Thursday, June 25, 2015

QK Round 4: Queen of Drones vs Elephants Never Forget

Entry Nickname: Queen of Drones
Title: The Chimera’s Snare
Word count: 85K
Genre: YA Sci-fi Postapocalyptic


June was only a child when a failed scientific experiment spawned an incurable chimaera-virus, dissipating humanity. Now, at sixteen, she lives confined to a bunker at Alpha, one of the twenty-four armored settlements scattered in the ruins of North America. Unlike the other settlers, June is never allowed above ground. Her only link to the outside world is the streaming feed on her holographic monitor; her only companion is her stoic, infuriatingly secretive guard Kyle.

When ravenous, flesh-eating chimaeras destroy Alpha, June’s isolation is shattered. Together with Kyle, she treks across a mutant-infested bayou to the neighboring Omega, where they encounter three other Alpha survivors. But, each person remembers the attack differently and June must race to piece together the truth behind their conflicting memories before the survivors turn on each other and before the monsters strike again. Alpha’s subterranean database could hold the key to reconciling their stories and finding a way to defeat the chimaeras, but with four other settlements already fallen, time is quickly running out.

June and Kyle return to Alpha to search for clues, instead they unravel a past that ties them directly to the horror of chimaeras. June discovers she is a clone, engineered to turn the world into a beehive of zombie-like drones, and Kyle is an assassin sent to stop her. An assassin, whose wiped memories are beginning to resurface. If June isn’t strong enough to override the monstrous program in her DNA, she must persuade Kyle to follow his orders and kill her.

First 250 words:

June felt the vibration in her bones seconds before the emergency siren shrilled to life. The wave of sound passed through the thick layer of earth, slamming against the bunker’s titanium bearings. The walls and ceiling shuddered and the silver chess figurines on the table knocked against each other, June’s careful strategy scrambled into chaos.

In the space of a heartbeat she was up, her ear pressed to the concrete, straining to catch familiar sounds beyond the blaring wail.

The main generator was silent.

We can’t stop the apocalypse, but we can survive it.
June scowled at the enclave’s oh-so-optimistic motto flickering on the holographic monitor above her bed. Clinging to a false hope wasn't surviving.

She climbed on the mattress, licked her fingers and reached towards the air-conditioning ducts. Nothing, other than a faint scent of mildew. And apples. In the settlement, apples were a luxury. Wondering which chemical compound could've produced the odor, she didn’t notice when the siren cut out.

For several long moments the walls trapped its echo, fainter with each iteration. But the air conditioner, the generator, and the intercom system didn’t come back online.

“Kyle?” June’s voice pitched high, amplified by her room’s armored carapace. In response, something groaned and from above issued a long, plaintive screeching.

“Kyle, where are you?”

Not in the bunker. Otherwise, he would’ve already responded. Her stomach went weightless; in the last two years, Kyle rarely left her side.

She jumped off the bed and rubbed her bare foot against her calf.


Entry Nickname:
Elephants Never Forget
Word Count: 72K
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy


Only two are yet remaining,
Precious magic ever waning . . .

That’s just part of the mysterious message 16-yr-old Chessie receives when she’s forced to visit her great-grandmother for the summer. Bad enough Gram lives in middle-of-nowhere, Kenya. But when Chessie’s contacted by the spirit of Jhelani, an eons-dead elephant, things take a total left turn toward weird. Communicating with cryptic songs and strange symbols, Jhelani’s message slowly emerges: if someone cannot save the last of her once-immortal tribe, the Earth may pay an unknown price. Freaked out and overwhelmed, Chessie shuts down, breaks communication, and refuses to help.

Meanwhile, Kenyan teen Daniel can’t feed his family when his crops fail. Desperate for work, he’s coerced into a gang of poachers with their sights set on a huge payday: the remaining elephants of Jhelani’s tribe. Just this one job, he swears. Then he’ll find honest work. Hold his head up again.

Chessie finally comes to a decision. She wants to be the kind of person who, as Gram would say, “grabs life by the tusks.” But by the time she finds the missing elephants, the poachers are closing in. With elephants charging and bullets flying, Chessie’s taken prisoner and her world and Daniel’s collide. To survive, Chessie must conquer her fears and seize a dangerous opportunity to escape. And Daniel must decide where he’ll draw the line: thief, poacher, or accessory to murder.

First 250:
When your family falls apart, I suppose you shouldn’t expect anything to be the same again. Not even your mother’s smile.

Mom’s goofy I-love-my-life smile hadn’t been seen in months, and I’d become all too familiar with the distant impostor that had replaced it. But the smile she wore right now? Pretty sure I’d never seen that one before. Like something you’d grab at the mall without stopping to try it on, it was too tight and way too bright.

And she was cooking, for the first time in months. “Mom? What’s going on?” I dropped into a kitchen chair and watched her pull something from the oven.

“Roast chicken? Dibs on the drumstick,” Bent shouted, slamming his scrawny ten-year-old frame into the chair nearest the chicken. He leaned across the table, freckled nose practically up the bird’s butt, and took a deep sniff. “Look, Chessie, mac-n-cheese, too.”

Mom set a tray of steaming cornbread on the table and sat down, still beaming. “Your great-gram has invited us to visit her. In Africa.”

I paused, forkful of mac-n-cheese halfway to my mouth. My stomach felt hollow. I had the feeling no amount of mac-n-cheese was going to fill it, not even one with four gourmet cheeses and a crispy crumb topping. “Can you get enough time off for a trip like that?”

Her smile flickered like the lights during a thunderstorm, right before the power went out for good. “I . . . I can’t go. But you two will go without me.”


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

    1. I can tell both these authors have worked hard, and it's really tough making a decision here because these entries are in such different genres! But, I'm a sucker for animal stories and super unique concepts, which has helped decide my vote.

      Victory to...ELEPHANTS NEVER FORGET!

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

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

      You both did a good job. While the QOD entry is well-written and intriguing, I found aspects of the query a bit baffling & the lack of setting/context details in the 250 made it feel a bit generic. I loved the Africa setting & concept for Elephants, which had a very easy to follow query and strong 250.



      You've both got amazing premises. You've both got great queries and a good 250.

      One of the things I'm looking at is how well the authors have implemented the feedback we've given. I know it's all subjective and that suggestions are only that, but.... as someone who spends a lot of time giving feedback, it's nice to see when someone steadily strives to improve both the query and the first 250. And I know you tried to justify it via Twitter, but I just can't shake the feeling that Elephants starts in the wrong place.


    4. Welcome to Round 4! Congrats on getting here, guys!

      Queen of Drones has a little bit too much backstory in the query for my liking, and I don't feel like the first 250 engage me very well. Elephants Never Forget, I like the query, but got a little confused at the end when the POV switched. I really like the first 250, but think you'd be better off cutting the first two sentences so you're not addressing the reader.


    5. Two strong entries here (which is no surprise, given that it's Round 4 :)

      For Elephants Never Forget I would say the last paragraph of the query lost me a bit. Earlier it sets up the stakes as Chessie helping her tribe, but the hook hinges on something else: her escape. Hooks work best (IMO) when they hinge on the stakes that have already been laid out. Also, personally I found the voice in Queen of Drones to be stronger and more immediate. So Victory to QUEEN OF DRONES.

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

      Oh no, this is a really hard decision. Blerg. Okay, here goes - Queen of Drones, I love the premise and the idea of a mutant infestation - it's like BioShock or Resident Evil, but with romance. Sweet! And the first 250 definitely pulled me into the action right off the bat. Elephants Never Forget has a really interesting and unique setting and premise, and there are some epic imagery and turns of phrase in the first 250 that I enjoyed (e.g. "freckled nose practically up the bird’s butt" - great voice!)

      I'd like to read both of these, but I guess I'm going to have to go with the one that I'd probably take home from the bookstore first, and so VICTORY to: QUEEN OF DRONES.

    7. Wow, this is like Sophie's Choice this round! Somehow this is my first read of DRONES, which sounds like quite the page turner. It does remind me a little bit of the Under the Never Sky series in premise and I agree with others that there is too much backstory. ELEPHANTS has come a long way since round 1 and as I have thought from the beginning, it's fresh, unique story will no doubt catch the attention of many an agent.

      Victory to ELEPHANTS!

    8. I haven't judged since round one so this is the first time I've seen these entries, yet I felt like I'd seen the first page of Drones before. I don’t think I have, which means that it’s perhaps not as original as it could be. Having said that, both query and opening page are good.

      The query for Elephants makes it sound like a really original story, but I’m not as sold on the first page – it feels to me like it rushes into her mother saying they’re going away. Having said that, I wonder whether starting later – perhaps with them on the plane or something – might not work better and be a more gripping opening than a family having dinner.

      This is close but because the story is so original and a Kenyan setting is refreshing, I’m going to go with VICTORY TO ELEPHANTS.

    9. Queen of Drones: I’m intrigued by your query, but it feels a little long and focuses a little too much on back story. Unless you’re going to explain why June is never allowed above ground, I wouldn’t mention it at all in the first paragraph. The opening of your 250 is a little generic, but I did love the voice and am overall intrigued by the premise.

      Elephants Never Forget: I think you’ve got a really unique story and it’s refreshing to see it set outside the US. However, I felt the transition to Daniels POV was abrupt and broke the flow. Also, I’m confused why Chessie would change her mind since in the first paragraph you said she refused to help. It seemed inconsistent. I’m also not clear on the stakes. Is it more about Chessie surviving, Daniel making his decision, or something disastrous happening to Earth if they kill the last of the tribe? As for the 250, while I really loved the voice, I’m wondering if it’s starting in the right place. The mom’s announcement that they’re going to Kenya without her seems a little abrupt. I’m also not a fan of the opening sentence addressing the reader.


  2. I've saved this one for last because it was the hardest choice. There's so much to recommend both of these entries. In the end, I have to vote for the one I felt hooked me more by the end of the query and again by the end of the 250.


  3. Oh. My. Gosh. How to pick between these two? They are both amazing. LOVE the clone twist in QUEEN. LOVE the relevant issue of poaching in ELEPHANTS. Both will go far. A terrible decision to make, but because of its relevance and perhaps the difficulty in selling a post-apocalyptic book these days I'm going to go with


  4. Princess of LlamasJune 25, 2015 at 10:03 AM

    WOW! I've never read DRONES before, but it's obvious why you've made it this far. Let's face it, these are both strong queries and strong 250s. At this point, all I can do is nit-pick, and to me Drones's query sounds a bit too much like a synopsis to me. For purely subjective reasons, victory to ELEPHANTS NEVER FORGET!