Thursday, June 25, 2015

QK Round 4: Best(iary) Western vs A Girl and Her Serial Killer

Entry Nickname: Best(iary) Western
Title: Fugitive Motel
Word count: 90K
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal Fantasy


By day, fifteen-year-old Iris Vox sleepwalks through high school. By night, she plays a grown-up behind the reception desk of her father’s Kansas hotel, checking supernatural Others in and out. Quick with a dart gun or a convenient lie, Iris provides her guests with live food, fresh blood, or a quiet place to spin a web.

It’s the only life Iris has ever known, but it was safer when her dad didn’t spend so much time as a human smoothie. Born with a hereditary curse, he liquefies then pupates back to his normal shape. Dad’s metamorphosis used to happen on a schedule. Now it comes without warning, leaving Iris to hold everything together.

Just as sleep is a luxury to Iris, so is the truth. Her father won’t admit that something’s changed in his curse, or where her mother went. Enraged by her father’s silence, Iris turns to her guests for human contact. Consoling a vampire’s fading blood moll, soothing the self-hate of werewolves, and helping a handsome insect learn to fly, Iris finds her role as listener and solace. While Iris navigates her anger, the curses that fuel the Other world get stronger and stranger. Deeply buried magic is rising to the surface, bringing with it ancient beings who lack the “humanity” that makes Others worth protecting.

Faced with how these new beings will corrupt and endanger the world of Others, Iris finally learns her father’s secret, and its cost to her family. Now she has to decide whether she wants to become the next Innkeeper, or leave the Other world behind.

First 250:

5:45 a.m.

A man staggers in through our automatic doors. Glad for some action, I slide last month’s National Geographic under the counter to focus on my customer. Nothing special about him; anyone else would see a regional salesman coming in after driving all night. An older man with skin like a re-used paper bag.

But the stagger…it’s not quite right. Drunks weave. This guy lurches forward like he’s got an absolute goal. Our desk. Me.

Yep. Pale, sullen, haggard with a side of desperate determination? Definitely looks like one of ours, but I have to be sure.

“Can I help you, Sir?”

“Have you got a room, Miss?”

The man grips the rim of the counter to steady himself. His well-groomed fingernails point toward me. With a great effort he lifts his left hand and slaps it on the counter twice. That’s good. It’s half the sign. Still, he’s not finished performing.

“What are you looking for exactly, Sir?” I prompt.

There’s a long anxious pause as he tries to remember. He grips so hard that his nail beds turn whitish gray. My right hand creeps under the counter so that my index finger can rest on the pebbled steel of the trigger. I feel it and my heart rate drops.

“Rest and feed,” the man answers finally, fishing the words from some hard-to-access place in his brain, laying them out heavily on the counter.


The words before the knocks would have better though. Doing it backwards means he’s starving.


Entry Nickname:
A Girl and Her Serial Killer
Title: The Confidant
Word count: 62k
Genre: NA Thriller


18-year-old Stella Stokes has a secret: Gideon, a dashing English serial killer in the novels she writes, actually talks to her. He’s been by her side, offering somewhat twisted peanut gallery commentary, advice, and affection for every pathetic turn in her adolescent life. Sure, some of his darker suggestions scare her, she’s never been worried about his presence. After all, she’s the only one who can interact with him; he can’t really kill anyone.

The summer following high school graduation, Stella and her best friend, supernatural-obsessed, trans-man Quinn, decide to take a few weeks to explore California. However, their first stop at an idyllic beach town isn’t quite as calming as they would’ve hoped: a local’s prank gone horribly wrong leaves Quinn and Stella standing dumbstruck over four dead bodies. As they clean up the mess and flee town, Stella can’t help but notice Gideon’s signature all over the murders.

Now, Stella has no choice but figure out what Gideon is: ghost, demon, byproduct of mental illness, or something else entirely. Because if Gideon is more than an imaginary friend, not only could he really begin a murder spree, but maybe he really could force her to kill with him. As bodies stack up around them, Stella has to keep one step ahead of the authorities, keep Quinn safe, and most importantly, prove that the writer is more powerful than the creation.

First 250 words:

"You're barmy if you don't think a paid professional screwing up your haircut is enough reason to kill them.”

I open my drawer and snatch the first two pieces of water-friendly fabric I see. The unsolicited advice comes from Gideon, who lies on my bed tossing a dragon figurine from hand to hand. We’ve been talking for five minutes, and I’m so done.
“No, Gideon, you’re…whatever you just said if you think I'm going to murder someone because she cut my hair too short,” I say. “Besides, you’re English. Your people would rather suffer in silence than complain about a subpar haircut. Turn around.”

Gideon rolls his eyes and turns his back to me. I slip into my bikini.

“This figurine is a good density. An ideal bludgeoning weapon—”

“Don’t change the subject.”

I reach for my cover-up, but stop as Gideon wraps his arms around my waist.

“C’mon, poppet. Have I steered you wrong before?”

I resist a smile as he presses his lips to my throat. The moment almost lasts, but a thunk from inside my bathroom brings me back to reality: my best friend Quinn is changing in there, and when he comes out, he won’t be able to see Gideon.

After all, I'm the only person who can interact with him. 

I pull away and return my figurine to the shelf, hoping Gideon gets the message. His words roll around my mind, and my eyes linger on the golden dragon.

It is dense.


  1. Judges: reply to this comment to cast your votes. Thanks!

    1. These are two fantastic entries (I keep saying that because it's true!). Great job to all on polishing your work!

      I'm casting my vote here for the entry that I think has a standout, really original concept--this is a book I'd love to have in my hands right now, in fact!!

      Victory to...BESTIARY WESTERN!

    2. Dr. T.J. EckleburgJune 25, 2015 at 10:23 AM

      Congrats on making it this far! Best wishes to both of you in the future!

      This is a tough one, as I think you both have killer concepts and great 250s! What tipped the scales slightly in favor of one for me were the final lines of the queries. BW's final stakes weren't well connected to the rest of the query and left me slightly baffled. Whereas Serial's stakes were very clear, connected to the query, & ended on a note both poetic and punchy. Therefore:


    3. I love both these concepts. I'd read both of these books in a heartbeat (although I'm a little nervous about the word count for Serial Killer now that it's showing as NA not YA).

      But I fell in love with one of these entries back in Become an Agent, and I've been thinking about it ever since. I've seen it become consistently better, and I'm really proud of the improvements I've seen. And this has nothing to do with the vote, but honestly, you've also got the best nickname of any entry.


    4. I like both concepts. They are great, unique, and kept me engage. This one is very hard to choose between. Which is when it comes down to subjectivity, but hey a lot of this is subjective!

      Victory to BESTIARY WESTERN

    5. Both of these concepts are original and compelling. Your queries and 250 are equally strong. Kudos all around and good luck to you both.

      I have to vote for the entry that I fell in love with last round and keep thinking about.


    6. Jackie Jormp-JompJune 25, 2015 at 10:58 PM

      Two very clever concepts - both fun and quirky! And both have good, strong queries and action packed 250s. I have to admit, though, that I am in love with the voice and personality of Bestiary Westerns' MC, Iris. And while I like the premise of Serial Killer a lot, my one reservation is that it doesn't read NA to me, but more like YA.

      Victory to BEST(IARY) WESTERN

    7. I love both of these so much. They both are unique and interesting concepts that I think could garner leagues of readers. My choice this round is for the one that I personally would pick up more and even though it pains me to make this choice, victory to A GIRL AND HER SERIAL KILLER.

    8. Bestiary Western: ooh you’ve tweaked the query since I saw it in round one and I absolutely love it now. I would so want to read this story. The first page is great as before, although I would rather get to know our MC just a little before introducing the customer, just a paragraph or two. Also you have a typo in the last line: it needs to be ‘would have BEEN better’.

      Serial Killer: this query has really improved since I last saw it too, well done, much clearer. And the first page is tighter and more polished too, great job.

      This is super close, these are both really well-written, with original premises and fascinating characters. I’m just going to have to go with the one that is closer to my own tastes, so VICTORY TO BESTIARY WESTERN.

    9. I’ve seen both of these entries before and love the improvements that have been made!

      Bestiary Western: Your query reads a little on the long side, especially the third paragraph. What really trips me up with your entry is the stakes since they seem disconnected with the rest of the query. Your 250 is strong and I like the overall premise. There are a few tiny things I’d change to tighten this (like cutting “still, he’s not finished performing” and clarifying what type of weapon she has), but over all very good.

      A Girl and Her Serial Killer: I’ve loved this one from the start and would read this in a second. I think your WC is a little on the low side since you’ve bumped it up to NA, but I think that could be an easy fix. The stakes are clear and your 250 makes me want to turn the page.


  2. These are really both wonderful entries. Congrats to you both! While I'm infatuated with both entries, I'm head over heels for one because of the voice and originality.


  3. Amazing entries, and a ton of great work that's gone into them both during this contest. I expect to see success from both of these books and authors. Congratulations! While I believe both entries are worthy, my pick goes to an entry I've been watching since Round 1, and I love the concept so much. Good luck!!!!


  4. Princess of LlamasJune 25, 2015 at 10:11 AM

    These have been two of my favorites from the start. I hate having to pick one. They're both original and have great voice. But the concept in Serial Killer fascinates me because if the author can really pull off what the query promises, it'd be awesome. For that reason I'd read Serial before Western (even though the word count needs to be increased if you're sticking with NA). Victory to GIRL AND HER SERIAL KILLER.

  5. Wow, some great work here on both entries.

    A Girl and Her Serial Killer:
    Very nice job with the query. Reads way stronger IMO. I'm still not as taken with the 250, but I'm pretty sure it's just an individual reader thing. The premise feels solid.

    Best(iary) Western:
    In the query I'd be tempted to reformat it into three paragraphs and make the cut at "While Iris navigates her anger..." My reason for suggesting such a change is that this way the middle paragraph deals with Iris's current life/dilemmas and what her role/issues are now, while the final one then deals with what's affecting all of that. Also, it's starting to feel a bit long. The details are fantastic, but maybe crop out one or two to pick up the pace?

    Hard choice because I think I would give both a read, so I have to go with the voice that pulled me in better, which means Victory to BEST(IARY) WESTERN!