Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Dr. Thermo versus The McTavish Academy

Entry Nickname: Dr. Thermo
Word Count: 77,000
Genre: Adult Science Fiction


Despite juggling a research career and children, Chrissy King feels like life has passed her by. At thirty-five she has a job, two kids, and a steadily more distant husband. She is trapped by a mountain of safe choices. When an alien detective falls out of the sky and smashes into Chrissy’s car, she has a choice: take up the job as an interstellar detective, or continue slogging through her life.

Chrissy takes life by the horns and joins the technologically advanced—but often draconian—interstellar detectives, the Knights of Mourning. Her first mission: figure out who is murdering the Knights, starting with the one who smashed up her car. Chrissy quickly learns that in the real galaxy, murders are more complicated than on TV. The murderer has started killing stars.

Sol is next.

First 250 words:

I dug past my daughters’ toys to the bottom of my purse and slapped the money on the counter.

“Nice pony,” the barista said, pointing at my ear.

Sure enough, tucked behind my ear was the pink pony my girls had been fighting over on their way to daycare. I put it in my pocket. “Kids, you know?”

The barista nodded and handed me my brownie and tea. Caffeine and chocolate could fix anything. Okay, they couldn’t fix anything, but it would distract me from the sleep lost to a two-year-old’s potty accident and my husband cancelling our dinner plans, again. If I didn’t know better…

With my brownie bag in hand, I stepped out into the desert morning. I could still beat my boss to the labs if traffic was light. A plum tree sprayed the parking lot in blossoms, and weeds tried to push apart the pavement. They’d be dead in days. The desert was like that.

A high pitched whistle filled the air. Then it dropped in tone, like mortar fire in a movie about World War I.

My head snapped up to find the source, but before my eyes made it to the sky, my car exploded. On pure instinct, I threw myself away from the fireball. The heel of my shoe caught the edge of the sidewalk, and I fell over backwards dumping the tea and brownie. A pressure wave thumped my chest as I fell, and the air whooshed out of my lungs.


Entry Nickname: McTavish Academy
Title: McTavish
Word Count: 80,000
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy


He wanted an education. They gave him a gun.

On a quiet hilltop outside of Boston, a stone fortress rises up from the suburban sprawl. The McTavish Academy is renowned as a top-tier military school. People call it exclusive. They call it mysterious. Eighteen-year-old Michael Solomon doesn't care about any of that. When he arrives at the gargoyle-adorned front gates it's simply the means to an end--his last chance at keeping a death-bed promise to his beloved mother. But when he's greeted by a ninja with a sword on his back and taken to a Knight Templar for orientation, he discovers he's in for a whole lot more than lunch lines and math homework.

In over his head yet determined to keep his promise, Mike finds himself the newest operative in The Alphabet Corps, a motley band of troubled youth handpicked to defend the school and its dangerous secret against an army of nightmares hiding in plain sight.

Now, a Turkish ghoul from the First Crusade stands outside their gates, unshakable in his ambition to take the school and its secret by force, even if it means destroying the structure, its residents, and the very fabric of civilization in the process.

First 250 words:

She just wouldn't stop crying. Ugly, choking gasps for air between exaggerated sobs. Kneeling there on the dining room carpet, snot dripping down her rather plain face, she looked up at him and babbled incoherently. Something about not hurting her boy. Çöl Çelik found it repulsive. Examining her with his jet black eyes, expressionless, he tried to relate, tried to recall a time he had ever been so weak.  But after a thousand years, he could only vaguely remember ever being human at all.

Sitting back in his chair, old wood and well made, he turned from the woman to brush away flakes of dried skin from his robe. To his left the woman's son, only a small child, sat in quiet concern where they had tossed him, knees tucked tightly to his chest. The boy was courteous enough to keep his tears to himself and for that Çelik was thankful. In gratitude, he drew an old pistol from his robe and pulled the trigger.

The mother shrieked, crawling to her son’s body and drawing his tiny corpse into her arms. Çelik did his best to ignore her, running a long, boney finger down his polished armrest. From this room. From this chair. Here the one they had mocked, the one they had dubbed ‘The Traitor King’ so many centuries ago would finally take what he deserved. But the crying was getting to be too much.

“Oh stop it," he groaned. "I did him a favor. You have no idea what's coming."


  1. This comment is reserved for the judges' votes

    1. These are two phenomenal entries. Both have great queries and awesome first pages. They also have their faults, but none that are big enough to overshadow the entry as a whole. Even as I'm typing this out I have no idea which entry I'll pick.

      I love dark novels and I love novels with unlikely heroes. I would snatch up both of these if I were an agent.

      Victory to... *sigh* Kombatants, I really don't know. I honestly don't know who to pick. I LOVE both of your entries. But I have to pick. Know that my choice is out of the obligation to pick one and not based on which is better. I'm sure I'll see both these entries on the shelves one day.

      Victory to McTavish.

    2. Victory to McTavish Academy.

      To McTavish: I loved your first 250 words. It was incredibly engaging. IT threw me a little bit that it didn't really relate obviously to the query, but I just didn't care in the end. The query set up where we know the story will go very well. You did such a great job of showing the rich back story. I loved it!

      To Dr. Thermo, your query read very well. The only thing that bothered me was the heart of it. Did she just abandon her children to become a galaxy detective? I enjoyed the hook of the star murders, it up'd the stakes very well. Maybe explain her choice a bit more to clarify the query?

    3. Victory to McTavish Academy
      ACK! This was a tough choice. I love both of these queries and first 250. Darn. I guess McTavish drew me in more.

      Dr. Thermo, nice explosive beginning. You drew me in. My only concern is whether Chrissy abandons her daughters. I'm curious to know the answer, which means I'd read the book to find out how she deals with this in the story.

      I'd read both of these books in a heartbeat! Loved them!

    4. Victory to McTavish Academy - Ultraviolet
      Dr. Thermo - I genuinely liked the concept of working mom turned alien-fighter but I had to reread parts of your query to make sense of them (for instance it didn't say that the alien falling from the sky was dead, yet apparently he was). There were also a few things that just didn't ring true and felt forced - for example, I think most women would feel a pony toy stuck in their hair. Little things, but when I compare that type of observation to the ancient crusader flicking dead skin off his clothing, the second seems both more clever and more realistic. I also really liked the building suspense and unexpected twists in the opening of McTavish.

    5. So, I hate going after the crowd, cause it's no fun being a "me too". But I have to say I loved both of these premises and they sound fun.

      McTavish Academy I felt should be for a younger audience (NA or YA).

      Dr. Thermo, I wasn't clear on why she'd be the one to take up the intergalactic detective job. You should be clearer in the query why she's the one for the job. What makes her have to do this? What are the stakes? Also, the last paragraph should be more immediate - she's getting blown back, right? Her coffee and brownie wouldn't just dump. They would go flying. Choose verbs that fit the action.

      Victory McTavish Academy

    6. Victory to McTavish Academy.

      Both of these were awesome, but I have to be honest that Dr. Thermos's query didn't do it for me. It felt flimsy. But I LOVED the 250!

      McTavish, however, was strong on both counts, and definitely had me wanting to read more! Well done :)

    7. Victory to McTavish Academy

      The query for DEAD STAR makes it sound sort of like wish fulfillment - 'something please come and take me away from my drab life.' I think we need to see why the KoM even want such a drab, normal person in their ranks. What qualifies her, especially for that first mission of hers? Then too the jump from murdering the Knights to killing stars (are stars alive in this galaxy) seems a bit far-fetched without a little more explanation. I'm also still unsure whether this is more of a fun "mom-turned-galaxy detective" story or something darker. The 250 starts in the right place - though there's some tightening and word choice strengthening you could do yet - and it's clear you're trying to establish her ho-hum momhood, so kudos on that.

      McTAVISH sounds more YA than Adult. I think certain aspects of the query can be strengthened. It assumes that the reader doesn't care what the death-bed promise is. To avenge her? To go to military school? To specifically attend McTavish? Also, do guns ('They gave him a gun') work against ghouls? The 250 reads like a prologue, which I'm going to assume it is. The antagonist is a bit stereotypical, but your execution is good, so while we've seen this fantasy antagonist a hundred-plus times, I'd keep reading to see how it all evolves.

    8. Dr. Thermo—I kind of love this. The 250 is good (but the last paragraph can be made a LOT more intense, mess up the sentence lengths and make it shorter to give us a POW!). I like your diction and imagery a lot. In the query, you can cut “Chrissy takes life by the horns” since that’s kind of a cliché.

      McTavish Academy—Your writing is FANTASTIC, and your query had me. I loved that. And your 250—ghastly, in a good way. I kind of loved it, actually. But I don’t see the connection between the query and the 250, however. It was slightly startling. And in the query, I feel you can concentrate a lot more on Mike—make it more about the character, not just the plot. We love characters. This might be a personal thing, though. I also agree that since the MC is younger, this might not be ‘Adult’.

      Victory to Dr. Thermo, mostly because I felt the 250 and query of McCtavish didn’t jive, and I loved Dr. Thermo’s premise. But, honestly, these two were amazing. Sigh. Both of you will get agent interest, don’t worry!

    9. V ictory Dr. Thermo

      Dr. Thermo- I think you did a good job presenting the character and conflict but I thought the query lacked voice and needed less character set-up (first three sentences give us same characterization). However, plenty of voice in sample and I liked how it got right to the inciting incident. Plus, anyone who is getting a brownie for breakfast is already someone I'd cheer for!

      McTavish- LOVE the intro sentence of the query. The concept is really interesting-very Dan Brown. Great suspense in the opening scene.

      Both really great concepts but publishing is subjective and I have to say I liked the voice in Dr. Thermo better.

    10. Dr. Thermo: The query felt a little short to me, like it was missing something. I want to see that she joined the detectives out of more than boredom. Also, you don’t ground us as to the identity of Sol. I assume it is her star. The first page, however, wowed me. You used first person without overwhelming the reader with the word I and you get straight to the action. Though I’m not sure a pony behind your ear could go unnoticed. High-pitched should be hyphenated, I believe.

      McTavish Academy: The whole school troupe is overdone since Harry Potter. There’s also Percy Jackson and many others. I imagine there will have to be a huge wow factor to get another one published. I’m finding the promise given to be rather vague. I’d like to see more specifics on that in the query. The last paragraph of the query is good, but you have to make me care about the inhabitants of the school in order for it to be most effective. The query didn’t offer much about the students, not enough to make me curious about them.

      Your first 250 blew me away. So very dark and full of passion. It was the better page of the two. However, it’s not really in keeping with the query letter. If Col Celik is the Turkish ghoul, I’d use the name in the query. Make the query as dark as the first page.

      I can see myself reading both of these stories. Very tough decision. Victory to Dr. Thermo, solely because the page matched the query better. This one is going to haunt me.

    11. Victory to Dr. Thermo

      I loved the voice in the sample and am a fan of when mom's get to kick a little ass.

      I loved McTavish as well. The sample was freaking chilling. The main reason I didn't pick it is I think the whole "school" thing is next to impossible to get past right now.

  2. Wow! Both of these first 250s are awesome! I'd definitely read on past what you have here. Kudos.

    Since those are as strong as they are, I'll focus my input on the queries--since queries are the devil.

    Dr. Thermo: You do a great job of setting up the stakes. Her choice is obvious and the consequences are there. That being said, I think there are a couple of things that could be tweaked to make it stronger.

    1) Since you repeat the word detective in the first paragraph, you may want to think about using a different word the second time. Maybe sleuth, gumshoe, PI, or some other appropriate synonym.

    2) You may want to clear up why she'd be recruited to become a detective. It may be as simple as adding in a few words to let us know why the agency needs her. I'm guessing it's because she's a researcher and they need more brains to go with their brawn, but I could be wrong.

    3) I love the way you ended the query with the short 'dun dun DUUUUUNNNNN' sentence. Very cliffhanger-ish. But since you mention TV in the sentence before 'stars', I'd worry that some agents may think you were referring to TV stars and not actual stars. Even though you mention Sol in the last sentence, they may assume that's the name of some big-shot interstellar music pop-phenom. And if I'm wrong on all of that, it may be a sign it needs to be cleared up. Or that I'm dense. It could be that I'm dense.

    McTavish Academy: This definitely reads like the back of a book synopsis, so good job on getting that voice and tension in the query. Here are my two cents:

    1) The first couple of sentences are cool, but they seem a bit out of place. They could totally be a perfect logline for the book, under the title, written in some cool font, but I think your query would be stronger if you led with the first paragraph. The logline could get put in later (maybe at the end of the first paragraph) and still work just as well, in my opinion.

    2) After reading the first 250, I noticed Çöl Çelik was never mentioned in the query. But I assume he's the Turkish ghoul. If he is, it may be a good idea to plug his name in paragraph two so we know right off the bat who we're watching in the opening.

    3) This is just my preference, but I love it when a query ends with a sentence to ramp up the stakes. I think yours does, but it does it from the Turkish Ghoul's POV. We know what that guy needs to do and what will happen if he does it, but you've given us Mike as the MC and I think your query would be so much stronger if you ended it with his choice/consequence.

    Best of luck, both of you!

  3. These are both great, but I loved Dr. Thermo's query. And I've got Interstellar Agents in my Interstellar Pez entry to, so that just caps it off for me!

  4. These both sounds really interesting. :) Loved the line in the first query: "She is trapped by a mountain of safe choices." That's something people can really relate to. My only critique is, your last line is great except we don't know who/what Sol is. ;)
    The second also sounds interesting, but based on the query I have no idea who the main character in the first 250 is. Is it a prologue, or does the narrator follow several characters? Personally, it made me less interested. I wanted to get to know our MC, Michael.
    Good luck to both of you!

    1. Sol is the actual name of our sun. (Solar, solstice, etc...)

  5. This is the toughest one yet! Like everybody else, I love them both and think I'd read both books.

    Dr. Thermo! I appreciated the humor in the first 250 words. A book like this needs to bring the funny to involve people, methinks. And it seems like you're doing a good job at it. I was at first a little thrown by the "star killing" mention, followed up by "Sol." But I skipped a lot of science in high school.

    McTavish! This is going to be a great book, I just know it! But, as was said, the opening 250 words seemed almost from a different book then the query (but it's a great query!).

    I think I'd barely give the edge to Dr. Thermo. It must really suck to be a judge on this competition!

  6. I loved both of these. I'm glad I'm not a judge, so I don't have to decide a victor - just give my thoughts and, hopefully helpful, advice.

    Dr. Thermo - loved your first 250 and absolutely would read on. I love that she's a mom. What I think the query is lacking is some inkling about why she'd leave her kids to become a detective. I admit, I was a bit confused at first about the Sol = star. As others mentioned, I think the issue might be the use of "stars" after a sentence referencing television. For a brief moment I was thinking celebrities. But the first 250 is solid.

    McTavish Academy - also loved this. I'm always torn with the age thing. Does 18 automatically skew a book to a younger audience, or put it in YA or NA territory? I wouldn't think so, but the fact that it takes place at a school might lend the genre towards one of those categories, rather than adult. Loved the query. I assume your first 250 is a prologue? I know some people despise them, but I love them if done well. This one is, in my opinion. The only thing you might want to do is tie the MC in this bit to the query.

  7. Victory to Dr. Thermo from Judge Interrobang

    I feel like Dr. Thermo has a stronger query, and a better genre grasp. McTavish should definitely be YA or NA and also I'm just so worn out on paranormal schools of any type whatsoever that I immediately lost interest b/c of the premise, and I'm guessing agents will too. That being said, I think the opening para is very strong for McTavish, but Dr. Thermo has a slow, craft-filled build that I feel is leading somewhere interesting.

  8. Good to know that others agreed with my comments and concerns from earlier in the day, even though they were deleted. Best of luck to both contestants!

  9. I agree with the other commenters that both of these are winners, and it's a shame one has to be cut in this round.

    Dr. Thermo - the query is very clear and promises an entertaining mash-up of mystery and science fiction. I love how quickly you establish Chrissy's normal life in the first 250 and then literally blow it up. Maybe the pony behind the ear is a tad unrealistic, but it made me laugh. On the query, I second the comments that it wasn't quite clear that the alien who falls on her car is dead, and the "Sol is next" line blew right by me on first read. Maybe substituting "our sun" for "Sol" would make that clearer.

    McTavish - With gargoyles, ninjas, Knights Templar, and a Turkish ghoul, your query was a little too busy for me to follow, but maybe that's just because I don't read this genre. And then it took a while to figure out how the first 250 words connected to the query. Naming the Celik as the Turkish ghoul would fix that. The excerpt itself was absolutely gripping.

  10. Wow! These are very well matched Kombatants! Dr. Thermo, I'd love your query to start with the body falling and then go into explanation. It's great action which is a great hook. That being said, I love how your first 250 starts with the mundane of everyday life, getting coffee and going to work and then, BAM! An explosion!

    McTavish, I agree with what has been said about this sounding more YA or NA, but that doesn't change the fact that your query and first 250 sucked me right in. I love the prose in the first 250. Sets a great tone. I too would like to see mention of Çöl Çelik by name in the query so I'm sure of who it is, not that you need to mention everyone and everything in the query, but this character seems pretty major.

    Don't. Want. To pick. A winner. Seriously. I want to read them both.

  11. Dr. Thermo: Love it. I'd read it. Hell, some days I feel like I'm living it (the pony behind the ear part anyway).My only input is that I found the query confusing in tone. It reads like a contemporary take on a Tom Robbins. I can't tell if this is going to be humorous take on a serious story or a serious twist to a humorous tale. I think that could throw people. So - just went back and re-read the query. The problem (to me) is this line: When an alien detective falls out of the sky and smashes into Chrissy’s car, she has a choice: take up the job as an interstellar detective,or continue slogging through her life. The plot comes through, but the tone of this line feels more like a Douglas Adams dropped into something else. Having said all that, I look forward to seeing it in print. Good stuff.

    McTavish: I HATED your 250 (which really means I hated the character that kills the kid), so nice job! The advice I have for you is on the query - particularly the first paragraph. I think it would have been much more impactful if you blended/started with When 18yo M.S. arrives at the gargoyle-adorned front gate of Mc Tavish Academy etc... then just skip the first couple sentences. They feel too distanced - too movie narrator, to me. I'd read this in a heart beat, by the by.

  12. I think the writing in Dr Thermo is good. McTavish dragged a bit for me. I wondered for both if you have your genre right. They both sound more like YA.

  13. These are both really interesting stories!

    Dr Thermo: I think your opening gives a good sense of the character, but your query was a bit confusing to me. Especially since it started sounding like WF but was Scifi.

    McTavish: I really enjoyed your query and the 250 was spot on to grab attention! But I may be biased because it takes place in my city ;)

  14. I really enjoyed both entries.

    Dr. Themo. I LOVE THE PREMISE, but I feel the query can be a bit more descriptive. It's almost too short. I know, queries should be as short as possible, but I would've like to have seen more.

    The first 250, had some humor and tension. Well done.


    I LOVED this. ALL of it. But I have to agree with the others. This does read more like Y/A to me.

  15. I prefer McTarvish, only because I like my sci-fi to be heavy and serious and Thermo sounds fun and fast-paced...I realize I'm one in a million here, and understand my opinion is entirely subjective.

    That said --

    Thermo -- I think your query is strong and I personally like that you refer to the sun by name, but I would like to see a little more of the sci-fi/technical side of things.