Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Elementary Girl versus Burrito Thief

Entry Nickname: Elementary Girl
Title: However Improbable
Word count: 72,000
Genre: YA Alt History Mystery


“People see, but they do not observe.” And to Marigny Sheridan, that is elementary. The Saturday night Sherlock Holmes radio broadcast is a staple in the Sheridan household for one simple reason: deciphering people provides all the entertainment she’ll ever need. Until the Queen’s 50th Jubilee Contest twists the knickers of every eligible teenager in the Empire and Marigny is unexpectedly selected to become the new Saturday night entertainment.

Marigny has no interest in some cockamamie contest. After all, there’s no need for celebration when the British Empire is still going strong well into the 21stcentury. All she cares about is that her fellow contestants are easy to read. Especially the bitchtastically annoying girl from Australia and the street-smart player from Hong Kong. But as soon as she settles in, her Sherlock senses start to tingle. Something doesn’t smell right. And it’s not the smog over London.

The contest wouldn’t be so ridiculous if she could win riches to support her family. But no, the prize is marriage and Marigny isn’t quite ready for that yet. Even if it is to an heir to the throne.

The only boy she bothers to trifle with is Simon Whitaker, a cocky Islander with a dashing smile and slick charm. In the midst of lock picking the contest host's hotel room and butting heads with constables, they discover someone is pulling the contest strings. But when she unearths an Empire secret, Marigny must either bury her inner Sherlock to hide the truth or follow her hunch and lose Simon forever.

First 250 words:

Given the time I’d had to consider it, I would much rather be sentenced to death. Poison or hanging, I had no preference. Yes, it’d be slow and agonizing, but really, that would be merciful compared to what they had in store for me. I wish I hadn’t ever won the damn Sweepstakes for the Colonies. Really, I wish I had listened to my gut and stayed in Maryland.

"Marigny Sheridan,” the brown haired man said, catching my attention. Mostly because he butchered my name. Mare-ig-nee? He said it like I was some horse and iguana hybrid. I wanted to say, “The ‘g’ is silent, idiot,” but I doubted that would have helped my case. I swear he even smelled holier-than-thou, like some volatile mix of expensive perfumes and the dirty stench money leaves on your hand.

With a sharp breath, the man said, “Before we proceed, do you have anything to say for yourself?” If I spoke, it would undoubtedly seal the likelihood of my exile.

Gazing down at the sloppy clothes I’d thrown on that morning, only one thought came to mind: “I wish I could go out in something a bit more flattering.” But then again, I was all out of wishes at that point.


Entry Nickname: Burrito Thief
Title: Firebird
Word Count: 77,000
Genre: YA Fantasy


Beneath the bustling streets of Manhattan lies a secret world, where creatures with feathers for hair and magic in their veins have nested since the days of New Amsterdam. Only one human has ever been welcomed among them: seventeen-year-old Echo, runaway pickpocket turned career thief. When Echo’s home is threatened by a cold war on the brink of turning hot, she enlists for a mission far trickier than liberating Fabergé eggs from Sotheby's: find the Firebird, a mythical WMD powerful enough to end the war. No pressure.

Luckily for Echo, she's the proud owner of the only map to its location. Unluckily for Echo, every chump with an eye on her quarry is gunning for her. With her friends caught in the crossfire, she finds an unlikely ally in Caius, her chief rival on the hunt for the Firebird. Echo doesn’t trust the devilishly handsome Caius as far as she can throw him but they strike an arrangement: she helps him find the Firebird and he helps her save her friends. Simple enough. But magic is a harsh mistress and the power of the Firebird has a plan for Echo that she's 837% sure she's not going to like. If the Firebird had a face, Echo would slap it.

First 250 words:

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, Echo mused, snagging a pork bun from a stall as she sailed past it, that stolen food tastes way better than food that's not stolen.

Her feet flew across pavement slick with the day's drizzle, twisting and turning as she dodged rickety carts and gawking pedestrians. If she didn't find her way out of Taipei's Shilin Night Market within the next ninety seconds, she probably wouldn't live to steal again.

She spared a thought for the hidden room in the New York Public Library that she called home. If the warlock on her tail caught up, she'd never make it back. And, truly, it would be a shame if she never finished the burrito she'd swiped from an unsuspecting college student as he napped, head pillowed on a battered copy of Les Misérables. There had been poetry to that minor act of thievery. It was the only reason why she'd done it. She didn't need to steal food to survive, as she had when she was a child, but some opportunities were too good to pass up.

Tourist-grade china smashed to the ground as the warlock crashed into the pork bun stall. His flurry of curses was almost lost in the clamor of the market. Echo's Mandarin vocabulary was sparse but she was pretty sure he'd just lobbed a barrage of colorful insults at her and her parentage. People got so touchy when their things were stolen. Especially warlocks. Temperamental, the lot of them.


  1. This comment is reserved for voting. Judges, please reply here. Thank you.

    1. Victory to Burrito Thief

      This was another close one and came down to the query. the openings were great. Loved both premises a lot, but alas I could only pick one. So the query that was the weakest was Elementary Girl, and it was only because it started with a quote.

      Both are great pitches and this was soooo close, and it came down to taste.

    2. Victory to Elementary Girl

      I loved the voice in this query. I think I read it with a British accent the whole time. I also love the idea of an alternate universe with a Sherlock Holmes twist.

      Burrito Thief, I loved your voice int the query and first 250. If I could pick both, I would. I would buy both of these books.

    3. Victory to Elementary Girl. Loved the voice in the first 250 and the Sherlock Holmes twist is great.

      Burrito Theif, you were only a milimeter behind in this race, only because your query seemed to have too much going on. I had to read it a few times through. Your first 250 were solid, I really liked Echo a lot! Good luck to you.

    4. Victory to Elementary Girl

      Both of these entries are bubbling with voice. This was a very difficult match up and the only reason I didn't pick Burrito Thief is because of the last sentence of your query. Not only did it feel like it didn't belong, but it made me feel like your query was missing a sentence or two after it. Minor, I know. But against such an awesome entry, minor is all I had to go on.

      Great job to both of you.

    5. Victory to Elementary

      Elementary: "Something doesn't smell right, and it's not the smog over London." <-LOVE. the end of your query tapers off a bit, like it could use a bit more punch, but I bet simple word choice could change that. And by the looks of your 250, you can make that happen. VOICE!!!! I love voice :D

      Burrito: What's a WMD? I could probably figure it out if I thought about it long enough, but agents don't have time for that. Don't use abbreviations for things not everyone will recognize. The end of your query is kind of abrupt, actually. Just the opposite of Elementary's. Like SacredIbis said, it feels like something's missing there. But OH THE VOICE in your 250. Great job.

      Good luck to both!!!

    6. Victory to Burrito Thief

      This truly was a difficult pairing to judge! For me, the choice came down to voice in the 250.

      The query for HOWEVER IMPROBABLE is a bit long but it's flavorful. Still, the biggest issue I have with it is that apart from one hint mid-query that something's not right, the plot and stakes are relegated to one sentence at the end that is ambiguous. I did question whether marrying the heir to the throne might actually mean marrying into wealth, which would indeed translate to support for her family. As to the 250, I didn't connect with the voice or character. I actually connected with her better in the query.

      I was left with multiple questions about the FIREBIRD query. Who are Echo's friends? How did she wind up with a map? Are the hunters personal rivals or military ones? I do think the ending of the query is a bit weak. As to the 250, just note this is the second query package in this contest that invokes Austen. And I would like to know soon how Echo's traveling from Taipei to New York as at this point it seems a mistake not magic. The voice here is consistent and that's what gave FIREBIRD the edge.

    7. Elementary: In love with the voice here! I think the concept of Sherlock Holmes in an alternate reality was cool but the marriage contest seemed a little too close to the plot of THE SELECTION for my tastes. Also, I wanted to the stakes to be higher- she risks losing Simon, is that it? Are there any other ramifications from exposing the truth, maybe to her family or to others in the Empire? If so, I would add them here so that this isn't reading as a straight romance and might appeal to a wider audience.

      Burrito: Ack- more great voice! This is a tough match-up. I think you could lose the last line of your query but otherwise it was easy enough to follow. Great voice again in the 250- would definitely read on!

    8. Victory to Elementary.

      Elementary -- I LOVED the 250, so much so that I reread your query three times to get a clearer idea about the plot and premise. It might have just been me, but it was hard to get that out, but once I understood it, it was great.

      Burrito -- Great premise, might be slightly cliched, and I loved your writing and humor. The cliche (find a magical item) is the main thing holding you back, but I think if you concentrate more on the awesome world and characters in the query, you'll have a chance to overcome this block!

    9. Sorry- forgot to add Victory to ELEMENTARY

  2. These entries are both fantastic!

    For Elementary Girl, I was slightly confused at first by the query because of the old timey tech and fashion (radios and knickers) and the juxtaposition of the British Empire in the 21st century. However, I'm going to assume that little disconnect is what you're going for and that in your alternate history we somehow don't have TVs because of how history has changed. I was also confused by the last line in the first paragraph about how Marigny is going to become the new Saturday night entertainment, but I managed to extrapolate shortly thereafter that this contest is some sort of reality radio show. But the main confusion with that sentence is that it made Marigny and Marigny alone seem like the Saturday night entertainment, not a whole slew of teens.

    But the writing was really strong and I would keep reading based on the 250.

    I absolutely loved Burrito Thief. I found some of the details in the query confusing (cold war with who?) but the 250 were so incredibly strong. I would keep reading on the 250 alone. The 250 makes it sound like exactly the sort of book I would pick up off the shelf and enjoy immensely. I love the voice and adore the Ironic Les Mis student. Good job!

    Good luck to both of you!

  3. Elementary Girl - In the query, with Simon tossed in casually in the last paragraph, the stakes aren't feeling high enough to me. I know it's only a query, but I'm not feeling the connection that losing Simon enough of a consequence. Purely edited, I'd cut "to hide the truth" from that paragraph - it works without it. In the first 250, you have a lot of "hads" in the first paragraph. It would be stronger without. You might also cut the first clause of the first sentence.

    Burrito Thief - In the query, I agree with Mandy - I think that the war is confusing and could benefit from more detail. I loved the first page, but was a little confused at the inclusion of 2 theft items, the burrito and pork roll? Are both important to the story?

    I love the concepts and voices in both. I'd read them. I'm glad it's not my job to choose.

  4. Elementary Girl:

    I got the use of knickers as being modern. Here in the UK, people do still call women's underwear "knickers" so that worked fine for me. Very interesting premise! I was a little confused about the rules of the contest and what exactly is at stake within it, but I'd still be interested in reading on from the context. "Bitchtastically" made me laugh!

    The 250 are strong in voice. I agree that the clause in the first sentence could be dropped, making it a bit clearer and more straightforward. I'm curious to know why she threw on sloppy clothes for an important day. Overall, good job!

    Good luck to you both! :)

  5. Ahh! Sorry, copying and pasting failed me here ;)

    Burrito Thief:

    LOVE this query - super strong and feels very polished. The only thing that tripped me up was the 837%. This seems a bit out of voice for the rest of the query, and random. But I'm totally hooked!

    Your 250 are excellent, and I would love to keep reading. If I had to give a critical comment on this, I'd say that starting out with a P&P reference - as much as I love P&P - is something I've seen quite a lot lately. Other than that, great job!

  6. Burrito Thief, Mentor Rebecca Here!

    On the Query: Loved the opening, loved pretty much all of it except the end. It felt like a really abrupt ending to me, and the last line felt totally out of place and left me feeling like I missed another line. "Echo doesn’t trust the devilishly handsome Caius as far as she can throw him but they strike an arrangement: she helps him find the Firebird and he helps her save her friends." You have a comma missing here. ;) I also felt the like the "cold war" was vague. Are talking between the creatures? Creatures and Man? Creatures in danger of discovery? What are her stakes? What happens if Caius gets the Firebird? Other than that, fantastic!

    On your first 250: The use of italics in the first line throws me a bit. I like how you bring us straight into the scene, and show us her character, rather than telling. However, I had to read twice and wondered if the unsuspecting college student was the warlock? She has a great voice, and I love the level of intelligence with the poetic act of thievery. Smart girls ROCK! Great job!

  7. Elementary Girl: Good job sliding an "alternate world" into a short query. This is never easy. I like alternate world British Empire books (I'm a big Lord Darcy fan). Extra bonus in the 250: a sneaky Hermione-style pronunciation guide!

    The "Colonies-Maryland" reference is a bit confusing. Maryland is part of London, but most people would think of the state. Maybe I misinterpreted it?

    Burrito Thief: I know everyone tells us to shorten our queries, but I think yours needs a little filling out. Maybe a bit more background on the kind of world we're in and the war.

    I liked the bit on Echo's appreciation of swiping food from someone reading "Les Misérables." Echo's no dummy, is she?

    Excellent voices in both writing samples.

  8. Wow, two great entries, yet again! Glad I'm not the judge on this one.

    Burrito Thief: Your 250 words are terrific- they drew me in. Great voice and pacing, aside from first line P&P, which others mentioned. I think you can cut that. Or maybe slide it in later when Echo is relaxing and eating. Love the Les Mis reference. I did have some trouble with your query, even after reading it a couple of times. I'm still unclear as to where the war is happening- is it in the underworld? Is Echo's home that is threatened the underworld or the "above" world? And are the friends she's trying to save the feathered ones from below? Just clarify this, and you'll have a terrific query!

    Elementary Girl: Clever idea and fun writing style. As someone else suggested for your query, it would be helpful to know it's a contest involving other kids, not just your MC. In your first 250, I really wanted to know who the brown-haired man was. An announcer at the games? A police officer? A little more detail here would ratchet up suspense. Overall, great premise and strong writing!

    Good luck to you both!

  9. Victory to Burrito Thief - Ultraviolet
    Elementary Girl - I really did love a lot about your story, including the sort of brainiac version of The Hunger Games vibe. I found the last line of your query confusing. In terms of the 250, poisoning and hanging are indeed painful ways to die and that your MC would "choose" either over a non-death option made her seem overly dramatic (even though I realize sarcasm was in play). I'd rather have joined her thoughts as she tried to figure a way out of her problem.
    Burrito Thief - there were so many things I loved about your entry, including the Harriet the Spy hiding in a library thing, the fleeing street urchin/Oliver Twisty feel, the humor, the voice, an underground Manhattan with a resident firebird...awesome. The only things that gave me pause were the stolen pork buns followed by stolen burrito - I'm not sure why she's stealing so much food while she's on the run, even though they're both yummy, it just seemed a bit repetitive. AND 837%. The most anything can be is 100% and it's a pet peeve when people ignore that and make up percentages that exceed 100 - even in jest.

  10. First of all, I love burritos so I'm a little biased. But I really liked the idea of the alternate history in Elementary girl. My question would be that why isn't it an alternate world instead of history. 10 years back (or at least that's what immediately came to mind as the 60th jubilee was just last year) confused me a little.

    And burrito, I loved the 250. Great voice and it starts with action. I would totally read this.

    Best of luck to both of you!

  11. Elementary: I love alternate histories and sounds like you have a good world set up here. I also like the contest, I am a sucker for that kind of premise. If you haven't read it yet, you should check out Kiera Cass's the Selection, similar idea (though I think yours is different enough.) Definitely curious about the mystery and the romance. Good luck.

    Burrito: I will have to agree to disagree with an earlier commentator on the 837% thing. You can use percentages over 100% (i.e., this brand of coffee has 215% more caffeine than the average brand). I get that in your sentence it wouldn't make sense unless she is 837% MORE sure that X than Y, but I still didn't mind it, in fact I really liked it. So, FWIW.

    I love P&P, but don't start with it.

    In the query, can you start with the character instead of the world?

    Loved your voice and tone and it sounds like a great story :)

  12. Elementary Girl -

    I really like your premise and the international feel to this story. The 50th Jubilee reference in the query might confuse people, since it does suggest that the story takes place in our world in 2002, but it seems like you are going for sometime later in the 21st century. I didn't quite follow the last paragraph of the query. Does Marigny team up with Simon? "Trifle with" could mean any number of things, from flirting to fighting. How would exposing the secret cause her to lose Simon? I don't see a clear cause and effect.

    The dialogue and internal monologue in the first 250 words were very good, but I don't see how what's happening in this scene connects to the query. Is the Sweepstakes what gets Marigny into the Sherlock Holmes contest? Maybe you should mention that in the query. I also thought the first 250 needed setting. I have no idea who the brown-haired man is or where this exchange is taking place. Is he calling her out of a crowd? Was she in prison? Was she really in danger of being sentenced to death. I like the writing and I want to read more, but you need to paint a picture of who and where these people are.

    Burrito Thief -

    There's not much I can add to what other people have already said. I've seen your opening page elsewhere and liked it. Still do. Echo sounds like a great character -- smart, literary, and daring. I really want to know how she got from New York to Taipei in a day. As others have said though, the query is a little confusing. I agree that the cold war could be explained a little more. And in the second-to-last sentence, what does it mean that "the power of the Firebird" has a plan? Should it just be "the Firebird?"

  13. Love the "voice" in both entries. Really interesting blurbs and great openings. I'd buy both books. If I had to choose, I'd go with Elementary Girl.