Monday, June 1, 2015

QK Round 1: Guilt by Association v. Heartland of Alberta

Entry Nickname: Guilt by Association
Title: Skeleton Key
Word Count: 80,000
Genre: Adult Mystery


Locksmith and security consultant Foley Munion’s life starts spinning out of control when her felon father breaks out of prison with a plan. But is the plan to protect Foley from being framed like he claims – or to pull off one last heist? Within hours of his visit to her locksmith shop, a bank robbery brings both police and FBI to her door. Since Foley installed the security cameras at the bank three years earlier, local cops are convinced she’s in involved. As the daughter of a safecracker and B&E man, Foley’s used to police scrutiny, but this time she’s their main suspect.

The current robbery seems to mimic an older one at another bank where Foley installed the cameras. During that crime, Foley’s business partner was taken hostage, her charred remains later found in the desert. With her locksmith business already on the brink of failure, a police investigation could be the final blow that closes her doors forever. Getting arrested won’t help things either. While the police focus on linking her to both crimes, Foley hunts for the real perpetrator, hoping to clear her name.

The more she digs, the more Foley questions what she’s being told – by the police, FBI, and her father. In spite of an ongoing police search, her father periodically manages to contact Foley, always seeming to know more than he should about the crimes and their perpetrators. Worried he might be involved in the robberies, Foley follows him – straight into the sights of a killer. Now Foley must rescue her father and save herself or they’ll both wind up dead.

First 250 words:

Foley glared at the name on the shop window: Manley and Munion Lock and Key. The last time she had the plate glass replaced, she should’ve told the painter to leave off Allison’s name. The woman had made a mess of Foley’s life. But her death still brought in the occasional lookie-loo who turned into a customer. Even so, the way business was going, the point could be moot by the end of the month.

When she stepped inside, the small lobby felt colder than the parking lot. Foley shivered and nudged up the thermostat. Metal shavings from the key grinder dotted the floor. Sweeping the place could wait. She lifted the walk-through section of the counter and entered the workshop. 

Something felt wrong.

Her work area looked fine, the bins of wire and alarm system components sat undisturbed. Nothing was out of place. She hurried to the safe, crouched and spun the dial. The lock clicked. She yanked the handle and pawed through the contents. Most important, her cash still lay bundled inside. Foley settled back onto her heels, staring into the dark interior.

Money untouched. Schematics secure. She leaned forward to sniff the locking mechanism. No tell-tale odor of oil or graphite. So why the heebie-jeebies? Foley stood and took a slow turn. Everything looked normal. But something was off. What? She closed her eyes and breathed deep.

Oh no. That smell. Soft, but with a slight edge. Partagas. Her dad’s favorite cigar.


Entry Nickname: Heartland of Alberta
Title: Missing Person
Word count: 100K
Genre: Adult Mystery


If it had been up to Kathleen Kovalevsky, she would never have even had to leave her Vancouver apartment to do her job as a database developer – let alone spend a week in Calgary with a micromanaging supervisor. And when her trip ends with a poorly-timed left turn and a collision in front of a gas station, the reclusive 29-year-old wants more than ever to return home and put the entire experience behind her.

But frustration turns to worry when pressure from the office and inconsistencies in the accident report lead Kathleen to try to contact the woman and children in the other car – and her efforts meet without success. The phone number provided at the scene of the crash is a dead end. The car is registered to somebody else. And the address on the licence leads to a different person – one with her own reasons for wanting to locate the driver.

Soon Kathleen learns of a second woman from the northeast quadrant of Calgary who went missing with her two young sons around the time of the accident – and that the two cases are connected. Before long, Kathleen’s questions attract the attention of a professional identity thief who appears to be hedging his bets by both warning her off investigating the disappearances – and using his considerable skills to implicate her in a crime she can't yet identify. By the time Kathleen figures out why she's been targeted, it's too late to turn back. Faced with a growing body of evidence pointing to her involvement in a murder, Kathleen must determine what really happened to the missing people – before the trail leads back to her.
First 250:

It comes down to this: absent some unlikely and absurd circumstances, I wouldn't have run into the woman heading west on Highway 1 two months ago. And then I wouldn't have woken in my childhood bed at three o’clock every morning this week, breath coming in short gasps, craving a drink and settling for a white screen with a blinking cursor.

I had been driving to the Calgary airport when I met her. That was the first of the unlikely and absurd circumstances: home is downtown Vancouver, where public transit is cheap, parking is scarce, and drivers are downright feral. Beside me was Roger, the Vice President of Sales at the company that employed me as a database developer, and that was the second: I'd worked in IT for six years without dealing with sales departments or feeling I was missing anything. I was an unlikely candidate for chauffeur, but Roger either didn't notice or didn't care. "How about you drive in Calgary," he'd proposed, which was my cue to deliver the next line: I'd be happy to. May I ask why?

But I hadn't asked; asking would only have prolonged the conversation, and I wasn't interested in listening to Roger. Roger, however, was interested in talking. "I've hated driving in Calgary ever since I got that speeding ticket," he said. Again he paused and waited for a prompt. I didn't provide one; he continued anyway. "Kathleen, did I tell you about the time I got stopped for speeding?"

"Yes," I lied.


  1. Judges - hit 'reply' to this comment to cast your votes. Thank you!

    1. Guilt By Association:

      The query reads clear and solid. I’m not familiar with querying a mystery, so I’m not sure if it’s common to give away so much of the plot. I like that you didn’t make your stakes vague by hiding behind the whodunit, but I also know from your query that the father isn’t the culprit. I really don’t know if that’s an issue. The 250 was well–written, but it seemed a bit cliché with the sneaking suspicions and then the hint of dad stink. And then nothing really happens. I wonder if this is the best place to start.

      Heartland of Alberta:

      Again, I’m not familiar with querying a mystery, so I may be off-base. The query reads fairly clear, though it’s a little vague at the start of the second paragraph, but then gets possibly too detailed by the third. Your writing is strong in your 250, but I don’t feel like you’re starting in the right place either. There’s back story and narrative, and the snippets of dialogue seem out of place. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on in this scene.


      This is really close. Both of you write well, and the concerns I have on both are so similar. This really is practically a draw for me, so I’m going with the one that read slightly more clear to me.


    2. Guilt by Association

      Query - You want your query to be specific to the main plot. Asking a redundant question in a query is generally a big no-no, so I'd take that out. Tell me what his plan is. Don't make me guess. The tension and build up are great, but try to stick to the main conflict. There's a lot going on in this query between Foley's conflict with the police, the killer, and so on. You can tighten and trim it up, but I definitely like the premise you've got going here.

      250 - I like the idea that she's going to work on something, but to me there's something missing. There's no sense of urgency I think in the beginning. It's all prose without interaction. A small suggestion of maybe starting when she smells the aroma of her father's cigar, especially if he's there waiting for her or the cops are about to show up. Giving a bit of action or interaction will engage the reader better.

      Heartland of Alberta

      Query - The hook is a bit wordy, giving it a choppy feel. I think you can tighten this up. Also you have a habit of starting sentences with conjunctions. Try cutting those out. From what I can see the sentences you use them in don't need them anyway. The stakes and conflict are clearly defined, and I definitely get more engaged the more I read. It sounds like you've got all the workings here, just need to tighten it up a bit.

      250 - Like Guilt, I don't feel this starts in the right place. There's something missing that I can't quite put my finger on. There's a lot of passive writing in this one as well. There's a few grammar issues as well. Maybe try cutting through some of this and moving forward in your manuscript. This to me doesn't feel like where the story itself actually starts.


    3. GUILT: I think your query is really fun! I'm a mystery fan, and I'd read this. However, slow down and check over your entry--I noticed a typo in paragraph #1! Also, I felt this query was a bit long--consider what's vital to the main plot that you want to show here, and then trim away everything else in revisions.

      In your first 250, your prose is strong and clear, but I'm not convinced you're starting in the right place. What's your inciting incident? From the query, I'd guess your inciting incident is Foley's father breaking out of prison. So how about beginning with a scene concerning the prison break? That would grab everyone's attention from the get-go and propel your story forward on a tense note!

      HEARTLAND: I really like how the tension built throughout your query! I'll admit, my attention wandered a little during the start of the first paragraph, but then things got interesting quickly and I was excited to read on! When you revise, pay attention to the third paragraph--there were a lot of details in there that almost made it a little convoluted. Tighten that last paragraph up and you should be in good shape!

      In your first 250, I have some concerns. The writing is passive, and your character is just reflecting on things that have happened--consider rewriting the opening with your MC about to hit the other driver. Take us through that tense moment to draw us in! As it stands, my attention completely wandered. Find your inciting incident (I'm assuming the crash) and open with that, but make sure you're not using passive voice when you do so!

      This was a tough one for me because I think HEARTLAND has a slight edge on concept/query, but GUILT had the stronger opening. Given my concerns with the first 250 in HEARTLAND...

      Victory to...GUILT BY ASSOCIATION!

    4. Note: For round 1 since there's so many entries, I'm judging based on the query only!


      This sounds like a really action-packed mystery, with a lot going on!

      The second paragraph is full of a lot of information, some of it from an earlier time frame, that pulled me out and was a bit confusing. Then in the final paragraph, you throw in another killer, which I think maybe gives away a bit too much of the intrigue (take it with a grain of salt - this isn't really my genre!)

      Also, you've got an extra word in the first paragraph: "local cops are convinced she's IN involved"



      Very interesting premise, and kind of freaky because it's something that you could see happening to anyone - just one of those "wrong place, wrong time" kind of things.

      Some of the individual sentences could be tightened up. The first one in particular seems unnecesssarily lengthy. There's other details ("in front of a gas station," for one) that don't seem to add anything to the query.

      Also, you've used quite a few dashes throughout this query and might want to mix it up a bit.

      Victory to... HEARTLAND OF ALBERTA!

    5. Guilt by Association,

      This is an interesting premise. Your first paragraph shows real stakes which draws me in. By the time I'm into the second paragraph though I get lost by the sudden introduction of a dead partner. If this is vital, I suggest getting it up into your first paragraph.

      Also think about the real highlights of the story and then hit those. The last paragraph feels like a synopsis to me.

      First 250:
      I like that there is tension from the beginning. It feels like you're setting a distinct tone and that's hard to do in a first page. Well done! One thing I'd say is watch out for areas where you are "telling vs. showing." For example with the line, "Something felt wrong." I'd rather see this than have you tell me about it.

      Heartland of Alberta,

      The mystery aspect of your story is good, but I think there is way too much going on in this query. Focus on basics instead of giving us so much detail. Who is your character? What are the stakes and what does Kathleen have to lose? In your opening, you can lay out more detail for us including backstory and setting.

      First 250:

      I reread your first line three times and it still feels very awkward. Your writing feels very passive which does not draw me into the story. Think about where your story really begins and then draw us in with voice and characterization.

      Victory to...GUILT BY ASSOCIATION


      QUERY: There is a lot going on in this query. It’s a very intriguing story, but I got a little lost in the details, especially regarding her former partner’s death. The last paragraph is great, although I would reword “always seeming to know.” There are some really great lines throughout the query, but I think they get lost in the extra information. I would also rework the question in the first paragraph to be a statement instead.

      FIRST 250: This is a pretty solid start. A quiet opening, but with enough intrigue that I would want to keep reading. My main advice is to watch filter words like “felt.” They push the reader back a step, telling us what she’s feeling rather than showing.


      QUERY: This is a strong concept, and who among us can’t relate to the desire to stay at home and hide behind a computer screen? It sounds like a twisty, complicated sort of mystery with lots of strings to keep track of. I was honestly a bit confused by the query. At first, I thought the story was going to be about a woman who had to deal with an annoying supervisor. Then it all switched and I had to do a brain flip to get back on the mystery train. By the third paragraph, I didn’t really know which train to follow. Try paring down the query to the very basic plotline. I think you’ve got something great here, it just needs help standing out.

      FIRST 250: This seems to start in several different places, and maybe that is just a style thing that I’m not familiar with. She was waking up every morning in her childhood bed, then she was talking about meeting someone, but we’re not sure who, but then we’re on about the supervisor. I was just having a difficult time tracking. You have a lovely and unique writing style. I’m wondering if this just doesn’t start in the right spot.

      Victory to GUILT BY ASSOCIATION.

    7. Jackie Jormp-JompJune 4, 2015 at 2:42 AM


      The query clearly lays out the the problems and the stakes for the MC. I’d love to get a smidge more insight into her character/personality, though. Also I feel like the query in general is a bit too long and that everything before “While the police focus on linking her to both crimes, Foley hunts for the real perpetrator, hoping to clear her name” could be condensed even further. I don’t think we need to know so much about previous robbery and her partner at this point, and I feel like there are a few repetitive phrases. But otherwise, this is a strong pitch.

      The 250 is equally strong and quite compelling. The first paragraph feels a little out of place and telling, but the energy ramps up quickly when she senses that something’s amiss. Think about whether or not you could start with that energy and build from there - perhaps pulling in the Allison backstory later on in the chapter? Also, I love the way the MC uses her senses – especially smell – in this. It says so much about who she is and what her talents are.


      The query is a bit dense for a pitch – I think you need to determine what the most important elements are and avoid cluttering it up with too much detail. Basically, I want to know who the MC is (a recluse) and what her problem is (she was in an accident that was more than it seemed) and what the stakes are (“faced with a growing body of evidence pointing to her involvement in a murder, Kathleen must determine what really happened to the missing people – before the trail leads back to her.) The rest is there to show the voice and a unique quality of your story/writing. Don’t worry about telling us every nuance of the mystery. Also, you might rewrite this phrase: “and her efforts meet without success.” It doesn’t quite make sense to me – maybe even just “her efforts get her nowhere” or something.

      I got a little lost in the first 250 – I felt like too much was happening and I got worried that I wouldn’t be able to remember all the hints and allusions to elements that may or may not come up later in the story. It made me want to stop reading because I was a little overwhelmed. I think you could find a way to simplify but still maintain the style and voice your going for.


    8. Hey Judge Sparrow! Thank you so SO SO much for judging 11 match-ups (11!) even though you weren't assigned this round. The query feedback will help tons. We won't be able to count your vote because of the lack of 250 consideration, but seriously, thank you thank you. The writers will appreciate it tons.

  2. First let me admit, mystery is not a genre I read much, so keep that in mind.

    GUILT-The premise seems very solid and the query does an excellent job of laying out your story and conflict. I love the tension on the first page, ending at the perfect spot since your query shows us so well why her dad dropping in would be unwelcome.

    HEARTLAND-I'm wondering if you can trim some of this. For example "from the northeast quadrant of Calgary" isn't really necessary since you say the cases are connected. What I am not sure of is if there are two women and their children missing or they are the same. Perhaps you don't need the first sentence, the second sentence plus your next paragraph are the setup. I don't think "By the time Kathleen figures out why she's been targeted, it's too late to turn back." is needed at all and it's too vague. Who has been murdered and how would the accident lead to her being a suspect? If you can shed more light on that, I think your query will work. For the 250, I think you need to decide where to start. I understand that you want to refer the accident on your first page, but you start two months later and then have all your first page action in passive voice (had, was, etc.) I like this: home is downtown Vancouver, where public transit is cheap, parking is scarce, and drivers are downright feral. Could you start with that and maybe contrast Calvary in the next sentence and a vague allusion somehow to the accident she's about to have. Then continue that second paragraph in active voice. Your story can be in past tense, but tell it like the events are happening now. (and show more than tell.) I do like how you reveal on this first page some of her personality through the interaction with Roger.

  3. Guilt- Love the concept! Its really fun how the MC senses her Father's presence before she sees him. There is a typo in the first para (she's in involved). Overall, super strong entry.

    Heartland- These twisted identities are very interesting! I thought your query was great, but I got a little lost in the first 250. I felt like it jumped around a bit. But definitely a great premise.

  4. Guilt by association

    I like the premise, and this sounds like a great book.

    I feel like this sentence could be combined with the sentence about her business partner ending up dead. "The current robbery seems to mimic an older one at another bank where Foley installed the cameras."

    Otherwise, I think everything else looks good!

    Heartland of Alberta

    I feel like I need more from this portion: But frustration turns to worry when pressure from the office and inconsistencies in the accident report lead Kathleen to try to contact the woman and children in the other car – and her efforts meet without success. -- It's a bit general. What are the inconsistencies?

    The car is registered to somebody else. And the address on the licence leads to a different person – one with her own reasons for wanting to locate the driver. - These are items that are difficult to get ahold of. Who helps her get this information?

    For the 250, I feel like there's a bit too much backstory. I was hoping to either be brought into the accident, or her discovering the inconsistencies in the accident report.

  5. GUILT: Oooh fun query! My one suggestion is to not reveal that her father isn't a killer at the end of your query. Up until that moment, we're playing with the idea that maybe her father is framing Foley. When you clear his name and say that Foley and her dad might be the killer's next target it kind of wastes the awesome tension you set up in the preceding sentences. I want to believe the betrayal could be THAT BIG, that her father might be behind it all. Just me?
    First 250: Why could sweeping the place wait? What was Foley in a hurry to do upon entering that she didn't want to sweep? Just telling you my thought process. (maybe it's in the next 100 words?) You set up tension nicely in this first excerpt and I would definitely read more.

    HEARTLAND: Your query is fantastic. Very clear and sets up the stakes elegantly. You ramp them up with each new sentence. Cannot expand more upon how much I love this query. End gush.
    First 250: I think you should start in a wholly different place. Begin with the car crash itself and her disorientation. Then maybe recount the week prior to that and end the chapter with her exiting the car and facing the woman and her children in the other car. Sandwich this info, because right now it reads like a lot of backstory right off the bat and we want to the nitty gritty first.

  6. GUILT - I felt like your query could be cut way, way down. I don't think we need all the details about how her old partner died, or exactly why the police are bringing more scrutiny. I think you could really just focus in on her dad and how his presence threatens her business. I also found the first few sentences a little vague. Stay away from "spins out of control." And don't ask the rhetorical questions. Just start. Her Dad comes back with a plan to do...what? And then the police do what? This is bad because it threatens her business. Yada, yada, yada. Your first 250 is good. Nice tension while setting the scene.

    ALBERTA - I really liked your query. I thought it was pretty tight and clearly laid out the mystery and stakes. Your 250 was fun. I liked the voice. I felt like the first sentence was missing a clause or something. It didn't quite make sense and I had to read it a couple times and still didn't love it. But it picked up from there. Good job with the annoying Roger.

  7. Guilt by Association: in your query - a typo "are convinced she’s in involved" Drop the "in" since you have involved. It's a nice mystery query closing with those high stakes necessary in mystery. Well done.
    I love your first 250. The tension of knowing something is awry but not able to put your finger on it, is something everyone relates to. Love the touch of her dad's cigar.

  8. A solid query that sets the stakes and the character's involvement. Your first 250 didn't come alive for me until the last paragraph. I'd start there.

  9. Guilt by Association: Your first 250 words carry a lot of tension. I really enjoyed how the protagonist didn't see her father but was first notified of his presence by the smell of his cigar.

    Heartland: I think your first 250 words are good, but for a book with such a suspenseful premise, I think that it'd be better to begin with the crash. Right away, perhaps with the stranger's demeanor or manner, the reader would know that something was wrong.

  10. Guilt by Association: I too felt like your query could be leaner and that you might want to leave us wondering if her father's framing her. As for your 250, if I picked this up at the library, I'd be heading to the checkout desk - or maybe the closest chair. :-)

    Heartland: Good premise and a solid query. I agree that beginning with the crash or its aftermath would be a better start. Though your character's voice comes through loud and clear, I'm not sure want to begin with the annoying Roger. Unless he's about to die in the crash? :-)

  11. Guilt by Association,

    I too, wonder if the query gives away too much. Mystery isn't my writing genre (though it's fun to read!). I thought your 250 was well written. We're given a hint of what the query suggested (murdered partner, renegade father). And I'm the sort that appreciates being set up in the setting before being dropped right into the action.

    Again, I don't write mystery, so take this with a grain of salt. I thought your query laid out the stakes fairly well, though I was confused by how the MC is being implicated for a crime that she doesn't know what is. I think it would be more intriguing to know instantly what the implication is of (implication for murder is much more interesting than tax evasion, that sort of thing). Specifications in such a suspensful set up would draw me in more than the mystery because I prefer the WHY am I implicated mystery more than the WHAT is the implication for? As for the 250, like some above me, I felt like it started in the wrong place. Aden said it really well. Your premise is full of suspense, but the opening is not. Staring with backstory (and maybe this is just me) pushes me out of the story. I like to learn with the character, not be told things the character already knows. That said, even though I don't like that sort of beginning, yours actually managed to draw me in anyway. Kudos for ensnaring the intrigue despite my preferences.

    Good luck to you both!

  12. Guilt by Association

    QUERY: This is straightforward and clearly set out. There’s one typo in first paragraph. Also, I don’t usually read mystery so maybe this is not a big deal but I didn’t know what a B&E man is. Otherwise, the stakes are clear. The setup is clear. The only place I stumbled was when you introduced the killer. It cleared the Dad of being the culprit after you placed so much suspicion on him. That broke the tension for me. I think you can include the killer if you reword it differently to still keep suspicion on the Dad. I hope this helps!

    250: I really enjoyed reading this! Your writing style is very easy to read. It drew me right in. I thought the presence of her father’s cigar was genius--so creepy to use smell. The only thing that threw me was the first paragraph when you talk about Allison’s name. This can be easily fixed by using first and last names when introducing your characters. Otherwise I’m not sure whose name is whose on the sign. Nicely done. Good luck!

    Heartland of Alberta

    QUERY: This query has just the right amount of mystery and creepiness to make me want to read more. The first paragraph was very clear. I stumbled over a couple spots in the other 2: the wording in “her efforts meet without success” seems kind of odd; and “implicate her in a crime she can’t yet identify” is too vague. How do you implicate someone in a crime she can’t identify? I’m not sure how that would work. Otherwise, I’m completely intrigued!

    250: The first sentence threw me, which is a shame because I was so excited to read on! I think it’s the use of the word ‘absent.’ It didn’t flow well for me so I had to stop and reread a few times. The rest of it worked a lot better for me. I personally like the backstory. I think it added to the voice. Most of all, I enjoyed the hints about Kathleen’s character. I hope this helps! Good luck!