Sunday, June 1, 2014

QK Round 1: Maidens, Monks, & Murder vs. Loving Logic

Entry Nickname: Maidens, Monks & Murder
Title: A Serpent in the Garden
Word Count: 60,000
Genre: YA Historical Mystery


Amid the grit and splendor of medieval Germany, an impetuous teenage noblewoman investigates a brutal murder.

When a young woman is killed near the abbey of St. Nicholas, fifteen-year-old Eva von Hirschburg is struck by similarities between the victim and her own dead mother. She vows to find the culprit and convinces peace-loving Brother Clement to help, but the two clash when Eva accuses a man Clement wants to protect.

As she hunts for evidence, Eva is courted by the charismatic Lord Friderich. Eva is drawn to Friderich’s wit and vitality, but fears he is only looking for an indiscretion. Worse, Friderich doesn't trust Clement and wants Eva to relinquish her obsession with the murdered woman.

Is Friderich trying to protect Eva, or is he trying to protect the murderer? Eva cannot capture the killer alone, but trusting the wrong person could prove deadly.

A SERPENT IN THE GARDEN is a medieval Veronica Mars with the lush, sexy feel of Anna Godberson's Luxe series.

First 250:

No one prayed for my mother's soul. No one spoke of her. My uncle Baldric forbade it. But I refused to forget her. She died fifteen years ago when I was only a babe, but every morning, before the rest of the castle woke, I went to the chapel to plead for her soul.

Darkness filled the room, intensifying the smell of incense and the aching in my legs as I knelt on the stone floor. I recited the De Profundis, the Miserere, and the Requiem Aeternam, prayers suitable for someone suffering in Purgatory. I considered praying that my uncle Arnulf might finally drink himself to death, but I decided against it. I stood and walked out to the chapel garden.

On my right loomed the bergfried, a defensive tower and, in troubled times, a holding place for prisoners. On my left, the crenellated battlements of the south wall snapped at the sapphire sky. I shuddered, feeling like a mouse trapped in the jaws of a lion. Father Gregory would have reproached me for such ingratitude. Most ladies would count themselves lucky to have a guardian as wise and temperate as Baron Baldric, but I knew he kept me out of duty rather than love. And most ladies do not have to contend with an uncle as reckless and cruel as his brother, Baron Arnulf.

I walked toward the stone archway that led to the main courtyard. A ghostly voice cried out. “Judge thou, O Lord, them that wrong me.


Entry Nickname: Loving Logic
Title: Light in the Darkness
Word count: 78,000
Genre: Science Fiction


Mathematics? That she can do. And statistics? That's just applied mathematics. But nothing can prepare seventeen-year-old Celia Mayflower for emotions.

Celia knows the only way to advance is to be intelligent, industrious, and obedient. She does everything she’s supposed to do—until she witnesses a boy’s abduction by the very same people who make the rules.

Breaking form, she flees to the only place she can go—the perpetual blackness of the chemically-laden Woods—a lightless prison where all Celia’s logical inclinations mean little. The chemicals penetrate the darkness, allowing Celia to see more than just the criminals living there. She sees their emotions.

Now that emotions present themselves as colors, she doesn’t understand how to balance sense with sensibility. Emotions tell her to trust, while logic warns her against it. She falters and stumbles over her burgeoning love for a young man. She attaches herself with fierce protectiveness to a strange and lonely little girl. But then Celia discovers the young man isn’t who she expected, and the little girl also goes missing.

Celia might break. Or, she might do anything—anything—to get the girl back.

First 250 words:

My name is Celia Anne Mayflower, Society Personal Identification Number KSGU4973764H. I live at 49 Circle 7, Town 3. I attend School76, off Subway Station 4. I am seventeen years old. In July, on the same day I become eighteen, I will complete Education Course A as a Mathematics Major. I currently rank as the A Student for my class.

When I was six, I discovered the numbers in my Society PIN correspond with my personal information. When I was eleven, I wrote a computer program to search all PINs and personal information in the database to determine the number of people whose information also matches. Having done so, I can assure you this phenomenon occurs only to me. I calculated and discovered, to my everlasting annoyance, the probability that personal information matches Personal Identification Number is low. In fact, it’s so low that what I’d originally accounted to be pure chance is too low to actually be pure chance. There are only two potential reasons that this would happen. The first is that whoever created my Registry entry decided, for some unaccountable reason, to make my information match. The second is that it is pure chance and I’m obsessed.

Anything worth learning is worth learning well.

I’m finishing a short series of love novels when Mother walks into my room.

“What are you reading now?” Mother asks.

I hold up my reader so she can see the cover.


  1. Judges - reply to this comment to cast your votes.

    1. MAIDENS: Love this query. It's solid and compelling, and the perfect tone for historical mystery. The first 250 is also very solid, elegantly written and full of details. I really can't think of anything I'd want to change. Well done!

      LOVING LOGIC: I get a little confused off the bat in the query when it mentions emotions. Hasn't she had them (or not had them) since birth? Who is making the rules, and what is she trying to advance in - school? A job? I'm also confused why she would run to a lightless prison. That seems like a drastic reaction to watching an abduction. Or does she have reason to believe they're after her next? (And why?)
      At the end, the stakes are unclear. What is the biggest issue she'll need to solve? Saving the girl? Escaping/overthrowing the people who make the rules? What will happen if she fails, and how can seeing people's emotions help her?
      That said, I do like your smart MC, and her character arc in the pitch is clear.
      For the first 250, the first two paragraphs are a bit more "tell" than I like. I'd prefer to see that information woven through dialog or action, perhaps some of it in the upcoming conversation with her mother and some later on, so that you can keep the action clipping forward.


    2. A SERPENT IN THE GARDEN's query is great. The relationship dynamics in particular really come through. I wish the line "the two clash when Eva accuses a man Clement wants to protect" were a bit more specific, but other than that, looks good!

      LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS has me a bit disoriented. I'm not sure where Celia is (somewhere where there aren't emotions?), where she wants to "advance" to, where the boy is being abducted from, or where/what the Woods is. Maybe these are questions that work themselves out in the plot but aren't clear to the reader from the onset?

      Victory to Maidens, Monks & Murder

    3. Maidens, Monks, & Murder

      query: Great conflict and stakes, but I'm not getting enough character. How does the Eva FEEL about the fact that this woman looks like her mother? How does she FEEL about working w/ Clement and being courted by Friderich? I'm not looking for anything lengthy, just a hint in that direction. Also, I'm usually not a fan of rhetorical questions, but yours seems to be working. However, lots of agents HATE them, so keep that in mind when you're deciding if it's worth keeping.

      250: the first paragraph has all the emotion and character I was looking for in the query. Try to inject some of that into the summary and you'll be in business. I'd also like it if your 250 could end on something that hints at the conflict to come. If that's what the line of dialogue is *supposed* to be doing, it's not quite working. Also, you're missing a " at the end. :)


      Loving Logic

      query: the first two paragraphs are well written, but they feel redundant. I'm also having a hard time following the conflict. She sees someone abducted, so she goes to the that the chemicals will let her see emotion? And then how does that help her to...what is it exactly she wants to do again? I'm unsure what the little girl has to do with the boy who was abducted.

      250: Great voice, great opening. I think you can trim the long paragraph back and use the remaining words to give us a bit more of a hint of the coming conflict at the end.


    4. Princess PrimroseJune 3, 2014 at 7:22 AM

      Dear Loving Logic,

      Query: I was a little confused about the Woods. Why is Celia allowed to enter even though this means she'll be able to see emotions (I'm guessing this is forbidden in her world?)? Why hasn't she gone here before? Why is she incapable of emotions, and is everyone in her world that way?

      First 250: Though well-written, once again, I was left a bit confused. After all that talk of Celia's pin matching her info and it definitely not being chance, this sentence threw me off: "Anything worth learning is worth learning well." I wasn't sure what that had to do with anything. The subsequent interaction with her mother also felt a little too mundane to really capture my attention. Is it absolutely necessary for that to be there? Perhaps advance the plot a bit more instead? You've captured our attention with the pin number revelation; don't let the pace flag too quickly by thrusting us into another scene entirely.

      Dear Maidens, Monks, & Murder,

      Query: I don't even usually read historical novels, and your query completely drew me in. There's just the perfect balance of intrigue, mystery, coming-of-age, and romance. Well done! I have no suggestions.

      First 250: Oof, love the mood here. I'm immediately thrust into medieval Germany, and I can picture everything. The only thing that ruined it for me a tad? The "ghostly" voice. I'd suggest using another, less cliche adjective if you think you need one at all. But really--great work!


    5. Maidens, Monks, & Murder
      Your query is pretty good, it gives me a pretty clear gist of the story. I don't feel like I have anything to add.
      It's pretty solid. Good world building, and great opening line. It totally hooked me. But watch out for that "I knew", it makes it passive.
      Also, there's a lot of barons suddenly introduced at once. Be careful of too many people, especially with unusual names, being brought in within the same paragraph. It's a little telling there too. The best way to introduce them would be to have her see/meet them.
      Aside from that, great job!

      Loving Logic
      Your hook should never have a question in it. That first line should be showing us what is so unique about the story. The typical suggestion is "When so-and-so does such-and-such..." I'd probably cut the first paragraph entirely and work in her logical nature later on.
      The first paragraph is all telling. Cut it and introduce the information piece by piece by showing.
      The second paragraph I don't feel like I'm connecting to the MC at all. You need to bring me into the plot. By the time I get past all the telling, I find she's just reading. Give me something to hook me. Why should I care about her? Give me a sense of where the story is headed.

      Victory to Maidens, Monks, & Murder

    6. MRS N, the Query QueenJune 3, 2014 at 12:48 PM

      Maidens, Monks & Murder:
      Query- A perfect ten query in my book! Hook, summary and comparison! YAY!
      250- Wow, I was instantly transformed into medieval times and felt the torment poor Eva is experiencing. Well done! I do have a question, though. Are you a Black Adder fan or is Baldric just a coincidence? *wink*

      Loving Logic:
      Query- I loved the premise of your book but it got lost in all the wording of your query. The first paragraph should be your hook and it should be one sentence. This is what you wrote, “Mathematics? That she can do. And statistics? That's just applied mathematics. But nothing can prepare seventeen-year-old Celia Mayflower for emotions.”

      This is what I would change it to: “Mathematics and statistics are as automatic as breathing but nothing can prepare seventeen-year-old Celia Mayflower for emotions.” See what I did there? I said the same thing as you but it pops out and catches the reader’s attention.

      250- You totally lost me in your first 250. If I read that in a bookstore or online, I am sorry to say I would put it down. Your first paragraph is supposed to grab me, the reader, and I have to be emotionally invested to continue. I think it just needs some tweaking. Maybe if you flipped first paragraph and second, it would draw me into your story. Mostly, I get lost in the numbers. Why are there numbers? Obviously from your first sentence of your query letter, the numbers mean something. Get me into the mind of Celia and make me crave to want to know more about the numbers and her special gift.


  2. Mx3: both your query and 250 coordinated beautifully, reminded me of an Eva Stachniak HF. The only comment I could think of is should the actual year be mentioned, or is just the broad, medieval enough? Not sure how specific HF agents are.

  3. Monks…
    Query is solid, spells out stakes. And I'm a Pillars of the Earth fan - so by all means, bring on the grit and splendor of medieval times to YA :-)
    250 words: 1st paragraph: better verb than "went" ? instead of repeating "soul" say "on her behalf" ?
    2nd paragraph: I wonder why she decides against uncle Arnulf prayer - perhaps room for one more sentence here so I know her character better (is it because she wants to stay focused on her mom, is it because she guiltily knows that wouldn't be right?)
    The rest - sets a nicely ominous mood... looming towers, ghostly voice
    Well done!

    Loving Logic:
    I get confused in this query right off the bat- How does one need to prepare for emotions at 17 for the first time? Hasn't she had emotions her whole life? So I need this explained more fully.
    In the next paragraph - advance in what? What people are making the rules? Give me the details, put me in the world. I'm totally forgetting this is Sci-fi… Until next paragraph but then... I don't get the world. (Yet! I'm probably only missing a few pieces?!)

    If chemicals penetrate the darkness how can the Woods be perpetually black if it's chemically-laden?

    Also, I'm not sure what's at stake - does Celia make her mission to free the abducted kids? Is she scared she'll be abducted as well? How does the love story factor in?

    For the first 250: It opens like she giving a report so I'm wondering about the context for this info loading. I really like the sentence "Anything worth learning is worth learning well." as a way to understanding Celia's character. Why not start with the sentence and then put us right into her working on a problem, something she's determined to do well to keep that A student status.

    I'm not a judge but my pick here would be Maidens Monk and Murder

  4. Loving Logic: I like how you've given Celia a "super power" if you will, then you take it away from her in the Woods. Which seem Alice in Wonderland-ish. Nice. I had a lot of the same questions the above judge has but you still gave enough information to make me want to read more. It's hard enough writing a query in a known world, I can't imagine writing one for SF with all the world-building.
    I liked the 250 until you went into immediate scene with the love novels. You already told us in the hook that Celia's not into emotions so I'm guessing she's "studying" the novels. It just seems like it's not strong enough to begin your story.

    Both challengers, while different, had very good, intriguing premises that make me want to continue reading. Nice job and best of luck!

  5. Maidens, Monk, and Murder: I really like that you are writing about a time period that's intriguing and not overdone. The query is perfectly clear and streamlined. I get the stakes, the character's defining traits, etc. I like the 250 very much as well, my only question is whether there may be too many names dropped in the first 250. Maybe start with just one central conflict/relationship. You have the mother, the two barons and Father Gregory. Over all, a very nice job!

    Loving Logic: I like the premise as I understand it, but I would just need to know more about why she can't feel anything. Is she a robot? An alien? Does she have a mental block? I think if you just fix that one thing, it would help us directly connect to Celia. I like her voice already, I just want more.

  6. Maidens, Monk, & Murder: I feel like you can let the first paragraph of your query go. All of the information is shown better in the test that follows. I think it reads stronger if you just start with "When a young woman is killed." Your 250 is well-written and sets the stage nicely for the HF. However, I'm terrible with names, and even with just the two barons, mixed them up and had to re-read to straighten out which was the "good" one. That may be particular to me, though. Seriously, dreadful at remembering names.

    Loving Logic: I love your character's voice. It definitely works for what you're going for. I also like your hook, but think the emotions bit needs a little flushing out. After the hook, we need to know why emotions are so foreign to her, and I didn't really find that answer here, especially with her reading love novels. That really threw me off. I would expect her to be reading math theory or something. I'd read this book, though. You definitely pique my interest and I'm really interested to see more of your world-building.

    Great job, both of you. Good luck!

  7. Maidens, Monks, & Murder
    Wow. This one is very well done. The query drew me in and sets up an intriguing story. Likewise, the 250. Great opening line/paragraph. I wish I had something more constructive to say, but the whole thing just worked for me.

    Loving Logic
    I like a lot of the elements in the query, but admit I got lost reading it. First, I didn’t understand why she fled after someone else was abducted. Is it because she experienced emotions? And that’s something that she hasn’t done before? I’m inferring a lot here, and could be way off. Even if I’m right, I’m half guessing, which means it probably needs to be clearer. The young man and the little girl also feel somewhat tacked on the way they are now presented. We really get no idea of who they are exactly or their significance to Celia. The whole thing about the chemical-laden woods and emotions is quite intriguing though.

    I very much enjoyed the voice of the 250. I wonder if there’s maybe a bit too much information thrown at the reader in the first paragraph, but the flow of everything swept me along so I don’t know that’s it’s necessarily a problem. Second paragraph was great too. I will say that “I’m finishing a short series of love novels when Mother walks into my room.” was a bit of a non sequitur for me. How did we jump from her mathematical obsessions to love novels?

    God luck to both entries!

  8. Maidens, Monks, and Murders:
    I am a huge fan of YA historical and this definitely sounds like one I'd love to read. The only thing I would change is the last line before the comp titles where you say "trusting the wrong person could prove deadly" because that is a line I've heard a lot before and I would like to see something more special cap off your otherwise excellent query.
    Your 250 is also compelling, though I would amp up the emotional impact by bulking up paragraph 2.

    Loving Logic:
    This is a very unique concept with a unique MC, two much-sought-after elements in a novel. The query lays out the story though it could be rearranged for greater clarity ex. with the mention of emotions in the first sentence you should mention them again in the middle of the query rather than leaving them to the end. Also, I'd like to know whether she's the only one who can see emotions or if this is common for those who live in the Wood. Last but not least, I'd like to here more about the boy who was kidnapped. Do we ever hear about him again?

    I was a little confused by your 250. Your first few paragraphs seemed to fit well the character you'd previously described, though they a little too complex to make it easy to follow. In the last half, I became even more unsure of your character because I would have never expected her to be a romance-reading type.
    I think with a little rearranging and some added clarifying details this will be a fun and unique read.

  9. Maiden, Monks and Murder: I love your first 250, great voice, interesting setting along with tension and a sense of urgency. I think your query might need some work though. It seems like you focus too much on what's going on between the characters instead of the plot. I also don't have a clear understanding who the antagonist is/what's standing in the way of your characters achieving their goal. I'd try to vary your sentences more and avoid questions.

    Loving Logic: Your query is interesting. I just wanted more specifics in the last sentence. I don't think your first 250 is as strong. It's a lot of telling and background when as a reader, I'd prefer just to be thrown into the MC's life at an interesting time. Maybe try to drip the background as the story progresses.