Wednesday, June 5, 2013

QK Round 2: Mississippi Crazypants vs. Meryl-&-I

Entry Nickname: Mississippi Crazypants
Title: This Side of Crazy
Word Count: 86,000
Genre: Women's Fiction

Cissy Pickering swears that shooting her daddy in the back was the smartest thing she’s ever done. After surviving more than eight years of his abuse, she had to prevent him from having a secret with her two baby sisters. What she didn’t count on was being sent to the Greater Mississippi State Hospital instead of prison.

When a caring, yet unorthodox, hospital psychiatrist tries to unlock the family secrets that led to Cissy’s crime, the 16-year-old retreats to a world of make-believe and compulsive counting. Meanwhile, three generations of women struggle to understand and forgive Cissy while coming to terms with the loss of their son, husband and father. Only her maternal grandmother offers unconditional love and support.

When the psychiatrist digs too deep, Grandmother takes drastic action to ensure Cissy’s emotional and physical survival – even if it means breaking the law. Their tender relationship and an unearthed secret from Grandmother’s past force Cissy to make her most courageous decision yet.

First 250 words:

My sisters and I had already consumed an impressive stack of books since school let out, reading long into the sticky June nights, even under threat of punishment. We’d needled Mama until she finally agreed to take the three of us to the Biloxi library, although grudgingly. Her chief argument against getting more books – and a flimsy one at that – was that we read too fast and the books we had should have lasted all summer. I ignored her complaining because that’s one of my special talents.

In my room, I slipped into a plaid cotton sundress and my pink plastic sandals that squeaked when I walked and rubbed blisters on my little toes. The sound irritated Mama just enough to make those blisters worthwhile. Some might call this childish behavior for a 16-year-old but I took fun wherever I could find it.

Jessie, already dressed and downstairs in the kitchen, whined that we’d run out of her favorite cereal. Mama told her in the sternest voice that plain old Corn Flakes would have to do. When our housekeeper Bess offered to make pancakes, Mama shushed her, too. She was forever telling Bess that she spoiled us and that spoiled children grew up into spoiled adults.

The excitement of selecting new reading material sent my stomach into flip-flops, akin to the type experienced on Christmas morning. I rushed out of my room and down the hall toward the bathroom to brush my teeth. What I saw stopped me short, the plastic of my shoes sticking fast to the wood floor.


Entry Nickname: Meryl-&-I
Title: Blame it on Meryl Streep
Word count: 95K
Genre: Women's fiction

At age 28 TV producer Laura Sanders has never been in a relationship, never had sex, and never been loved. Certain that something has to be terribly wrong with her, she’s resigned to a dull, lonely life in the company of a few friends and her disinterested cat.

But when she watches the movie Mamma Mia, Laura is unexpectedly mesmerized: Meryl Streep seems to dance off the screen, showing Laura all the joy and passion that’s lacking in her life. Clearly Meryl Streep would be the perfect coach to guide her to a happier place.

Instead of spending her evenings watching Grey’s Anatomy and memorizing some of the show’s relationship conversations to copy whenever she feels the need to cover up her own inexperience, Laura now hangs out with her new BFF: imaginary Meryl Streep.

Meryl pushes Laura to try online-dating, advising her to rule out profiles with nicknames such as MrCool4Sale, OrgasmGiver or GotSomeWantSome. She teaches Laura her icy The Devil Wears Prada demeanor to copy when dealing with bigheaded, bullying co-workers. And she encourages Laura to spend more time with her new colleagues: women more likely to discuss vibrators than Danish directors. All of a sudden Laura is something she’s never been: cool. And while her sex-life used to consist in hugging her pillow good-night, Laura now has three potential love interests: two very real men … and one very imaginary Meryl Streep.

But soon Laura feels invincible and starts to ignore Meryl’s advice. Her best friend thinks Laura should finally grow up? – Laura counters with radio silence. A great date reveals he’s no Meryl Streep fan? – Laura dumps him. Her boss ignores Laura’s ideas? – She goes behind his back. Ultimately Meryl is all that Laura has left. Will she be able to take what she learns from her fantasy life and rediscover the very real possibility of love and happiness that await her? Or will Laura lose touch forever?

First 250 words:
I’m Laura Sanders.
I’m twenty-eight.
I’m a TV producer in Los Angeles.
I’ve travelled the world.
I have a cat named Sartre.
I own 108 pair of shoes.
I’m a virgin.

The worst part about my pathetic, lonely life is the constant pretending. Pretending to be normal. Everybody knows the drama of love, the passion, the pain, and not knowing makes you a complete freak. Until some years ago I used to be honest and tell friends that I never had a boyfriend, never had sex. Someday I’ll tell a stranger that I killed a person. Simply to see if that confession arouses a similar mortified look.

The look is always followed by the insensitive comment: Why don’t you just pick up a guy at a bar? A woman can get laid even if she’s coyote ugly and you look cute. Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t want to get laid. I want to be loved.

Next is usually the sexist, but popular, good advice:
Good Advice Number One: Be dumb. Men don’t like smart women.
Good Advice Number Two: Be hard to get. Men still think like hunters.
Good Advice Number Three: Be a listener. Men need attention.

Finally there’s the worst part: the awkward silence. After all, everything everybody talks about are relationships and to fit in you need stories to contribute. So I make up stories. Stories that cover up the fact that I’m an invisible woman, unable to catch a guy’s eye, let alone his heart.


  1. This comment is for judges' votes only.

      To be honest, I'd definitely pick up Meryl & I to read because I love chick-lit and this sounds adorable, but I have to give the slight writing edge to Mississippi. Both strong entries!!!

    2. Victory to Mississippi Crazypants!

      I love both of these. They both entice and beg to be read with very lovely voices. I can easily see Meryl-&-I as a movie. However, Mississippi Crazypants had the more concise query.

    3. Victory to Mississippi Crazypants.

    4. Victory to Mississippi Crazypants due to a strong query.

    5. Victory to Mississippi Crazypants.

    6. Victory to Mississippi Crazypants

    7. Victory to Mississippi Crazypants

      Meryl-&-I, I so love the voice, but work on your query and maybe get the word count down.


    9. Victory to Meryl-&-I
      Mississippi - I think your writing is strong, I just wasn't as intrigued by your premise and your 250 was well-written but didn't really suck me in to your story.
      Meryl-I think your query and 250 aren't without problems, as others have mentioned, but I voted for you because I'd be more interested in reading your story.

    10. Victory to Meryl - And - I

      I think that the query for MS Pants is very, very strong, but the opening 250 for Meryl has a snazz and a voice that inundates the entire opening and makes me want to see if it holds strong throughout the book.

    11. Victory to Mississippi Crazypants

      It's a close one. I'd totally read Meryl if I found it on the shelves. MC wins for query and because I'm dying to know what happens in the next paragraph...

  2. Victory to MISSISSIPPI CRAZYPANTS. The query hooked me right away. Strong writing! This one sentence, “The sound irritated Mama just enough to make those blisters worthwhile” says a lot about the MC’s view of family life. There were several places I'd recommend dialogue rather than telling: “Her chief argument against getting more books – and a flimsy one at that – was that we read too fast and the books we had should have lasted all summer.” And most of the fourth paragraph.

    To MERYL & I: My suggestions on the first round still stand. I love the concept, and the first seven lines set us up nicely! I didn’t say anything about the query then, but I think it goes on a bit long. The last two paragraphs could be condensed into two or three good examples.

  3. Both entries have a solid first page. If I were judging, I'd probably give this round to MISSISSIPPI CRAZYPANTS, for a tighter query, but I think I'd rather read MERYL & I.

    Crazypants - the last paragraph of the query might be just a little too vague. I know you don't want to give away the whole plot, but can you be more concrete about the decision Cissy has to make? Something about protecting Grandmother or...? See, I'm not sure what the "or" is here.

    Meryl - I love the voice in your first 250, but the "Good Advice" paragraph was a little clunky for me. I think it would be easier to read if you ditched the labels and reformatted this as either a standard paragraph of a numbered list. As others have already said, the query is too long. I would look at deleting the third paragraph and condensing the last two paragraphs. Also, if I were an agent, I might have some reservations about the word count. 95K seems long for what I picture as a light beach read.

    Good luck to you both!

  4. Mississippi: Strong query and I want to read more.

    Meryl: Commented in Round 1. Love your concept. I know what your MC is going through, well minus the whole Meryl Streep thing. :-)

    Great job guys!

  5. Mississippi: wow your first 250 ended in a place that made me want to know what happened! My only nit-pickiness is that the second sentence of the query made me pause and re-read to make sure I got what you are saying. So maybe rework the wording on that a bit. (I gather her sisters haven't been abused and she wants to keep it that way). The query definitely makes it sound like the entire story is going to be engaging and surprising. I love uncovering secrets. Well done!

    Meryl: I think my fave part of your 250 was that the cat's name is Sartre, since it seems she's in a "No Exit" situation. :P I felt like I knew your MC right off the bat and I want her to find love! I think your query could possibly be cut down a little bit. It felt a little bogged down by details at the end. I think you hit the high points earlier in the letter. Also I laughed at the screen names she should avoid!

  6. Mississippi Crazypants: I'm not a big reader of women's fiction, but I have to say that I was sort of sucked in by the opening line in the query. The voice in the first 250 was great and you gave us plenty of the 'feels' to relate to.

    Meryl & I: I love the 'Youth in Revolt' feel this has! Who doesn't want Meryl as a friend (imaginary or real), right? The first 250 were great. I hope you insert a few more of those grocery list type of bits throughout the rest of the pages. I think if that'd be such a cool motif to experience with a book like this.

    Awesome job everyone!

  7. Crazypants: I commented on how drawn in I was in Round 1, and I love it just as much after another read. When I read it this time, I was curious about when this story takes place, as I didn't get a good sense of that. I love the last line of your 250. I just know something huge is coming, and I want to read it.

    Meryl: I think you've got great voice in your 250. Your MC seems relatable and interesting. I love both the intro list at the beginning and the advice, but I wondered if using that kind of listing tactic twice so close together kind of takes some of the magic and effect out of it.