Monday, June 1, 2015

QK Round 1: Polar Rush v. Twin for the Win

Entry Nickname: Polar Rush
Title: FLOW
Word Count: 93,000 words
Genre: Eco-Thriller


Newly-widowed John Barrous is out to stake his claim on the rich, virgin continent of Antarctica—up for grabs after a catastrophic global warming has occurred and melted the polar ice caps.

John yearns to escape from a stagnant existence—so risks his life in a perilous Antarctic Land Rush in order to build a life on his own terms. But in the midst of his migration, John meets a woman, Lowry Walker, who has discovered a fraudulent syndicate trying to control key land tracts in Antarctica. As John is drawn into a maze of dangerous power struggles, he must prevent the corruption which would distort the future of this fledgling country.

First 250:

John Barrous and his daughter pushed their way through the crowd—saris and Bedouin robes intermingled with plain western clothes. His ears rang with the deafening uproar and he wrinkled his nose at the stench of body odor. Desperation etched their faces—these were not the meek, waiting to inherit the Earth—these were the ones to seize it.

Men leered at Ginnie’s fresh face. John wrapped his arm around her. She was only fifteen. He spotted two seats together and they made a dash for them.

Young men, couples, and families with children flowed into the packed hall. A row in front of them, two Bedouin men argued. John shifted on the hard metal chair and glanced at Ginnie.

“Dad, why is the UN opening Antarctica to settlers with a crazy Land Rush instead of a lottery?”

He shrugged. “Publicity stunt, I guess. Less land in the world after the Melt forced them to open new territory for the human race to spill into or to screw up, is more likely.”

The quarrelling Bedouins dropped their traditional robes and circled each other in a ring of shouting comrades. One man feinted towards the other, who struck him in the face. More men gathered, tightening the knot around the fighters. John sucked in his breath at the dull glint of a blade. The first thrust missed, but the second hit its mark. Shrieks echoed in the hall. The crowd heaved away as the combatants fought over the knife. John lunged forward to shield Ginnie.


Entry Nickname: Twin for the Win
Title: Come to Paris Your Sister is Dead
Word count: 70k
Genre: New Adult Thriller


Devastated by the news of her twin sister, Angela’s death, twenty-two year old Shayna Daniels arrives in Paris to collect her belongings and identify her body. Recovered from the Seine river ten days after her disappearance, police are baffled by the lack of clues and by a strange tattoo on Angela's ankle. When Sebastien, Angela's boyfriend, shows up pleading for closure, Shayna agrees to re-trace Angela's steps, hoping to discover the truth behind her sister's death.

While cleaning out Angela's apartment, Shayna finds a message that makes her blood run cold: ALIVE. TRUST NO ONE, written in their childhood twinlanguage. Determined to find Angela, Shayna must navigate the back alleyways of Paris with her shoddy French, dodge Sebastien's insistent help, and decipher why Angela's hot neighbor keeps crossing her path. Despite not having spoken in the two years since their parents' death, Shayna must follow her gut and channel the deep twin connection Angela always believed existed between them. Before Shayna loses her again.

First 250 words:

Come to Paris. Your sister is dead.

The rest of the words from Sebastien’s email asking me to come and clean out Angela’s apartment all fade against these opening sentences. If ever there was a more stark framing of the facts, I’ve never seen it.

“On est arrivĂ©, mademoiselle.” We’re here. The taxi driver speaks to me through the rearview mirror, an Arabic accent marking his speech. My French was never as good as Angela’s but I get by.

I count out exact change, placing it in his weathered hand. That’s one thing I truly appreciate about Europe. Euro coins correlate in size to their value. Unlike illogical American dollars and coins. Whose bright idea was it to have the dime be smaller than the nickel and twice its worth?

“Merci, monsieur.”
I climb from the car and turn in time to catch his greedy eyes leave my ass. I slam the door a bit harder than I intended and don’t look back.

The first email from Sebastien seemed excessive. I ignored it. Your sister is missing, you must come to Paris to look for her.

The second one seemed like a movie plot. There was a shooting at school. She would not leave without saying goodbye.

But that’s the thing. She would, and she has in the past. Always with the same sad dolt left wanting more.

This time was different. After I found the story on Le Monde’s website about a shooting at the Sorbonne University, where Angela was doing doctoral research, I started the calls.


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

    1. Twin for the Win:

      You're missing a comma in the first line of your query (or you've got an extra one). Mistakes like that make me really wary. Also see if you can reword so you're not using the word "death" twice in three sentences. I love the idea of telling the story through Shayna's present and Angela's emails. My primary problem with your query is your comps - Saying "This will appeal to readers of Gone Girl and My Sister's Keeper" is kind of like saying "All people who read will love my book." Never compare your book to best sellers. It's OK to say "X meets Y," but not "The 30 million people who read these other books will want to read mine, too." That's a minor fix, but it's important.

      This first line is an awesome hook. You've got me. I'm reading more. As phrased, it sounds almost like she's reading the email for the first time, which clearly isn't true when we move on. It might help to clarify that, because otherwise, I want to know how she feels about getting that message. I'm not sure about mentioning all the prior emails on the first page, but overall, this works for me. I'd keep reading.

    2. Polar Rush:

      Your query is running on the lean side. You could spare some words to build up your MC and give us more about what’s at stake for him. The writing in your 250 is lovely. You’ve brought the scene to life with an economy of words and the exposition does not feel forced. However, I’m not entirely sure what is happening there at the end. It goes from nonchalance (with a shrug) to chaos on a dime, but that chaos isn’t buying you anything since it doesn’t resolve. It might help to better understand why they’re fighting. (Assuming it has to do with the land rush, but it seems disjointed.) Be aware too that you have 3 em-dashes in your first paragraph, 2 of them in one sentence. Be careful not to create a series of run-on sentences with overuse of them.

      Twin for the win:

      Your premise is clear in the query, but I’m not sure you need to mention Sebastien since he’s not doing much here. The “hot neighbor” is also problematic for me since it’s an additional character but with no added details, it’s like dangling a vague mystery. I think your stakes are clear, but you can declutter the query a bit to make it a cleaner read. As for the 250, there’s a lot of back story and exposition that isn’t being woven in naturally.


      This was tough. I like the query on Twin for the win a little bit more, but I favor the 250 in Polar Rush. I’m giving the benefit of the doubt here that a revision will pull the query out though.

      Victory: POLAR RUSH


      QUERY: Many queries have too much unneeded information, while this one doesn’t have nearly enough. I have very little sense of John, or any reason to care about him. It’s hard to get too much of that sense in a query, but you have so many more words to work with. Use them.

      FIRST 250: I really enjoyed this, and would read on for sure. My only issue was a tiny bit of info dump in what John says to his daughter. ““Publicity stunt, I guess. Less land in the world after the Melt forced them to open new territory for the human race to spill into or to screw up, is more likely.” Reminds me of the old, “As you know, Bob, .” It’s not a huge deal, but watch for things like that and find ways to insert that information more smoothly into the narrative.


      QUERY: Wow! What an interesting concept. This hooked me immediately. My one suggestion would be to move the information about the twins not having spoken in the two years since their parents’ death to the beginning of the query. That seemed to come out of left field and seems like an important part of the story. Plus, it gives a lot of information without dumping a lot of backstory. Just a tiny tidbit to pique the interest.

      FIRST 250: I was a little confused at first about where I was. A short sentence, maybe indicating she’s rereading Sebastien’s email for the fiftieth time on the small screen of her phone or something like that before the driver snaps her out of it. Otherwise, I really enjoyed the excerpt.

      This was tough, as I enjoyed both 250s, but victory to TWIN FOR THE WIN.

    4. Polar Rush

      The query is too short for me and I'm not getting a sense of stakes. I like the concept that the polar icecaps have melt, and it makes me wonder what happened to the rest of the world. Preventing corruption as the stakes though is very broad, so I'm not really quite sure the main conflict and the main consequence if something doesn't happen.

      The first 250 are well written, if a little slow. I became more engaged as I read on. Putting tons of description at the start tends to keep me from engaging into the story, but when the action started, I loved it. Maybe pepper in the description of people as he has a discussion with his daughter as opposed to putting a chunk of it in the first paragraph?

      Twin For The Win

      I don't feel like the second paragraph syncs with the first. Angela is retracing her sisters steps, but then suddenly cleaning out he apartment. That, at least to me, is something you do when you've accepted someones death. Was she actually cleaning it out, or were they looking around for clues to find out something about her twins death? I also get that the stakes are trying to save her sister, but I'm not sure from what. It needs to be fleshed out.

      However, what's lacking in the query is more than made up for in the first 250. The first line is engaging and it completely holds your attention through out. I would be requesting pages on this with the first 250. So definitely make sure you work on tightening up the query so that it shines as well as the rest.

      Victory to TWIN FOR THE WIN

    5. POLAR RUSH: I'm intrigued by your concept, but the reason you didn't fully hook me with your query is...there's not enough there! I know there are plenty of queries that run too long, but this one is actually much too brief! I need more of a sense of what will happen in your novel, and what's at stake--and I'd love for you to throw in some of your main character's voice. Overall, your query doesn't give me a sense of what will happen, so I'm kind of left floundering.

      All that being said, I enjoyed your first 250! You're a talented writer, and while the first few lines moved slowly, the pace didn't take long to pick up. My advice is to focus your energy on crafting a query that better reflects your excellent story!

      TWIN FOR THE WIN: Your concept is fascinating! I love a good murder mystery, so you had me hooked from that alone. Another judge, Scarlett, gave you a great suggestion about moving up the information concerning the twins not speaking for two years to the beginning of the query. I'd definitely do that, if I were you, as it'll help with clarity!

      My only critique in your 250 is that I wanted a sense of place immediately, but felt a bit confused. I suggest revising so we know more quickly that she's in a taxi! Great voice though, and killer opening line.

      Victory to...TWIN FOR THE WIN!

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


      Interesting premise! I love the idea of an Antarctic Land Rush!

      I want to know more, particularly about what John plans to do -- really, what he CAN do -- to solve the fraud problem.

      Also, we know very little about John himself, except that he's newly widowed and has a bit of wanderlust. We're left not knowing, then what his motives are for trying to prevent the corruption -- is it just a matter of principle or does he have something else at stake?



      A murder mystery in a foreign location - fabulous!

      I feel like this query is missing... something. What is it that makes your story unique? What sets it apart from other murder mysteries? Make sure you bring that out.

      Also, Shayna dodging Sebastein's help seems inconsistent with him being the one who persuaded her to investigate in the first place.

      Victory to... POLAR RUSH

    7. Polar Rush

      Query: While most queries seem to struggle with having too much information, yours really doesn't have enough. You've got a good 100 words or so before you even hit 250, so definitely use them. It'll only be to your benefit. Having read your 250, I see that John also has a daughter. That would be something I'd include. I also want more details--about the main character, the stakes, the plot. What does he really have to lose? Flesh this out more for us.

      250: Generally, I think you're 250 is good, but there's nothing here that really sucks me in. I could use a little more voice. Rather than giving us all the setting up front, I'd love to see you sprinkle it throughout the dialogue. Also, I have a gripe with the dialogue. It really feels like you're trying to feed us information, rather than letting it come through naturally.


      Twin for the Win

      Query: In the first sentence, twenty-two-year-old should all be hyphenated. Second sentence, I'd take out the second "by a" and just say "the." Getting towards the end, I think adding in the fact that the two of them weren't close to the beginning of the query would be important. I'm also not sure why she's dodging Sebastien's help. Does she not trust him? Think he's a suspect? You also dangle the hot neighbor, and I think that if he's going to play a prominent role in the story you should tell us more about him. Is he the love interest? Does he help Shayna? I'm also wondering if you could hint at what's really going on here without giving too much away.

      250: First, if the first line is part of an e-mail, I'd italicize it. Also, since she's re-reading it, I'd make mention of that. Otherwise I'm assuming she's reading it for the first time. When you say, "the taxi driver speaks to me through the rearview mirror" do you mean literally, or is his eyes just meeting hers in the mirror? This opening really drew me in and left me wanting more. I'm also intrigued by the dynamic between them.



    8. Hey Judge Sally 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. Hey POLAR RUSH! Since we moved around the match-ups, I've deleted the Kombatants' comments since they also included your former Kombatant's critiques. I've pasted your critiques below and will paste your Kombatant's on their new entry:

    Polar Rush: I like that the action starts right away, and the stakes are clear: John needs to protect his daughter and form a new life. The Lowry line makes me think you are setting up a historical connection to the Klondike Gold Rush/fraud, which is cool. Two thoughts: I'm wondering if it would be helpful to have a year (2065, 2025, whatever) in the set-up? Also, it's tough for me to tell the specific audience you are going for - this may be a situation that the query you send out would be helped by comps of other eco-thrillers.

    - Anonymous

    Polar Rush: You say John's escaping his stagnant existence, but I could stand to know more about that. Why did he make such a drastic life change? He's a widow, yes, but what else about his life wasn't satisfying? I need to better understand your MC's motivations before following him on this epic journey. And what a journey it sounds like it'll be!

    - Anonymous

    POLAR RUSH - fantastic premise, but I'd like a bit more insight into John's motivations in the query. Lots of people have stagnant existences, but few - especially people with children - risk it all. Your query is very short, so you have some room here. (If I were going to add one sentence to that query, it would be something about the daughter. Why's a widowed man uprooting his teenager?) Your first 250 drew me right in, but with a premise as farfetched (that's not the right word but I can't think of a better one - I don't mean it in a bad way, just that your story isn't about something that could happen to an ordinary preson today) as yours, it might be better to set the scene a bit more rather than jumping straight into the action.

    - Writer B

    POLAR RUSH - What an interesting premise. I think you have room in your query to be a bit more specific though about the stakes. "Distort the future" is pretty vague. Your 250 is full of tension, which is great. The only part I didn't like is when the daughter asks why they're giving away Antarctica in a land grab and he answers her. It just felt a little contrived to get an info-dump across. I know you need to let us know fast, but I wonder if you could sprinkle it out just a little more.

    - The Hills

    1. Great idea. Perhaps start with query with paragraph 2 and fold in the paragraph 1 information? I think you need to mention his daughter -- and how she reacts to the proposed move -- since his role as a father seems important to the character. I also wanted a deeper sense of why he'd make such a dramatic and possibly dangerous move when he has a teenage daughter to care for. The descriptions in the opening 250 were effective and economical. My one quibble was with the dialogue. There wasn't much, but what was there felt 'info dumpy'. Perhaps cut back and include some of this information later?

      - Peggy Rothschild

    2. Twin for the Win -
      In the opening paragraph of the query, perhaps let us know whether her sister's body is too damaged to ID --- or if the corpse looks like her -- to give the reader a foundation for believing her sister's alive? I liked the voice of the opening 250 and liked the way you used that voice to fold in grounding details -- like with the Euro coins. I did feel a little unmoored with the emails, but perhaps adding a date or time to each would help the reader?
      --Peggy Rothschild

      TWIN FOR THE WIN - I'm a sucker for thrillers and this looks like a great one. In your query, though, there's a tension between the strong twin connection (secret language) and the fact that they haven't spoken in years. Their estrangement is a big deal, and in the query it comes across almost as an afterthought. 250: that's a hell of an opening sentence (not sure if it was just a formatting glitch, but I'd italicize it). But you lose me a bit in the subsequent paragraphs with Shayna's thoughts on coin sizes. My first thought was "would someone who just lost a twin really be thinking about coin sizes?" But then I realized - maybe she would, as a psychological defense. But if that was your intention, it's not conveyed in the voice, and you could really strengthen the opening by making her state of mind clearer.
      --Writer B

      Twin For The Win - another awesome concept! I think the query certainly sets up the stakes. I LOVE the message your MC finds. I'm a tad confused about the timeline of your first 250. Did she start making the phone calls before or after she got the email from Sebastian? I'm sure that is made more clear in the next few paragraphs, but that is my only quibble. I would certainly want to read more!
      --Debra Shumaker

  3. Polar Rush: Interesting concept, but I felt like your query was very short and left many questions unanswered. In this day and age (I’m assuming it’s present day), why was wasn’t this new land being sold, and how is a syndicate controlling land that is literally up for grabs in a ‘crazy’ land rush? I realize that these questions are probably answered in the MS, but a little more info would have strengthened the query for me. I would have also loved to know more about John's daughter. You mention that he is risking his life, so there must be a good reason that he’d risk the life of his daughter, who looks like a key figure in the story and goes unmentioned in the query. It would have also helped lead into your first 250 which immediately mention John and his daughter. I’m concerned that your query might have sold a potentially great MS short!

    Twin for the Win: The query and first 250 felt like a cohesive package, and it’s rare that a book can grab you with its first sentence, but I love the beginning to your MS. I also really enjoyed the bit about the coins. This is an interesting, thought provoking commentary that assures me that it’s going to be an intelligent book, not just a fun read. I think this is an essential part of an effective thriller. The best thrillers that I’ve read have a very smart voice. I did notice a typo that may have been a computer error, but “twinlanguage” should be separated into two words. With your first 250, I was hooked and reassured that it is going to be an intellectual novel. I can’t wait for more!

    Congrats to both novelist! Very impressive work and best of luck!

    - Casey

  4. Super Flynn (fellow contestant)June 1, 2015 at 6:17 PM

    Well, I don't envy you, TWIN. I was matched against POLAR RUSH before the last minute switch and pretty darn nervous about it! That being said, I think you both have fantastic projects.

    POLAR RUSH: You have a great setting! Plus, the environment and global warming are such hot, marketable topics right now. I think your 250 are solid and would just want a little more character development in your query. Your MC's quest is intriguing, but why's he leaving his life behind? Who is he? I get what's at stake for his new country, but what's at stake for him personally?

    TWIN: Sounds like an intriguing concept! I like the idea of exploring this twin bond as well as a thriller with an international setting and younger than normal MC. A misplaced comma in the first line of your query made me a little worried about how strong your prose would be, but your 250 proved that fear unfounded. I agree with whoever said we need to better understand why they're connection is so strong despite not having spoken in two years, but if you iron out that wrinkle in character development, I think you've got a great query.

  5. Polar Rush
    - Topical. And we get right into the action. Nice!
    Twin for the Win
    - This has a strong, harsh situation. And twins are always fascinating. I was completely engaged.

  6. Interesting concepts. I don't envy the judges in this Kombat. I had to read Twin query several times b/o missed comma in the first sentence and dangling participle in the third. Good luck to both combatants.


  7. Two great and compelling stories here.

    First, Polar Rush:

    I like this unique idea of a rush to claim the new lands in Antarctica. Your query has good set-up and the stakes are clear. The one thing I think is missing is the fact that John is taking this risk with his teenage daughter in tow. I'd recommend you include this info in the query. It will not only raise the stakes for your main character, but will make more sense when we meet the daughter in the first chapter.

    Twin for the Win. Your query has all the key elements to be successful. Your hook is clear and so are your stakes. While I think your query is strong, it can benefit from being pared down a bit. For example, "Devastated by the news of her twin sister's death, Shayna Daniels arrives in Paris to identify her body." Succinct, yet you get the hook right away.

    As for your 250, your opening line is great. I was confused by your mention of the shooting at the Sorbonne considering you mention the sister's body was found in the Seine. This may be explained away later, but it was confusing for me.

    Two great stories, yet I only have one vote :(

    Victory goes to TWIN FOR THE WIN

  8. Polar Rush - While there is something to be said about queries being short and concise, I almost feel like this one is TOO short. Other than yearning for an escape, why does John decide to do this? What kind of danger may be in store for this country? Other than being a recent widower I don't know anything about him or his motivations.
    The first 250 was full of action. I had trouble with the conversation between John and his daughter though. It feels too forced. Would a fifteen year old ask that question? Possibly. But would she ask it that way, in that setting? It almost sounds too proper...if that makes sense. I think you were trying to give the reader some background information, but I would try to think of a different way to word it.

    Twin - I love the concept. I think your query is very solid. You have a comma issue in your first sentence, but beyond that I feel it was very strong and cohesive.
    The first sentence of your 250 instantly drew me in. I had a little trouble trying to keep up with what email was sent when, how long it had been since she received the emails, etc. I actually like that she was thinking about coins. Even when we go through tragedy we still have to do day-to-day things, and I think it makes Shayna more relatable.

  9. Polar Rush

    Typo: so he risks his life

    Good stakes, good setup, unique plot. I like it. Sounds like a fun read!

    I like what you're doing with your last sentence in the first paragraph, but "the ones to seize it" could be better. A different word for ones, maybe?

    I think you also want "Two men Bedouin men argued in a row ahead of them." Reads a little better.

    I'm sure you've been told to get to the point quickly, but the dialogue feels expositiony. I'd focus more on how John and Ginnie feel. They seem more like observers than actively engaged. But the actual scene and idea behind it are solid. Definitely cool.

    Twin for the Win


    Typo: No comma before Angela's.
    twenty-two-year-old or 22-year-old.

    Why is she avoiding Sebastien? I'm not clear on this. The plot is strong and this does read to me as a compelling concept.


    Typo: Angela's, but I get by.
    Need a comma here.

    VERY strong start. Love it.

    I'm not getting a lot of emotion from her though. You start off with what could be an emotionally devastating piece of information, then segue to Euros. Your MC is excessively cold in this section. I'm not trying to sound deeply negative, because I know you can write- I'm seeing it here, this is good. It's just way too cold at this point for me to feel anything one way or another. If she doesn't care about her sister, why should I?

    Work in some feelings, or justification for a lack of them, and you're good.

  10. What great concepts, both! When I see pair-ups like this, I'm glad I'm not a judge.

    Polar Rush - In your first 250 I'd like a little better sense of place. I know they're in a great hall, but where? I was assuming an airport? Also, I think the "less land in the world" dialogue could be slowed down a bit. I had to reread it a couple of times. Really great concept and hook - I would definitely keep reading!

    Twin for the Win - I agree with some of the above comments about creating a better sense of place in your 250. I think an easy place to drop some setting would be after she gets out of the cab and doesn't "look back." What's in front of her? Also, the fact that she would get an email saying her sister was dead didn't quite ring true with me. If she's the last remaining relative surely she'd get a phone call? Overall, though, a great hook and I'd definitely keep reading.

  11. Polar Rush: I think that you have an interesting premise but there is way too little written here for me to make real sense of the plot. You do give us little tastes of things, but it's really not enough. I think that I've seen this query somewhere before, perhaps on QT, but if that's the case then the query on QT was a lot better. I think that adding more backstory and information about the characters wouldn't hurt at this point.

    Twin for the Win: I really loved this query. I think you set the scene very well and immediately you grabbed my attention. The part with the river confused me because I thought for a second you meant Shayna had been found in the river, but obviously it was her twin (or was it?). I do think you have a pretty solid query here, otherwise.