Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: The Decapitator versus The Swimmer

Entry Nickname: The Decapitator
Title: The Art of Severance
Word Count: 82,000
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy


ATF Special Agent Alexandra MacPherson can’t decide which is worse -- a witness who dies or a suspect who won’t stay dead.

A routine investigation escalates to FUBAR when one of the accused turns up dead, his body untouched but drained of blood. A pregnant college student is found, minus her ten-week fetus and internal organs. A mother and daughter are smothered in the nursery. The only link among victims is their wounds mirror the attacks of creatures that don’t exist: a vampiric witch, a revenant, a bogeyman.

Bodies make it a big case with bigger problems. Alex can live with that. Maybe it will keep her from jogging the streets at two in the morning or drunk-dialing her dead husband’s cell phone number. Then her only viable lead is killed and Alex is forced to accept that some myths... aren’t.

Finding the man responsible is easy.

Killing him and his creations won’t be.

Surviving may be impossible.

First 250 Words:

Sometimes it all came down to the gun you chose. SIG Sauer P226 .40 S&W or Rossi .357 Magnum revolver with a six-inch barrel. I’d picked the SIG. I should have gone with the Rossi.  

I sneaked a look at the battered clock on the wall of the loading dock. My dealer was only five minutes late. Not so long I worried he’d had second thoughts. I needed him to show soon, though, before my unease fermented into something harder to conceal.

“He’s late,” Mike said.

I shrugged. Played like I didn’t care, hadn’t noticed, and didn’t want to hiss at Mike for his observational skills.

“You watch the game last night?” Mike asked.

“What game?” 

“The Sox.”

A Sox fan. God help me. I’d kept hundreds of mindless details straight for six months but couldn’t for the life of me remember whether Kate Campbell gave a crap about the national pastime. “I don’t follow baseball.”

“They play the Yankees tomorrow.”

“Well, I do hate the Yankees.”

“Who doesn’t?” Mike dropped the remnant of his cigarette to the floor of the dock and crushed it under his shoe.

Kate Campbell was a vegetarian who sold lattes at an internet cafe and lived in a dump near Temple University. A fugitive from the United Kingdom for alleged involvement in a train derailment in North West England, she fancied herself a modern day Guy Fawkes.

I was done pretending to be Kate Campbell, the annoying twat.


Entry Nickname: The Swimmer
Title: What the Water Gave Us
Word count: 94,000
Genre: Adult Social Science Fiction


Tia Sawyer is one hell of a good traitor. She’s a marksman who won’t shoot to kill, a money-launderer who gives her profits away, and worst of all a dangerous rebel leader married to the Prince invading her country. To her people she’s a disgraced renegade, to the Empire she’s a liability, but both will need her for their very survival.

Stuck on a planet devastated by disease, mankind has united under the rule of a royal family whose blood provides the only viable treatment, but one nation resists. They refuse to sell out their sovereignty for access to doses.

Prince Anton’s intentions are good—defy his own government to eradicate the disease once and for all—but his arrival throws Tia’s life into chaos sparking a war in her already tumultuous homeland. Tia’s countrymen will stop at nothing to protect their freedom, Anton will risk his life and other’s to end the spread of the horrific virus, while Anton’s uncle, the Tsar Regent will bring the full weight of an empire to ensure that neither succeed.

The only hope of diplomacy rests with Tia, but she has not spoken to Anton in ten years, and a reconciliation threatens to expose secrets from their past that could topple the empire and destroy the delicate peace the rest of the world enjoys. To save herself and those she cares about Tia must decide whose side she’s on and overcome her own broken spirit before all are lost.

First 250 words:

Prince Anton watched his cousins’ indifference as their blood became public property, siphoned out by attending nurses as they laid in a row at the Ministry of Health. This had been their routine since birth.

His cousins shared loud jokes to pass the time, but Anton now closed his eyes and mouth. This gift of his blood was the only message he wished to convey, and the only sights he felt he had earned played inside his head—the wretched cries and contorted, bloody features of the dying. Even immunity was no protection against the emotional toll of the Kappa Violenti virus. No matter how much blood they gave it was never enough.

The laughter stopped, all levity sucked from the room. Anton knew before he opened his eyes who had entered; his uncle, the Tsar Regent Elias Verkov, slinked under the doorframe like a serpent too large for its cage. “So none of you felt it pertinent to tell me you were giving extra doses?” Elias asked. The cousins replied with the acquiescent silence of a shamed pet. Elias's words had been for them all, but his eyes were only on Anton as he knelt beside him.

“This is our normally scheduled time,” Anton offered with false confidence.

Elias wore a warning, the slit of a smile on his unnaturally taught face. “My dear boy, you’ve been leading your poor cousins astray. This blood is our power, and you fritter it away to foreign parasites. Did you think I wouldn’t find out about Sunderland? And you think you can do the same in Levant?” 


  1. This comment is reserved for the judges' votes

    1. Victory to The Decapitator.
      The Decapitor's query was very engaging and I loved how in the first 250 you realize she's pretending to be someone else.
      The Swimmer's query was a bit confusing, I second that the married to the prince threw me off. This may be part of the hook, if it is, it needs to be presented a bit differently. I did love the idea of the royal family's blood keeping everyone alive. That's very interesting to me. Your first 250 read well, you are a talented writer!

    2. Victory to The Decapitator ~ Storm

      I was so leaning toward The Swimmer (may want to rethink the title and genre, though) because the premise sounded more intriguing to me. But the writing isn't tight enough and there are some confusion in places. Also, don't tell your reader something is happening when you can show us and bring us deeper into the story. Such as, his cousins' joking. And don't filter the scene through Anton's view.

      This: "Prince Anton watched his cousins’ indifference as their blood became public property..."

      Becomes this: "His cousins busied themselves with books and food as their blood became public property..."

      (Of course, that's a bad example and you could make it better. Just wanted to show you what I was talking about).

      In the end, the Decapitator won me over in voice and writing.

      Wonderful job to both!

    3. Victory to the Decapitator - Storm
      I loved the opening lines to both queries (kudos to your both) and I will confess to confusion regarding FUBAR and even to having to reread a portion of the Storm's first 250 to understand the alias thing. Having said that, I really fell for Storm's active, engaging and strong voice. This was especially true in the 250. While I found The Swimmer's concept engaging, both the query and the 250 seemed to keep me at a distance vs. sucking me in to the story. Ultraviolet

    4. Victory to The Decapitator

      The Decapitator drew me in with the first line. The second paragraph was a little confusing with terms and things I didn't understand, but I got the idea. "Bodies make it a case with bigger problems" doesn't make sense to me. Honestly, it was the first page that won it. The voice and personality came through right off, and I definitely wanted to read more.

      While both entries drew me in, I found myself more confused with The Swimmer's wording and world building than I'd like to be. The conflict was unclear until the very end on the query, and even then there was just so much going on it felt overly-busy. The query made me sympathetic to Tia, but then the pages were Anton, and I was a little disappointed. I like that we got to meet the villain right away, but if the query starts with Tia, then the MS should too (in my opinion). I'd suggest trying to begin the query with Anton's problems. Then it might not be a shock when he starts off chapter one. :)

    5. Sorry for the screw up, I don't know how I got Storm the judge confused with The Decapitator. Learning curve...sigh. Anyway, it doesn't change my vote. Ultraviolet.

    6. Victory to The Decapitator

      I enjoyed both of these queries, but the Decapitator immediately drew me in. I loved the darkness of the mysterious murders. Coupled with the first 250, with the body switch twist, and I was sold.

      The query for The Swimmer was a bit confusing in regards to Tia's being the Prince's renegade wife. I had to read it a few times, but once I figured out what was going on it seemed intriguing. And I enjoyed the first 250.

    7. Victory to The Decapitator.

      What I enjoy most about the query is that we aren't told about the personal issues Alex has, we're shown them. That bodes well for the novel style as a whole. The 250 follows through on the promise and gives us a twist to boot.

      The Swimmer query left me a bit puzzled. Is Anton an invader or a possible benefactor? What's the real issue at play? Of course, some puzzlement can be overcome by very strong first pages, but the 250 felt a little flat and pedestrian. I have no emotional draw to the characters, I'm afraid. I don't even know whether the cousins are male or female. I think more immediacy and more detail (without adding more words, just reframing the scene already there) would go a long way.

    8. Victory to the Decapitator!

      Decapitator: I enjoyed your query. Great buildup and a strong sense of voice. Maybe rephrase a few of the I’s in the second paragraph of the first page, and I’d like a little more sense of Mike’s identity. But you engaged me and captured my attention.

      The Swimmer: You certainly showcase the high stakes involved in this story. A few missing commas in your query set me back. One after ‘chaos’ in third paragraph and after ‘about’ in the last sentence. Nice tension in the first page, but I think you might have meant unnaturally taunt face instead of taught.

      Good luck to both of you!

    9. I won't be voting due to a conflict. Good luck to you both!

    10. Victory to The Decapitator

      I think the pitch could use a bit of work, but I love the voice and the story drew me in well.

      To The Swimmer, I actually preferred the 250 of your entry, and the idea sounds stellar. The pitch was a bit confusing and I didn't connect much of it to the 250 as I was reading, and the pitch was a bit muddled.

  2. Victory to The Decapitator.

    Both entries are strong, and both have a few mistakes.

    The Swimmer: I like your query and premise. It's fresh and engaging. But when I really scrutinize your query, I'm left with a few questions. In the first paragraph you say Tia is married to the Prince invading her country, yet in the last paragraph, she hasn't see him in ten years. In your pages you have several instances of passive voice. Be careful with the word 'had'. It's unneeded in most instances. Also, there are some missing commas. Reading aloud may help with that.

    The Decapitator: Very engaging query and I love where your first page started. That being said, I reread the first page to realize Kate Campbell is your Mc's alias. Don't know if that's me being a little slow or writing not being clear. I'm sure another judge will mention if it isn't clear. Be careful with the word 'had' as well. You disguise it by using contractions but I have a vigilant eye.

  3. This is tough. I'm really drawn in by The Decapitator's query, but I'm loving The Swimmer's first 250. I agree that there's some confusion in The Swimmer's query about the marriage once you read the first 250, but I just really love that firs 250. Good luck to both of you. I love both premises!

    1. Thanks, and I'm definitely learning that for future iterations of the query I should mention in the first paragraph that Tia and Anton are estranged.

  4. As the other commenters have said, both of these entries are really strong! So of course it all comes done to nit picks on which I would pick if I was a judge. Which I'm not. Thank goodness.

    Anyway, nitpick for The Swimmer. The genre is listed as "Social Science Fiction". In my mind that translated to literary fiction that was some sort of commentary on today, and probably took place today (b/c in my mind social science is history/sociology/anthropology/etc of our world). Then I read your query and I was like "wait...what country is this?" From your query and 250 I'm beginning to think this is a second-world (epic/high) fantasy. So that completely threw me for a loop because my expectations for the query were wrong.

    I would just call it an Adult Fantasy or an Adult Epic/High Fantasy (probably high if it's more about politics which it seems to be). Even if your story is a commentary on our world, a lot of fantasy and science fiction is! (That's part of what makes a good SF/F novel.)

    But of course, epic/high fantasy is my favorite genre, so I'm clearly biased. :)

    But great writing! Good luck to both of you!

  5. Both of these sounds really interesting!

    I agree with Mike that the Kate Campbell alias is a teeny bit confusing in The Decapitator's opening. Also, I thought the query would be stronger without the last line. That kind of seemed implied.

    I like the premise for The Swimmer quite a lot, but I thought the query was a bit to vague to really showcase the story. I was particularly curious about the where and when this takes place.

    Best of luck to you both!

  6. Victory to THE DECAPITATOR from Judge Hedgehog

    Both are very strong queries and I was able to follow the plot of each for the most part, but the voice in THE DECAPITATOR really stood out for me in both the query and the first 250. I think the hook in the first line of the query is really effective. This is the only line that didn't make a ton of sense to me: Bodies make it a big case with bigger problems. Otherwise, loved the query and the 1st page!

    For SWIMMING I had a bit more trouble connecting with the writing sample. In the first page, there are three instances of filter words/phrases that remove the Prince (as well as the reader) from the action of the story and made it harder for me to get invested. There's a good post on editing them out here: http://writeitsideways.com/are-these-filter-words-weakening-your-fiction/

  7. First of all, very glad I'm not a judge!

    Both are outstanding entries and have good queries, and I like the premise of both novels, but the query that grabs me more is The Decapitator. I'm able to get a better feeling for the action and for the stakes. Not that there aren't stakes in The Swimmer, because there are, but it's the easier to define stakes that make me choose Decapitator.

    As far as the 250, also goes to Decapitator b/c of dialogue and the twist at the end. The character was done pretending to be someone else. Like that! But I'll be honest. It was a close close call for both. Interesting beginning to The Swimmer too. I can easily imagine the scene unfolding.

    The Swimmer also has a very intriguing plot and I love the way the royal blood is the cure to the disease. However in the query, I'd like to see more of a direct link as to who Tia is, and how her being not royal blood, but by marriage is going to help save this doomed kingdom. Is she really a royal? Did she have a baby that is a royal? Just throwing out some ideas that floated through my mind when I read the query.

    Again, good job to both as they're outstanding entries. Hope to be reading these in the near future & see them in bookstores. :)

  8. As everyone else has said, these are both very good! Congrats to both authors.

    To The Decapitator: Wow, there's a lot of story you're telling here! I like that, though. And I always love books that start off telling something about the characters through dialogue. (I like to use that as a sorta' "secret weapon.")

    To The Swimmer: Hard to go wrong with social commentary gussied up as science fiction! Just remember to entertain along the way, too. I'm not saying you aren't, but just a friendly helpful hint.

    They're both awesome and I'd like to read both. Sigh. I'd give the edge to The Decapitator only because the first 250 words were an easier entryway, I think. But what do I know?

  9. Judge Interrobang

    Victory to the Decapitator for the query, but to the Swimmer for the first 250 (can I do that?)

    Decap has a great, concise, bitter voice for the query that works well for the genre, but I feel like Swimmer has the better opening 250 as far as craft.

  10. If I were judging, I would give this to the Decapitator for an interesting concept and a strong voice in the excerpt. I particularly admired the way you established the setting and clued us in to the MC's role as an undercover cop with very little exposition. My only criticism is that the great first line about choosing the right gun isn't paid off in the first 250 and therefore feels a little bit like a throwaway.

    Swimmer - I have to admit that I couldn't follow the train of ideas in your query. I was overwhelmed by the number of descriptors for Tia, and on first read it wasn't entirely clear to me that she was the leader of the holdout nation. I still don't understand how Prince Anton's invasion will eradicate the disease or why the Tsar Regent opposes it. Some reordering might help. I would suggest starting with your second paragraph to establish context, then introduce Tia, making her connection to the rebels clear, and finally bring in the Prince.

    I would also second the comments above that your first 250 would be stronger if you showed what was happening in scene without filtering so much through Prince Anton's head.

  11. If I had to judge I'd have to go with a dartboard for these two.

    Decapitator: I loved your query. I'd totally request if I was an agent. You drew me in from the beginning had me to the end. That wasn't so much the case with your 250. It was the dialogue for me. I'm not sure why, but it just didn't seem to flow as a conversation. Though I'm still highly intrigued and I do want to read more.

    Swimmer: I'm flipped on yours. I loved your 250 while your query lacked. The first paragraph confused me. I like the premise I was just confused. I just think the query needs some reorganization.

    Congrats to both of you. I want to read both of them. I'm so glad I don't have to judge, but if I did I'd have to go with Decapitator for the tighter query. Two amazing stories guys! Awesome.

  12. I felt the tone of the query and first 250 words of Decapitator matched really well with each other, and told me what to expect from this novel--a cynical main character, a "normal world" where the supernatural was hidden and unknown even to the protagonist. The fake identity of the heroine revealed in the first 250 words was kind of a tease, with no hint of that part in the query; not sure if that is a plus or a minus.

    I am very drawn to the story line of Swimmer, but having the POV of the query different from the POV of the first 250 left me less pulled in than I could be. Either make the Prince more prominent in the query, or have the first scene from Tia rather than Anton. (Note: not a professional! Take advice with a grain of salt!)

  13. Hope I'm not too late ^^;; sorry about the delay.

    I think my opinion actually goes against the popular one, I really liked the query for The Swimmer. I love the first line, it's a good catch. By the end of the first paragraph it seems as though the author has actually described why she's not a good traitor and I like that (although I don't know if it's intentional). I do agree that there is some confusion, you can sort out by the end that the couple are estranged, but it should probably be more concise so as not to lose the reader (I had to double back to make sure I had the details clear).

    The main thing for me was that the query focused on Tia yet the first 250 words focus instead on Anton. That threw me a bit because after the query I expected Tia to be the main focus. It may be a good idea to balance between Anton and Tia more in the query if they're meant to share equal POV time during the story. I would also say that in order to make Anton's grotesque visions pack a little more punch, it might be a good idea to drop the preface ("and the only sights he felt he had earned played inside his head") and simply describe what he sees when he closes his eyes. The abrupt appearance of the dark images will make them affect the reader more and put them deeper inside the character's head.

    I can't say much about the The Decapitator's query except that there are a few clunky sentences (very nitpicky, I know, but that must mean it's pretty solid :)

    Examples: "A pregnant college student is found, minus her ten-week fetus and internal organs." "The only link among victims is their wounds mirror the attacks of creatures that don’t exist"

    I think it's the 'is's' that bother me here because the points don't seem to flow the way the rest of it does. I think something like "All the victim's wounds mirror..." would work better (as I said, nitpicky, but maybe helpful?)

    Absolutely loved The Decapitator's first 250. The character's personality shines right through here and I love that it's clear pretty quick she not only has a strong personality but is pretending to be an entirely different person.

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