Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Kicking Ash versus Avenging Angels

Entry Nickname: Kicking Ash
Title: Earth to Earth
Word count: 62,500
Genre: NA Fantasy


“It’s done.”

Part of 23-year-old Hailey Crane unraveled when, Ash, her boyfriend, whispered those words with his dying breath. Now, years later, she’s hanging on by a thread. And that thread is just about to break.

Desperate to escape her status as the “town tragedy,” Hailey moves to a new town. For a new start. But just as Hailey is learning to move on, she starts seeing things.

No, not things. Him. Ash. Everywhere she turns, she could swear she catches a glimpse of him—that worn leather jacket, the hair that always fell into his eyes…

It’s impossible. A figment of her imagination. A mysterious doppelganger. Hailey runs through every possibly explanation. But she’s convinced he’s real. By the time she meets him face to face and figures out the truth behind his miraculous resurrection, she’s thrown herself into a dangerous game of cat and mouse that could kill them both. For good this time.

First 250 Words:

The moment glass shatters is actually quite beautiful. The way the center splinters and spiders out before bursting into nothing. Not many people really get the chance to appreciate the magnificence because everything happens instantly. So quick that you blink and it’s already done. But when you’re convinced you’re about to die, the world tends to move in slow motion.

I don’t see whatever makes him jerk the wheel violently to the left. The smell of burnt rubber assaults my nose as my body slams hard against the restraint of the seat belt. The car spins and rockets towards the guardrail. As we plow through the hunk of metal, the car tilts as gravity jerks me to the earth.

I gaze over to the driver’s side, expecting to hear my boyfriend scream. A cry. Something. There is nothing but silence as he stares back at me, sporting a perfectly calm expression. No panic, no fear.

My head snaps forward as we hit the ground and roll. Once. Twice. The third time the glass of the windshield shatters, starting as the tiniest crack before imploding into a thousand tiny particles.

I hold my arms up to shield myself a moment before the impact knocks the wind out of me, leaving me gasping for air. I’m slipping away, surrendering to the darkness. Dying. My body goes limp, numb to shield itself from the agony. A strange haze clouds my eyesight, but I’m convinced a dark shadow swoops down in front of me.


Entry Nickname: Avenging Angel
Title: Angel in the City
Word Count: 74,000
Genre: NA Urban Fantasy


Twenty-two-year-old Jamie knows how to navigate the streets of New York well enough to stay out of trouble. He knows how to use his fists just in case it comes looking for him. But all of his self-preservation skills don’t tell him how to deal with Sigrun, a girl who managed to save him from the brink of death after a drunken brawl.

She’s polite, coldly beautiful, even a little charming, and she gives Jamie the kind of attention he’s never had . . . until he discovers her secret. Sigrun is a Valkrie, and not just in her unusually tall, blonde, brawny figure or her Nordic avenging-angel looks. Sigrun is an honest-to-god Valkrie, attempting to battle the darkness that is slowly enveloping New York City . . . and Jamie is now her ‘Knight-in-Training.

First 250:

Life is a funny thing. One second you’re on top; the next, you’re down so low Satan’s filing a restraining order.

Philosophers, scientists, comedians, and biblio-nerds everywhere have tried to append a rightful definition to this concept called “life” to no avail. You could look in the dictionary or search Google and manage to find answers less than satisfactory. However there has always been one universal truth – something that everyone from every culture and species can agree to: life is freaking hard.

Sadly, there’s always a point in someone’s life where they start to realize this. But we keep living, because that’s just how it is. Even if it means living aimlessly for whoever knows how long. That was probably the best answer to how I found myself sitting in a bustling diner, the thick and oily atmosphere threatening to choke me, with a cold cup of coffee in my hands in the middle of the afternoon.

After a few hours I finally decided to get up and moving. I stepped out into the bright, noisy streets of New York City and instinctively coughed a few times to keep the noxious fumes brought about by the afternoon rush hour at bay. After checking my bearings, I turned and headed south toward my office, which sat prominently at the corner of 51st and Park.

My mind was on other things as usual as I crossed the edge of the notorious ‘dark alley’. There are so many of them in New York that I didn’t think twice about it, but as an aficionado of horror pop culture it should have sent a red flag . . . this is just about the point in the story, where the darkness comes roaring out.


  1. Both the entries have excellent concepts and query letters. But for both, While I'm getting a good sense of the concept, I'd like a little more hint of the plot. In Earth to Earth, I get that her dead boyfriend is back, but "the dangerous game of cat and mouse" is so vague I don't have a glimmer of what happens. Similarly for Angel in the City, I get that he's a knight in training, but I'd like a hint as to where the story is going.

  2. These are both great, both concepts that I'd totally want to read. Earth to Earth is grabbing me more simply because it starts with intense action, but I also agree with the first comment, that I want more of a sense of the plot in that first page. Good luck to you both!

  3. These both have really nice openings for the 250s and are well written. I wish both queries had a little more meat. In Avenging Angel, I don't really understand what's at stake or what being a knight in training entails. In Earth to Earth, I like the query, but it feels more like back-cover copy than a query. Like Eric, I wish "cat and mouse" was a little more defined. This one seems like a really hard one to judge. Good luck to you both!

  4. Both stories are well written with great opening lines. Earth to Earth: though well written, the query is vague and I'm not sure what the stakes are. Angel in the City: the query was also a little vague, but I really love the humor in the 250 opening line. Good luck to you both!

  5. Victory - Kicking Ash - Ultraviolet
    These were both SUPER-DUPER! I'd love to be able to send both of you on, but alas I can't.
    Both suffered from some query-vagueness w/regard to stakes. I really liked Avenging Angel's premise, probably a bit more than Kicking Ash's premise. The thing that pushed Kicking Ash ahead for me was the lovely prose and powerful imagery. I really felt as though I was in the car. Avenging Angel's opening was a tiny bit less engaging and a wee bit more rambly. I'm not a huge fan of starting off with philosophical observations on life.

  6. I really liked both of these queries and 250s and I would definitely read each book! I can only give nitpicky suggestions for each of you, so here goes.

    Kicking Ash - (clever title) I loved the query opening "It's done." but then stumbled between next four sentences. I believe the thread about to break is her motivation for leaving, but had to re-read the passages. Excellent sensory descriptions in the 250. Good luck!

    Avenging Angel - Jamie can use his fists if trouble comes for him but in same paragraph Sagrin saves him from death in a drunken brawl. Hmm. Also consider changing attempting to battle to battling in second paragraph of QL. Similarly, consider changing threatening to choke me to choking me in third paragraph of 250. I definitely wanted to keep reading about the darkness roaring out. Good luck!

  7. Kicking Ash - What if instead of "And that thread is about to break" you said "A thread that's about to break."? Might add a little more umph to the line? I found the 2nd paragraph of your query to be a little clunky. New/town/move are all used twice in short succession. And as others have mentioned, the mystery of it all def has me intrigued, its great, and I want to read more but the query doesn't really give me a sense of the conflict. What is the antagonizing force?

    Cool first 250. Starts right in the action and I like that. Just an FYI though, windshield's have an adhesive layer built into them, so they'll crack and shattered, but the safety glass shards all stay stuck together. They wouldn't sprinkle all over a person. It's incredibly hard to bust out a windshield, even in a rollover accident. The side windows are a different story. They shatter and fall really easily. Maybe instead of the windshield her head hit the side window?

    Avenging Angel - Havent seen Valkries before in my travels. Def a unique premise as far as I'm concerned. Your query gives me a good sense of what sort of person your MC is at the beginning of the story. I'd like to maybe know a little bit more about the stakes. The darkness seems ominous, but will it only kill valkyries? Will it destroy the world? What hangs in the balance? Also, you're missing an apostrophe at the end of the query.

    I know the first 250 words are only the first page, and its tough to really get a sense of things from that, but I feel you could maybe hone your prose a bit. Right now it kinda reads a little "I did this. And then I did this. And then I did this." I like your voice though, it's has a John Dies at the End quality to the storytelling. Nice work.

  8. Kicking Ash: I liked the query a lot, but I agree with other comments that I wanted to know more about the plot. Is her meeting resurrected-Ash the first plot point, or does it come later? I ask, because if her "journey" is more about finding out if he is real, I might even leave that part out. If not, then you need it, but I think you need to hint a little more at his resurrection. Right now I don't know if he faked his own death or if it was supernatural (though guessing the later from the genre), and if it is supernatural, I want a little more. Did a group resurrect him? Is he a special kind of creature that has nine lives? That said, you definitely peaked my interest!

    The first 250 are beautiful and well done and I love the image of the spiderweb/glass breaking. However, I think you might want to consider pushing this section till a little later in the first chapter. I don't know these characters yet so I don't care that much that they are in an accident, despite your heart-wrenching descriptions. I want to know them, at least a little (maybe 1,000 words worth), so that when this happens it can be very powerful.

    Angel: You have some more room in your query and I would use it. I want to know more about the characters and what specifically is at stake. But what you have does sound enticing :)

    I love the line about Satan filing a restraining order and the last line of the 250 is great, but it does seem like a lot of internal monologue for an opening. Not that rules aren't meant to be broken, but something to consider.

    Overall, great stuff. Good luck to you both! :)

  9. Both queries are tight and well-written. I suspect they've seen a lot of critiques before.

    The opening pages are well-written, too. "Kicking Ash" is basically a car accident in slow motion, but there's a touch of odd in the driver's expression. Nobody looks like that who thinks they're about to die.

    The voice of the MC in "Avenging Angel" doesn't seem consistent with a 22-year-old. It's quite possible there's a unique backstory to this, a smart genius kid who for some reason blew off a Rhodes scholarship to become a private detective (or whatever he is--he has an office). Otherwise few 22-year olds talk like that. It's a common mistake for a first-person story to have a voice or vocabulary inconsistent with the MC, and I've caught myself doing it too.

    The first "Satan" line is great, and I'd be interested in seeing how you tweaked the Valkyrie legends.

  10. Kicking Ash - I too would like to see a few more specifics in your query. Your statement that Hailey is the "town tragedy" would have more meaning if we knew that she survived the crash that killed her boyfriend. I'd like to know, too, how Ash's resurrection affects her life, apart from the obvious shock of seeing him.

    The first 250 words were well done, but I did think the prose could be a little tighter, especially in the second paragraph. You have several sentences with multiple "as's." The action would probably be sharper if those were broken up.

    Avenging Angel - Same comment on your query. The set-up is clear, but what happens to Jamie after he joins the Valkrie? BTW, I've never seen that spelling before. Was there a reason you didn't use "Valkyrie?"

    On your first 250, the story didn't really start for me until the fourth paragraph. I liked the opening line, but it wasn't clear how it connected to the rest. If you cut the philosophical musing and show us a little more of Jamie's life before trouble strikes, it might make clearer how the fall applies to him.

  11. Victory to Kicking Ash.

    Honestly, this one was a tough match up for me. Both queries would be helped with clarifying the stakes more. The plot lines are a bit vague. But, the words... Wow, guys. Both are really great. I ultimately chose Kicking Ash because of the description of the glass breaking. I couldn't get it out of my mind. With some query tweaking, I have no doubts that both of these would be plucked out of an agent's slush pile.

  12. Kicking Ash- I really felt propelled through your query, hanging on your words. So bravo! And you definitely start off with action and cool imagery so I dig that too. Nit-picky: second paragraph of the query, I generally don't like things like that in quotes. And though the choppiness works in a lot of places for your query, this seemed a bit much. Like "for a new start" is sort of an awkward fragment (and I love fragments.)

    Angel-I agree that I want to "meet" the MC first and then get to the musing. It sort of reads like a voice over at the beginning of a movie. (you know, where the main character is lying in a field, staring at the sky, and the camera circles around them while zooming in?) And I am really REALLY biased against voice over. (Probably obvious). That said: I loved some of your turns of phrase like about Satan and a restraining order. that's funny! And I get the feeling that this character does like to do some meta commenting, which is cool, but like I said, maybe inject some of your MC earlier.

    Good luck guys! Would definitely want to read more of both!

  13. Victory to Kicking Ash

    Avenging Angel, your query was better executed than Kicking Ash's query, but her pages hooked more. And the first page always wins over the query. I think you need to start your story in a better place. I wouldn't start off by telling your reader about life and how hard it is. It sounds like a lesson or lecture. Show your reader how hard life is in the world instead of telling them. Nothing really happens in that first 250 words, and you need to have something happen to catch an agent or publisher's attention. Hook them right off.

    Kicking Ash, your query needs help. Please don't start out with a quote. Remove it. You don't need it, and you'll turn an agent off by it. This doesn't even resemble a query letter. It's more like a narration in a story. A query letter is a business letter to an agent. You should have the plot, stakes, conflict, and what your character has to do to resolve it without giving away the ending. It should entice the agent into reading more. Read back copy of book covers to get an idea of how to make your query exciting. Great first 250 words, though!

    Wonderful job, you guys!

  14. Normally I steer clears of angel stories, but these both sounded interesting. The queries were great and the writing, professional. Since I never read the genre, I'll refrain from critiquing.

  15. Victory to Avenging Angels

    Both queries need a dose of adrenaline. They aren't as powerful as some of the other queries in the tournament. But your pages!!! Good grief. Both of you have a spectacular first page. Kicking Ash, your description of glass shattering is grand. Well done.

    Avenging Angels, the last line of your first page is what tipped the balance in your favor. I LOVED it. Great job, both of you.

  16. Victory to Kicking Ash

    Wow! You're both awesome. What more can I say that hasn't already been said by the other judges. I loved both of these, but I was mesmerized by Ash's first 250. You're both amazing. Good luck.

  17. Victory to: Kicking Ash

    Both of these were so amazing, and Fantasy is my THING so it was very hard to choose. Ultimately I went with Ash because the premise just sounds incredible.

    Kicking Ash: I LOVE Fantasy, and this sounds amazing. (You have a typo toward the end of your query, possibly should be possible). BUT after reading your 250, I suggest you label this URBAN fantasy. Just Fantasy makes me think horses and carts and medieval times (which your use of the word "town" only solidified). I did not get any sense of setting or era from the query, which would be good to add. And Storm's right, your query needs a bit of work. I'd love to get a better sense of plot, what happens AFTER they finally meet again? Why is it so dangerous? That felt vague. But OH MY FIRST LINE. I love your first line. And your 250. Love them.

    Angel: Awesome premise, query is great. Love your writing, though you use a lot of -ly adverbs that weren't necessary. I would like to see a bit more action in your first 250, but to the contrary, the place where it ended was smashing. Definitely had me wanting to read on! Fantastic!

  18. Victory to Kicking Ash

    The query for EARTH TO EARTH could probably use one more sentence at the end to clarify the stakes so the game of cat and mouse doesn't come from out of left field. Otherwise, discounting little grammar tweaks, great job! As for the 250, the only place I faltered was at "as gravity jerks me to the earth." Seems that should be "us." Otherwise, beautiful!

    We get set-up only in the AVENGING ANGEL query. Two characters and a setting. What are the stakes? What's the story? As for the 250, the beginning reads like it wants to be litfic, although the writing style isn't quite there. So it's a bit awkward tacked onto a UF story. Introspection by a first-person narrator is fine, but this is intrusion as the MC seems to be addressing the reader rather than the story simply unfolding through his eyes. Then the last line also seems to be the narrator recognizing the presence of a reader. That pulls me as a reader out of the story. I don't want to be recognized when I'm reading a UF. I want to immerse myself in the MC's life, not the other way around.

  19. Victory to Kicking Ash.

    Kicking—First off, hilarious nickname. I really like the flow of the query. It’s very tense and suspenseful and quick. I love the suspense a lot in the query. ‘Possibly’ should be ‘possible,’ though I think you can cut that entire sentence. You already showed us it before; that is just telling. I would ask for more detail on how she’d be in trouble, but… I don’t know. I kind of like this. And holy crap. That 250. I MEAN REALLY? That’s so awesome. Your writing is so so beautiful and I LOVEE how you really evoked the feeling of show motion. I could seriously feel it!

    Avenging—I like the quickness of the query, however the ending falls flat for me since we don’t know what ‘Night-in-Training’ means. I loved the first two lines of the 250. That’s hilarious. I had to think about it for a half-second, and then I smiled (which, honestly, is pretty good, considering I’m staring at a computer screen). I also really love your writing style. It’s addicting to read, although it borders into a lot of telling in the third paragraph (good thing it ends quickly after that). It’d be good to give some hints as to why he/she is sitting down in the diner in the first place. Get us connected to the character. I kind of really liked the philosophizing in the 250, unlike many judges, but that’s a personal thing for me (and probably for them as well). Find what works best for you.

  20. Sorry I'm late (hope I'm not too late! ^^;; )

    For Kicking Ash I agree that opening with a quote is awkward. It stopped me dead for second and I don't think that's a good thing. Although I think the quote could easily be integrated elsewhere in the query. Such as:

    Part of 23-year-old Hailey Crane unraveled when her boyfriend, Ash, whispered 'it is done' with his dying breath.

    This is probably not a good sentence, but just an example of how you can make the point without it being as awkward. I would also agree that there should be a tad more hint about the plot in the query. There's a lot of focus on the fact that she's haunted by her dead(?) boyfriend but not really how it relates to anything bigger.

    Phenomenal opening paragraph! I will admit that I sometimes crack open a book to read the first paragraph when deciding if I want to get it and this would probably be instant sale. Beautifully, beautifully done!

    Avenging Angel, nice concise query, I like it! I would agree there could be a tad bit more detail about why this Valkyrie needs a knight-in-training. It's certainly an interesting concept!

    Again I love the opening. It pulls you right in and gets you into the character's head. But by the third paragraph this one starts to lose me. It sort of feels like the main character is rambling. And the paragraph about him sitting in the dinner for a few hours is confusing. Why start the story in a place where nothing is happening? Personally, I would jump straight from the character's musings (either after the first or second paragraph) to whatever darkness is hinted at roaring out; in other words skip straight to the darkness (I assume this is going to be the fight mentioned in the query) instead of hinting at it. That will draw the reader in faster and there will be time for more ruminations later.

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

  21. Both of these are excellent and are intriguing.

    Kicking Ash... I would not start your query with dialogue... BUT the rest is strong. Your 250 was nothing sheer of brilliant. Your voice and way with words sucked me right into the prose.

    AA... LOVED your query! But, the 250 was more telling and the excitement I felt in the query got a bit lost. If you fine tune your first page and make it more active, you will succeed in keeping your audience.

    I did enjoy both VERY MUCH... GOOD LUCK!

  22. Kicking Ash here!

    First of all, I just wanted to say thank you so much for all of the comments. Sometimes all the research in the world cannot even come close to real feedback. I always worried about making sure to be vague enough to not give it all away, but I never considered that I was being too vague so that is so very helpful to know! I've practically revamped my entire query to give a little more meat and in the process I've realized that I need to focus more on the main conflict of the story instead of the "inciting" incident. Thank you all again, it's most appreciated!

    Avenging Angels: Congratulations on such a fantastic entry! I enjoyed it so much and would definitely read this. It's dark, edgy, and a little out there, which is what I love most in books. One of my biggest suggestions is to look a little at your voice in your 250. Honestly, if I didn't know it was a guy, I would have thought your MC was a girl. 250 words is a very small amount to get a good idea of a character, so it's definitely possible that it could have become more solidified with some more introduction to the character, but that was just my initial reaction was that it didn't sound like a younger-mid 20s guy. I would like to know a little more about what a "Knight in Training" means in your query as well, so it might be beneficial to work some type of description into it, even if it's just a hint.

    Best of luck to you and congratulations again!

  23. Kicking Ash: I feel like the personality of your characters got shorted in your query. I really wanted to learn something about them. Instead all we learned is the plot (excellently explained by the way). It makes Hailey seem one-dimensional. Is that all there is to her, a dead boyfriend? I do think you start in exactly the right place with your first 250.

    Avenging Angel: I’m a little at a loss for your main characters motivation. What does Jamie want? What will he lose if he doesn’t get it? Though I enjoyed the humor in your opening page, it does have a lecturing quality about it.

    I’m going to have to vote for the one I’d most like to read. This one was so close I looked to personal taste. Victory to Avenging Angel!