Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Dangerous Politics versus O Captain My Captain

Entry Nickname: Dangerous Politics
Title: We the People
Word count: 71,200
Genre: Adult Thriller


Reilly Grant is important, but she has no idea why. All she knows is that the United States of America has fallen to a man everyone once called President.

The Emperor has stripped away everything that had once made the USA great and replaced it with despair and tyranny. The suburbs, once part of the American Dream, have become veritable ghost towns – museums of the lives people once had. Having once worked for the Emperor, Reilly knows how dangerous he can be. It’s one of the reasons she defected from his army and joined the rebels in an effort to fight back.

But what Reilly doesn’t know – or can’t remember – is that she participated in a sleeper agent program aimed at stopping the former President prior to the transition from democracy to tyranny. Somewhere along the way her handler failed to activate her. Left in the dark she’s vulnerable to retaliation from the Emperor who’s learned of the program and her involvement.

In a fight for her life, Reilly has to choose who she can and can’t trust. If she gets it wrong it could mean her life. 

First 250 words:

The water was black. It wasn’t brown or milky tan, but pitch black. I discarded the water over my shoulder and trudged forward. Mara and I had been searching for a viable water source for ten days now, but ... nothing. Not a drop had been clean enough. It wasn’t necessarily surprising, but it was discouraging nonetheless.

“Rei, I think we should move on to the next sector. One we know might have water.” Mara threw her backpack down, dug out a bottle of clean water, and pushed her unruly black curls away from her face so she could take a sip. Even swigging from a bottle, her face looked delicate, but nothing else about her was delicate. Short as she was, she was well-muscled and built for speed and strength. Next to her, I felt plain. My face wasn’t as delicate as hers, nor was I built for swiftness or force, but I did have stealth. Or at least I felt like I did. Lately, it seemed stealth wasn’t even on my side.

“Hex won’t be happy if we do that, and you know it. I’m not about to deal with one of his bad moods, Mara.”

She snorted. “What a hack. He thinks he runs the operation, when everyone knows you’re the brains behind it.”

I let out a sigh. “Hex is military. Of course he thinks he’s in charge. We are at war."

Mara shoved the bottle back into her backpack and started marching toward the next empty house.


Entry Nickname: O Captain My Captain
Title: If Only
Word Count: 67,000
Genre: NA Contemporary


Twenty-year-old Jordan Brooks is NOT a virgin. But, according to her roommate, a two-year dry spell earns her V-card back. Tired of waiting for life to happen, of waiting for love to happen, Jordan wants to make the most of her junior year in Scotland by journaling her experience, figuring out life after graduation, and earning re-admittance to the club.

On the train from London to Scotland, Jordan meets Griffin—sweet, sexy, not to mention unafraid to say what he means—admitting that he sits by Jordan because he likes her smile. He’s only staying the semester. He could be the one to end her two-year dry spell, the boy she enjoys for the short time they are together. The only problem—Noah—the stranger who stumbles out of the train’s loo right into her, a boy with impossible blue eyes with whom she feels an immediate connection, a boy who came to Scotland from Ohio…with his girlfriend. 

Jordan knows everything this year has an expiration date. Falling in love was never an option. But her obsession with E.M. Forster’s A Room With A View and inability to avoid Noah on campus make it impossible to be the girl who shirks it all to just have fun. Because she is in love, just with the wrong guy. If only Noah could admit what’s there between them. If only she didn't write that damning entry in her journal. If only the year didn't have to end. Then, maybe, Jordan’s wait could be over.

First 250:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a two-year dry spell earns one’s virginity back. This nugget of wisdom is brought to you by Sam, my roommate, who insists I use my year abroad to earn re-admittance to the club. 

My hand cups the back of my neck as I try to check my reflection in the train window, but the white London sky doesn't offer enough contrast. I’m not used to this me, physically speaking, trading my once wavy, dark brown mane for an almost pixie.

I laugh quietly, as if someone catches my lame attempt at vanity, and decide to abandon the window seat all together. Nine hours from London to Aberdeen requires more trips to the loo than I’m willing to admit. It’s a good thing the aisle seat is still open. Wait, was still open.

At first all I see is a long torso, his head and arms obscured by the overhead bin. 

“Hey,” the torso says, though he’s no longer just that. He’s a guy, sitting in my aisle seat. His hair is a shaggy mess of dirty blonde waves, and the corners of his mouth quirk up into a broad grin, his deep brown eyes fixing on mine. “I’m Griffin.” 

He’s American too. 

“I’m Jordan.”

It’s just a hand shake, but his touch ignites a feeling the old me, the one who’s been holding out for what’s never going to happen, would ignore. Everything this year has an expiration date. Maybe it’s time I let my waiting expire too.


  1. Hey there, Dangerous Politics. It's me, O Captain My Captain, checking to see my competition. Our pieces are so different! Ha! Love your premise. I actually have a YA, not in Query Kombat, where my MC is a sleeper agent but doesn't know it. That would have been an interesting match-up! I like your query, but I might change up the order a bit, starting with the paragraph about your MC being a sleeper agent and then moving to the exposition. That's the part that really hooked me. In the first 250 I would play with diction in that second paragraph (the dialogue). The word delicate shows up three times (sorry, that's the English teacher in me). Other than that, such a cool idea. I would totally keep reading. Good luck!

  2. Hi guys!

    So, my first observation with "Dangerous Politics" is that the query seems dark and serious, but the writing isn't as intense. That's not a problem, but the initial focus on the main characters appearances doesn't create tension until we hit the line about being built for stealth. If you could move the descriptions to a little later, or relate each aspect of it to the situation-maybe her undelicate body is clothed in some sort of camouflage or uniform? Just something to build a bit of characterization unique to the story.

    Also, careful with the more common actions in stories (snorted/sighed) and maybe choose more definite verbs "trudged forward" doesn't add much to the sentence, and you could drop the "starting" before Mara's "marching" to the next house. They're determined rebels, every verb should be taken purposefully and confidently-no began to/started to/decided to/etc. Just have them take the verb and run with it. : )

    Captain! I do really enjoy the voice of your sample, but I'm not sure your query is capturing the charm as well as it could. I think you could focus the query only on Jordan and Noah as the second paragraph feels a bit cluttered with three characters. The query could focus on Jordan as she struggles to find intimacy in a relationship she knows isn't working. Or, if you feel Griffin is important to set up a love triangle situation, maybe adjust the last sentence of the second paragraph as it feels pretty long.

    Best of luck to both of you! : )

  3. Hi O Captain! :-) I agree with Anonymous on a lot of points (they beat me too it). I love the voice of your story. Jordan is an amazing character. I can tell already. I agree on the query. I think a focus on struggles with intimacy would make it glow even more than it does already. I want to know why she's had a two year dry spell.

    Thanks for your feedback and I love your story. I'd hate to be a judge! :-)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Victory-Dangerous Politics - Ultraviolet
    Oh, this was a tough one, so O Captain, please know grains of sand tipped the balance in DP's favor.
    Dangerous Politics - I found your opening scene quite engaging, which is why I chose you, but I wondered how they'd survived for 10 days with no clean water (humans consume a lot of water and they don't seem to be pulling a wagon or anything...). Your query needs some fine-tuning. I found the 2nd sentence a bit confusing, because a President is already a leader. It needs a little extra to make me understand he is now a President-turned-tyrant. Second to last sentence in query should be whom, not who - also these two sentences have an aura of cliche.
    O Captain - I love that movie too and I also love Scotland. What gave me pause is that so much of your query then reappeared in your 250. It made me wonder if you'd used up all your best stuff already-I'm sure you haven't, but...I think it would pay to redo one or the other so each has its own funny lines, etc. Love triangles can be tricky because they're used so often, there really has to be a reason for them, especially when it seems 2 guys are about to become attracted to a girl who's been gathering dust for 2 years.

    1. Thank you, Ultraviolet. OMG, I totally laughed at your last line about "a girl who's been gathering dust." Haha! Yes, I notice that about my first 250 as well. Already working on tweaking that for either later in the competition or for later submissions. Thanks so much for your notes!

    2. You're very welcome. Good luck! Ultraviolet :)

  5. Captain: I love this. All of it. I really hope I get to read it someday, right up my alley. I think your query is great, though the second line is a tad long. I think all the information is necessary though, so maybe split it up? And I think the second pp can be tightened a bit, although, as I said before, I think all the info in there is key. However, all that being said I think your voice in both the query and the first 250 is awesome. I already like Jordan a lot and I love the idea of a love triangle (who doesn't). Good luck with this.

    Politics: So funny because my romance is up against a thriller too so I will try not to be partial to the romance. Your premise is great and definitely very intriguing. I love that your MC is a woman, and that its up to HER to fight for what's right. I like the mystery behind it...she's important but doesn't know why and I'm guessing we get to unravel her story with her as it goes on. Since this is not my usual read, I find it a little hard to follow the query, but again, that's me. However, I think the opening line of the query is a great hook. Good luck to you!

  6. Victory to O Captain My Captain from Judge Interrobang.

    I think the premise is overly-cute on the first read, but the query had my attention and the opening like of the first 250 was so strong that I kept reading, when I fully expected to not like it at all -- definitely won my vote b/c it over came my first impulse.

    Dangerous Politics: Great premise, interesting idea - but I felt like I needed to know why the MC knows some of what is going on, but not everything. She wasn't "activated" OK - but is she part robot or something that she doesn't know things instinctively - or remember them - without being activated? That let me confused, and while there's nothing wrong with your first 250, I felt the other contestant's was stronger.

  7. These are both really great entries.

    DP: I really liked your query. Cool premise. The first paragraph really drew me in. One very small issue: I didn't like "her life" in both sentences in the last paragraph of the query. I thought the first one could be cut. I also liked your 250 and the picture you're starting to paint. I wished there was a bit more emotion, since it seemed to me to be kind of a dire situation. That said, I think it's well done and intriguing. I'd certainly read more.

    O Captain: (Love your nickname.) I adore your premise. I'm a total sucker for these kinds of travel+romance+deadline stories. I wished there was a bit more interesting tidbits about the men than piercing eyes and the sweet, sexy bit just to give them a little depth in the query. I did really like the bit about being in love with the wrong guy, though. I also really liked your 250. I loved that even that short excerpt ended in a way that made me want to flip the page.

  8. This is a tough match-up: thriller against romance.

    DANGEROUS: The first paragraph of the query could alert us to the stakes. Example: All she knows is that the United States of America has been taken over by its former president -- a man who's convinced she has the ability to undermine his tyrannical reign.

    Your query's second paragraph is a bit vague (despair and tyranny, veritable ghost town). How did the President-turned-Emperor change things? Are there labor camps? Give us specifics.
    And, I, too, believe the last couple of sentences are cliché. There are better ways to build suspense.

    O CAPTAIN: Your MC's voice is strong. I can tell you're a capable writer by your excerpt and would like to see more of that personality in the query... especially the set-up of the love triangle.

    Although I know this is a romance, I'd love to see you distinguish Griffin and Noah in some unique way (and not just on looks).

    This was close but I'd choose DP because the concept is a bit more unique than the love triangle abroad (although the V-card is brilliant).

  9. Dangerous Politics,

    I love the concept here, a dystopian thriller sounds pretty engaging, so I'd be very ready to read on. What I'm concerned with is the pace of your first page. I like the writing and the voice, but I do wonder if this information is necessary. On the other hand, I sometimes feel like we push our manuscripts to the brink by trying to get our inciting incident on the first page (which means my comment is all about nitpicking).

    O Captain,

    I love the voice in your sample, it's absolutely fantastic. I do wonder if you could tie things up more tightly in your query, but that's a really nitpicky bit (Durango Writer has some amazing points, so pay attention!).

    Good luck to both contestants!

  10. O Captain!!! Love me some NA!

    Mentor Rebecca Yarros here. We're so awesome we don't get nicknames, LOL! (Totally kidding.)

    Okay, Query-wise, you've got a great premise! Your second line is a wee bit long, I would definitely trim up her goals with a motivation (though it seems she has a hefty one from that first sentence, LOL!). If we're going for the love triangle-aspect, it appears she's already made her choice in the query, but if not, then Griffin is eating up your word-currency. I'm also missing what's at stake, her heart, her ability to believe in love? Remaining out of the club forever (is this really her main goal?)? I would totally read this.

    First 250? I feel like you're repeating the exact info from your query, so it's feeling a bit redundant. Don't waste that precious word count! Also, maybe consider bringing in her appearance in a less generic fashion? Mirrors are overrated. ;) Lastly, when it comes to the word "loo," I'm not sure many Americans use it (I'm assuming she's american by the use of "too"), but if she does, and its because she's trying to adapt to her year abroad, a funny inner-comment could really help bring out her already fun voice. Also, the last paragraph made me reread a few times, you might want to peek at the wording of that first sentence and go for flow. All in all, great job! Look me up after the contest if you'd like some Beta help!

  11. Victory to Dangerous Politics. Your query hooked me and I loved your first 250. It was a different tone, but that didn't bother me a bit.

    To O'Captain my Captain, your query confused me a bit. Griffin was mentioned, but then never mentioned again? Does she JUST want to end her dry spell or have an actual relationship? Are you going for a love triangle? Your first 250 are very well written but your query needs a bit more tweaking. Good luck to you!

  12. Victory to Dangerous Politics

    Crazy matchup. Both entries are great. O Captain has a voice that is familiar (in a good way, I'm young) and inviting. Whereas Dangerous Politics seems dark and intense.

    I didn't choose O Captain because the query raises a few questions. A big one was about the damning journal entry that is mentioned only in passing. For it to be described as 'damning' I would think that it plays a part in the central conflict, but the contents of the entry is not even hinted at. Also, what happens to Griffin after Noah falls into the picture? He pretty much vanishes from the query.

  13. Victory to O Captain my Captain

    O Captain my Captain, wonderful premise and I can imagine all the awkward fun that will unfold as Jordon goes on her quest to lose her V-card. The query needs work. So what stakes does Noah bring into the situation. Is she just going to have fun and re-pop her cherry with Griffin and be on her vixen way, and Noah puts a damper on her plan because she could fall in love with him? This is my guess. Make that clear in the query. I love the first 250 words. Except the opening line. I'm seeing that Jane Austen line twisted too frequently. What club is she trying to get re-admittance in to? The Vixen Club of America? She's already in the reincarnated virginity club, right? So just specify the club - come up with a fun name.

    Dangerous Politics, I love your premise and it's very intriguing. I just happened to like the voice in O Captain's more. In your query, how does Reilly know she's important, but doesn't know why? And the only thing she knows is that the President has take over the USA? That's all she knows? I'd reword this beginning. Does the inciting invent happen when Reilly finally remembers who she is? If so, I'd start the query off with something like this ... "When Reilly hits her head and her memories return, she discovers she's a sleeper agent and has to ..." Of course that a horrible example, but just wanted to show you what I meant. Who is the Emperor? Is he the prior President that took over and now he's the Emperor? If so, make it clear. How was her handler supposed to activate her? Does she have a chip or something in her head? And what does she have to fight in "the fight for her life"? Your first 250 words start out passive. You could fix it like this ... "The water sat black and sludgy at the bottom of my metal cup. Not brown or milky tan. Pitch black. I sighed and tossed the water over my shoulder." But of course, something better in your voice. I hope this helps.

    This was a tough call for me. I loved both entries!

  14. Dangerous Politics! Your premise already has me intrigued. It's a book I'd pick up to read. I bet there's a more powerful opening you could write, though. Opening with water description isn't all that compelling. But I'm nitpicking. I know it's hard to sell a book in the first 250 words. But, great job!

    O Captain! This will be a fun book, I think. The voice is nice and full of humor and fully-realized characterization. One nit-pick: does the name-drop of Room With A View belong in a query? I would think not, but I've been known to be wrong many times before (just ask my wife!).

    Fantastic job from both of you. There're really a lot of good writers in this competition.

  15. Victory to O Captain my Captain. Love the voice in the first 250. The query is crisp and clear.

    Dangerous Politics: Love your premise and query. The first 250, echoes on the word Water five times. This distracted me from enjoying your story. I actually stopped to count them.

    These both sound excellent. Good luck.

  16. Victory to: O Captain My Captain

    Dangerous: You use the word ONCE a lot in your query. Try to cut and/or vary those. And that last sentence of your query lacked the *punch* I thought it needed. Maybe re-word? Your first 250 had repetitive words as well, which -- when you only have 250 -- you can't afford to have. I'd love to get a better sense of where they are and what they're doing in this first section, and a bit more voice for your MC.

    O Captain:I love your query and first sentence of the 250. I wasn't a fan of how much language was repeated in both, but that may just be personal preference. (I'm kind of a stickler when it comes to details.) The "special connection" thing is a trope seen VERY often in romance, so I'd advise caution on that front through your entire manuscript, but that's totally your call. I'm just saying it's common.

    Great job guys!

  17. Wow, this match is tough!

    Dangerous Politics: I'm a big political thriller fan so your idea caught me immediately. The query has a lot of tension that I didn't feel like translated into your 250, but I'd definitely keep reading to learn more.

    O Captain!: Firstly, great nickname! Secondly, your query and 250 have great voice that really brings out the tone of the novel. Your query feels like it runs a bit long. Try and revise that last paragraph to mix in better with the one before.

  18. Victory to O Captain My Captain

    While I enjoy dystopian novels, the query for WE THE PEOPLE didn't make me believe the author was on firm footing with this story. There's a lot of repetition about the USA being in the state it is but little to make me feel it's happened in a believable manner. It seems to just "be." For instance, if the suburbs are ghost towns, where are the millions who once lived in them? Why have houses been abandoned? Or are those millions dead? Then we're told a few times that Reilly has no idea, doesn't know, can't remember her past. How does she even know she's become a target? Is the conflict, then, Reilly simply staying out of harm's way for the rest of her life? As to the 250, I'm unclear why they're going house-to-house searching for a water source. Are they in a rural area looking for clean wells (because individual houses on grid are all going to be supplied by the same source anyway)? If Hex needs a water source for the rebels, why not drill a new well if the above-ground water and available wells have been tainted? Find a high water table area and the two women could probably dig a well in the time it seems they've been looking for water. Or they could construct simple rain-catch systems.

    For a NA Contemporary, I think IF ONLY hits all the right notes in the query and the 250. If I have a complaint, it's that it's maybe a little TOO pat, from circumstances to word choices. The style and tone are hot today. The gamble is whether they will still be hot 18 months from now. But for today, they're certainly a winner.

  19. Dangerous—loved the quick and exciting query, and I LOVED your writing style soo much. It’s incredible, and so easy to read. Loved the “nothing about her was delicate” line. However, the second paragraph is a lottt of description. At least break it up into more paragraphs, or tighten it and cut it. A bit too much info-dumping in the dialogue, too. Easy fixes, though.

    O Captain—Love the query and premise, but I fear it might be too over-done. I loveddd the 250 and how it started right with the action stated in the query. Loved the last few lines as well.

    DANG IT, THIS IS SO HARD. I LOVE BOTH OF THEM! Sigh. Victory to Dangerous, due to the more unique premise.

    But awesome job, both of you! Really!http://michelle4laughs.blogspot.com/logout?d=http://www.blogger.com/logout-redirect.g?blogID%3D308214465210382791%26postID%3D4541628846513960437

  20. Errp, don't know what that link is for, just ignore it :D

  21. Victory to Dangerous based on the query.

    Dangerous: I'm curious to know how Reilly knows she's important. Otherwise, query is straightforward and presents information clearly. I've been making this comment on others, but in this instance the word repeats in the first 250 struck me as especially clunky. In general, you should aim to use a word no more than once in a paragraph (some editors say once per page) unless it's for effect (as use of delicate is in first two uses). Here the use of "water" and third use of "delicate" really took me out of the story and had me shaking my fist:)

    O Captain: I didn't really connect with the voice in the first 250- I thought she overnarrated a bit and it seemed more like some of her statements were there to give us information as a reader versus to move the story along. Having the character give us her description while looking in a mirror (which window is subbing for in this case) is a pretty overused cliche, so you might want to work around that one- if she were going to brush her hair off her neck as a nervous gesture and be struck when there is no hair there because she's not yet used to her pixie cut, I would find this much more believable. The query has the basic information, but I think you could tighten up a lot of the sentences and avoid using so many dashes. The biggest thing for me is that I wanted to understand the conflict/stakes better. Is it that she's fallen for a guy who is taken or that she's desperate to lose her v-card (I think the stakes in the first instance are the better of the two but I worry neither is big enough stakes to sustain a whole novel.) It may just be the way they are presented here. Overall, I think this just needs finessing to tease out the real story here.

  22. Ok, so now that we can officially comment on our own entries, I just want to say a huge THANK YOU to the hosts, judges, and everyone else who stopped by. This has been a tense, scary, exhilarating, and rewarding experience so far. Query writing is one of the most difficult things I've done so far as a writer, and the honest critique you all have given is so appreciated. Good luck Heather and all my other Query Kombat kontestants!

  23. Dangerous Politics: I like dystopian, though I think the first sentence could be a little more specific. Right now it feels a little like a destiny hook and personally I think it's a little played out. The voice in the 250 is really strong, though.

    O Captain: Your hint at the boyfriend's reason for snapping is a little to vague, I think. The query leads me to believe that the autonomous part of the narration begins when the MC decides to discover why he hit her, so I would like to see a little more bait about what he's hiding. Your voice in the first 250 is truly compelling.

  24. Victory to Dangerous Politics!

    I found the pages equally compelling. To me, Dangerous had the stronger query.

  25. Talk about a nail biting experience. I want to thank everyone for their amazing support and feedback. Valuable valuable feedback. I also want to thank the judges, hosts, and everyone that commented on all the entries. This experience has been amazing.

    I want to make a huge shout out to my opponent Amy Pine. She is absolutely fabulous and I would have been just as excited had she won! Amy you rock and I love your piece. I wish I was an agent! :-)

    1. Thank you, Heather! I'm rooting for Dangerous Politics in round 2! Can't wait to see the match-ups!