Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Fists of Fury versus Damned

Entry Nickname: FistsofFury
Title: Fighting Chance
Word count: 60,000
Genre: YA Thriller


Second-degree black belt Nica McDonald talks better with her fists than her mouth, so when the local bully is murdered, she becomes the prime suspect.

After almost killing a boy in her California hometown, seventeen-year-old Nica is shipped to the armpit of Tennessee. She vows to keep her anger in check until she can pass the GED and blow the one stoplight town. But when local bullies, known as The Brigade, stuff bald, defenseless Braeden Hall into a trash can, her fists make another statement.

Saving Braeden is easy. Ditching him? Impossible. He becomes her shadow, following her everywhere. Nica shuts him down until he makes a tempting offer: become his bodyguard and he'll help her ace the GED. Eager to escape high school, and tired of being a loner, Nica agrees.

But when The Brigade's leader winds up dead behind a local hangout, all evidence points to Nica. With rumors about her dark past making her appear guilty, Nica and Braeden team up to prove her innocence. When another member of The Brigade is targeted, and Nica is linked to the scene, police tighten their case against her.

Desperate to stay out of jail, and afraid Braeden is in danger, Nica hunts the killer alone. And when she unmasks the monster, who's been hunting her all along, she'll need more than a fighting chance to stay alive.

First 250 words:

My scars were impossible to hide. The jagged marks carved deep in my knuckles glowed under the fluorescent lights in the convenience store.

I did everything I could to hide my hands. Slide them into my pockets. Lock them behind my back. I hated the white gouges between my fingers and slashed across my pale, freckled skin. Each mark was a small, taunting whisper, reminding me what I’d done.

I shoved the money across the counter while the owner gazed at me with pursed lips under a full white beard.

“You want a bag?” His lingering gaze focused on the thick, red line along my chin that took forty-two stitches to close.

I shook my head, hiding behind my dark hair and grabbed the carton, slipping it under my arm.

I’d been sent on an impossible mission – find soy milk in a tiny town surrounded by acres of dairy farms. My flighty stepmother, Annabelle, insisted we couldn’t survive without it — something about regular milk having growth hormones which destroyed our bodies. It was typical Annabelle. In her mind the entire planet was poisoning us. Personally, I thought it was a load of crap, but I didn’t argue because other than her granola-leanings, she was pretty cool.

The door chimed as I walked outside. The scent of bitter, day-old coffee lingered on the sleeves of my gray t-shirt. The parking lot was empty except for my ancient, silver Honda parked in the last space — a reluctant gift from my dad who didn’t have the time or patience to drive me around.


Entry Nickname: DAMNED
Word count: 70K
Genre: YA Dark Fantasy


On an isolated island, beneath a lush canopy of resurrection ferns and prickly palmettos, a Victorian colony festers. Monetary wealth carries little weight. Lineage is currency and nothing is of greater import than blood.

Orphans Haeden and Veanne are fifteen-years-old when their adoptive father, the sole doctor, mysteriously dies, leaving them without knowledge of their parentage and defenseless against rumor of a spreading illness threatening to divide the decaying hierarchy.

The unexpected return of the doctor’s biological son, vanished from the island for over a decade, presents a double-edged sword equally sharp as the one buckled at his waist. Even as he offers protection, and romances Veanne, he harbors devastating secrets.

Combating plague, pirates, and moral corruption, Haeden and Veanne must unearth both the truth behind the sickness and their birth in order to survive the systematic destruction of the only home they have ever known.

First 250 Words:

Inside the black oak coffin, Raymond Able lay carefully arranged with arms neatly folded across his cold body. Gold-rimmed spectacles lay tucked inside the left pocket of the doctor’s vest, the chain of his pocket watch dangled from the right.

Veanne imagined she could still hear it ticking.

The evening sun beat through the gaps of the forest canopy. Despite the heat, Veanne leaned closer to her brother’s familiar presence. Head bowed, her gaze caught a patch of uneven dye on the toe of her left slipper. She sighed. Ankle length skirts and asymmetrical shoes; she looked like a peasant child playing dress up and not a grieving fifteen-year-old girl.

Straggling mourners filled in around the open grave, dug so Raymond would forever rest with his head facing west. Their steps were in measure with the tolling bell rung from town, one strike for each year of the doctor’s life.

“At this time individuals may come forth, if they so wish, and share pleasant reminiscences,” said the high parson, Alister Wraeb, standing next to the mound of unearthed peat and sand.

Veanne felt her brother stir to speak, but she put a hand to his vest.

“Oh, stop shooshing me,” Haeden hissed, twisting away. “Raymond raised us.”

“We were his wards, Hae, not his children,” whispered Veanne. The tips of her ears turned red beneath her bonnet. She felt sick. She needed water, something to soothe the tension in her stomach. “Not blood.”


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

    1. Victory to Fists of Fury

      Wow, this was another difficult choice. I loved both of these Kombatants, but I really enjoyed the voice in Fists of Fury. The detail was crisp and easy to visualize. I immediately empathized with Nica. Awesome job!

      Damned, I love a dark mystery. You did a wonderful job of creating a sense of atmostphere in the query, but I was left with more questions than were answered. What kind of rumors and how do they relate to the MC? What kind of sickness is it? Pirates? I couldn't fully connect with the query for this reason even though I really, really wanted to. The first 250 is beautifully written.

    2. Victory to Damned

      This was so close! Both were so good, but I just fell in love with Damned's writing - beautiful. I love how you introduced the son in the query - I was like, Hells yeah!

      Fists of Fury, I have to gush on this one cause I really loved it too. I would mention the monster a little bit earlier in the query - maybe mention it with the killings that she suspects someone is after her. So basically it just came down to tastes here.

      Wonderful job by both!

    3. This one was really close! Seriously, great job to both of you. Both 250 were amazing. I hate that I can only vote one of you forward.

      It came down to word and voice to me. So...

      Victory to Damned!

      To Fist of Fury, my only advice is not opening with your logline. It made reading the query a bit repetitive for me. You had great voice through your first 250. Good luck to you.

    4. Victory to Fists of Fury

      Fists: You have a very solid query and I was invested from line one. Even though it's a great first line, I agree with SavageBlue that you shouldn't start there. Otherwise, you have a great entry and first page.

      To Damned: I'm not sure how I feel about your entry because I don't have a good sense of your story. Your writing is neat and crisp, but I don't know what to expect from your novel. You mention pirates, illness, systematic destruction, and moral corruption in passing and I feel that those should be more grounded in your query. Ultimately, I'm left with more questions than answers.

    5. Victory to: Damned

      This one came down to taste for me as well. Both were awesome, but the idea of a Victorian pocket on an island was just too tempting! Love it!!!

      Fists of Fury: Cut the first sentence of your query. That's your pitch/logline and you can use it in MANY other places, but not here. It puts us too far forward in the story, and when you jump back in time it throws us off. Other than that, This entry is VERY strong. The little details about her scars and the way she tries to hold her hands so no one sees them? Brilliant. Well done.

      Damned: Your writing is strong, my only question from the query is I don't get what their parentage would have to do with the decaying society. It just feels like too far a connection to leave out of the query, and made me feel confused more than anything. The rest of the query and you 250 are fantastic though, and I had an immediate feel for the place and the funeral. Great job!


    6. Victory to Fists of Fury

      I like that the query for FIGHTING CHANCE has a lot of voice to it. The last paragraph could be rephrased for clarity, though. Why is Nica afraid Braeden is in danger when it seems both police and The Brigade would be after her, not him? Is she instead afraid to place him in danger? And the unmasking of the monster hunting her all along comes a bit out of left field. Perhaps exchange the "all along" part for a motivation? As for the 250, the voice is spot on and strong. The only nitpicks are the tense and time confusion in the "I did everything" paragraph's first three sentences (Nica's not trying to hide them *now* since she's shoving money at the owner) and the redundancy with the first sentence of the 250. Slight tweaks should make those paragraphs sing.

      The query for AND WE ARE ALL DAMNED leaves me a little confused as to the interconnectedness of all the plot points. For example, is the sickness only striking those of the blue-blood gene pool? What is the doc's biological son having to protect the siblings from? He sounds all swashbuckling and swoon-worthy but is this festering Victorian colony truly a dangerous place? If so (and pirates are casually tossed in there at the last), a hint of that earlier might help. A couple of word choices to consider: Can you be an orphan if you have an adoptive father? They can be left orphaned at his death, but before/during? And what's the issue with being defenseless against a *rumor* of disease? As for the 250, I'm also thrown by a couple of word-choice concepts. Veanne seems to be acting a bit meta in being a grieving girl concerned about looking like a child playing dress up and not looking like a grieving girl, which she is except for being concerned that she might be mistaken for not grieving. And it seems the parson doesn't limit his invitation to share memories to blood but invites "individuals," so why is Veanne concerned about Hae saying something?

    7. Victory to Damned

      Fists: Great job with amping up the conflicts as the query progresses. I would ditch the hook at the beginning because it's a bit difficult to follow when the next paragraph jumps us back in time. If you want to keep it, maybe italicize it, so it's obviously the hook and not the start of the plot description. Also, how is Braedon in danger in Nica is the one targeted? Overall, really excellent use of voice in query and 250.

      Damned: I was a bit underwhelmed by the query only because I found it a bit vague- the plot points could be explained better to make this story stand out as well as your writing in the first 250. You definitely sold me there with your descriptions as well as how authentic the dialogue sounded to that time period!

    8. Victory to Damned.

      Damned -- loved the writing a LOT, especially in the 250. Love the tension in the query (although the query can be made more tense-y and exciting, but that might kill the soft, dark mood you have going on).

      Fists: I loved the query and premise but I thought the MC needed a better motivation than passing the test. Maybe hint that she really lieks Braeden (if that's the case?). Also, the 250 kind of lost me until the voicey parts in the end. I'd say to start with the story, but since it's only the 250 it's hard to tell.

  2. Both of these are fantastic but so different! It's hard to compare them!

    Love the idea of Fists of Fury and loved the voice in the 250. My only nitpick is in the query with the very first sentence. On retrospect that sentence is basically your hook, or your one sentence summary of the whole thing, but when I first read it, I was jarred a little bit because the next paragraph didn't flow from that at all. I was like "Wait...a kid's been murdered, why aren't we mentioning that again?" And of course, it does get mentioned several paragraphs later. So for me, that was a little jarring and I had to read the query twice to get it. But other than that, the query is very strong and the first 250 are amazing. Thrillers are not something I'd usually read, but this one sounds very compelling.

    Regarding DAMNED, Dark Fantasy is a genre I absolutely love, so I'm totally with you. Your query is great and I think your 250 does a really good job of establishing Haeden and Veanne--not only their relationship to each other but their relationship to the rest of the colony. Good job. I'd read this.

  3. Fists of Fury - Your query is really strong! Got a clear picture of Nica in my head, can already hear her voice and am interested. But that last part, "And when she unmasks the monster, who's been hunting her all along..." kinda threw me. Someone's been hunting her all along? I feel like something should have alluded to that earlier in the query.

    Damned - Good job! The query works and the opening 250 words puts us in a time and place immediately. I also already get the juxtaposition of the brother and sister's personalities. It reminds me of "The Woman in Black" - and from me that's a compliment.

  4. Fists of Fury: I think your query does exactly what it's supposed to: makes us want to read more. Your first 250 does an excellent job of moving the story forward while giving us some characterization and context.

    Damned: I think I might be in love with your lyrical way of writing. In my opinion it might be harder to catch attention with this style, but when someone does notice, they'll find something special.

    Good luck to you both. This is the first pairing I've read where I don't know which one I like better because they are both so strong in very different ways.

  5. Victory to Damned - Ultraviolet
    Fists of Fury - I really liked the premise of martial arts bully-tamer girl saddled with the unwanted attention of a boy she rescued (but then the twist of how he can also help her). The beginning of the query's 2nd paragraph was too vague. Who was this boy and why did she almost kill him? If she almost killed him, shouldn't she be in a jd facility? I'm assuming the "monster" isn't really a monster, so some clue about his/her identity might be helpful, even if it's that he/she is the least likely suspect. I thought your opening 250 were strong and well-written but I'm left wondering if she actually bought "impossible to find" soy milk or something else?
    Damned - your writing, the atmosphere and the overall premise combined got my vote. I also love starting off with a dead body whenever possible :) My one complaint is the names - too many ea/ae hard to know whether or not I'm pronouncing them correctly or not, this slows me down. Is it Vee-anne? Or said more like French Jeanne (rhymes with Vaughn)? Is it said like Hayden or Hyden? Is it pronounced Wraib or Wreb or Wreeb?

  6. Fists of Fury - I have to side with the other commenters who said that the transition between the first and second paragraphs of your query was a little rough. I thought the bully in the first sentence and the boy in the second sentence were the same person, and was confused by whether he was really murdered or only almost killed. Then I read on and got it. Other than that, good query, and your first 250 words paint an intriguing picture of Nica. I would only note that, had I not read the query, I would have assumed the MC in the first 250 was a boy, because of the scars and gray t-shirt (sexist, I know). You might want to work in a clue to Nica's gender, if you can.

    Damned - Also a good query, but the use of the word "Victorian" in a fantasy context raised some questions for me. Is this supposed to be an isolated colony in our world (and if so, in what century), or is it another world that bares a strong resemblance to a historical Victorian colony? Secondly, are Haeden and Veanne both viewpoint characters? If the story is all in Veanne's POV, you might want to reword the second and fourth paragraphs of the query to make that clear. The first 250 words were great -- very atmospheric. I would only say that, while I liked the way you slipped in Veanne's age, that sentence left me asking what a fifteen year old should wear in her world, if not ankle length skirts and asymmetrical shoes.


    So I'm primarily a spec fic writer and most of the time when I read thriller queries I end up thinking "ok so somebody got murdered and somebody is chasing someone else and there's danger apparently...big whoop." I have a bias, clearly. But this one had me quite interested! I like that Nica has such clear, relatable goals and the idea of her becoming a bodyguard really intrigued me. And I'm actually very curious about who the "monster" is instead of already having an idea. My one quibble is with the logline at the beginning because I don't like them. Haha. It reads very disjointed with the first line of the second paragraph (I expect the second paragraph to logically follow the first, but it doesn't) and so it took me a second to really get into the query. But I guess agents are more used to reading loglines, so use your best judgement.

    The 250 are solid as well. I'm not sure how I feel about the tense in the second paragraph (with "slide them" and "lock them"--maybe they should be past tense?). Other than that you paint a good picture and I'm right there with you.


    The query is interesting. I like the 250 better. Haha. The 250 creates a great atmosphere while introducing the characters and creating intrigue. I love how it gets into Veanne's insecurities about her status already, which is clearly central to the story. The query is functional and it gets the story across (and I make this sound like it's not much of an accomplishment but it DEFINITELY IS, so yay!), but I want it to be more immediate. I want to feel the urgency and desperation of Haeden and Veanne's conflict more.

    I would read both of these books. Great job guys...and once again, judges, I do not envy you. At my time of posting this, it's a really close match...I'm gonna be watching this one!!

  8. I feel like I'm being really nitpicky because all these entries are so good.

    FoF: I agree with some of the others that I'd probably ditch that first line because then your explain that first line in your query, and it kind of threw me off. Also, I didn't quite get why Braeden would be in danger toward the end of the query if its The Brigade people who are being targeted. But overall, I think it's an intriguing storyline with a cool MC. I really liked how she hides her hands and her scars in the 250, and I like how you put in little details so I could picture the setting without bogging down the story. Good job!

    Damned: I really enjoy the atmosphere of your piece and love how the first page made me want to read more. Loved your details. In your query, the son romancing your 15yo MC comes off as a little icky to me, but that's probably because I don't get a good sense of whether that's normal in their community, or of how old the son is. I also wished the stakes were a little less vague in the query. Also a really good job!