Sunday, June 1, 2014

QK Round 1: Secrets in Green vs. BingBamBoomBFF

Entry Nickname: Secrets in Green
Word Count: 85,000
Genre: YA Fantasy


Seventeen-year-old Lexa has a secret…only she doesn’t know it.

Lexa Billow has spent the last seven years hiding among the poor from the wealthy royals who killed her father for no good reason at all. But when she is summoned into a competition by the sons of her father’s killer, she suspects there may be more to the story than she was told.

Suddenly she’s the eighth participant in a highfalutin contest, and her tattered trousers have been replaced with a gaudy ball gown that weighs more than she does. When the games begin, Lexa discovers her problems are far more complicated than wearing frilly clothing and playing Mother May I with a bunch of high society she-devils.

Now she’s being blackmailed by the brothers, her best friend may not be who he says he is, her grandfather is dying, and her mother is missing.

Instead of scavenging for food, Lexa is searching for weapons.

To complicate matters, she is falling for a mysterious guy who says he can save her, but even his love comes with a price. Lexa must defeat the arrogant brothers in order to save her family, find a way to follow her heart, and try to win the dreadful competition...or die. Then suddenly, everything changes.

The real enemy enters the game…

First 250 words:

I fall flat on my face when the door gives in. I needed a steady crutch, because all of my other support conveniently disappeared into hiding the moment I was handed the envelope. I couldn’t even count on the door to hold me up.

After wiping my mouth on my sleeve I slip the dreadful letter in the back pocket of my trousers and walk briskly past the civilians, their empathetic eyes mapping every step I take. The throngs on the dirt street widen, allowing me more than enough room to pass through. My mouth produces an abundance of saliva as the sandwich I had for lunch threatens to resurface.

One member of the Source had to be chosen for the elimination process. Never in a million years should I have been chosen. I’m not smart, pretty, or even at the higher end of the lower class. It doesn’t make sense at all. And that is what scares me most.

Walking against the wind doesn’t slow me down. My pace speeds, the crowds thin, eyes begin turning away, and I am suddenly running, darting past a number of decrepit living quarters before Leel’s quarter comes into view. He’s waiting on the porch. For me. He knew I wouldn’t run home to a grandfather who is a few breaths short of taking his last, or to a mother whose impure mind might recognize her only daughter. Or not.

Just as I mount the steps of his porch, I see it.


Entry Nickname: BingBamBoomBFF
Title: Sucker Punching Magic
Word count: 75,000
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy


Luz Bangor wears a ginormous loser L on her forehead and doesn’t expect to peel it off anytime soon. Not when everyone compares her to her brilliant younger brother Eric. Then he goes missing. Desperate to save him, Luz turns to her unpredictable, sucker punching magic. But her magic backfires, putting her straight into the path of her brother’s powerful enemy.

Home-schooled, troll-shifter Jude Kozlowski wants the world to accept him as a decent guy, not the “who’s that tramping over my bridge” stereotype. But, his huge frame and pistachio skin scares normal humans and his shyness keeps him from meeting anyone else. Even his part-time paper-pushing job has him working alone. Fitting in seems hopeless.

That is, until Luz crashes into his cubicle at First Metro Finance, thugs on her heels. Smitten and presented with the chance to be a hero for once, Jude vows to help Luz rescue her brother. When the villains snatch Luz, Jude pursues. He braves a string of neighborhood vigilantes, a spoiled poodle and a troll biker gang to track Luz to Underhill, the fairy fortress. There, the unlikely pair must square off with the evil Fairy Godmother or lose Eric—and each other—forever.

First 250 Words:
Jude could blame a lot of things on The Fairy Tale Effect, but missing the bus wasn't one of them. He’d been at the stop, nose deep in his calculus homework when the Number Ten shot by, ruffling his hair. He jerked his head up. Didn't the driver see him?

It was 4:35 in the afternoon, on a clear day in downtown Milwaukee, and at 6’2, Jude was a big target. Hard to believe the bus driver hadn't spotted him. Yet the guy hadn't even slowed.

Snapping his calculus book shut, Jude leaped to his feet. Book, paper and pencil in hand, he barreled down the sidewalk in pursuit.

He needed his job. The order and routine. The chance to be normal.

If he waited for the next bus, he’d be late. His heart racing the pounding of his feet, he dodged the parking meters and the guys who cradled cheap wine in paper bags outside the military surplus store.

Halfway down the block, the bus’s brakes shrieked. Its axles groaned into a belligerent idle. The side doors disgorged a bearded dwarf in a trench coat. Bounding over the sidewalk and the dwarf, Jude closed on the rattling old bus. He was almost beside it. Then, as though the driver floored the gas pedal to get away from Jude, the Number Ten rocketed down the street.

He sprinted full out. A puff of smoke curled from the bus’s exhaust pipe as it turned the corner and disappeared from view.


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

    1. SECRETS: The pitch is well-written, but leaves me with too many questions. A secret is mentioned at the beginning that is not mentioned again. It says her father was killed for no good reason at all - what reason, specifically? If she doesn't know, I would omit that last part (so it ends at "royals who killed her father"). After the initial setup, we're introduced to a whole slew of new problems: "Now she’s being blackmailed by the brothers, her best friend may not be who he says he is, her grandfather is dying, and her mother is missing. Instead of scavenging for food, Lexa is searching for weapons." --- I would cut these sentences and focus on the Big Issue only - the competition. Also, what kind of competition is it? I was expecting some kind of fighting, but it says she's in a ball gown. What does the winner get? Do people die?
      For the last paragraph, I would leave the stakes at defeating her father's killers or dying. These sentences: "Then suddenly, everything changes. The real enemy enters the game…" leave me even more confused, and I think gives away more of your story than you need to at this level.
      The first 250 are solid. It starts in the right place, and you move the action forward nicely.

      BFF: This is a solid query. Stakes are clear, and I can tell the story will be from dual POV. The only place I'm left with questions is the first paragraph: who Eric's enemy? Did he take Eric/does Luz suspect he took Eric, and does she know why? How did her magic backfire, and why does that mean they're coming after her next?
      First 250 is excellent. Love the world-building you've woven in with the dwarf and the conflict with poor Jude who just wants a bus ride. I'm also intrigued by what the Fairy Tale Effect is. Wish I could read on!


    2. GIRL NUMBER 8's logline is too vague to really grab my attention (especially since the query never circles back to it), and the sentence after that (starting "Lexa Billow has spent...") could probably be split up and simplified -- I had to read it through a few times to really get what it was saying. I'd really like more details on the contest, too -- wearing a dress and playing Mother May I (or is this figurative?) doesn't seem like too much of a contest. There's so much going on (contests, troublesome dresses, brothers, friends, dying relatives, people going missing, mysterious guy, blackmail, she-devils, etc), I think it may be beneficial to pick the one most important conflict and work the query around that.

      SUCKER PUNCHING MAGIC has a lot going on as well! I'm confused about Luz's magic -- what does it really DO? And what's a troll-shifter (someone who shape-shifts into a troll?)? Who is the main character here - Luz or Jude? The plot sounds intriguing and from the writing sample, it seems that there's some real-world/fantasy world cross-over, which could be a lot of fun.

      Victory to BingBamBoomBFF

    3. Secrets in Green

      Jumping right into it . . . I think the opening line should be changed. I’ve seen similar openings used too many times. There always seems to be a secret in YA. Not that this is bad, but it shouldn’t be the selling point. Strive, instead, for what makes your novel unique. The competition Lexa will be part of sounds intriguing, but regretfully, we don’t know what it is about? Could we perhaps get an idea? She has to win or die, but if she’s wearing a dress that doesn’t make it seem dangerous. What is at stake? I would also like to get a taste of the villains, the brothers, what makes them so terrible. They seemed too faceless and abstract from the query.

      FIRST 250 Words-->The opening paragraph was confusing to me. The sentence “all of my other support conveniently disappeared into hiding the moment I was handed the envelope” left me wondering what the other support was? A person? Her own strength? Also, I think you mean that the door is being used as a crutch to steady her, but that wasn’t so very clear. This opening paragraph needs tightening up and could be much stronger. Consider your 3rd paragraph as an opening instead. It is much stronger.

      From the query, I’m picturing a funny, silly read. I immediately feel sympathy for Jude. He and Luz seem an unlikely pair. I’m curious to know what “unpredictable, sucker punching magic” is? And also troll-shifter? Does he always look like troll? Or can he shift? Perhaps some clarity in these two might help paint a better picture. But all in all, I enjoyed the query and 250 pages very much. Jude is very likable from the get go.

      VICTORY TO . . . BingBamBoomBFF

    4. Secrets in Green

      query: there's a nice sense of conflict here and enough character to get a solid idea of who she is, but I'm unclear about what this competition actually *is.* What does she have to do? Why does she *have* to do it?

      250: I found the first paragraph hard to follow. Where is she? Why is she leaning on something? What envelope? I was also unsure if she had already opened the envelope or if she was just assuming she had been chosen. All in all, you have a nice writing style, but I'd like to see you clarify your 250.



      query:I'd like to see "magic" integrated into the first line of the query. Maybe..."Despite XX, wears a ginormous loser L on her forehead..." I'm also not sure who the villains are in this story. Why did a kid *younger* than a teen have enemies? I'd also like to see the two storylines come together a little more tightly in the final paragraph.

      250: Really fun first page. There's not much of a hint of the central conflict to come, but you've nailed the immediate conflict and the character. Well done.

    5. Secrets In Green:
      Wow. I love. But what is the secret you mention at the beginning, and the competition? Aside from that, excellent!
      " on my sleeve I..." needs a comma after sleeve.
      Overall, I can sense the tension, but I'm not really grounded in the scene. Maybe tell us where she's reading the letter, what the street outside looks like, even in passing. I'd probably leave the mention of the Source until the reader has a foundation in the world you are building.

      Oh I'm feeling Shrek with a modern twist. I get the sense that this is a duel perspective. I really like it. I don't feel like I can add much to it.
      Oh man, I feel sorry for this guy. Character development and beginning action scene is great.

      For me, it's a tough call, but I think Victory to BongBangBoomBFF

    6. Princess PrimroseJune 3, 2014 at 7:38 AM

      Dear Secrets in Green,

      Query: There was so much going on here that I was lost. Lexa has a secret she doesn't know about. Intriguing, but it never goes anywhere. Lexa's chosen to participate in a ball by her father's murderers, something happens to her best friend, her grandmother, her mother, and she's being blackmailed. By now, my head's reeling. By the time you get to the last line, where the "real enemy enters," you've thoroughly lost me to exhaustion. Perhaps narrow down the one true conflict? What's going on here? What's most important to Lexa? What should the reader care about most?

      First 250: Well written, but the first line left me confused. What door? Why did it give in, and why wasn't Lexa expecting it? This line "I couldn’t even count on the door to hold me up" makes her sound a little whiny. Why are the civilians empathetic--did I miss something? There is a good opportunity to streamline here. I might even consider starting at your third paragraph to do away with the fluff. You're a solid writer, but this story might have a little too much going on right now.

      Dear BingBamBoomBFF,

      Query: Good query, but I was confused about the term "sucker-punching magic." What does that mean? It seems important to understand, but I was lost. Great job on the rest.

      First 250: I like that we're introduced to the world with a good amount of world building and setting immersion. However, I'm concerned this might be starting off a little slow. Jude missing the bus isn't something I really wanted to read about for 250 words. Could you start later in the story? Or maybe, if this is essential, could you trim down how long this scene lasts? Overall, I felt like you had a good grasp of character and your writing is entertaining.


    7. MRS N, the Query QueenJune 3, 2014 at 1:04 PM

      Secrets in Green:
      Query- Ooh, I love your ending to your query and it makes my brain scream, “Wait! Who is the real enemy? I WANT MORE!” Seriously, I couldn’t find anything wrong with your query and if I was an agent, I’d ask for your whole MS.

      250- Love it! I am transported into the MC and I can even feel my mouth water as hers does. Excellent writing voice and I can’t wait to read your book!

      Query- I liked your premise and your writing style comes across in your query. There is a lot going on and I had trouble keeping track. I think if you narrowed it down to Luz, Jude and whoever the antagonist is (Fairy Godmother?). Think the back of a book or blurb and get me excited about what’s happening. Your stakes are fuzzy and is your MC duel (Luz and Jude)? If Luz is your MC, play down Jude in your query a bit.

      250- I really loved your 250 and it was a surprise that it started in Jude’s POV. I related to an ignorant bus driver and being late for work. I really wanted to read more!


  2. Secrets in Green - Echoing the previous comment, I found the query very confusing. I'd also encourage you to focus on the contest/what's at stake, rather than every plot twist that takes shape in the story. In general, the plot twists you mentioned didn't mean a lot to me because I had nothing to anchor them to. A line or so of setting development would go a long way in this query. I'm not sure if we're even on earth or somewhere else entirely. Your query says fantasy, but I'm still questioning if it's high or low fantasy. Personally, the first line of the query doesn't work for me. You can't have a secret without knowing it. A secret is, by definition, purposely withheld information. This line, as well as the point at the end where "everything changes" felt a little disingenuous and lacking in voice. Find words truer to you and your story to express these sentiments.
    I agree your first 250 is much stronger. There's a good sense of motion in the scene and I liked that you knew to move quickly to other character relationships Lexa has. But again, I don't know my setting. Often with books, you can get away with sparse setting details if the jacket flap makes the setting clear. Effectively, that's what your query is. But when neither the jacket flap (query) or 250 are doing that, your reader is likely to feel disoriented. Keep on tweaking and best of luck in the contest!

    BINGBANGBOOMBFF - Both your query and your 250 intrigue me and impel me to read on, so overall, the hook and the energy is here and right. I do have a few suggestions, however, that might be worth considering. First, I think the description of Jude's life and problems rings just a bit stronger than Luz. Her set up felt a little hurried, and especially when contrasted against an awkward, shy troll. He's naturally got more that is intriguing about him (there are more highschool losers than homeschooled trolls. His premise is just hookier) so I'd love for you to ear my attention for Luz. After reading the query, and especially after reading the first page (which granted, has a bias due to the dual perspective) I came out feeling like I would have been perfectly happy just reading a book about Jude rather than one about both of them.
    That being said, some of the energy from the query I think belongs directly in the 250. You mention the Fairy Tale Effect right away, but when Jude is trying to figure out why the bus passed him, we see his height, but not his pistachio green skin (loved that description!). This feels a bit strange, especially since we DO see a dwarf very casually a few sentences later. When it's so apparent that your character is green, it felt a bit weird hiding it from the reader. Altogether though, good job and best luck!

    You both look like you've got fun stories on your hands. Hope you have lots of fun in the contest and again, best luck all around! :)

  3. Secrets in Green

    I love the hook of your query. Nothing worse than a secret you don't know you have! As we go further in, though, I feel overwhelmed by the series of events. I want to know more about the contest before I know it has the makings of a trap. The imagery in the 250 is good, but I'm left wondering what the Source is, if the elimination process is the contest mentioned in the query, who Leel is. It also took me a few reads of the last major sentence in the last paragraph to understand it, but it might've just been me.


    I like the stakes set for the main characters in the query, and the quick but effective descriptions of them. I can clearly see who they are and what their hang-ups are. Overall, a very good query. The Number Ten driver seems to not like Jude. The 250 is a very good play on a chase scene. The imagery is sharp, and the emotions are very relatable. I also liked that we are introduced to Jude first.

    Good luck you two!

  4. Secrets in Green
    I think the opening line of the query is a real zinger, but then we never come back to the matter of the secret, which seemed odd. It also wasn’t clear to me how the competition involved saving her family. And while I do like the last line, I can’t help but think we never learn what the real stakes are. So yeah, it’s a tease, but maybe a risky one?

    I found the opening of the 250 slightly confusing. The phrase “steady crutch” made me think she was actual in need of crutches, but then apparently not because soon she’s running. And we get a lot of concepts packed in here with little explanation (e.g., civilians, member of the Source, chosen for the elimination process, etc). Also, should “Leel’s quarter” be “Leel’s quarters”?

    I did like the overall concept though.

    This one feels pretty solid to me. I really like the world-building in the 250. It packs a lot in, but does so while keeping us glued to the action. Also very intrigued by “The Fairy Tale Effect.”

    My one comment is that the query sets me up to believe Luz is going to be the primary character (simply because she comes first), but then we’re introduced to Jude first in the book, which as a reader would make me favour him more as the primary (even if they’re more or less equal). You might consider switching paragraphs one and two in the query just so the two elements match up better between query and opening.

    Best of luck to both entries!

  5. Secrets in Green - this may just be me but I was confused, first the brothers drag her into something and then she's in the midst of a passel of high-society girls. You have a strong finish to the query. I also wonder if your first 250 might be stronger without the first paragraph. Just a thought. BBBBFF - I love the oddball elements you have in here, I also love the term "Fairy Tale Effect" in combination with the concept of suckerpunching. I think you need Jude's last name in the first sentence, and watch for echoes (calculus is there twice so there might be a more interesting second reference), otherwise awesome!

  6. Great efforts both of you. I offer a few comments:

    Secrets in Green: I love the last line of your first paragraph in your 250. You can tell things haven't been going well for the MC. Your query starts strong, but as stated above by others, you need to come back to the "secret" - we need to know more. You grab my interest with the last line of your 250, I want a bit more grounding in the plot setup. You mention the letter and Source and "walking against the wind" but I find myself wanting a bit more detail about this setting in the 250.

    BingBamBoomBFF: I'm drawn in by your 250 and want to read more. Your query is strong and gives a sense of how the narration will read, but I find it a bit confusing.

    Best of luck in the contest both of you.

  7. To Judges and Everybody who left comments,

    Thank you for all of your helpful suggestions. They gave me the insight I needed to make BingBamBoomBFF better—that’s an awesome gift.