Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Aztecs in Space versus The Fisherman

Entry Nickname: Aztecs in Space
Title: The Aztec
Word Count: 100,000 words
Genre: Adult Sci-Fi


As a child, Papan was chosen as the sacrifice for the Aztec’s New Fire Ceremony, a brutal ritual intended to ward away the evil gods who would destroy the world.  Though she willingly faces death, Papan renounces love and family and refuses a life beyond her duties to the temple city of Tenochtitlan.  She dies, but her last thoughts are not bound in glory or honor.  She regrets the life she chose. 

Captain Vick Halley watches the grisly sacrifice from orbit.  When he agreed to pilot for the scientists terraforming Earth, he didn’t think they’d allow their program’s publicity stunt to die on a stone altar.  Their plan to resuscitate the woman with an artificial heart works; however Vick is forced to act as intermediary between the irate Aztec and scientists.  Papan refuses to assist the program’s fundraising until the scientists intervene to prevent thousands of meaningless sacrifices to false gods.

Between appearances at fancy galas, Papan sneaks away with Vick to explore the wonders of the universe: ocean planets, meteor storms, and comets.  But, as her artificial heart begins to fail and the scientists struggle to finance a new surgery, Papan’s second chance in the advanced society is a heartbeat away from ending; along with any hope of saving her people.
For the first time in her life, Papan does not want to die.

First 250 Words:

The calendars decreed Papan would die in six days.

More precisely, Pan had five days, an afternoon meal, and one sunset left to live.  She preferred to be precise.

The temple offered as much hope as it did distraction in the few remaining days before her sacrifice.  Pan tended to her duties, scouring the temple’s stone walkways for any lingering cobwebs, ashes, or flecks of grass.  Outside, blood perpetually dripped from the grand altars, staining the pyramid’s one hundred stairs crimson and dark.  It was mess which would not be scrubbed clean.  The blood protected the city from all manner of demons and foul destruction.  A comfort.  Pan’s death, however gruesome, would prevent the heavens from descending upon Tenochtitlan, sating the gods before they devoured the entirety of the vast Aztec empire.

The temple’s halls did not need swept.  Even the hidden corners and tucked away secrets where she hid from the priests as a child did not require cleaning.  She paused within a shrine, bowing low to honor the symbolic mask of the god Quetzalcoatl.  Fragments of turquoise and jade formed the mosaicked image of two intertwining serpents curling over the mask’s eyes.  The stones were gifts, tributes from far away cities.  She asked, but the priests could not estimate the distance the mask traveled before settling within the sacred shrine.

The warriors told stories of the expanding lands and surrounding city-states.   Traveling merchants raved of the empire’s borders, stretching beyond sight until the land gave way to infinite waters or the paths were lost within the dusted sand of barren deserts. 


Entry Nickname: The Fisherman
Title: The Fisherman
Word count: 90K
Genre: Adult Literary Suspense


Everyone Jude Fisher has ever loved is dead.  His parents, his three best friends, the love of his life—they’ve all gone to their untimely graves.  And Jude has killed them, every one.  It’s a curse: when he loves someone, they’re laid low.  It never fails.  They always die.

THE FISHERMAN pits the world-weary, 22-year-old Jude against the ultra-violent Lucas Moordenaar, a depraved killer who murdered Jude’s parents a decade before, triggering the boy’s tragic malediction.  When Lucas is about to be paroled, Jude embarks on a relentless, three-day mission from Minnesota to upstate New York, where Lucas sits in prison, waiting for him like some terrible spider.  Jude must stop the man who birthed his curse from going free: if he doesn’t, he’ll be forever doomed to walk the earth, killing anyone unlucky enough to become his friend.

Jude trips through trains, buses, city streets, and country roads on his spasmodic journey to Greenvale State Penitentiary, haunted by his dead loved ones.  He is tortured especially by the apparition of his lovely Angela, whose death wounded him worst of all.  Her dying wish was that Jude seek out the man that murdered his parents and learn the truth about his curse.  Jude won’t let her down: he will meet this monstrous evil face-to-face.

First 250 words:

The question I get most since they chucked me in this hole is this: Are you sorry for what you done?  Everybody asks me, when they find out what I done.  And its sorta an interestin question.  It sets me to thinkin.

See, there are probly a few who are sorry.  The two pukes I wasted in here for starters.  If you could ask them now, which you cant, they would most definitely wish I hadnt squirted up into the system and trickled down and out the shitpipe into scenic Greenvale State Peniten-shee-ary.
Its like I always says: you dont cross Big Luke.  Some learnt that little factoid harder than others, but they all learnt it.  Tell the truth bout them pukes I dusted, the both of em deserved what they got.  Anyone I ever waxed deserved it, matter of plain fact.  They was in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, all of them.

But the little kid, you see, the reason I landed here—he maybe didnt deserve what he got.  But hell, I still aint even answered the questionI done my share of crazy shit, but I always meant to do it.  Always did it with purpose.  But with the kid, I didnt mean for none of it to happen the way it did.

And I might tell you too much over the next few pages.  I might tell you all about shit I done thatll make you want to puke.  Hell, you might even grow to hate me a little.  You wouldnt be the first.


  1. This comment is reserved for the judges' votes

    1. Victory- The Fisherman - Ultraviolet
      There were elements I really liked about both of them so it wasn't an easy decision.

      I enjoyed the concept of Aztecs In Space but I found the 2nd, 3rd, 4th sentences in the query somewhat confusing partially because of the "though" and the "but". Also these sentences need work "The temple’s halls did not need swept. Even the hidden corners and tucked away secrets where she hid from the priests as a child did not require cleaning." Sentences that make me stumble limit my enthusiasm to read on. I did like the first 3 sentences of your 250 very much and I think with some more polishing you'd have a great pitch.

      The Fisherman - I thought your query was very good, the first paragraph more than the rest. I'm going to go along with Tracy who recommends apostrophes. I understand why you wrote it that way, but honestly it just gets in the way of reading it for me. We can tell from general word choice that the narrator isn't formally educated, and that's enough, you don't need to go overboard. But because the concept promised lots of tension and the voice was strong, I chose your entry.

    2. Victory to The Fisherman

      Fisherman: Wasn't too enthusiastic about your query, but your first page sold me. I have to disagree with the other judges (It's subjective as we all know) about the use of apostrophes. I didn't mind the lack of them. I thinking adding them would take something away from your first page.

      Aztecs: I love your premise, but ultimately, it came to a battle between first pages. Some of your sentences are clunky/missing words. Some more polishing and I think you'll have a standout entry, but in this tournament, every imperfection is glaring. I think you have an awesome idea. I mean, Aztecs in Space. What's not to love?

    3. Victory to The Fisherman

      Here's why: The premise intrigued me and the opening pages hooked me. But, dude, please use your apostrophe's in your contractions. Also, I know you're trying to get the voice across with all that and the dropping of the g's at the end of your "ing" words, but that would drive my editing mind nuts if I had to read it all the way through the manuscript. I can tell you are very talented and you could come up with a better way of showing us his dialect in the narration by word choice and how you string them into sentences. Save all the tricks for your dialogue, if you must.

      Aztecs in Space, love this premise so much, but the query was confusing and the opening pages didn't hook. However, the part about her only have six days to live did. The rest was too much information, maybe you could sprinkle that through out your story and get us into the action faster. Check your next chapters and see if there is a better place to start this story. And do give us a transition to the nickname. And know, that I think this premise sounds amazing and original. I hope this helps!

      Wonderful job, you guys, and another tough choice!

    4. Victory to Aztecs in Space

      This is interesting, because I feel completely out of place on this one.

      Fisherman: Maybe it's just me, but I didn't connect with your query at all. It felt confusing and rushed, and I didn't get a clear idea of certain things. Like what exactly his curse IS? (I get that he kills people, but that felt very vague to me for some reason. I'd love more detail.) And is the entire plot just him traveling to the prison? Honestly, that doesn't sound very interesting. You say he "trips through" various modes of transport, but what happens? Are things holding him up? Does he run into people trying to stop him? Lastly, the voice in the pages took me three times reading through to get everything clear. So, not my cup of tea I guess :-/

      Aztecs: I thought your query was clear and concise. I got a great sense of the plot, Papan's dedication to her people, followed by her adventures with Vick and not wanting to die twice. I didn't mind the missing words others have mentioned, it sounded like someone with maybe a lower education, and I didn't mind that. So if that's what you're going for, spot on. Plus I love the premise. Great job :)

    5. Victory to the Fisherman: The query feels vague. It needs more concrete details about the curse. The haunting… are these real ghosts or his mind playing tricks on him? I loved the voice of the 250, but I stumbled through reading it because of the lack of apostrophes. I’d stop reading out of sheer frustration before reaching the end of the first chapter, even though I really am curious about what’s going to happen.

      Aztecs in Space: I love the idea behind this, but I wish the voice was stronger in the query and first 250. I was also confused about the publicity stunt. What are the cultural elements of the “aliens”? Are they humans who time travel or aliens from another planet/solar system?

      Good luck to you both.

    6. Victory to The Fisherman

      The query for AZTECS IN SPACE seems a bit contradictory: She's chosen for the sacrifice and willingly faces death, but she regrets a life she chose. But she didn't really choose that life and willingly faced death, right? And if she regrets that life at the end, how is the next time she faces death the fist time she doesn't want to die? Then she does the fundraising events to prevent the deaths of more Aztecs, but they don't raise enough for her surgery much less for helping the Aztecs or funding, I'm guessing, some of the terraforming activities? And I guess in this future, quick excursions to other solar systems are less costly than a heart transplant. Sorry, it's just not tying together for me. As for the 250, I liked the opening hook and the sense of place I got, though it left me wondering about the era it's set in.

      The query for THE FISHERMAN isn't doing the 250 justice, I think. The word choices sound either easy (they're laid low) or forced (birthed his curse). And if Jude knows who murdered his parents and triggered his curse, why would he think he killed his parents with the curse if their death is the trigger? The 250 has plenty of voice but it is a bit of a struggle and ultimately may be a hard sell. And maybe puke is used too many times in different contexts?

    7. Aztecs—I think it’d be AWESOME if you made clear that the orbiting humans were the ‘evil gods’ about to destroy the world. For a second I thought this was historical fiction—maybe you can tell us the year this happens, to clarify it more? I love this query and this premise. I’d pick it up straight away. Your 250 can do with some tightening, since it is very tense but can be better by cutting away the inessential. I did think your query was clear (other than the genre confusion), and I’m not entirely sure where everyone else is coming from, BUT since the majority of judges picked up on this issue, listen to them more than my lone voice in the crowd.

      Fisherman—I love your premise, I love your voice, I love the eeriness and creepiness in the 250 a LOT. You can write, no doubt about that. I was a bit confused on whether Jude has a curse in reality, or if it is just Lucas. The query doesn’t hint at this answer so I got a bit confused.

      Victory to Fisherman, because although I liked Aztec’s premise and query better, the 250 for Fisherman won me over. Also, word count played a factor, since Fisherman’s is lower and the 250 is tighter too. Both awesome entries, though! Truly.

    8. Aztecs- I had to read your query three times and I'm still not sure I totally get it. I understand building in voice, but I think you might need to make things a little clearer. Some of the sentences in the first 250 were confusing or missing words.

      Fisherman- I thought you could tighten the first paragraph of your query and keep it punchier- we don't need the specifics of who is dead, just that everyone he loves is. I think your hook would stand out more this way. Also, does Jude need to learn to love Lucas in order to kill him? Because that would be awesome!

      Victory to Fisherman

    9. Aztecs in Space: I’m a little confused as to how or why Papan has to save her people. What is threatening them? Are they tearing themselves apart because their religion has been taken from them? Also has the appearance of space people totally thrown off their world? I also don’t see why she becomes the poster child for the space people. I think I’d like to see this clash of cultures but I’d need more details about the focus of the plot. Is it on Papan and Vick or a larger picture on their cultures?

      The Fisherman: Here I’m confused about the plot. First I assumed the curse was just bad luck. That for some twist of fate, everyone Jude loved dies. And the plot was how he handled that. Then comes something about a killer, and I assumed that the killer who got his parents also got the rest of his loved ones. Then the ending of the query makes me believe the curse is a tangible thing, an actual curse, put on him by the killer. In the end, I’m not sure which is true.

      This pick is based totally on subjective preference, not to any lack of skill. I’m giving the nod to the one I’d rather read. Victory to Aztecs in Space!

  2. Aztecs in space: One typo "need to be swept" is missing a few words.
    Awesome, awesome premise. I am a bit confused by the second sentence--what life is she refusing? And is she making the choice before or after she knows she's the sacrifice?

    I'm also a bit confused about the publicity stunt. Is it the artificial heart that's the stunt, or what? I'm definitely curious about what will happen to Papan and her people at the end of the query.

    First 250 are vivid, awesome hook that she will die in six days.

    On Fisherman, I'm confused about the malediction. At first I thought it was sci fi, but then I checked your genre. I'd love to find out more why he's compelled to kill.

    On the first 250, you've got a great voice so far, but watch out for words like "factoid" that really stick out as not belonging in this voice. I know this would probably make you scream, but I'd also include the apostrophes. You don't need to omit them to establish your voice, if you did need to, you'd be in trouble.

  3. Victory to The Fisherman from Judge Interrobang.

    Fisherman: Great hook on the query, although I had to untangle some of the logic in the query I definitely went with you based on the voice in the first 250 - well executed. I will say I totally don't understand how the curse was "triggered" but the voice of the 250 was enough to swing my vote.

    Aztecs: I was intrigued by the query but also confused by it, so that's not good. The MC went to her death willingly, but then regretted it, after the fact? I think? And how she's a publicity stunt had me scratching my head.

  4. Aztecs in Space:

    Intriguing premise! I think your query ended on a high note, as it did its job in making me want to know what happens next, leaving me feeling emotionally tied to Papan and her newfound desire to live. That worked for me! I agree that the first paragraph could use a bit of juggling to make it more clear. The first sentence says she was chosen as a child for this task, but the last sentence says she regrets the life she chose - but she didn't choose it, right? She might *willingly* face death, but she didn't choose it, unless I'm misunderstanding. Like I said though, the last paragraph grabs me, and apart from the confusion regarding the "publicity stunt" aspect of paragraph 2, I think you're very close, just a tiny bit of polishing!

    As for the 250 words, I take it Pan is her nickname, but going from Papan in one sentence to Pan in the next without referencing that this IS her nickname looks at first glance like a typo. Just a thought. Regarding the "did not need swept" bit - I have heard people say this, but not seen it written down and I think since you're using third person and these aren't Pan's direct thoughts, I would change this to "did not need to be swept," etc. Otherwise, great work and interesting concept! Keep it up!

    The Fishermen:

    Another interesting concept - so glad I'm not a judge ;) I think the first paragraph could use some tightening - the last 3 sentences seem a bit repetitive and I think you could save yourself some real estate here by shortening this. And the phrase "spasmodic journey" feels a bit clunky to me - but that's just my opinion! I read the query 3 times and I *think* what you're saying is that Lucas killed Jude's parents, and since then, it seems that everyone Jude loves dies. At first I read this as, since his parents were murdered, JUDE kills everyone he loves. I think it might just be the wording of that opening paragraph. With the curse, I agree that it does sound more like sci-fi, but I think you're trying to say that he seems cursed with terrible luck in losing everyone he loves. But what connects the deaths of all these other people to his parents? Why does he think it's all related to Lucas?

    On your first 250, I agree that apostrophes would make this much more readable. Good solid voice though! You say "over the next few pages" so it makes me wonder if Lucas is writing in a journal. I'd be interested to read on.

    Great work, both!

  5. I like both concepts very much and would want to read more -- but both queries have confusing elements that could be cleaned up to make the storyline more clear.

    In "The Aztec," I'm not clear about "She regrets the life she chose." The one that led her to the moment of her death? The ideas of "publicity stunt" and "fundraising" confuse more than make me curious. And I'd introduce Papan's nickname in the query.

    In "The Fisherman," I'd like to know if the MC becomes a killer OR if people around him are killed because of his curse. This particular line sets up that confusion: "...he’ll be forever doomed to walk the earth, killing anyone unlucky enough to become his friend."

    Also, Lucas' dialect is overdone. Less is more when trying to show regional dialect or lack of education. Since you open with Lucas, this could put off agents who'd otherwise love the concept and book. That'd be a shame because I like this concept a lot.

    Good luck to both!

  6. Aztecs - I'm unclear about the premise. Is this an alternate reality in which the Aztecs have survived into our future, or is Captain Vick from an alien race that intersects with the Aztecs in our past? Also, as others have pointed out, some of the sentences in your query could be clearer. In the second sentence, there's no apparent conflict between facing death and renouncing family, so why start with the word "though?"

    The first 250 were much stronger for me (setting aside the typo that's already been mentioned). You have immediate tension and characterization in the first two sentences, and some great world-building details in what follows.

    Fisherman - I can only repeat what others have said: great voice in the first 250, but please add the apostrophes. Omitting them makes this harder to read than it needs to be, and you don't want risk losing an agent who might skim and mistake your stylistic choice for a basic spelling error. As for the query, I'm not sure that the obstacles are clear enough. Jude doesn't have to hunt for his nemesis, and Lucas can't run away, so what stands in the way of Jude reaching the final confrontation? And how does he intend to stop Lucas's parole?

  7. Aztecs--This sounds really cool, but I'm also a bit unclear on the the two time periods converging and how Papan is the program's publicity stunt. I'm interested in the story but want some clarification. I love the last line of the query!

    Fisherman--I love the first two paragraphs of your query, but I think the last paragraph repeats a lot of what's been said. I think you can tighten it up a bit and maybe just go with those first two paragraphs. In your first 250 I appreciate the dialect you are creating. I'm not sure if it would be easier to get through with apostrophes or not. But the style of speech does slow me down a bit, but maybe it's supposed to.

    Good luck to both of you!

  8. I agree with previous comments that the queries need a little bit of tightening up to avoid confusion.

    Aztecs in Space - first of all, I love the concept. But it's not clear to me whether this takes place in the future and the Aztec civilization never ended or the Captain is coming to Earth of the past from another world. I really enjoyed the first 250. Pan's specifics about how long she has to live was a nice bit of characterization. I'd definitely read on.

    The Fisherman - I'm confused about Jude's curse. If everyone he loves is already dying, how is Luke's release from prison going to change things for the better? The concept is interesting, I just needed a little more explanation about what the curse is and how things change/don't change because of Luke going free. I also felt the dialect was a little overdone. If this is part of a prologue, it might be okay. But I don't know that I'd want to read an entire novel from his perspective - especially since he seems to be such a nasty piece of work.

  9. Aztecs In Space! I have to say I liked your writing better than the query. I was confused about the query in parts (but I'm dumb some times that way!) and it didn't grab me. And the writing was awesome! It completely changed my mind and makes me want to read it.

    The Fisherman! So...wait. Is Jude now a killer? Is a supernatural curse? Or is psychological and he blames himself because loved ones keep dying (see above note about my being dumb)? And please do reinsert apostrophes! I like to write dialogue for less than educated folks myself. It's fun. But reading an entire book that way? Might get to be a chore. Having said all that...it's great. It's intriguing and I'd love to read this book.

  10. Sorry I'm late (hope I'm not too late! ^^;; )

    The nickname "Aztecs in Space" actually hooked me - this is something I'd love to read! But the query left me a bit confused. I'm not sure what this story is actually supposed to be about. It seems to be hinting at the concepts of life, death and regret, but everything is too nebulous to grasp. Is this a story about Papan overcoming her regrets and making the best of a second chance at life? Is this story about Captain Vick Halley trying to overturn immoral political/social practices? I'm not really sure. It felt a little all over the place to me. It might be a good idea to really focus on the core concept of the story and strip the details down to what will really make that shine through.

    As for the first 250, the opening line is really great. It's a fantastic insight into the character and it really sets the tone. But again, everything after that starts to lose me. These first few paragraphs feel sort of aimless. There's a lot of information dumped in here and I'm not sure at all how it relates to the character or her story. The main tell is that nothing is actually happening. Papan seems to be wandering around but she isn't actually *doing* anything, there's no action here. It may be best to let these little details come out here and there as the story goes on. In general, the first page should have some kind of action to draw the reader in.

    The Fisherman query seems more focused. I would drop this: "THE FISHERMAN pits the world-weary, 22-year-old Jude..." I'm not a professional, but I have read it's best to write your query as if you are in character. Stick to the description of Jude and his struggles. Perhaps jump right to the fact that a murderer is about to be paroled and his relationship to Jude. Stepping back out of character just breaks the flow and then you really have to grab the reader's attention all over again.

    There also seems to be a lot of repetition in the query. You want to make a point but you don't want to beat your reader over the head with it. As an example here's the first paragraph of the query:

    "Everyone Jude Fisher has ever loved is dead. His parents, his three best friends, the love of his life—they’ve all gone to their untimely graves. And Jude has killed them, every one. It’s a curse: when he loves someone, they’re laid low. It never fails. They always die."

    And here's how I (personally) think it would read stronger:

    "Everyone Jude Fisher has ever loved is dead. His parents, his three best friends, the love of his life—they’re all gone. And Jude has killed them, every one. It’s a curse: when he loves someone, they’re laid low. It never fails."

    It's just a few minor adjustments but since you already state at the beginning that everyone Jude loves is dead, you don't have to keep reinforcing it (with the mention of graves and the fact that everyone he loves dies). There are other times throughout the query it seems repetitive as well so it may be good to skim over it and make sure you're only making each point once.

    I really liked the first 250. The character comes through right away and I like the consistent voice. My only complaint is that if the entire book is written this way, it might become tiresome. There are a few times where you have to stop for an extra moment to look at a word and make sure you know what the narrator is saying. For me, I don't like wading through dialects for an entire book. Now I know this is a very subjective opinion and it might not bother anyone else, but that would make me a tad weary of reading the full novel.

    Great job and best of luck to both of you! :D

  11. Thanks for the feedback, everyone! Got a lot to think about now!

    Good Luck, Fisherman!