writing group who know nothing about your story. That's important because people who do know will fill in the blanks. Editors and agents don't have time to fill in the blanks. They need you to make it as simple and perfect as you can.

Laura K Curtis Laura K. Curtis gave up a life writing dry academic papers for writing decidedly less dry short crime stories and novel-length romantic suspense and contemporary romance. A member of RWA, MWA, ITW, and Sisters in Crime, she has trouble settling into one genre.

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