Wednesday, June 5, 2013

QK Round 2: Kicking Ash vs. Spirit Slayer

Entry Nickname: Kicking Ash
Title: Earth to Earth
Word count: 62,500
Genre: NA Fantasy

“It’s done.”

Part of 23-year-old Hailey Crane unraveled when, Ash, her boyfriend, whispered those words with his dying breath. Now, years later, she’s hanging on by a thread. And that thread is just about to break.

Desperate to escape her status as the “town tragedy,” Hailey moves to a new town. For a new start. But just as Hailey is learning to move on, she starts seeing things.

No, not things. Him. Ash. Everywhere she turns, she could swear she catches a glimpse of him—that worn leather jacket, the hair that always fell into his eyes…

It’s impossible. A figment of her imagination. A mysterious doppelganger. Hailey runs through every possibly explanation. But she’s convinced he’s real. By the time she meets him face to face and figures out the truth behind his miraculous resurrection, she’s thrown herself into a dangerous game of cat and mouse that could kill them both. For good this time.

First 250 Words:

The moment glass shatters is actually quite beautiful. The way the center splinters and spiders out before bursting into nothing. Not many people really get the chance to appreciate the magnificence because everything happens instantly. So quick that you blink and it’s already done. But when you’re convinced you’re about to die, the world tends to move in slow motion.

I don’t see whatever makes him jerk the wheel violently to the left. The smell of burnt rubber assaults my nose as my body slams hard against the restraint of the seat belt. The car spins and rockets towards the guardrail. As we plow through the hunk of metal, the car tilts as gravity jerks me to the earth.

I gaze over to the driver’s side, expecting to hear my boyfriend scream. A cry. Something. There is nothing but silence as he stares back at me, sporting a perfectly calm expression. No panic, no fear.

My head snaps forward as we hit the ground and roll. Once. Twice. The third time the glass of the windshield shatters, starting as the tiniest crack before imploding into a thousand tiny particles.

I hold my arms up to shield myself a moment before the impact knocks the wind out of me, leaving me gasping for air. I’m slipping away, surrendering to the darkness. Dying. My body goes limp, numb to shield itself from the agony. A strange haze clouds my eyesight, but I’m convinced a dark shadow swoops down in front of me.


Entry Nickname: Spirit Slayer
Title: No Such Thing
Word count: 60,000
Genre: YA Southern Gothic


It’s easy to overlook an old house being reclaimed by the woods; it’s a common sight near Candor, North Carolina, where seventeen-year-old Virginia “Dare” Cleaster lives with her family. But on a sweaty summer night, Dare and her ex-boyfriend Bobby unintentionally wake something sinister that’s been dormant in the crumbling Waters residence for years, and it refuses to be ignored.

Dare doesn’t believe in ghosts, but the tragic spirit of Atheleen Waters appearing to her all over town quickly changes her mind. As Dare and her friends are drawn into the mystery surrounding Atheleen’s life and untimely death, it soon becomes clear that she isn’t a troubled apparition seeking closure. She’s a twisted killer driven mad by love, and death hasn’t made her the least bit remorseful for her crimes.

Now Dare must figure out how to lay her powerful spirit to rest before Atheleen can add to the body count she began over a hundred and fifty years ago.

First 250 words:

When I was little, I believed in everything. I thought aliens, Bigfoot, the Tooth Fairy, and even the cartoon mascots from cereal boxes were out in the world somewhere, driving cars and wearing suits to work like men I saw on TV.

I had a big imagination because I lived in a small town where most of the men I knew didn’t even own a suit.

The two men sharing a booth in the old café were as well-dressed as they came in Candor. Nothing too fancy, but at least they wore neatly pressed uniforms.

As I watched from behind the counter, wiping crumbs from the surface with my rag, the sheriff stared down at his untouched plate of bacon and eggs. He poked them with his fork as if expecting them to spring to life and attack him at any moment.

“Somethin’ wrong with your food, sir?” I said. My voice carried across the empty room. The sheriff and his deputy were pushing the limits of common courtesy by keeping us open past eleven-thirty on a Friday night.

“Huh?” Sheriff Thompson grunted, looking up.

I weaved between tables with practiced ease to reach their window-side booth in a flash. “Look. I know the bacon’s probably too crisp for most folks’ taste. But if you don’t want it, I’ll eat it. Mr. Forrester’d be happy to make you somethin’ else.”

I gave them a smile and tugged my apron down. It stopped several inches above my knees, but it was still longer than the skimpy cutoffs I’d worn to my shift.


  1. This comment is reserved for judges' votes

    1. Victory to SPIRIT SLAYER

      I actually think the writing is fantastic in Kicking Ashes first 250, but the query didn't grab me. Since this is QUERY Kombat, I have to go with Spirt Slayer for a standout query.

    2. Victory to Kicking Ash
      Spirit Slayer - I liked your 250 a lot, but I'd have liked it even more without the first 2 paragraphs, which were kind of telly and made for a somewhat awkward segue to the scene. I'm also still struggling to reconcile "tragic" with "twisted killer".
      Kicking Ash - Yes it is QUERY Kombat but in my opinion a query often INCLUDES a writing sample ;-) And this contest includes a writing sample so it should have equal weight in the judging process. And I ADORED your 250 for the beauty and power of the writing/imagery.

    3. Victory to Kicking Ash, only because queries often include the first 250. You do need to work on your queries. I know this is "Query Kombat" but the contest includes the first 250 as well. Taking everything in consideration, your writing strength sends you forward.

      Spirit Slayer, I really loved the dialogue of your first 250. That's where I really connected with the voice. Maybe cut the opening into that dialogue a bit? Good query.

    4. Victory to Kicking Ash--Your first page sold me. Poetically written. Query needs work but that's what the mentors are for. Good luck to both of you.

    5. Victory to Spirit Slayer!

      Again I'm going with the voice that calls to me. And I do feel that Spirit Slayer lays out the stakes a little better.

    6. Victory to Kicking Ash: I still adore your first 250. Love it!

      Spirit Slayer: You're also awesome. I love the voice in the first 250.

      It was a difficult choice. Good Luck to both of you.

    7. Victory to Kicking Ash

    8. Victory to Spirit Slayer

      Loved them both!

    9. Victory to Kicking Ash

      I felt like Ash's 250 were strong, and the query could use a bit of tweaking, and vice versa for Spirit Slayer. This totally came down to preference.

    10. Victory to Spirit Slayer

      The opening line of your query has me immediately, the visual is beautiful. Same with the opening line of the 250 - great small town voice and concept.

      Kicking Ash - opening with dialogue in the query turned me off right away.

    11. Victory to Spirit Slayer

      My vote is based more on the queries. Both have great samples, but I feel like SS edges out in the query.

  2. Kicking Ash: I love your first 250. The description is both beautiful and tragic.

    Spirit: I love your idea. I missed this in round 1! Reminds me a little of Supernatural. I like your voice in your first 250. I think it's a strong start and I want to read more.

  3. Kicking Ash: Your query has great voice, but I would advise against beginning your query with a quote. I also was confused about "23-year-old Hailey"--I assume that's the age she is now, but in the sentence it sounds like you're describing the age she was when Ash died. I would change your opener to something like:

    "Part of 16?-year-old Hailey Crane unraveled when her boyfriend Ash died in a car accident. Now 23, she’s hanging on by a thread."

    My one other concern is that your stakes are too vague. Who is she having a "cat and mouse" game with, and why? This is a good query, but concrete stakes would make it more compelling.

    Spirit Slayer: Your premise reminds me of Supernatural, too (which is great, because I LOVE Supernatural), and your stakes are very clear. Your first sentence is a bit passive and clunky, though. Instead of talking about generalities, why not focus on Dare from the start? For instance:

    "Seventeen-year-old Virginia “Dare” Cleaster doesn't think much of the old Waters place; rickety, overgrown houses are a common sight in Candor, North Carolina."

    It would also be nice to know a bit more about Dare, because I don't get much feel for her personality in this query. Other than that, great job!

  4. SPIRIT SLAYER: I like your query but think your first 250 words starts in the wrong place -- and that the "suits" part is out of place.

    For example: When I was little, I had a big imagination because I lived in a small town. Aliens, Bigfoot, the Tooth Fairy -- all possible out there in the big wide world.

    And if the sheriff is one of the men in the pressed uniforms, I'd rewrite this way:

    Sheriff INSERT NAME and Deputy INSERT NAME, dressed in neatly pressed uniforms, shared a booth. Not a unique sight, to be sure. But the look on the sheriff's face was as out of place as Bigfoot in Candor.

    KICKING ASH: I agree with Princess Sara that you should establish Hailey's age at the time of the accident versus present day.

  5. Victory to SPIRIT SLAYER.

    KICKING ASH. Nice tight query. (Need to correct “every possibly explanation” though.) Would love your nickname as the title of the book. (Just figured out "Entry nickname" is the author, not a nickname for the title. Duh.)

    Story: I was really into the slow motion bit with the cracking glass, and then the second paragraph “jerked” me right out of the of the whole surreal experience. I actually think you could skip from “the world tends to move in slow motion” straight to “The third time (insert: the car rolls over), the windshield shatters…” and go on from there. Maybe she could remember the other parts of the accident in retrospect at a later time.

    SPIRIT SLAYER: Again, love your nickname as the story title! Query: Love the character names. Love the premise of a killer spirit. You might include a few more specifics about who drove her “mad by love”. “Residence” makes it sound like someone still lives there.

    Story: The first two paragraphs were great, but the rest didn’t quite have the same “voice”. If you delete “I thought aliens”, and change “were” to “lived”, it would make the first paragraph even stronger. “I had a big imagination because I lived in a small town” is a terrific line, but she couldn’t actually know whether men she knew had suits or not. Maybe say she’d never seen any man she knew wearing a suit.

    In such a small town, wouldn’t she have known the sheriff and his deputy by their first and last names (and the names of their wives, kids, dogs, and their first cousins once removed)?

    The two men “were as well-dressed” as what?

    “The sheriff and his deputy were pushing the limits of common courtesy by keeping us open past eleven-thirty on a Friday night” could be condensed to: “It was 11:34. Friday night closing time was 11.” The last three paragraphs could be tightened as well. Drop in some local color as you give us Dare’s thoughts: Which of Candor’s 2356 fine upstanding citizens (2357, if Selma Wooton’s two-weeks-overdue baby had decided to make its entrance) could have done something horrible enough to distract Sheriff Delmus M. Ipock from the bacon and eggs he ordered and devoured every Friday night. And what on earth had they done?

  6. KICKING ASH - I commented on yours in the first round.

    SPIRIT SLAYER - Gothic is not my thing, but it sounds like you have a strong story from your query. The first 250 just didn't grab me. I liked the opening paragraph, but I agree with Durango Writer that you could cut the suits idea. You can find a more succinct way to transition to the scene. After that, there wasn't enough happening in the interaction between Dare and the sheriff to capture my interest. I would either condense that and get to where something interesting happens, or spice it up with more local color, as MM Chandler suggests. I disagree with MM, though about cutting the "limits of common courtesy line," as that seems to be a Southern way of expressing the idea.

    These are both worthy candidates, but I would vote for Kicking Ash on the basis of the first 250.

  7. Kicking Ash: Some have mentioned that your last line needs to be more specific - what cat-and-mouse game she's playing, etc. I agree, but wanted to suggest that instead of getting bogged down by the details of the plot, use that last line or two to tell us who the antagonist is. To say it another way: don't tell us HOW she fights "it", tell us WHO she's fighting. We know the stakes (kill both for good), and we know the set up (mysteriously resurrected boyfriend), but we don't know where the danger comes from. For your query it could be a good way of teasing us about what's to come without getting too mired, because imho, your query is really good as it is, has lots of voice, and it would be a shame to change it too much.

    Spirit Slayer: I read a lot, but I've never read Southern Gothic. I didn't even know that was a thing. Now I feel like I must immediately search out and discover this thing for myself. Even though your first 250 isn't immediately gripping, I would give you the benefit of the doubt and continue reading. But maybe agents wouldn't, and at this point that's more important, right? The suggestions from other people have covered all I would say.

    Good luck to you both!

  8. Kick Ash
    I’m not a fan of starting a query with a quote, particularly out of context.
    Be careful of overusing incomplete sentences, especially in your query. What is the catalyst for a new move? Does the move trigger the sightings?
    I love your first paragraph, beautiful and visual. A car crash is a nice beginning and I love how he is unaffected. You don’t mention any pain until you use the word agony, which seems an overstatement. As a veteran on multiple car crashes (some serious—and never with me as the driver), there is a sense of confusion afterward. A long moment when your brain is trying to process what happens. I’d like to see a bit of that happening, rather than her moving on to the next things—the black swoop/

    Spirit Slayer
    Really love your query. Dark, sinister. I did question what she did in the house to awake an old ghost? And why was she with her EX boyfriend? Is this important?
    I’d like a hint into how the ghost kills and a tiny, tiny hint into her past crimes. Even one more paragraph on motivation would help tremendously. But you are almost there. So juicy.
    I loved the second paragraph of your 250, which I’d use as your first line but then I would rework the rest. I’d like to see more of her personality in conflict, rather than a mention of childhood beliefs (which doesn’t come into play during the 250.) I assume she has a strong voice and I’d like to see that in full force.

    Good job and good luck to you both!

  9. Kicking Ash - Beautiful 250, and your query has given me chills, making me wonder what's going on behind Ash's eyes. I would totally read on, as your descriptive language has that balance of word economy and lyricism. WELL DONE!

    Spirit Slayer - Intriguing premise and I love your character names, very memorable. I agree with Durango Writer, though, that the opening of your 250 could be tightened up a bit to make it flow into the scene, but apart from that, I'd keep reading.

    Great job, both!! Good luck!

  10. I'd SO read both of these books. For real.

    KICKING ASH! Intriguing query and excellent writing. I usually don't go in for the poetic opening type prose that you did, but here it works.

    SPIRIT SLAYER! You had me at "southern gothic!" Terrific! I do think the folks who've recommended lopping off the first two paragraphs in your 250 would improve the pace and toss readers right into the tale. But it's excellent, as well.

    Great job, both of you. I wouldn't be able to choose here.

  11. Kicking Ash-- Your first 250 words are well done, good job. For me your query is a little vague. The last line is long and confusing for me, who is she playing a "cat and mouse" game with? If she's just seeing a supposedly dead Ash around what is threatening her? It sounds like an outside force, rather than him. It's nice to keep the mystery, you don't have to spoil us too much but right now it feels like the query concentrates on her seeing Ash and I'm just wondering what the stakes are. What does seeing Ash around mean for her? He's going to kill her? She's worried she's going insane? Also I think you can make the writing a little more precise. Instead of Ash, her boyfriend, say her boyfriend Ash.

    Spirit Slayer-- I like the twisted killer ghost and I think your query does a good job of laying out the stakes of the story. I'd agree that your first 250 could be worked on to hit the ground running with your strongest material.

    Good work!

  12. Kicking Ash- I just want to know if this song was on this books playlist? It needs to be. (Love it!)I wouldn't be surprised if you said the story was inspired by it.

    My only comment is that I'm wondering why this book is NA. A 23-year-old character could easily be a MC in an adult book. I know the lines aren't clearly drawn but other than a possible tone is there something that makes this book NA? Just wondering really. If there is something that would distinguish this as NA I'd add it to the query. If not, I'm not sure what that means. Maybe nothing. *Shrugs* In non category related notes, I love this. The story sounds heartbreakingly great and potentially action packed. I LOVE the imagery in the 250.

    Spirit Slayer- to be honest, this doesn't strike me as overly original. I don't know how many YA books there are about a ghost who kills people but there are a lot of TV shows that involve plots like this (supernatural being one). I'm wondering if there is anyway you can make it stand out more. If there is another aspect of this story that you can show. Just a suggestion. I do love your characters name though, I'm curious as to how she got the nickname.

    Good luck!

  13. Kicking Ash: Very interesting concept. Regarding the query, it feels a bit vague at the end. I need more concrete info about this lethal cat-and-mouse game. Who’s involved and why is it so deadly? Regarding the 250, I know the first paragraph talks about how time slows down when you’re about to die, but it was a bit hard for me to believe she glanced at her boyfriend in this instance and even thought about expecting him to cry. The only way I could see her looking in that direction is if the car somehow made her neck jerk in that direction. Other than that, her attention’s going to be glued to where the car’s going and she’s going to be desperately trying to brace herself for what’s going to happen next.

    Spirit Slayer: Great query. Nice stomach drop at the end. Well done! Regarding the first 250, the first two paragraphs seem stuck in there. Would she really be thinking about that right now? Creates an awkward transition to the rest of the piece. Other than that, great job!

    Once again, two very impressive entries all around!