Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Misfit Apocalypse versus The Space Mafia

Entry Nickname: Misfit Apocalypse
Title: The Last Road Home
Word count: 60,000
Genre: YA Science Fiction


Josh is sixteen, haunted, labeled as autistic. Home schooled all his life, he has emerged a little from his shell thanks to the teacher who has restarted the tiny school in his rural Kentucky town. During the school’s graduation ceremony, the world goes dark; when the light returns the fields beyond the school have turned to forest.

Maria is fifteen, an orphan who has grown up in boarding schools. She is flying back to her school with two nuns and two younger girls when the world outside the plane goes dark. When the light returns, all signs of civilization are gone, and the plane is forced to land in the Ohio River. Continued distress calls find only one response, from the small Kentucky town where only the school remains.

Now Josh must try a dangerous rescue mission across a world where humanity died out in the 1940’s, while Maria must keep her small group of survivors alive despite injuries both physical and emotional. Neither has ever been a leader, but the end of the world might just be the best thing that ever happened to them…if they can survive long enough to find each other.

Facing wild dogs, a flooded river, hunger and more, the two groups will learn about the best and worst of the human spirit. Along the way they will find glimmers of answers, not just to the events that brought them together, but also to themselves.

First 250 words:

You don’t belong here. You shouldn't exist. 

The rain was falling heavily, streaking down the car windows. Josh stared at his reflection in the glass, caramel skin and frowning brown eyes. His short cropped hair had improbably lightened to blond from the summer sun. Beyond his reflection he could just make out the tobacco fields, dark green with a fuzz of white flowers at the top.

You don’t belong here. You shouldn't exist. Josh ignored the voices almost as easily as he ignored his father, who had given up attempts at conversation to concentrate on driving. The dirt road was filled with potholes left over from the spring rains, and the current storm was only adding to them.

The voices had been there long before he understood speech. It had been years before he understood that they were for him alone, that no one else heard them. He didn't think they’d actually been using words back then…but it didn't matter. The message had always been the same.

The Subaru hit a pothole hard, shaking the car, and Josh’s father stretched out a hand in front of him, as though his seat belt wasn't already better protection. The silence stretched for a moment, then his Dad tried again.

“Josh, I’m very proud of the work you've done in Ms. Moore’s school. I’m glad that you've--” There was a pause, and Josh filled it in mentally—actually done something, anything, with other human beings—then his father went on. “That you've found something you enjoy. Teaching is a wonderful vocation.”


Entry nickname: TheSpaceMafia
Title: Written in the Stars
Word Count: 85,000
Genre: YA Science Fiction


When Bo was eleven years old, his brother got abducted by aliens. Five years later, Bo meets the same fate, because apparently bad luck is genetic.

The aliens don’t have green skin and laser eyes like the rumors said. Instead, they’re engineered superhumans with advanced physiologies, and they got that way by capturing humans and using them as lab rats. Bo’s personal alien captor is the creepiest of all. He looks—and acts—like a teenage boy, even though deep down, he must be a monster like the rest of them.

But he’s not a very careful monster. He accidentally leaves a loaded syringe in the cell, and Bo seizes the opportunity. He uses it as a weapon to persuade the alien to bust him out and take him to safety. They’ve barely reached the edge of the city when they both get kidnapped by the human mafia, an elaborate underground organization that brought their own spaceships and guns to the alien planet in search of revenge. They’ll provide a free ride back to Earth in exchange for help with their latest mission: to devastate the aliens’ biggest lab with a massive human breakout.

Revenge on the aliens is everything that Bo ever wanted. But nobody knows that his travel companion is actually the enemy. Or that they're starting to get a little too fond of each other.

First 250 words:

I'm almost out the door when she catches me.

“Bo, where are you going?”

I stop in the middle of the living room and turn around. My mom's standing in the hallway giving me the sad look again. Her eyes fall on the laundry basket in my hands.

“You don't have to do that,” she says.

That's not the point. The point is that I get a little crazy being in my room all the time, mostly because everyone else in this apartment is so loud I can hear them through the walls. And it smells like fish again, and I hate fish and I swear they cook it just to piss me off. When you can't go outside at night, the laundry room's pretty much your only option for escape.

“I don't mind,” I say.

“Your son makes me sad,” Grandma Cheng says from the couch without taking her eyes off her show. “Why doesn't he make friends? It's not good for them to be alone at this age.”

She's not actually my grandma. We share the apartment with two other families. But if she was, she'd probably still be a bitch to me. She always talks in Cantonese because she thinks I can't understand it, when really I just pretend like I don't so she'll insult me to my face instead of behind my back.

My mom acts like she didn't hear it. She pushes her hair out of her face and sighs like she always does when realizes all over again that she spawned the most pathetic creature on this side of Chicago.


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

    1. Victory to Misfit Apocalypse. I loved the prose and the use of the voice in his head. I like that you didn't set it off as different with italics. It really showed that it was always there and part of his life. Your query intrigued me.

      To TheSpaceMafia. Your first 250 words were great. Don't change them. It really gave me a sense of maturity with your character. However, this sense clashed with the query. The query almost seemed not serious enough in comparison to your first 250. Good luck to you!

    2. Victory to Misfit Apocalypse

      This was a tough choice because I adore both of these. Will fight a crowd to get a copy of these on their release day. I went with Misfit because I'm drawn really drawn to this non-traditional main character and want to learn his story.

      Good luck. You're both awesome!

    3. Victory to TheSpaceMafia

      I sat on this one for a couple days trying to decide. But ultimately I went with TheSpaceMafia because I felt more connected to Bo in the first 250 pages. Great job from both, and I don't have much to say about them except to Misfit Apocalypse, I would just show us what he sees out the window and not how he looks. When I look through a window, I don't pay attention to the color of my hair, skin, or eye color. I know what I look like, so I pretty much look passed me and at the wonders outside the window. Just wanted to let you know you should delete that and just show us the setting.

    4. Victory to TheSpaceMafia

      Misfit: My first thought is that 60K is too short for a dual POV scifi of the caliber you've described in your query. I LOVE the concept though, so I hope I'm wrong. 250 - I love that first line, but starting with a mirror-description is gonna turn off a LOT of agents. And honestly, I wasn't too into it until the dialogue started. His father's compassion hit me hard. Maybe bring that in sooner and sprinkle in the stuff about voices throughout?

      Space: "Apparently bad luck is genetic." <-- FANTASTIC. As is the whole rest of your query. Very clear and to the point, and I love your last line. 250 - your writing is smooth, and I love it.

      Great job both of you!

    5. Victory to TheSpaceMafia

      This one was really tough for me. I love the premise of Misfit Apocalypse more than TheSpaceMafia (understand, this is a personal preference), but I feel the latter's writing is crisper and voice clearer.

      Misfit Apocalypse, you have a lot of unneeded "has'and 'had' (could decide on the plural form. Hads hases?) and ing words. For instance, the first sentence in your second paragraph would be much stronger written, The rain fell heavily, streaking down the car windows.

    6. Victory to Misfit.

      Misfit -- I love the premise and I love the transition when you say suddenly everything goes black. That is AWESOME. I love the voice and the mood of the query and 250 and I can totally tell something great will happen later on. However, I wish more happened in the 250.

      Space -- I love your writing a LOT (more than Misfit's), but I just can't fall in love with the story as much as I want to. It might be a preference thing, but I feel Misfit's premise is a lot stronger (and the mood and voice fit AMAZINGLY with his genre).

    7. Victory to SPACE MAFIA

      Misfits: Really cool premise! I was confused about the timeline- did the initial blackout occur in the 1940s and time stood still for the misfits who survived? Which doesn't match up with Dad driving a Subaru in the first 250, but otherwise, I'm a bit confused at the order of events. Also, I'm worried the last two sentences might sound a bit too didactic. In the first 250, the writing is good but the cliche of having a character describe himself by looking in a reflective surface might cause some agents to stop reading, just to warn you.

      Space- love the voice in the query- especially the first paragraph. Was confused by the "getting too fond of each other"- as friends? Or more than friends? If this is LGBT, that's extra cool and you should list this in the description.

    8. Victory to Misfit Apocalypse

      I think it's telling that the query for THE LAST ROAD HOME is compelling enough that readers are only a little concerned that Josh must go on a rescue mission (?) where humanity died out in the 1940's (?). That's so glaring ... and yet the rest pulled me along enough I can somehow overlook this as I move on to the 250. Knowing the POV MC was labeled autistic, I was hoping for a strong and honest portrayal of how it manifested. The first 250 delivers that, as well as a father sensitive to his son's well-being. I'd read on.

      I had to re-read the query for WRITTEN IN THE STARS a couple of times. The first time I made the aliens metaphorical ones the way the query introduces them to us. Then the spaceships and alien planet made it clear that what I thought was metaphor in the beginning wasn't. So then I had to wonder if this was present or future or alternate Earth, and that wasn't answered in the query. And then I was left with the question of the relationship between Bo and the alien and not whether Bo will ever make it home again - or even if he wants to. The voice in the 250 is excellent. I'd read on from the 250 alone, but this kombatant got edged out because I have to weigh the query in as well.

  2. These are both very strong. I have no idea which way this one will go!

    Misfit Apocalypse: The only part I tripped on in your query was the part about humanity dying out in the 1940's. Since this is sci-fi, I automatically assume this is literal, but on rereading maybe you're being figurative? Because that part gave me pause and isn't as clear, it might be something you want to address. Other than that? Wow. Awesome pitch and 250.

    SpaceMafia: I really love yours as well. I want to read both of these stories! The voice in your 250 is great, and I think it comes out in your query as well (so hard to do). The last line in the query makes me think this might have LGBT undertones(or overtones?) which makes me more interested. BUT if this isn't what you're getting at, perhaps consider rewording the last sentence away from being "too fond of each other" to something more straightforward like "they're becoming buddies" or something.

    Good luck to both!

  3. I have nothing to contribute because these are both outstanding. Like I would buy both of these books!

    If I'm going to be super super super nit picky, I would say the last paragraph of the Misfit Apocalypse query has some vague/generic wording. I think you can amp it up and make it more specific to the characters.

    I agree with Jeannette about SpaceMafia that if LGBT is not what you're going for, you'll want to reword. If it is what you're going for, good job.

    And now I want to read both of these books! Hurry up and get published, you guys! :)

    Good luck!

  4. Misfit Apocalypse: I like your premise a lot. In your 250, I think the repetition works well, and I'm really interested in Josh and the voices. My one piece of criticism would be that I don't love the weather and describing his reflection bit in the early lines, just because I've seen that a lot. Also I had the same question as Jeannette: is this alternate history?

    Space Mafia: Also a great premise. I like the humor in your query. I also liked the voice in your 250, especially the part about the grandmother and Cantonese. You managed to get a lot of back story and details about the MC and the setting in a small space.

  5. These are both pretty amazing! Great voice, great premise...great match up, but a super difficult choice someone is going to have to make!

    I agree with both Jeannette and Mandy's comments and I've honestly got nothing critique-wise to add :)

    Good luck and like the others I sooooo want to read these!!!

  6. Dear Space Mafia--this is Misfit Apocalypse. Love your premise, love your pitch! I join the chorus interested to know if your protagonist is romantically interested in his enemy/ally vs. a "bromance". Hope to get the chance to read the whole novel in the future!

  7. Victory to - Misfit Apocalypse - Ultraviolet
    Space Mafia - there was lots to like about your concept and your characters. I liked the humor, the diversity, the captor/captive relationship evolution. What made me hesitate was more the fact that some of the ideas seemed not quite new and fresh enough (abducted humans being used as lab rats, aliens masquerading as humans). I also wondered why the super-human alien couldn't find a way to defeat a regular human armed with only a syringe. There may be a good answer, but it made things seem overly convenient/easy.
    Misfit - Did people drive Subarus in the US in the 1940s or did I misunderstand something? Anyway, I was drawn to the notion of two separate bands of survivors led by unlikely leaders eventually meeting up. I thought your 250 was well-written but there were some things in your query that troubled me a little. What is he haunted by? The voices? If so that needs to be clarified. I didn't like the last line, how can someone find a glimmer of an answer to him/herself? That doesn't make sense. What is the question? But overall, great job.

  8. Both works sound intriguing, so good work with that.

    Misfit Apocalypse - your query confused me a little with the 1940's line. If it's really important I'd clarify it, otherwise I'd take out the reference to the 1940's. I like your first line of your 250 and it gives us some great info with him hearing voices his entire life. But I'd agree the references to the weather and how he looks are generic and don't add to the scene.

    Space Mafia- it seems obvious to me that the two boys are going to fall in love, which is an interesting twist on the usual sci-fi premise. I think you could tighten your query a little. The first three paragraphs you spend a lot of time explaining about the syringe and how he breaks out-- you can condense that and mention how the other guy let's his guard down, allowing him to take him hostage and escape. Also- they both get kidnapped- you can remove the both. And you talk about how the mafia group brought their own spaceships and guns, we don't need to know that, I think you can just take that out and say they'll give them a ride back home if they help them. Plus the brother being kidnapped stuck with me because there's no mention in the query that he ever thinks about breaking him out. This might not be a big deal or bother other people but it nagged at me. What about the brother?

    I thought your first 250 words did a good job of setting us his situation and who he is.

  9. Dear Misfit and Mafia,
    I am so so very grateful that I'm not a judge. It's hard enough critiquing these perfectly awesome pitches without any authority. :-) However...

    This looks like a great dystopian. I think you can tighten up the connection between the two MCs by: Continued distress calls find only one response, from the small Kentucky town where only (Josh's)school remains. Also in the query, I got really confused by the line about the 1940s. Did he start in the 40s and time travel forward, or are we in the now and he traveled backward, or back and forth or what?

    In your 250 just two small things -- I'd take out the word improbably. I get what you're trying to do, but it weighs the sentence down and makes it awkward. Maybe just a rephrase. The other word that threw me was haunted. I couldn't (and still can't) figure out if you mean it emotionally or literally.

    This sounds like it will be an action packed book -- Lost meets Lightning (remember that film...I think that was what it was called). Nice work.

    Your query is great and I love the humor that comes through. I want to get to know Bo better. Weirdly, my advice (or confusion) with yours is the same as with Misfit. I didn't realize we were in the future until I got to the line about the Mafia having their own spaceships etc. Then I had to re-read to see if I'd missed anything by not realizing that. Easy fix, though. Just add, It's the year XYZ (or something) at the front end.

    Your 250 - Loved the character and the tone. His frustration comes through loud and clear. I'm not sure where it's going yet, but I already want things to come right for him, so that can't be bad! Take out "on" from "on this side of Chicago". Yeah it's better sentence structure, but I think, most pathetic creature this side of Chicago is more likely. Minor stuff. Great job. It sounds like a fun book.

  10. Wow, I would love to read both stories. I'm extremely glad I'm not a judge.

    Misfit--my only suggestion is that finding out at the end of the query that the story is set in the 1940's (I think) threw me a little. You might want to mention that earlier. The 250 were very well done.

    Mafia--the 250 reads much tighter and cleaner than the query. I think others have mentioned that.

    Good luck to you both!

  11. Wow. I would not want to judge these. They are both so utterly unique, and I loved the voice in both. I will echo what others are saying, Mafia, about the LGBT. After I read that line, I went back to check your genre to see if it was LGBT. If it is, great. If it's not, just want you to be aware that it seems to read that way for all of us.

    Misfit, your MCs voice is excellent. It completely captures how Josh's brain works differently from others, that he can understand his dad completely and even infer what's unsaid, but he can't necessarily articulate it to him.

    Great job, both of you. These are wonderful!

  12. These both sound great - I'm joining the chorus of posters who are grateful they aren't judges. I'd have no idea which way to go. All I can really say is I want to read more.

    Misfit - your premise is fascinating. I hate to sound like I'm just cheerleading, but I couldn't really think of anything to criticize. Great job with Josh's voice. I'm curious about the other MC and how her voice comes across. Loved the detail about Josh's dad throwing out his arm.

    Space Mafia - I got an immediate feel for your MC. I'm fascinated about why he knows Cantonese. Why he shares an apartment with two other families. And while I love fish, it does stink. Totally understand why he'd rather do laundry.

  13. Misfit Apocalypse - Your story sounds interesting! Your 1940's line in the query confused me. Is that when the story takes place or does it refer to something in the past? The voice sounds good as well, although you want to avoid using a mirror/reflection to describe your MC's appearance.

    Space Mafia - This sounds like an interesting Sci-Fi adventure! Your query is tight as well as your 250! I love the voice of Bo!

    Good luck to you both!

  14. I really like both of these (I know, that isn't very helpful). The only things I have to say are going to sound really nitpicky, so if they don't make sense, throw them out.

    Misfit: I love that you're tackling a story with someone who's autistic but not making it an "austistic" story. I think we need some more of those. Though I did find your first 250 sort of jarring. I got the impression that this is a slow, build that we should take more like the tide coming in (with occasional waves) and less like the steady filling of a bathtub that start many novels.

    Space Mafia: I haven't read the other comments, so I don't know for sure, but I feel like your voice in the query is a little MG sounding. I wouldn't expect those sorts of shenanigans from a YA novel, but your first 250 sounds YA. If you find yourself with less agent love than you'd hoped for, see if you can give your query a more YA feel. (I know, I might as well ask you to turn back the tide with a tea cup, but if you know what I mean, it could be helpful).

    These are both really great, and I don't envy the judges their tasks!

  15. Hello everybody, this is TheSpaceMafia, who--once this turned into an epic series of ties and un-ties--felt awkward commenting before it was resolved. :P

    Thank you for all of your comments! I will clear up what appears to be everybody's burning question and clarify that yes, if you think it sounds kind of gay, it was supposed to sound that way. Haha.

    I hope no one minds if I ask (and you don't have to answer, but now I am concerned)--is the phrasing of the last line just too unclear? As an (unfortunate) benchmark, consider if you thought the main characters were a boy and a girl--still unclear? I really don't know what else I could write there without getting into some real cheesy territory, not that I am a stranger to those parts.

    Congratulations and good match, Misfit Apocalypse! You have an awesome nickname and an equally awesome query and 250. It almost goes without saying that I would totally pick up that book in a store. I'll be rooting for you in the next round!

    1. This is a tough one. I *thought* I knew what you were getting at, but it could just as easily be taken the other way (that they were just buddies and the author chose some funny wording to convey that)... some agents who aren't reading closely might just gloss right over that subtext, you know? So if it's a major plot point, then it deserves some more blatant broadcasting, imho. I agree you want to avoid the cheese factor, and really, I really like that last line, so maybe just put LGBT in the housekeeping paragraph with word count?

      BTW, totally sounds like a gay 5th Wave, and if that's what it is, I want to read it!!!!

    2. Hi, Mara! If you are looking for another beta reader, I am selflessly (snort) volunteering! (Hope at tlenajade at yahoo.com or Vdansk at LJ.) OK, honestly, I just REALLY want to know what happens. It's perfectly fair to make me wait until it's published.

      I am so grateful for the comments everyone has made, and feel a little idiotic that things I thought were clear are totally opaque. Since this is still ongoing, it probably would not be kosher for me to explain.