Thursday, June 25, 2015

Query Kombat Round 4 is LIVE!

GO GO GO!

Same rules, as always! This round will end on Friday, 8 pm EST. Judges - get your votes in before that time! 

There are three of Mike's team, three of Michelle's, and two of mine (the #Writerbees) still in the competition. This is going to be amazing (and brutal).

GOOD LUCK!

QK Round 4: Queen of Drones vs Elephants Never Forget

Entry Nickname: Queen of Drones
Title: The Chimera’s Snare
Word count: 85K
Genre: YA Sci-fi Postapocalyptic

Query:


June was only a child when a failed scientific experiment spawned an incurable chimaera-virus, dissipating humanity. Now, at sixteen, she lives confined to a bunker at Alpha, one of the twenty-four armored settlements scattered in the ruins of North America. Unlike the other settlers, June is never allowed above ground. Her only link to the outside world is the streaming feed on her holographic monitor; her only companion is her stoic, infuriatingly secretive guard Kyle.

When ravenous, flesh-eating chimaeras destroy Alpha, June’s isolation is shattered. Together with Kyle, she treks across a mutant-infested bayou to the neighboring Omega, where they encounter three other Alpha survivors. But, each person remembers the attack differently and June must race to piece together the truth behind their conflicting memories before the survivors turn on each other and before the monsters strike again. Alpha’s subterranean database could hold the key to reconciling their stories and finding a way to defeat the chimaeras, but with four other settlements already fallen, time is quickly running out.

June and Kyle return to Alpha to search for clues, instead they unravel a past that ties them directly to the horror of chimaeras. June discovers she is a clone, engineered to turn the world into a beehive of zombie-like drones, and Kyle is an assassin sent to stop her. An assassin, whose wiped memories are beginning to resurface. If June isn’t strong enough to override the monstrous program in her DNA, she must persuade Kyle to follow his orders and kill her.

First 250 words:


June felt the vibration in her bones seconds before the emergency siren shrilled to life. The wave of sound passed through the thick layer of earth, slamming against the bunker’s titanium bearings. The walls and ceiling shuddered and the silver chess figurines on the table knocked against each other, June’s careful strategy scrambled into chaos.

In the space of a heartbeat she was up, her ear pressed to the concrete, straining to catch familiar sounds beyond the blaring wail.

The main generator was silent.

We can’t stop the apocalypse, but we can survive it.
June scowled at the enclave’s oh-so-optimistic motto flickering on the holographic monitor above her bed. Clinging to a false hope wasn't surviving.

She climbed on the mattress, licked her fingers and reached towards the air-conditioning ducts. Nothing, other than a faint scent of mildew. And apples. In the settlement, apples were a luxury. Wondering which chemical compound could've produced the odor, she didn’t notice when the siren cut out.

For several long moments the walls trapped its echo, fainter with each iteration. But the air conditioner, the generator, and the intercom system didn’t come back online.

“Kyle?” June’s voice pitched high, amplified by her room’s armored carapace. In response, something groaned and from above issued a long, plaintive screeching.

“Kyle, where are you?”

Not in the bunker. Otherwise, he would’ve already responded. Her stomach went weightless; in the last two years, Kyle rarely left her side.

She jumped off the bed and rubbed her bare foot against her calf.



VS



Entry Nickname:
Elephants Never Forget
Title: THE IVORY NEEDLE
Word Count: 72K
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy

Query:

Only two are yet remaining,
Precious magic ever waning . . .

That’s just part of the mysterious message 16-yr-old Chessie receives when she’s forced to visit her great-grandmother for the summer. Bad enough Gram lives in middle-of-nowhere, Kenya. But when Chessie’s contacted by the spirit of Jhelani, an eons-dead elephant, things take a total left turn toward weird. Communicating with cryptic songs and strange symbols, Jhelani’s message slowly emerges: if someone cannot save the last of her once-immortal tribe, the Earth may pay an unknown price. Freaked out and overwhelmed, Chessie shuts down, breaks communication, and refuses to help.

Meanwhile, Kenyan teen Daniel can’t feed his family when his crops fail. Desperate for work, he’s coerced into a gang of poachers with their sights set on a huge payday: the remaining elephants of Jhelani’s tribe. Just this one job, he swears. Then he’ll find honest work. Hold his head up again.

Chessie finally comes to a decision. She wants to be the kind of person who, as Gram would say, “grabs life by the tusks.” But by the time she finds the missing elephants, the poachers are closing in. With elephants charging and bullets flying, Chessie’s taken prisoner and her world and Daniel’s collide. To survive, Chessie must conquer her fears and seize a dangerous opportunity to escape. And Daniel must decide where he’ll draw the line: thief, poacher, or accessory to murder.

First 250:
When your family falls apart, I suppose you shouldn’t expect anything to be the same again. Not even your mother’s smile.

Mom’s goofy I-love-my-life smile hadn’t been seen in months, and I’d become all too familiar with the distant impostor that had replaced it. But the smile she wore right now? Pretty sure I’d never seen that one before. Like something you’d grab at the mall without stopping to try it on, it was too tight and way too bright.

And she was cooking, for the first time in months. “Mom? What’s going on?” I dropped into a kitchen chair and watched her pull something from the oven.

“Roast chicken? Dibs on the drumstick,” Bent shouted, slamming his scrawny ten-year-old frame into the chair nearest the chicken. He leaned across the table, freckled nose practically up the bird’s butt, and took a deep sniff. “Look, Chessie, mac-n-cheese, too.”

Mom set a tray of steaming cornbread on the table and sat down, still beaming. “Your great-gram has invited us to visit her. In Africa.”

I paused, forkful of mac-n-cheese halfway to my mouth. My stomach felt hollow. I had the feeling no amount of mac-n-cheese was going to fill it, not even one with four gourmet cheeses and a crispy crumb topping. “Can you get enough time off for a trip like that?”

Her smile flickered like the lights during a thunderstorm, right before the power went out for good. “I . . . I can’t go. But you two will go without me.”

QK Round 4: Best(iary) Western vs A Girl and Her Serial Killer

Entry Nickname: Best(iary) Western
Title: Fugitive Motel
Word count: 90K
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal Fantasy

Query:


By day, fifteen-year-old Iris Vox sleepwalks through high school. By night, she plays a grown-up behind the reception desk of her father’s Kansas hotel, checking supernatural Others in and out. Quick with a dart gun or a convenient lie, Iris provides her guests with live food, fresh blood, or a quiet place to spin a web.

It’s the only life Iris has ever known, but it was safer when her dad didn’t spend so much time as a human smoothie. Born with a hereditary curse, he liquefies then pupates back to his normal shape. Dad’s metamorphosis used to happen on a schedule. Now it comes without warning, leaving Iris to hold everything together.

Just as sleep is a luxury to Iris, so is the truth. Her father won’t admit that something’s changed in his curse, or where her mother went. Enraged by her father’s silence, Iris turns to her guests for human contact. Consoling a vampire’s fading blood moll, soothing the self-hate of werewolves, and helping a handsome insect learn to fly, Iris finds her role as listener and solace. While Iris navigates her anger, the curses that fuel the Other world get stronger and stranger. Deeply buried magic is rising to the surface, bringing with it ancient beings who lack the “humanity” that makes Others worth protecting.

Faced with how these new beings will corrupt and endanger the world of Others, Iris finally learns her father’s secret, and its cost to her family. Now she has to decide whether she wants to become the next Innkeeper, or leave the Other world behind.

First 250:

5:45 a.m.

A man staggers in through our automatic doors. Glad for some action, I slide last month’s National Geographic under the counter to focus on my customer. Nothing special about him; anyone else would see a regional salesman coming in after driving all night. An older man with skin like a re-used paper bag.

But the stagger…it’s not quite right. Drunks weave. This guy lurches forward like he’s got an absolute goal. Our desk. Me.

Yep. Pale, sullen, haggard with a side of desperate determination? Definitely looks like one of ours, but I have to be sure.

“Can I help you, Sir?”

“Have you got a room, Miss?”

The man grips the rim of the counter to steady himself. His well-groomed fingernails point toward me. With a great effort he lifts his left hand and slaps it on the counter twice. That’s good. It’s half the sign. Still, he’s not finished performing.

“What are you looking for exactly, Sir?” I prompt.

There’s a long anxious pause as he tries to remember. He grips so hard that his nail beds turn whitish gray. My right hand creeps under the counter so that my index finger can rest on the pebbled steel of the trigger. I feel it and my heart rate drops.

“Rest and feed,” the man answers finally, fishing the words from some hard-to-access place in his brain, laying them out heavily on the counter.

Bingo.


The words before the knocks would have better though. Doing it backwards means he’s starving.



VS



Entry Nickname:
A Girl and Her Serial Killer
Title: The Confidant
Word count: 62k
Genre: NA Thriller

Query:


18-year-old Stella Stokes has a secret: Gideon, a dashing English serial killer in the novels she writes, actually talks to her. He’s been by her side, offering somewhat twisted peanut gallery commentary, advice, and affection for every pathetic turn in her adolescent life. Sure, some of his darker suggestions scare her, she’s never been worried about his presence. After all, she’s the only one who can interact with him; he can’t really kill anyone.

The summer following high school graduation, Stella and her best friend, supernatural-obsessed, trans-man Quinn, decide to take a few weeks to explore California. However, their first stop at an idyllic beach town isn’t quite as calming as they would’ve hoped: a local’s prank gone horribly wrong leaves Quinn and Stella standing dumbstruck over four dead bodies. As they clean up the mess and flee town, Stella can’t help but notice Gideon’s signature all over the murders.

Now, Stella has no choice but figure out what Gideon is: ghost, demon, byproduct of mental illness, or something else entirely. Because if Gideon is more than an imaginary friend, not only could he really begin a murder spree, but maybe he really could force her to kill with him. As bodies stack up around them, Stella has to keep one step ahead of the authorities, keep Quinn safe, and most importantly, prove that the writer is more powerful than the creation.

First 250 words:


"You're barmy if you don't think a paid professional screwing up your haircut is enough reason to kill them.”

I open my drawer and snatch the first two pieces of water-friendly fabric I see. The unsolicited advice comes from Gideon, who lies on my bed tossing a dragon figurine from hand to hand. We’ve been talking for five minutes, and I’m so done.
“No, Gideon, you’re…whatever you just said if you think I'm going to murder someone because she cut my hair too short,” I say. “Besides, you’re English. Your people would rather suffer in silence than complain about a subpar haircut. Turn around.”

Gideon rolls his eyes and turns his back to me. I slip into my bikini.

“This figurine is a good density. An ideal bludgeoning weapon—”

“Don’t change the subject.”

I reach for my cover-up, but stop as Gideon wraps his arms around my waist.

“C’mon, poppet. Have I steered you wrong before?”

I resist a smile as he presses his lips to my throat. The moment almost lasts, but a thunk from inside my bathroom brings me back to reality: my best friend Quinn is changing in there, and when he comes out, he won’t be able to see Gideon.

After all, I'm the only person who can interact with him. 

I pull away and return my figurine to the shelf, hoping Gideon gets the message. His words roll around my mind, and my eyes linger on the golden dragon.

It is dense.

QK Round 4: Give a Girl a Redo vs Life Sucks, I'm Stuck in Podunk

Entry Nickname: If You Give a Girl a Redo
Title: The Art of Almost
Word count: 104,000
Genre: Upmarket Women’s Fiction

Query:

32-year-old Anna Marin already carries too many regrets. She’s still pining for the one who got away and can’t forgive herself for the fallout from her mother’s stroke. On a flight home to marry the wrong man, Anna realizes she must take control of her life and stop living in the past.

But when she wakes as her 20-year-old self en route to her semester abroad in Australia, it seems fate has a different idea: a second chance with Charlie Beckham, the older man she was drawn to but never pursued. This time Anna falls hard, and being with Charlie is even better than what she’s imagined.

Yet if Anna’s history plays out as it once did, in a few months her mother will suffer a debilitating stroke. And Anna’s baby sister will begin a downward spiral from which she never recovers. When Anna’s efforts to change the future from across the Pacific fail, she must make an impossible decision: walk away from the love of her life—again—or stay with Charlie and abandon her family.

Adding to Anna’s distress, her on-and-off college boyfriend (and future fiancé) flies to Australia to win her back. Seeing him as the boy she fell in love with, Anna finally realizes she also played a part in their relationship’s unraveling. As he shows a side Anna’s never seen, and it becomes clear Charlie cannot leave Australia, Anna wonders whether part of her mission is rewriting her first love story.

First 250 words:

I tried to steady my breathing as Nick lowered down on one knee. A cool spring breeze blew petal confetti toward us, so gently that bits of white and pink remained suspended in midair before fluttering to the ground. Shushing spread through the people surrounding us; suddenly it made sense why our family and friends all happened to show up at the same benefit. Even the river, humming low and deep like a bass line just beyond the hotel courtyard, slowed to a crawl.

And yet I couldn’t hit pause, take a second to reflect on how I’d let it get so far.

“Anna Jane, you are my past and my future. You’re all of my best memories and the center of every great moment to come. And so to you I present—” here he paused to allow sufficient time to appreciate his pun—“this ring. It’s time we made it official!”

The choreography was perfect.

I tried to speak, to tell him it felt like I was disappearing. That putting a ring on my finger would sever the last threads tying me to the earth. But the words went sliding down some shadowy passage, piling on top of all the other things I never said.

Nick’s speech kept going, though not a word registered. I searched the gowns and tuxedoes for a flash of crimson and looked up. My eyes met my sister Claire’s and I immediately regretted it. Hers held a question; mine, a plea.

I had to look away or I’d cry. Or scream.



VS



Entry Nickname: Life Sucks—I’m Stuck in Podunk
Title: Middle of Knowhere
Word count: 70K
Genre: YA Contemporary

Query:


Truck-driving, tobacco-chewing rednecks. That’s what seventeen-year-old Hailey Nelson pictures when her dad decides to up and relocate their family from vibrant Chicago to the middle of God-Knows-Where. She plans to hate this small, rural three-stoplight town. But what she doesn’t anticipate is falling in love with a Pepto-Bismol colored antiques store and the quirky woman who runs it. A woman who shows her more love and affection than Hailey's always absent, TV journalist mother.

Misery does love company, and when Hailey finds out her parents are getting divorced, anti-social Ryker Evans—a local teen outcast and bearer of hideous posture—is surprisingly supportive and understanding. Probably because his family is even more messed up than hers. When Hailey gets a glimpse of what Ryker could look like with a little TLC, Project Ryker is on. Only she doesn’t expect Ryker to be hot with a capital “H.” Or sweet and fun, writing her songs and taking her dumpster diving for donuts. Now she has more to worry about than her parents’ divorce and her mother’s abandonment. She has her own stupid feelings for Ryker to work through too.

But falling for Ryker could present a whole new set of problems. Because ever since his mother took her own life, Ryker has blamed himself. And if Hailey tries to find out the truth of what happened that day, she could lose him forever.

First 250:

This is what hell looks like.

I stare out the window of Dad’s Ford Explorer. Along the curvy road, dilapidated double-wide trailers that look like they belong in some independent film version of a horror flick, litter the sparse lawns. An old couch, unused tires, and even a rust-stained toilet lay strewn next to one particularly neglected trailer.

“Please tell me no one lives there,” I mutter.

Dad glances in my direction, his mouth set in a firm, disapproving line. “Now, Hailey, try to remember that these people aren’t as fortunate as you and I.” His eyes grind into me, like a pestle trying to turn me into bits of shame. “They do the best they can.”

I sigh and turn back to the window as another trailer comes into view, this one even more unkempt. Amazingly enough, one of the occupants is sitting on the sagging porch steps blowing a cloud of smoke into the humid summer air. The man is grease personified. Like if someone wrung him out, they’d have an entire vat of frying oil. I wrinkle my nose and look down when I make eye contact with him. Suddenly, my nails are desperate for attention.

“How long until Mom joins us?” I ask, digging at one particularly bothersome cuticle.

Mom’s been gone for weeks now. As a broadcast journalist, she jet sets around the world while Dad acts as homemaker extraordinaire. Not that I’m knocking my dad’s skills. He can make a mean BLT.

QK Round 4: Eavesdropping Monkey vs. Librarians, Curses, and Mysteries

Entry Nickname: Eavesdropping Monkey
Title: FAMILY REUNION
Word count: 650
Genre: Children’s Picture Book - Funny

Query: 


When the monkeys overhear the elephants planning a family reunion they decide to throw a bash for their long lost relations, too. But they’re not the only ones. Family reunions are too good to miss out on and party planning spreads through the jungle like a Savanna grass fire.

Soon the watering hold is filled to capacity with animals of different species. Tempers flare as each fight to reunite with their own kind. Talk about a bungle in the jungle. Finally, a wise frog speaks up with a better idea that blows the family reunion right out of the watering hole.

FAMILY REUNION is an amusing tale of diversity and acceptance. At 650 words, this fun-filled, rollicking rhyme will appeal to children of the 4-8 age range.

First 250 words: 

On a hot, steamy day in the Jungle of Ghee,
A sly, nosey monkey swung from a tree.
He was eavesdropping on a large elephant herd,
And he hung there and listened to every last word.

“We’ll invite all our cousins from near and afar,”
Said the matriarch queen named Ali Dalmar.



VS



Entry Nickname: Librarians, Curses, and Mysteries – Oh My!
Title: The Curious Curse of the Lonely Library
Word Count: 56k
Genre: Upper Middle Grade Low Fantasy

Query:


The Pickettsville library has moldered in silence for two hundred years, but Theodore Plumford can sense that it’s special. Not just any library was founded by a madman.

Left with relatives one summer, twelve-year-old Theodore coaxes his reluctant siblings to explore the unusually grand town library with him. Though the rest of Pickettsville refuses to darken its doors, the majestic building and its lively librarians soon enthrall the children. But when they discover that characters from the books are haunting the halls, an investigation into the founder’s mysterious life reveals a curse causing the library’s present predicament.

As the Plumfords and librarians unravel the past, the library’s future seems brighter. But Theodore’s impetuous brother Hugo would rather have an adventure than help the others, even if it throws the library into chaos. With the town clamoring to demolish the building and the characters fighting for their freedom, Theodore’s mettle will be tested when their lives and the library are endangered because of Hugo’s foolish choices. The bookworm who has always lived through others’ stories must learn how to be his own hero if he’s going to save the day.

First 250:

Theodore’s neck prickled when they drove past the building on their way into town. The rest of Main Street was a collection of shabby stores, but this place stood apart like a wild beast among tabby cats.

Six white columns guarded a wide double door, and cold, silent windows rose between the pillars. On top of the building, rosy light streamed through the panes of a glass dome. It looked like a ball of fire upon a mammoth block of ice.

“Mom, what’s that?”

Mrs. Plumford twisted in her seat to follow Theodore’s pointing finger. She squinted into the sun. “I’m not sure. You’ll have to ask your aunt.”

Theodore’s younger sister Lucy squirmed around to look at the building before it disappeared from view. “It looks scary,” she whispered.

“It looks boring,” said Hugo Plumford, elbowing Lucy in the center seat to make more room for himself. “Are we there yet?”

“Almost,” said Mr. Plumford. He turned the car into a neighborhood of prim houses in tidy rows, each so alike they might have been pressed from the same mold.

Hugo squashed his nose against the glass and groaned. “Can’t I go with you? I don’t wanna stay here.”

“No,” said Mr. Plumford. “I’d prefer you weren’t eaten by a crocodile.”

“But I wouldn’t!”

“Hugo, you’d be trying to measure its teeth the minute I turned my back.”

Theodore stifled a sigh and hunkered over his book, determined to ignore the hundredth round of this debate.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Query Kombat Round 4 Match-Ups!


Here we are-- THE ELITE EIGHT! The PB, MG, NA and Adult Champions have all been determined. We're heading for the final countdown. The BEST OF THE BEST!
Below you will find Round 4 match-ups. I'm feeling very sorry for the judges. They are going to be pulling their hair out. 


Round four will be hosted at my blog. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please leave a comment or tweet me @SC_Author.


The Round starts on Thursday and only lasts two days. There will be 10 judges assigned this round and next but all judges are welcome to vote. Then we will jump quickly to round 5 on Sunday and the Finals on Wednesday.



All entries that were knocked out should have all their requests unlocked. If you've been knocked out and your requests aren't unlocked, please contact the blog host. Those requests will send 50 pages!

Round 4 Match-ups

Eavesdropping Monkey vs Librarians, Curses, and Mysteries
Give a Girl a Redo vs Life Sucks, I'm Stuck in Podunk
Best(iary) Western vs A Girl and Her Serial Killer
Queen of Drones vs Elephants Never Forget



Good Luck Kombatants!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Query Kombat 2015 Round 3 Match-Ups!



By this time, all entries that were knocked out should have all their requests unlocked. If you've been knocked out and you're requests aren't unlocked, please contact the blog host. Send in your revisions, if you wish to revise, by 8pm EST Friday (not today, mistake on my part)!

Below you will find Round 3 match-ups. Trust me when I say this is going to be a tough round to vote. Just matching these entries was tough. Best of luck judges. You have your work cut out of you.

Round three will be hosted on Michelle's blog. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please leave a comment or tweet me.

Round 3 Match-ups


Give a Girl a Redo v. A Thousand Miles
Paper Girl/Yesterday v. Librarians/Curses/Mysteries
Middle Grade Leverage v. Evesdropping Monkies
Fake Heirs v. Elephant Never Forget
Guinness v. Best(iary)
Guilt by Asso. v. A Girl and her Serial Killer
Life Sucks-I'm Stuck in Podunk v. Forget You Stalin
My Monster is Rotting Twin v. Queen of Drones

Good Luck Kombatants!


Monday, June 15, 2015

Query Kombat Round 2 Has BEGUN!

WOO!!!!!!!!!!!

Same rules as Round 1! Same thing again. This time, entrants must comment/critique 6 other entries. Entrants: you have another revision opportunity for Round 3! If you want to revise, send in your revisions by 8pm EST Friday to the same email address, same format, with '[NICKNAME OF ENTRY] Round 3 Revision' in the subject line.

Round 2 ends Thursday night, 8 pm EST!

GOOD LUCK EVERYONE! (And good luck, Writerbees!)

QK Round 2: Eavesdropping Monkey vs. Impressionistic Cow

Entry Nickname: Eavesdropping Monkey
Title: FAMILY REUNION
Word count: 650
Genre: Children’s Picture Book - Funny

Query: 


The elephants are planning a family reunion. When the monkeys overhear, they decide to have one, too. But they’re not the only ones. The whole family reunion concept is too good to miss out on and it spreads across the jungle like a Savanna grass fire! Soon the watering hole is filled to capacity with animals of different species; which causes a real bungle in the jungle. Tempers flare as each species fights for their right to reunite with their own kind. Finally, a wise frog speaks up with a whole new concept that blows the family reunion idea right out of the watering hole! FAMILY REUNION is an amusing tale of diversity and acceptance. It is approximately 650 words and is written mainly for the 4-8 age range.

First 50 words:


On a hot, steamy day in the Jungle of Kree,
A sly, nosey monkey swung from a tree.
He was eavesdropping on a large elephant herd,
And he hung there and listened to every last word.

“We’ll invite all our cousins from near and afar,”
Said the matriarch queen named Ali Dalmar.



VS



Entry Nickname:
The Impressionistic Cow
Title: CLYDE MOONET
Word count: 471
Genre: Picture Book

Query:
There’s a gorgeous, grassy world out there! See how a talented cow paints it in CLYDE MOONET.

This picture book for ages 4 to 8 is based on the life of Claude Monet. Clyde is tired of painting inside like other artists in his herd, yet no one understands his impressionistic style. Until he paints a series for his hay-stacking brother Biff that changes everything.

CLYDE MOONET is infused with nonfiction elements, such as actual quotes from Claude Monet and back material highlighting aspects of Monet’s life that parallel this story.

First 50 Words:


Clyde Moonet was supposed to paint with his class. But while others painted
vanilla ice cream,
cowbells,
and milk jugs,

Clyde painted the pasture’s color and light.

“You call this ice cream?” Monsieur Milkypants asked.

“Nature is the source of my inspiration,” Clyde replied.

He knew there was more to painting than painting inside.



QK Round 2: Greek Gods vs. Forget You, Stalin

Entry Nickname: Greek Gods are the best kind of trouble
Title: Not Set in Stone
Word count: 94K
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy

Query:
New York City is a far cry from Medusa Kalypto’s drab ancestral gorgon homeland, the Isle of Stone. Her NYC bursts at the seams with humans and the disenfranchised Greek gods. Here, Zeus is a barista, Hermes is famous for being famous, and Hades is a best-selling poet. And it’s the place where her carefully constructed life begins to unravel on her thirtieth birthday.

For humans, turning thirty involves reevaluating their lives and having mini panic attacks between celebratory margaritas. For Medusa, a gorgon with an all too common name, it entails taking a government-mandated test to determine if she has the gorgon curse. The curse means exile to the Isle, and to her mother, where she’ll spend the rest of her life as a pariah due to her relationships with the gods. A fate worse than death.

At least she thought so until the blood oath she took with her ex-boyfriend Ares resurfaces with an ugly side effect, telepathy. Now she’s bonded to her drama-fueled ex and it’s stirring up dangerous feelings. Sometimes a gorgon can’t catch a break.

Even worse, Medusa discovers the blood oath was illegal, sparking an investigation putting her immigration status at greater risk. With deportation and heartbreak looming in the distance, Medusa must find a way to make peace with the god of war or end up just like her mother, another gorgon statistic.

First 250 words:


I twirled a single snake around my index finger like a long green ribbon. The other snakes on my head annoyingly nipped at the bobbing zipper on the back of my dress. Surrounded by a mass of fellow Brooklynites who rarely blinked at a gorgon on Water Street; I marched down the sidewalk with a nervous focus. Here sidewalks were like a benevolent god to which we bowed our heads. Our sole prayer was to keep moving forward.

But each step forward added to the congregation of rocks in my gut. Especially today, on the birthday I feared the most. Did humans hate turning thirty as much as I did?

Hell, I'd relive the hangover again from Hermes’s summer birthday party last year, then to keep moving forward. Literal and metaphorical deaths lurked ahead. The safest option was to never move at all. Never leave the gorgon homeland, the Isle of Stone, in the first place. Never try to live among humans and the fallen Greek gods. Never attempt to make a life for yourself.

But I was never one to play it safe.

Instead, I made friends with the most flamboyant club hopping, druggie, gods in one of the most expensive cities in the world, thus aiding my foreseeable financial death, aka ruin. Racking up student loan debt in both my undergrad and graduate studies didn’t help either. My gorgon death (or birth, depending on your beliefs) now loomed ahead, blurring in the distance like a somber nightmare.



VS



Entry Nickname:
Forget You, Stalin, We're Outta Here
Title: Night Witch
Word Count: 115,000
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction

Query:


Nadya, the diminutive trophy wife to a Communist Party functionary called Peter, learns to navigate aircraft, while navigating a secret relationship with Nikolai. In Stalin’s Soviet Union, an extramarital affair is anti-Communist, and Peter would not hesitate to send Nikolai to the Gulag, if he knew the identity of the man Nadya loves.

While the summer sun shines down in 1941, the Nazi war machine quickly swallows up vast areas of land and millions of men. Nadya’s beloved brother is one of them. Nadya refuses to cave to grief. Instead, she leaves Peter and joins the elite “Night Witches”, an air regiment made up almost entirely of women, as a navigator. For the next four years, coping with loss after devastating loss, two things keep her alive: her skills in the air, and her love for Nikolai, factory worker turned front-line soldier.

After Nadya discovers Peter is an anonymous informer for the secret police, she and Nikolai escape him together. These hardened war veterans have had enough of paranoia, famine, and oppression. Nadya knows that to earn true freedom, she and Nikolai must leave the Motherland altogether. If they cannot evade overzealous border guards and undercover secret police agents, they will die – and their two children will die with them.

First 250 Words:


Moscow, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. September 1940


The tall man with the shock of sandy hair apologized for stepping on my foot, when it really hadn’t been more than a bumping of toes. I smiled and assured him it was all right, and took a seat between two dour-faced men on the metro across from him. The smell of unwashed body contrasted sharply with the elegant station platform I saw out the window, lit with sparkling chandeliers. It was a sight I saw every afternoon on my way home from the flight navigation school where I took classes. It barely registered amidst my floating thoughts about my day, the loveless marriage I was stuck in, and which of my fellow metro riders were compiling denunciations for the secret police while pretending to read Pravda.

I caught the eye of the sandy-haired man again. He was quite handsome, I thought, in his tan topcoat and tie; I couldn’t reconcile the body-odour stink with him. When he returned my smile, I noticed his eyes. Bright, gemlike blue, with corners that crinkled upward at me. Something in my chest tightened. My heart sped up, mimicking the clacking of the wheels on the rails. I held his gaze for a moment before looking away and trying not to fuss with the sleeves of my light jacket.

The train slowed; he stood. “I hope I didn’t injure your foot too badly.” His voice was deep, masculine, smooth as silk. A Don Juan, I thought, but not a contemptible one.

QK Round 2: Queen of Drones vs. Stellar Twins Kickin it Cosmic-Style

Entry Nickname: Queen of Drones
Title: The Chimera’s Snare
Word count: 85K
Genre:
YA Sci-fi Postapocalyptic

Query:

After a failed scientific experiment, twenty-four settlements scattered in the ruins of North America are all that remain of human civilization. Sixteen-year-old June lives confined to an underground bunker at Alpha settlement. Her only link to the outside world is the streaming feed on her holographic monitor; her only companion is her stoic, infuriatingly secretive guard Kyle.

When flesh-eating, genetically engineered chimaeras destroy Alpha, June’s isolation is shattered. She and Kyle trek through a mutant-infested bayou to the next viable settlement, Omega, where they encounter three other Alpha survivors. But, each person remembers the attack differently and June races to piece together the truth behind their conflicting memories before the survivors turn on each other. Alpha’s damaged records could hold the key to reconciling their stories and finding a way to fight the chimaeras, but with four other settlements destroyed, June and Kyle have to act quickly, before the monsters strike again.

The two return to Alpha’s subterranean passages to search for remnants of lost data, instead they unravel a past that ties them directly to the horror of chimaeras. June discovers she is a clone, engineered to turn the world into a beehive of zombie-like drones, and Kyle is an assassin sent to stop her. An assassin, whose wiped memories are beginning to resurface. If June isn’t strong enough to override the monstrous program in her DNA, she must persuade Kyle to follow his orders and kill her.

To make matters worse, another clone would stop at nothing to rule the human beehive.

First 250 words:


June felt the vibration in her bones seconds before the emergency siren shrilled to life. The wave of sound passed through the thick layer of earth, slamming against the bunker’s titanium bearings. The walls and the ceiling shuddered and the silver chess figurines on the table knocked against each other, her careful strategy scrambled into chaos.

In a space of a heartbeat she was up, her ear pressed to the concrete, straining to catch familiar sounds beyond the blaring wail.

The main generator was silent.

We can’t stop the apocalypse, but we can survive it.
June scowled at the enclave’s oh-so-optimistic motto flickering on the holographic monitor over her bed. Grasping at straws wasn't surviving.

She climbed on the mattress, licked her fingers and reached towards the air conditioning ducts. Nothing, other than a faint scent of mildew. And apples. In the settlement apples were a luxury. Wondering which chemical compound could've produced the odor, she didn’t notice when the siren cut out.

For several long moments the walls preserved its echo, fainter with each iteration. But the air conditioner, the generator, and the intercom system didn’t come back online.

“Kyle?” June never liked the sound of her voice. It pitched childishly high and the discord between her chronological age and her frail, angular body made her acutely self-conscious.

“Kyle, where are you?”

Not in the bunker. Otherwise, he would’ve already responded.

She jumped off the bed and rubbed her bare foot against her calf. The floor was rapidly cooling and this too was wrong.

“Kyle!”



VS



Entry Nickname:
Stellar Twins Kickin it Cosmic-Style
Title: Emergence
Word Count: 66k
Genre: YA Space Opera

Query:

The year is 2088. Solar flares have turned Earth to a dusty red planet, and mankind has terraformed Mars into utopia. So far, only the lucky have migrated to a brave new world…or so it would seem.

Sixteen-year-old Joey Westen never thought she’d go to Mars. Her life of painting murals on the walls of her lead-lined home was good enough, until a golden letter arrived in the mail. She and her twin brother, Jesse, won a spot in the Emergence Program. They’ll be jetting off on the next flight to humanity’s new home, and the shuttle leaves tomorrow.

It takes only minutes in space for Joey and Jesse to realize something’s wrong, as a total ship lockdown was not in the brochure. After meeting their roommates, the Matsuda twins (notorious hackers and shady secret-keepers), they discover an extremist plot to sabotage the Emergence Program. No other shuttles made the trek to Mars, their lush paradise waits empty, and the terrorist responsible is loose onboard their ship. They didn’t travel to the deepest pits of space to be slaughtered by a psycho in a high-tech tin can. These two sets of siblings will lie, hack, even kill to survive the attacks and make it to their promised land.

First 250:


Joey pulled a helmet over her head and fastened the latch to her anti-radiation suit. So much work, just to get the weekly post. Her art kit waited, the sketch of an ocean left unfinished, but chores don’t do themselves.

After flipping on her oxygen tank, she hit a red button on the wall. A buzzer sounded and the outer door of her home crept open, sucking all air from the room. Light glared off metal, shocking her eyes for a split second. The sun’s flare raged today, no different from yesterday, and the same forecast as tomorrow.

She slid down her visor. A reflection of the deep crimson sky colored the lens of her old spacesuit, which still bore the tag from Goodwill. Her boots scattered dust with each step, a cloud of scarlet haze kicking up when she stopped. While peering through tinted glass, she imagined the land as her mother described it. The reddish tint, which covered the parched countryside, transformed to crisp green meadows and pools of turquoise shaded water. Heavy layers of gray smog gave way to puffy white clouds.

Her fantasy ended when a ray of sunlight pierced through her visor. She lifted her arm, blocking the shimmer that bounced from a monstrous glass dome. Hard soil crunched as she neared the edge of a steep drop-off. She gazed down, spying into the elite A-Sector. All those people, strolling along without radon-suits, safe inside a UV bubble of riches.

QK Round 2: Teenagers Make Poor James Bond vs. A Girl and Her Serial Killer

Entry Nickname: Teenagers Make Poor James Bond Substitutes
Title: Pandora from the Clay
Word Count: 65,000
Genre: Young Adult Psychological Thriller

Query:

Having spent most of his life passed from one foster-home to another, seventeen-year-old Tyler Bennett has decided that the only person he can believe in is himself. But when he is brainwashed by Pantheon, a neo-fascist organization hell-bent on subverting the government from within, he learns that even trusting himself is too much to ask.

With a single phrase, “Olympus is rising,” Tyler’s handler can override his conscious mind and order him to do anything—including murder.

However, when Tyler suddenly regains control during a job and spares his target, he finds himself hunted by both Pantheon and the police. To uncover his locked memories and recall what was done to him, he retraces his steps through past crime scenes. Between fighting brainwashed assassins and his inner demons, he begins to recall a childhood he never experienced. Places he’s never been to. People who refer to him by a number instead of a name.

As Tyler revelations draw him closer to the truth behind Pantheon and himself, his search sets him on a ruinous collision course with members of the enigmatic group. If he doesn’t find out Pantheon’s purpose before it's too late, his life is forfeit—and he may be the one to end it.

First 250 words:


Tyler Bennett awoke to find himself in a stranger’s bathroom, with no recollection of how he had gotten there. He was standing in front of the white marble vanity, staring at the mirror—or rather, what was left of it.

A few large shards bristled like teeth from the thin steel frame. The rest of the broken glass was scattered across the counter amid lipstick tubes, broken eyeshadow palettes, and a number of other cosmetics whose functions he didn’t know. A woman’s arsenal.

The overhead lamp plated the objects with a sterile, infusing light, while also seeming to impart strategic focus upon them. In the center of the mess, a handgun lay like the crown gem in a jewelry case, drawing his gaze and trapping it. Before he knew what he was doing, he picked it up.

He couldn’t recall having handled a gun before, but somehow he knew how to check the magazine. At full capacity, it held ten bullets. Seven were left. More than enough to finish the job.

What job? Like a stone dropped into a very deep well, the thought lasted only long enough to cause a ripple of unease. Then it was gone.

Tyler clicked the magazine back into place. A distant horror seeped through him, a whispering knowledge that what he was about to do—and what he had done—wasn’t just wrong. It was unforgivable. It was damning.

It was a feeling that had no place in his programming.

Kill.



VS



Entry Nickname: A Girl and Her Serial Killer
Title: The Confidant
Word count: 62k
Genre: NA Thriller

Query:


18-year-old Stella Stokes has a secret: Gideon, a dashing English serial killer in the novels Stella writes, actually talks to her. He’s been by her side, offering somewhat twisted peanut gallery commentary, advice, and affection for every pathetic turn in her adolescent life. Sure, some of the darker suggestions he makes scare her, but she’s never been worried about his presence. After all, she’s the only one who can interact with him; he can’t really kill anyone.

The summer following high school graduation, Stella and her best friend, supernatural-obsessed, trans man Quinn, decide to take a few weeks to explore California. However, their first stop at an idyllic beach town isn’t quite as calming as they would’ve hoped: a prank-gone-horribly-wrong leaves Quinn and Stella standing over four dead bodies. As they clean up the mess and beeline out of town as fugitives, Stella can’t help but notice Gideon’s signature all over the murders.

Now, Stella has no choice but to figure out what Gideon is: ghost, demon, byproduct of mental illness, or something else entirely. Because, well, if Gideon is more than an imaginary friend, not only could he really begin a murder spree, but maybe he really does want Stella to kill with him. As bodies stack up around her, Stella has to remain one step ahead of the authorities, keep Quinn safe, and most importantly, prove that the creator is more powerful than the creation.

First 250 words:

"You're barmy if you don't think a paid professional screwing up your haircut is enough reason to kill them.”

I open my drawer and snatch the first two pieces of water-friendly fabric I see. The unsolicited advice is coming from Gideon as he lies on my bed, tossing a dragon figurine around. This conversation has been going on for five minutes, and I’m just about done.

“No, Gideon, you’re…whatever you just said if you think I'm going to murder someone because she cut my hair too short,” I say. “Besides, you’re English. Your people would rather suffer in silence than complain about a subpar haircut. Turn around.”

Gideon rolls his eyes and turns his back to me. I slip into my bikini.

“This figurine is a good density. An ideal bludgeoning weapon—”

“Don’t change the subject.”

I reach for my cover-up, but stop as Gideon wraps his arms around my waist.

“C’mon, poppet. Have I steered you wrong before?”

I swallow an answer as he presses his lips to my throat. The moment almost lasts, but a thunk from inside my bathroom brings me back to reality: my best friend Quinn is changing in there, and when he comes out, he won’t be able to see Gideon.

I should probably stop and explain something.

I'm the only person who can see/touch/hear/smell/taste Gideon. Call him my imaginary serial killer friend.

I pull away and put my dragon back on the shelf. It is dense.

QK Round 2: Broadway Baby vs. Life Sucks - I'm Stuck in Podunk

Entry Name: Broadway Baby
Title: Showstopper
Word Count: 88k
Genre: Contemporary YA

Query:

Seventeen-year-old Cadence Flemming fantasizes about a different life, one where her best friend Declan’s in love with her, her stepmonster hasn’t drained their bank account, her little sister Peyton stays cancer free, and her dreams of being a Broadway star are possible. Unfortunately, her real life has more drama than Les Misérables.

When Cadence and Declan land a spot on the new Broadway television competition, SHOWSTOPPER, which offers a $100,000 prize and a chance to be a Broadway star - her dreams suddenly seem within reach. But competition is fierce and her cutthroat cast mates make avoiding the elimination rounds harder than hitting a perfect high F. Even worse, halfway into production, Cadence’s nightmare comes true – Peyton’s cancer returns.

With things on set spiraling out of control and her home life becoming more complicated by the second, Cadence finds solace in Declan. He even appears to be falling in love with her, until he kisses their co-star Lyle on live television. Refusing to let go of her dreams, Cadence will have to claw her way to the top if she wants a shot at the spotlight and at granting her dying sister’s last wish of seeing her on Broadway. But one of the contestants is sabotaging the show and trying to get Cadence kicked off – and they’ll do anything to win. Cadence must expose them before they destroy Cadence’s chances and career, for good.

First 250 words:


There’s a moment when you’re watching a Broadway show and the theater goes dark, the music swells, and there’s this pause right before the curtain rises – a moment when anything could happen. If my life were a musical, this would be that moment.

A rainbow of people holding resumes and headshots snakes its way from the fabulous Fox Theatre, around the corner, and past Eighteenth Street into downtown Atlanta. Camera crews litter the streets, cars honk as they try to maneuver through the madness and a half-dozen police officers stand by, watching with interest. Everywhere you look, someone’s singing. I scan the area, my eyes landing on the clusters of people huddled together. Some of them are practicing their moves, some are screaming in excitement and a few are even crying.

But me . . . yeah, I feel like I’ve just done thirty pirouettes without spotting and I’m gonna puke.

My little sister, Peyton, tugs on my sleeve. “Come on, Cady!” she yells, darting around one of the cameramen, accidentally clipping his elbow.

“Hey watch it,” the guy barks.

“Sorry!” I yell over my shoulder. My dance bag bounces against my hip and I try to keep the box of cupcakes steady in my left hand as I chase after Peyton who weaves through another group of television crews with SHOWSTOPPER t-shirts. Even though she’s my half-sister, I’m glad Peyton inherited my family’s musicality and latched on to my Broadway obsession, or I might’ve missed out on today.



VS



Entry Nickname:
Life Sucks—I’m Stuck in Podunk
Title:
Middle of Knowhere
Word count: 70K
Genre: YA Contemporary

Query:


When Hailey Nelson’s father decides to up and relocate their family from vibrant Chicago city life to the middle of God only knows where, seventeen-year-old Hailey thinks her life is over. She plans to hate this small, rural three-stoplight town. After all, what could she possibly have in common with truck-driving, tobacco-chewing rednecks? But what she doesn’t anticipate is falling in love with a Pepto-Bismol colored antiques store and the quirky woman who runs it. A woman who shows her more love and affection than Hailey's always absent, TV journalist mother.

Misery does love company, and when Hailey finds out her parents are getting divorced, anti-social Ryker Evans—a local teen outcast and bearer of hideous posture—is surprisingly supportive and understanding. Probably because his family is even more messed up than hers. When Hailey gets a glimpse of what Ryker could look like with a little TLC, Project Ryker is on. Only she doesn’t expect Ryker to be hot with a capital “H.” Or sweet and fun, writing her songs and taking her dumpster diving for donuts. Now she has more to worry about than her parents’ divorce and her mother’s abandonment. She has her own stupid feelings for Ryker to work through too.

Falling for Ryker could present a whole new set of problems. Because Ryker has scars that run too deep, scars that not even Hailey can heal. And if she tries to save him from his past, she could lose him forever.

First 250:


This is what hell looks like.

I stare out the window of Dad’s Ford Explorer. Along the curvy road, dilapidated double-wide trailers that look like they belong in some independent film version of a horror flick, litter the sparse lawns. An old couch, unused tires, and even a rust-stained toilet lay strewn next to one particularly neglected trailer.

“Please tell me no one lives there,” I mutter.

Dad glances in my direction, his mouth set in a firm, disapproving line. “Now, Hailey, try to remember that these people aren’t as fortunate as you and I have been.” His eyes grind into me, like a pestle trying to turn me into bits of shame. “They do the best they can.”

I sigh and turn back to the window as another trailer comes into view, this one even more unkempt. Amazingly enough, one of the occupants is sitting on the sagging porch steps blowing a cloud of smoke into the humid summer air. The man is grease personified. Like if someone wrung him out, they’d have an entire vat of frying oil. I wrinkle my nose and look down when I make eye contact with him. Suddenly, my nails are desperate for attention.

“How long until Mom joins us?” I ask, digging at one particularly bothersome cuticle.

Mom’s been gone for weeks now. As a broadcast journalist, she jet sets around the world while Dad acts as homemaker extraordinaire. Not that I’m knocking my dad’s skills. He can make a mean BLT sandwich.

QK Round 2: Sand Dollar vs. Librarians, Curses, and Mysteries

Entry nickname: Sand Dollar
Title: Sand Dollar Shopper
Word count: 200
Genre: Picture Book (humorous, lyrical)

Query:


A young boy’s imagination soars as he and his mother collect Sand Dollars at the beach. “Sand Dollar, Sand Dollar, what will I buy?” With his “dollars,” he imagines buying a surfboard-turtle, a singing teacher seal, or a treasure boat to hoist up sunken jewels. When the boy discovers he can trade his Sand Dollars for real dollars at the beachside store, he makes a surprising and heartwarming choice that helps his unexpectedly hatless mom and brings the story full circle. Sand Dollar Shopper is a humorous and lyrical 200-word picture book that would appeal to children ages 2-6.

First 50 words:


(Art: Beach, breezy. Mom presses hat to head)


The wind blows.
The waves push to the shore,
And pull out again.
Seashells sparkle on the sand.
I pick them up, one by one.
White shells, brown shells,
Scallops and snails.
My favorite is the Sand Dollar!

Sand Dollar, Sand Dollar, what will I buy?



VS



Entry Nickname:
Librarians, Curses, and Mysteries – Oh My!
Title: The Curious Curse of the Lonely Library
Word Count:
56k
Genre: Upper Middle Grade Low Fantasy

Query:


The Pickettsville library has moldered in silence for two hundred years, but Theodore Plumford can sense that it’s special. Not just any library was founded by a madman.

Determined to spend the summer reading, twelve-year-old Theodore coaxes his reluctant siblings to explore the unusually grand library with him. Though the rest of Pickettsville refuses to darken its doors, the majestic building and its lively librarians soon enthrall the children. But when they discover that characters from the books are haunting the halls, an investigation into the library’s secrets leads them deep into one family’s peculiar history and one man’s troubled life.

As the Plumfords and librarians unravel the past, the library’s future seems brighter. But Theodore’s impetuous brother Hugo would rather have an adventure than follow orders, even if it throws the library into chaos. With the town clamoring to demolish the building, the characters fighting for their freedom, and Hugo playing by his own rules, Theodore’s mettle will be tested. The bookworm who has always lived through others’ stories must learn how to be his own hero if he’s going to save the library.

First 250:

Theodore Plumford’s neck prickled when they drove past the building on their way into town. The rest of Main Street was a collection of shabby stores, but this place stood apart like a wild beast among tabby cats.

Six white columns guarded a wide double door, and cold, silent windows rose between the pillars. On top of the building, rosy light streamed through the panes of a glass dome. It looked like a ball of fire upon a mammoth block of ice.

“Mom, what’s that?”

Mrs. Plumford twisted in her seat to follow Theodore’s pointing finger. She squinted into the sun. “We’ve never been there. You’ll have to ask your aunt.”

Theodore’s younger sister Lucy squirmed around to look at the building before it disappeared from view. “It looks scary,” she whispered.

“It looks boring,” said Hugo Plumford, elbowing Lucy in the center seat to make more room for himself. “Are we there yet?”

“Almost,” said Mr. Plumford. He turned the car into a neighborhood of prim houses in tidy rows, each so alike they might have been pressed from the same mold.

Hugo squashed his nose against the glass and groaned. “Can’t I go with you?”

“No,” said Mr. Plumford. “I’d prefer you weren’t eaten by a crocodile.”

“But I wouldn’t!”

“Hugo, you’d be trying to measure its teeth the minute I turned my back.”

Theodore stifled a sigh and hunkered over his book, determined to ignore the hundredth round of this debate.

QK Round 2: Fake Heirs Do it Better vs. My Life as a Teenage Pirate Queen

Entry Nickname: Fake Heirs Do It Better
Title: The First Law of Loyalty
Word Count: 97k
Genre: YA Fantasy

Query:

Every night, seventeen-year-old Arun climbs above the mud and grime of the streets into the grand hotels to steal the foreigners’ gold. The gang she serves follows the old philosophies, demanding strict obedience to elders and superiors. Arun is proud to serve them loyally, as her father does, too.

When her cousin, Jaruk, is one of several boys kidnapped by a Grand Duke as part of a plot to put a fake prince on the throne, her loyalties are torn. Gang rules forbid her from meddling with nobility or politics. Disobedience means death for her and dishonor for her father. But Arun loves Jaruk like a little brother, and the duke is torturing the boys in his attempts to recreate the long dead royal family’s magic.

What the gang doesn’t know, they can’t punish. Behind their backs, she trades information with some nobility, but she quickly realizes that even if she gets Jaruk out of the Grand Duke's hands, there will be nowhere to hide when his "prince" controls the country. To protect Jaruk, Arun must outwit the duke and discredit his prince with her own more convincing fake heir. It's a con too high-profile to hide. If she fails she's dead, and Jaruk will suffer, but success will bring the gang's wrath down on her, Jaruk, and her father.

First 250:

I would've rather been with my brothers, slinking through darkened hallways and snatching treasures from empty rooms. Instead, I sat at the back bar of a dockside inn. The stench of booze and sweat strangled me, the pressing heat like chains. Through the smoky haze, I stole glances at the unfortunate pair of foreign sailors beside me, their misfortune being they were idiots about to lose a bunch of money. At least, that was the plan.

They watched my accomplice, Petch, move three cards in circles on the bar top. Their thick, hairy arms folded across their chests gave them an intimidating edge, but the ignorant curiosity plastered on their pale faces indicated they'd make fine marks.

Petch stopped shuffling the cards. "Which one is the queen?" he shouted. The din of the off-key piano and the men bellowing along nearly swallowed his words. I placed a silver coin on the middle card. He flipped it, showing me the face of our country's first queen. Black smudged the edge of her gold headdress. I sent a silent apology her way for Petch shoving her face into the bar’s grime like that.

Petch pushed me two silver coins. Now came the part where I persuaded these sailors to throw money at the game, and therefore convinced Boss Suttirat I wasn't a completely incompetent con artist.

"You look intrigued." I turned to the sailors, tried to make my voice feathery and cute—not so easy with all the noise.



VS



Entry Nickname:
My Life as a Teenage Pirate Queen
Title: Bones of the Rabbit
Word Count: 88,000
Genre: YA High Fantasy

Query:

Eighteen-year-old Uriel Edan knows what people say about her. She’s a killer, a child of destruction, more like a savage dog than human--and the last heir of a dying line of sea lords. Uriel’s sure where she stands when it comes to her own people’s hate and fear of her. With her newly betrothed, she’s not just uncertain, she’s clueless.

Uriel knows her father is desperate to get rid of her—the daughter that killed his wife and son—but she expects poison, not a proposal to Askeladden Nyström, a powerful man from an ancient seafaring family. With Askeladden, Uriel expects lonely days and painful nights, but is surprised when he treats her with kindness. Slowly, she finds herself falling in love with the only person who sees her as something other than a murderer.

Her fragile peace is shattered when Askeladden reveals his plan to destroy the sea lords’ ocean kingdom and rebuild it from the ashes—a plot he urges Uriel to join. Joining Askeladden may give Uriel the respect and love she’s always craved, but she must decide if it’s worth her kingdom, culture, and proving the killer reputation she’s longed to leave behind.


First 250:

As my captor forced me to his master, I at least had the grim satisfaction that I’d put up a hell of a fight before going down. The bag covering my eyes didn’t stop me from guessing where I was headed. When I was pushed down on the coarse floorboard, the warship rocking beneath me confirmed my suspicious.

From across the cabin, I heard his voice. “It took all this?” Disapproval dripped from his voice. No change there. He sounded like he had six months ago.

My captor said, “She’s not one to come quietly.”

“Leave us.”

Footsteps retreated until a door slammed shut. I swallowed as the sack was lifted from my head, blinking away at the lights of my father’s quarters.

Jorah Edan stared at me with more fury than any storm. Father like daughter, I gave him the same look back.

Finally, he spoke, “Well?”

I observed him. “You’ve grown bald.”

My father sat down on his berth with a huff. The bed creaked and groaned; it was older than both of us combined. “Six months. Six months and all you can say is I’ve grown bald?”

“It was on my mind,” I said, pulling at the bindings on my wrist. He noticed, but made no effort to untie me. I longed for my dagger; the ivory-handled weapon sat beside my father. A bit of dried blood colored the brown leather.

At least I managed to cut the bastard. He won’t be using his hand the same again.

QK Round 2: Zip vs. A Thousand Miles Astray

Entry Nickname: Zip
Title: Splinters and Clay
Word Count: 72,000
Genre: Adult Book Club Fiction

Query:

If there is one thing fourteen-year-old Zip thinks she can count on in Sweetgum, Alabama, it is that change comes slowly if it comes at all because time moves, in Sweetgum, to the speed of the sluggish brown river that steadily pushes past the outskirts of town. Zip grows to the tempo of that river and, until she’s fourteen, her family – her mother, grandfather, and older half-sister, Kam – all swirl easily and gradually along, as if trapped together in a slow, warm eddy. But then Kam leaves, and change all of sudden comes flooding in.

Neither Zip nor Kam know who their respective fathers are -- their mother won’t tell them. Their mother won’t tell anyone. Zip has never really minded not knowing the identity of her father, though, because she’s never felt like something was missing in her life. When Kam runs away to find her own father, however, questions suddenly bubble to the surface, and Zip begins to wonder if maybe she is missing something after all. As the heat of summer unfurls, Zip must navigate the void left by Kam's departure and the changes happening to her family, herself, and her town.

Although primarily narrated by Zip, SPLINTERS AND CLAY is just as much about her mother’s coming-of-age as her own. From constantly planning her funeral to hosting a surprise menstruation celebration for her daughter, Zip’s mother has all the crazy that a good Southern mother should have...and then some. Zip’s narrative is interwoven with chapters from her mother’s past, which give perspective to her mother’s silence concerning Kam and Zip’s mysterious fathers. After Kam leaves, Zip’s mother must decide whether holding on to past secrets is worth alienating one daughter and possibly losing the other. She must decide whether she’s not too old to still grow up.

First 250 Words:


“I pick here.”

My mother was lying face down in the field of wildflowers, her thick dark hair splayed like a shade over the brightness of the blooms.

“Here. Right here. This is where I want to be buried,” she said.

“Mom.” I stood near her head and looked down at her. “You can’t just pick any random spot to be buried. It has to be authorized or something. And anyways – get up. You’re not going to be buried for a while.”

“You never know.” She rolled over, spreading her arms wide, palms up. “You’d better be prepared. And you’d better take notes. Because this is it. This is the spot.”

She squinted up at the sun. “You don’t think it will get too hot here in the summer, do you? You might have to plant a tree over me. You know – just for a little shade every now and then. Oh,” she bit her bottom lip. “But what kind?”

She closed her eyes again to think.

“Mom.” I shook my head and picked dandelions with my toes, pulling them from their bases, right against the ground, and tossing them onto her one by one – sprinkling flowers, dirt, and grass across her stomach. “Mom – we don’t even know whose land this is. I seriously doubt they’ll plant a tree smack in the middle of their field with your dead body beneath it. Come on. I’m gonna be late for the doctor’s.”

“Huh.” My mother looked up at me, her sky-blue eyes narrowed against the sun, then closed them again.



VS.



Entry Nickname: A Thousand Miles Astray
Title: PERMANENTLY UNDECLARED
Word Count: 60,000
Genre: NA Contemporary

Query:

Eighteen-year-old Lotus Adams has no time for college. Classes are boring, the frat boys are too slobbery, and the beer is downright nasty. Lotus’s free spirited dad has been out of contact for years, so what mom says goes, and mom says college. Lotus has a plan to find her dad that includes Flora, her dad’s vintage RV. But Mom has the keys, and to get them, Lotus has to give college her all.

For eighteen-year-old Aaron Kim, the anonymity of college is a relief. After finding his girlfriend and a friend in bed together, he threw himself into homework, work, and working out. Afraid that having fun will lead to another broken heart, he’s all business. Aside from his family and his best friend, he’s cut himself off from everyone. But after meeting cynical Lotus, he wonders if he was wrong to drop out of life.

Only Lotus knows that their time together is limited. She will find her dad. Nothing will stand in her way, not even love, because she can’t look forward without answers from her past. When Lotus has to hit the road, Aaron will be left behind, and he may not recover from a second bout of heartache. And while Lotus thought she wanted the open road, her heart may lie on a different path. They may each lose everything if Lotus goes after the only thing she thought mattered.

First 250:

The grassy quad stretched out in front of me, an endless sea of students adorned in Crandall State’s colors. I was too busy sweating my ass off to look for my new roommate, so I plopped down on the edge of the lawn.

“Like sheep,” I muttered. This was too much; I needed space and the open road. I needed to know where dad was, not waste another year at school.

“What’s that?” asked the guy next to me.

“We’re sheep,” I replied. “What’s the point of all this, anyway? Some form of torture?”

“I think they call it ‘freshman orientation,’ actually.” He sounded amused and I sneaked a peek at him, wondering why he was wasting his breath. He stared at me from under black Ray-Bans, while his white hat was turned backwards. Dumb. “I take it you aren’t a fan of higher learning?”

“It was my mom’s idea. You know, if that hat was on the right way, you wouldn’t need the sunglasses.”

He smiled broadly, his shiny perfect teeth flashing at me. “I always need the sunglasses. This way, the hat stays out of my way.”

Ridiculous. “Then why wear the hat at all?”

“Bad hair day,” he replied. Everything in me said turn away, kill this conversation now.

“What, out of mousse before the first day?”

Dammit. I chided myself for encouraging him.

“Maybe I misplaced my flat iron,” he replied. He yanked off the hat, and pulled his hand through glossy black hair.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Query Kombat Round 2 Match-Ups!

The agent round was an IMMENSE success this year. A total of 125 requests were made, with TEN of those going to the highest requested entry.

Below you will find Round 2 match-ups. Since the entry 'Fed to the Crocodiles' received an offer of representation during the agent round (!!!!!), we have 31 entries going into the second round instead of 32. The unmatched entry will advance to round three automatically, but we ask that Kombatants and judges still offer feedback for the lone entry.

Round two will be hosted on my and Michael's blogs. Orange match-ups will be posted on Mike's while I will post red match-ups. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please leave a comment or tweet me @SC_Author!

Round 2 Match-ups


Give a Girl a Redo vs Orphan Red
Zip vs. A Thousand Miles Astray
Best(iary) West. vs Skins of the Father
Evesdropping Monkey vs The Impressionistic Cow
Elephant Never Forgets vs Paranomal Fear
Greek Gods vs Forget You, Stalin
Papergirl/Yesterday vs Muscial Mirror Mayhem
Queen of Drone vs Stellar Twins
Grandma Guardians vs. Middle Grade Leverage
Teenagers Make Poor James Bond vs. A Girl and Her Serial Killer
Brain Gourmet vs. My Monster Twin is Rotting
Broadway Baby vs. Life Sucks-I'm Stuck in Podunk
Guilt by Association vs. Twin for the Win
Sand Dollar vs. Librarians, Curses, and Mysteries
Guiness
Fake Heirs Do it Better vs. My Life as a Teenage Pirate Queen

Good Luck Kombatants!

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Dear Publishing Industry: Fix Your Own Racism Before You Beg for Diverse Books"

Hey all! We've got another #WriteInclusively guest post :D 

I've committed to making my blog free & open to writers who contact me. Writers wish to write about issues concerning diversity in writing, and this blog is a platform for their voices. Me posting this is part of honoring that pact.

(The author wished to remain anonymous for this post.) Since I'm writing a book concerning race, this post was powerful and frightening. We have work to do.

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Mixed feelings. That's what I get when I see a "We Need Diverse Books" logo. Mixed feelings because I love the campaign and everyone in it, but I also get so frustrated with the campaign for many more reasons.

I'm a writer of color writing characters of color who deal with issues of color. My book's characters are almost all of color, and my book explores black culture, black family, black viewpoints, black frustrations with white society and racial oppression, and black truth.

In querying, I failed, drastically. Despite my beta readers' assurances, my crit partners' praise, I didn't get a single request from many dozens of queries. The personal rejections I got came around to, "This isn't for me, but please query me with your next project," or, "The writing is beautiful, but subjectively this isn't for me."

I'm aware, as I write this post, that I have to tread softly, for people will think of me as simply another writer upset at rejection and playing the 'race card'. Yes, I am upset. Furious. And here's why. A movement supposedly for me has failed me.

I am no stranger to rejection. I'm a constant member of the online Twitter community, I'm respectful and polite. I know how the industry works, I am not just an upset rejected writer. I've been rejected over a hundred times for past works - I have tough skin.

When I got rejected so constantly despite years of revision, I started to think - do I have to make my book less 'radical'? Don't get me wrong: there was no call for 'white genocide' or 'all white people are horrible,' but the book honestly reflected some of my own experiences and my friends' experiences, experiences that people that aren't black don't always understand and might be frightened of. The book reflected black individuals' frustrations with white society. I knew that if I watered the book down, I would not be writing the truth.

What should I do? And then I decided, let's research! I realized every single agent I queried was white. I need to search for black agents who might understand.

From the major NYC agencies, I could only find a few black agents - I can count them on one hand and still have many fingers left over.

Almost all are comprised solely of white agents. Here's a few: Wolf Literary, Laura Dail, Harvey Klinger, Donald Maass, Fine Print, Corvisiero, The Book Group, Curtis Brown, Writer's House, the Gernet Company, the Knight Agency, Waxman Leavell, and Folio. Some of these have over a dozen agents. But if you take into account the major agencies that have no black agents, the list goes on and on: Foundry, Fuse, The Bent Agency, just to name some (these three only have one non-white agent). The only agency that has many writers of color is Serendipity, and that agency was created specifically in response to the lack of institutional support for writers of color. (It scares me, though, that Serendipity does not accept submissions from currently incarcerated authors, since for many black people, the prison system is the greatest oppressor.)

The lack of diversity is a big part of the reason why truly diverse books - books with characters that people of color can relate to - haven't been on bookshelves as much as they should. Even if people write diverse novels, they must first be filtered through a very white institution.

"But how are you deciding if these agents are white?" you say! "That's racist, you can't tell if people are of color simply by their pictures."

I used a flawed system and I deeply apologize for that - there was no better way, but that is no excuse for my propagation of erasing the identities of people who identify with color but may not look of color. This erasure is a major issue (people of color needing to 'prove' their color) and I'm sorry for falling into this oppression. I used something called the Paper Bag Test. If you know the history behind this test, you should be horrified and appalled at the idea that I used something like this.

Source
The Paper Bag Test is discrimination based on color (not necessarily race) that granted a higher position to those who were lighter than a brown paper bag. Historically, by granting light-skinned black people greater privileges, it was used to cause internal conflict within enslaved Africans and within black peoples in the Jim Crow era. Currently, it is used to make people of color conform to European standards of beauty (and erase their identities) in exchange for mainstream acceptance (Beyonce's commercial is one of the most blatant and outrageous examples of this). The Paper Bag comes up when magazines digitally edit people of color to look lighter (and make them 'better') or make them darker (and make them 'worse'). The main gist is this: "If you can pass for white, or are white enough, you are accepted."

Only one of the fifty major/famous agencies I looked at (I did not look at every single agency out there - that would be impossible) had any agent that did not pass the Test.

This brings us back to my querying journey. My book is deeply concerned with black issues. The polite rejection from many agents, and my subsequent thought: "Should I make this book less radical?" was nothing more than the Paper Bag Test. My book was not 'radical'. It was Black. Blackness, sadly, has become radical.

"Should I make this book less black?" I wanted to pass the Paper Bag Test. I needed to make my book more white to get into the gates of Publishing. The only way I would be published, practically, was if I either wrote an outstanding classic of black literature that no one could deny as a powerful novel (I wish), or if I passed the Paper Bag Test. Although I'd like to think my book's a classic, let's be serious: few of us have written classics. So I needed to pass the Paper Bag Test.

This is through no fault of the white agents. They simply may not be able to relate to black issues and aren't subjectively interested in them, or wouldn't be able to faithfully or responsibly edit these books. It is amazing that agents realize they may not be the best for the book. But the trouble is, that leaves these books on the wayside. In the mainstream publishing world, those books have nowhere to go, only hope that those one or two black agents will take them on. There is a solution: get more black agents. (When I queried the few agents of color, I suddenly, magically, got requests.) Otherwise, we must always appeal to a solidly white audience.

Agents are subjective, but subjectivity doesn't just spring up. White agents, generally, will not be attracted to race issues as much as agents of color would be, because race is not a big part of the white life. White privilege is being able to live life not thinking about color. White privilege is being colorblind. When the entire publishing industry is based around the idea of 'subjectivity,' and when the entire publishing industry is so very white, race-related novels are left aside.

That's why #WeNeedDiverseBooks makes me angry and why I can't fully support it. I still love it, and the campaign has done some of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in terms of anti-racism work. That's where the mixed feelings come in: I love it, but I feel it has distracted from institutional change. #WeNeedDiverseBooks can't succeed due to two reasons.

1) It relies on grassroots instead of institutional change. Don't get me wrong: there are amazing books out there by diverse writers, about diverse issues. And #WeNeedDiverseBooks has been instrumental to getting them visibility. But there's little action trying to push the industry to change. It has given a free pass to the industry insiders. What if the true issue is that diverse novels have a harder time getting published in the first place? The campaign relies heavily on writers to make changes in their novels and agents to take on these novels, but unless there are a lot more agents and editors of color, all we will do is write books that will pass the Paper Bag Test, books that are 'diverse enough' for agents and publishers to applaud themselves for, books that #WeNeedDiverseBooks can promote enthusiastically, but books that are not 'too diverse' to make the industry uncomfortable, or unable to relate. These are books that don't make enough change. Having diverse characters in novels is great and a huge step forward - but to think it's enough is sadly mistaken. There are huge barriers that render it almost impossible for race-issue writers to get published in big companies. If literary agencies are so diverse-lacking, I don't even want to think about the racial demographics of publishing houses. Maybe institutional change isn't the campaign's purpose. That's fine. But that's why I can't fully support it.

2) #WeNeedDiverseBooks champions diverse representation in literature (which is great!) but doesn't champion diverse issues as much. The campaign champions authors of color, books of color, and does try to champion issues as well. But that last challenge has been secondary. It is like taking the knife out halfway and calling it quits. It assumes that the average person of color has the same access to libraries, money, family, books, time, academic freedom, independence, and quality education as the average white person does. A big way to support writers of color is to create more writers, agents, and editors of color. Support race issues, get more libraries in black neighborhoods, advocate for a better police force so that black and brown people do not fear white-looking institutions. We writers are humans, too. We don't live in a bubble separate from the world's racial problems. There are so many writers calling out for "books that aren't issue books," as if our issues aren't novel-worthy. Who are they saying that for? For me? For my friend's younger brother who is told to hide from the police? Who switches from "talking white" and "talking black" depending on who he's around? Who has the 'talk' at age seven? Not the sex talk, but the "Many people are going to treat you different because of your skin. Only because of your skin."

Who are these writers speaking for when they say they don't want issue books? Me? Or themselves? It is not me who is uncomfortable with 'issue novels'. The trouble is: whiteness is power. Whiteness has the privilege of getting its voice listened to over mine, and has the power to scoff at 'issue novels'. I want to ask, who is #WeNeedDiverseBooks for? What is the real point? To put on a facade of racial utopia in the publishing industry? Because that's what it's doing. When you 'write inclusively' or have characters of color in your books, do you really research and ask how the lives of people of color are? Or do you make a character black, have them deal with stereotypical issues, and call yourself diverse without ever understanding what you have written? Do you advocate for black issues, or are you content with only having a black body in your novel? Black bodies aren't here to lift up your novel. Remember: if your 'diverse' book gets published, you are profiting off of bodies of color. You cannot turn blackness on and off like a switch. You cannot cry out for #WeNeedDiverseBooks and then stay silent when the next innocent black child gets murdered by police. If you can't even send a Tweet in support of black issues, how can you even imagine that your novel will advocate for issues of color? What does diversity mean to you? What do you think its purpose is? Be brave. Advocate for us. It's scary, but if you can't be brave, reconsider using our skin.

But I can't get too angry in this post. I have to be careful every time I type 'white people'. Even here, I must pass the Paper Bag test so that you will listen to me, so I won't lose you as an audience, so I won't be denounced. Just like my book must appeal to the industry, I must appeal to you.

I shouldn't have to.

Will writers use our skin and make it theirs without asking for our permission, and then expect us to be grateful? Will white writers let writers of color lead this movement? Will the community listen to us? (I think they will. This community is...a Godsend. Seriously.)

Agents, editors, publishing industry: before you so happily cry out "I'm looking for diverse books!" ask yourself if those books you represent (the books you pride yourself on) depict reality or depict some racial utopia. In your diverse books with 'race-related' subplots...do those subplots have a "happily ever after"? Why? We people of color rarely do. Ask yourself if you feel proud about having a diverse book on your roster and why you feel that pride. Are you willing to represent inclusively, take on gritty issues of color instead of shrink when a query saying Black Lives Matter hits your inbox? Are you willing to back up the only non-white agent in your agency (if you even have a non-white agent) when they're pushing an editor to take on an 'issue' novel? Are you willing to be a true ally to the movement and push your agency to hire more black agents? Are you willing to put aside your own hopeful ideas of race and listen to a person of color's ideas? You don't know race as well as we do. Listen to us. Be allies. Let us through the gates. We deserve it.

I am not alone. There are a lot of diverse authors out there. But the same cannot be said for the publishing industry. And so I, and many other writers, face something we've seen all our lives: we, a racially-diverse group, look up to a totally white institution for a fundamental right - the right to be heard. We compensate by making our books 'not too diverse' and by erasing all our truths. We don't publicly advocate for our community in fear that Publishing will scoff at us and turn its back to us. We display our color only as much as Publishing will tolerate. We silence ourselves to join. And the thing is, we know there are amazing writers in the community who are such amazing allies and listen so well! We've seen them. We love them and appreciate them so much. But all unpublished writers have very little power to change Publishing. There needs to be institutional change, and since we have little power, it can't come from us. It has to come from you, publishing insiders.

For writers like me who are seeking a solution: Look for books that deal with race issues and then see who represented them. This is a list of 22 black books that can get you started. Note that almost every single book on the list is historical fiction, memoir, or international-based fiction. It tells us that black stories must be a) based in the past (because we can't talk about current racism) b) nonfiction (a level of truth that no other story needs to attain) or c) based outside the USA (because the USA cannot be criticized). Don't mind me while I laugh, rage, and nod (because it all makes sense) when I see that diversity has become really powerful in one genre: fantasy.

For agents/editors: This post is written directly to you. All of you. Saying you want 'diversity' or are looking for 'diverse novels' is not enough. Please advocate for agents of color, and while you do that (since it'll take a while to get agents of color), try to #RepresentInclusively. If you can, consider publicly acknowledging this on Twitter or something so we writers can find you. Really try to represent our issues. Be an ally, please. Without institutional support, we writers can #WriteInclusively as uselessly as we want (sorry, SC). #WeNeedDiverseAgents.

For everyone: This petition is not enough (please don't assume it is), but it's a powerful step: if you wish, sign this asking publishers to be publish reports on staff diversity. We need the Big Five to sign onto this. Look at the updates section of the petition. So many great links.

I know there are some of you out there - writers, agents, editors - that are amazing allies and ARE advocating for true diversity. Please prove me wrong. Go on Twitter, Facebook, anything, and vocalize your support, tweet out facts that prove me wrong. Prove me wrong, please. I truly truly want to be wrong about the industry's racism. I will be watching this post and will reply (anonymously) to any comments if you want to talk.

A disclaimer: I talk about black agents because that's closest to me. But think about every other identity -- Native agents, Asian agents, Hispanic agents, LGBTQIA+ agents, agents with disabilities, etc. Even with this ironic new hurrah for diversity in writing, the publishing industry lacks diversity on one of the most severe levels I've ever seen. It feels almost hopeless, because for so many of us writers of color, the written word looks like our only 'racism-free' outlet. But looks are deceiving.

If you want our support in this movement, then you must share the burden and take up our issues. We do not have to let you use our skin. You can't ignore the publishing industry's racism while supposedly advocating for diversity. That's hypocritical and superficial. Learn about us, write about us. As of now, #WeNeedDiverseBooks doesn't feel like my movement.

I'm tired of being an apologetic about my skin and my problems. I'm tired of people expecting me to be grateful for half-liberation. I'm tired of being told, by people who do no activism, to be patient. We, who have lived with diversity, should be front and center in a campaign about diversity. This is our space.

If you think I'm complaining too much or overstepping, then, for God's sake, this conversation isn't for you. This conversation is for those who will listen, and I know there are so many of you out there. Writers and agents and editors should not be scared or angered at me. If you are, please reconsider why you support #WeNeedDiverseBooks. For my upliftment, or for your book's?

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Also, feel free to continue the conversation in the comments below!