Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Revenant versus Denali

Entry Nickname: Revenant
Word count: 70,000
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy


Sixteen-year-old Cailyn Cooper wishes she inherited the wicked cool ability to form ghost-destroying orbs of psychic energy. Instead, she got saddled with the ability to heal by touch. A talent that either kills the women in her family before they reach twenty, or if they choose not to heal, drives them insane. And since Cailyn hears whispering from her hands when no one else does, she’s doesn’t need a crystal ball to see a straitjacket is in her future.

Cailyn’s family belongs to a group of psychics, the Sentries, who protect the world from malevolent spirits escaping purgatory. Without the ability to form orbs, Cailyn watches from the sidelines as her parents risk their lives, and then heals them before they die. When her parents are kidnapped, Cailyn turns to Sentries-in-training, seventeen-year-old twins, Eli and Tristan Parker, for help.

Cailyn and the Parkers discover a splinter group has formed in the Sentries—a group bent on controlling the world with their powers. To rescue her parents, and protect the brothers, Cailyn has to choose: straitjacket or body bag?

First 250 words:

I knocked on the partially opened bedroom door with one hand, while shaking the box of frosted shredded wheat with the other. “Hey Mama, want some breakfast?” 

When she didn’t answer, I peeked inside her bedroom. The French doors leading to the backyard stood wide open, and my neck tingled as I hurried across the room. I stepped barefoot onto the night-cooled wood of the deck as the morning breeze ruffled my hair. My palms began their whispering, and then I smelled blood.

The cereal box hit the ground as I ran toward the deck stairs. Before reaching the top step, I slid on a mixture of blood and dew. I slammed into a wrought iron chair and knocked it over, but managed to stay on my feet. Mama stood in the grass next to the flower garden. The indigo glow from her hands shone faintly in the dawn’s light. The whispers from my palms became louder, and my fingertips tingled.

I darted down the stairs and raced toward her. The smell of blood increased, intermingled with a rancid, spoiled milk odor.

“Mama! Where are you hurt?”

She whirled toward me with her pink cotton robe fluttering around her legs. “Cailyn, get down!”

A movement to my right caught my attention. A shadow slid from behind the Mountain Laurel bush in the middle of the flower garden. I dropped to the ground, banging my left elbow on a rock in the grass. The shadow took solid form—grey opaque now, instead of a translucent mist.


Entry Nickname: Denali
Title: Denali in Hiding
Word count: 76,000
Genre: YA Science Fiction


Seventeen-year-old Denali can lift trucks with her mind and see remote locations on a whim, but these skills won’t save her if the Captain of the American Psi Council discovers she is trying to prevent an attack on the US State Department.

Denali doesn’t want to disobey the hidden society that has helped her develop her skills. She loves Nashquttin, an island safe haven for psis where she is free to use her mind to fly paintballs at friends and roast marshmallows without a stick. There is nothing more liberating than cracking dead trees over the ocean after a heartbreak (even telekinetic guys can be jerks).

But she hates that the Captain will punish her if she tries to stop the attack. He says psis have learned through centuries of persecution that even well-intentioned psi actions can cause non-psis to wonder, investigate, and react violently in fear.

Denali should listen to the Captain. She should avoid a lengthy prison sentence. She should forget about seeing that eerie man in a faraway basement with blueprints, bomb materials, and an invitation to a reception with the Secretary of State. And she definitely shouldn’t let her strict, strong trainer risk his life to help her.

It’s simple. She shouldn’t try to stop the bomb.

But she will.

First 250 words:

When my mom is mad at me, I usually understand why.

I understood why she said, “Calling it an ‘academic pursuit’ doesn’t get you off the hook,” when I dug a six-foot hole in the front yard to show Eli how the earth changes like a rainbow the deeper you go.

I got why she frowned and said, “That was mean and really sort of disgusting,” when Ethan and I—with just the right mix of apple juice, lemonade, and water—convinced Eli we were sipping pee on the porch.

I was not surprised when she screeched, “What the hell am I supposed to tell the mechanic?” after I practiced lifting her truck before I was ready and it clunked down hard in our driveway, bits and parts rattling about.

But I don’t understand why the smoky frustration crept into her eyes when I told her Ethan and I burned my last journal. She said coolly, “We will talk about this when I get back.”

While she’s out bartending, I’m stuck wondering what I did wrong. The only thing I can figure is maybe she thinks I let Ethan read it. She knows I write about everything and she gets touchy when she thinks there is even a remote chance someone might find out about me. Even if that someone is Ethan.

Ethan, who taught Eli and me to play Risk and has been a great sport every one of the seven times Eli won. Ethan, who leaves various types of miniature plastic leprechauns around our house for us to discover.


  1. Really enjoyed the query for Whispering Hands - I got a sense of the MC's personality and felt the urgency of the conflict. I also enjoyed that the story started with some action, but didn't feel lost or disconnected. Very well done!

    I enjoyed the first 250 words of Denali in Hiding and the voice of the narrator, but I didn't get the same voice from the query. The query felt heavy, I think it needs a little tightening up in the descriptions. Trying to balance the lighthearted attitude of the MC and the conflict of disarming a bomb felt disconnected. I think, possibly, there are too many "fun" examples of the psis abilities in the query. Maybe narrow that down a little and you'll get the feel of the MC, but the urgency of the conflict.

  2. Really enjoyed Revenant! Love the "crazy or death" choice of wielding or not wielding her powers. The writing is very strong and I would read more.

    Regarding Denali, there was a little bit of a disconnect for me between the query and the 250 words. I love the voice of the 250 words and the scenario you describe (and I love the antics Denali seems to be getting into growing up!)But I was confused by where she is at the beginning of the 250. Does her mom live on the island too? Or is she sent to the island by her mom because she discovers these abilities? If it's the latter, I didn't realize from the query that Denali had ever lived anywhere else. I think that's an important thing to highlight, because if her family lives in mainland USA, of course Denali would want to disobey the Captain and save them! But other than that, it's a really intriguing idea and I absolutely love your voice. I would read this.

    And I'm really glad I'm not a judge because I have no idea how I'd pick between these two entries! Good luck!

  3. Victory to Revenant - Ultraviolet
    Denali - I really enjoyed the humor and voice in your 250. I found Ethan/Eli a little confusing since neither was identified in terms of relationship and they both begin with "E". I found the query a bit confusing as well - not sure why exactly the Psi Council wants to destroy the US, or why Denali wants to prevent them from doing so.
    Revenant - I like the idea of an MC whose super-power is healing, and that this power comes with such an unenviable choice. It seemed a little strange that she had no reaction to the painful things she experienced - does she not feel pain? I didn't know whether to feel sorry for her or not. I did enjoy the imagery in your opening scene, the contrast between the mundane and the creepy/violent.

  4. Hi Denali, it's Revenant. I love the humor in your query and the 250. I also love the conflict between Denali and the Captain. I would love to read this book. Good luck!

  5. Hey Revenant thanks! (I'm Denali :) ) I would love to read your book as well, though I am very forlorn to be pitted against it. ;-) It's great! The first 250 definitely have me curious as to what will happen next. Good luck to you too. :)

  6. Revenant: Your query really impressed me when I read it through the first time. I've found a lot of entries don't have a clear indication of the stakes, but yours certainly does (madness or death... wow). I like books that draw me in slowly, so your action scene right off the bat threw me. This is personal preference though, so don't take it as criticism. Good luck!

    Denali: I've skimmed through the comments a bit, and just to confuse the heck out of you, I have to say that I really liked your query. It's repetitive flavour about all the things she shouldn't do, ending with the fact that she's ignoring them, really pulled me in. I like the imagery of your first 250, but like someone else mentioned, the examples could be tightened up. The three you have are good, but they could be shortened into one paragraph, imho. Good luck!

  7. Revenant: love how well you did the action in your first 250. I usually want more "settling" before jumping, but wasn't needed here. Just go and go great!

    Denali: Love, love the name. Enjoyed the query and would read from that. Didn't get a whole lot out of the first 250 other than what the situation wasn't. That wouldn't have stopped me from continuing, but didn't connect me to the story while reading.

  8. Revenant - love, love, love this query. Based on that, I'd snatch this up in a heart beat. Your first 250 are well written and I like that I'm thrown into the action right away. The only thing I'm longing for is a bit more grounding into the MC's personality. We see how she responds to a crisis. But because the crisis starts so soon, we don't get any of the humor we see in the query. It's almost like we're missing the first few paragraphs. On the other hand, I think my comments are solidly subjective - you'd probably have just as many people state the action didn't start soon enough.

    Denali - holy cow I love this query. There was a bit of a disconnect, though, between it and the first 250. It seems the story starts when she's still at home and before she lives on the island. Which is fine, but it makes this a bit confusing. And I agree with another poster that the relationships between the MC, Eli, and Ethan aren't clear. It seems silly, but I'd recommend renaming one of the E characters because of potential confusion for the reader. I like the voice in your 250 and it seems consistent with the voice in the query. It just seems like they're out of sync in terms of where the story begins.

  9. Revenant: Loved your first 250. It made me anxious, which is good! Great descriptions and sets a great ominous atmosphere. Might benefit a little from a little more of an introduction to the MC, but I don't think you need a lot at this point. This type of story does well to start off with some action.

    Denali: Great premise and I love and definitely get what the beginning of the first 250 was trying to communicate, but I do tend to agree with some of the others that it was a little confusing how it was worded and didn't get a lot of information from it. I think it you were able to play with the words a little bit (especially when talking about the examples of her and her mother being angry) it would make it a lot more clear.

    Excellent entries! Good luck to both of you!

  10. Revenant- I loved your query and first 250! The stakes came across very clear in your query, and your first page (where I normally would want to see more set up as opposed to being thrown into the action so quickly) was fantastic. The writing is so polished. It grabbed my attention and I was disappointed I couldn't keep reading!

    Denali- I thought your query was really engaging! Lines like 'even Telekinetic guys can be jerks' gave us a sense of your MC's voice very nicely. And you end the QL on such a tense note that I was eager to get to your first 250. In the opening page, I found Ethan/Eli slightly confusing, just because the names are so close. Otherwise, great job!

  11. Revenant: I love your query and concept. Great job! Regarding the first 250, although it shows the very interesting magical elements of your world and is a heavily tension-filled scene, I found myself not overly invested in it. I think the reason is because I don’t really know any of the characters yet. Even though the protag’s mom is in trouble, it doesn’t tug at my heartstrings yet, because I don’t know her or the protag. Maybe a scene or tidbit before this could establish their characters a bit so we feel for them a bit more in this nice, action-packed scene?

    Denali: This is also a fun one! Tough choice here! Like other people, I did feel confused about who Eli and Ethan are. I feel like it might be better to just come out and say it rather than providing roundabout clues, in a sense, as to how they relate to the protag. I also agree it’s a bit jarring that the protag isn’t on the island in the beginning, since the query made it sound like that was her home.

    Good luck to both entrants!

  12. Victory to Revenant.

    Revenant, your query was clear and you did a great job explaining the stakes. You had great writing in your first 250, but I did feel like I needed you to establish a bit more normalcy before throwing her into a possible rescue with her Mom. Overall, very engaging. Good job.

    Denali. I thought your query flowed well, and loved the way it ended. In your first 250, it was difficult to keep Ethan/Eli clear during my first read through. The names are just so close. I did love your examples of the Mom being mad at the MC. Great voice. Good luck to you!

  13. This is another match-up where I wish both entries could advance.

    Revenant - Very strong query. I might suggest in the first sentence that you change "the wicked cool ability" to "her parents' wicked cool ability," just to make it clear where this ability would come from. I'd also like a little more clarity on why women who use their healing powers die young. There's really nothing I can criticize in your first 250. Great job establishing setting in the midst of action and hinting at Cailyn's power without any "telling."

    Denali - I really liked your concept and the first 250. I particularly enjoyed the way you slipped Denali's supernatural power in with more ordinary childhood stunts. Like others, though, I would have liked to see the relationship to Ethan clarified. I got from context that Eli is Denali's little brother, but couldn't tell whether Ethan was an older brother, friend, or stepfather.

    Your query starts with a great logline. I envy anyone who can boil their plot down to a single sentence. I also thought the description of Denali's abilities in the query was well done, but the plot summary was a little disjointed for me, and it was missing a sense of why Denali must be the one to stop the terrorist and how she plans to do that. It might read more smoothly if you rearrange the plot points in sequential order: Denali is happy on Nushquttin until she discovers a terrorist plot [how?]. She's the only one who can stop it [why?], but doing so will put her trainer's life in jeopardy and could land her in prison.

  14. Victory to Revenant

    Loved how the healers in Revenant will die if they use their magic or go crazy if they don't. Didn't understand the twins role in the query. How are they going to help her? Make it clear. And fix that first sentence in your query. I would remove "wicked cool" it makes it feel like your forcing the voice.

    Denali, this is a great premise. You might want to address in the query what is at stake for Denali if she doesn't save the US - Has she always been at this safe haven or has she just recently come there. Make it clear what is at risk for her if she doesn't stop the bomb. Why is she driven to break the rules to do so?

  15. Hello from Tricks Aren't For Kids! These are both fantastic. Love!

    Reverant- it was your 250 that hooked me. Holy wow, way to set a mood. "The French doors leading to the backyard stood wide open" "I stepped barefoot onto the night-cooled wood of the deck as the morning breeze ruffled my hair" SWOON. It's so simple, this description, but so very powerful. I have a fully realized scene in head. I can imagine the design on the french doors, and the feeling of cool wood on her feet. A breeze of cool night air. And of course the gut dropping.

    And it do it so simply. I love love love it. Great job!

    Denali- I've seen you around town so I've seen this before but I'll mention again- I love your voice. I love how mischievous this all is. I would love to spend 76,000 words with this character, she sounds like so much fun! But of course, I want to know more about her trainer (I'm thinking Four-esk ;-) Hopefully you know what I mean lol)

    Good luck to both of you. I'm disappointed that one of you have to leave us but I think you'll both do well from here!

  16. I won't be voting due to a conflict. Wishing you both good luck.

  17. Victory to: Denali

    Revenant: WOW. Strong writing, great premise, awesome 250. I feel like your first two paragraphs in the query could be easily combined, to make room for a bit more at the end. What do she and the Parkers discover? what do they have to do? Great choice, but I want a bit more ;-)

    Denali: I giggled out loud at the end of your query because it gave me chills. THAT is great writing. Fantastic, and definitely got me wanting to read more. The beginning of your 250 was different, but great. I kind of wanted a bit more of a punch toward the end, even though it is just the first page, maybe a bit more action instead of thoughts.

    Good luck you guys!

  18. I won't be voting due to a conflict. Best wishes and these sound like great entries.

  19. Victory to Revenant

    Revenant: Your voice sold me. You have a great query and your first page had me racing to finish. It's very engaging, and sucked me right. Great job.

    To Denali: Your entry is excellent as well, but you left out two key details. What will happen to your MC if she helps stop the bomb/if she fails to stop the bomb? How will she attempts to stop it? Add those to your query, and it will pack one heck of a punch.

  20. Victory to Revenant

    I liked the opening paragraph of the query for WHISPERING HANDS, but the next two paragraphs feel a bit disjointed. And when I get to Cailyn's choice, it seems to not be any choice but to echo what she believes to be true no matter what she does: that she'll wind up in a straitjacket and then die an early death. The 250 redeemed the query package with its bright, sure voice and by starting in what seems to be just the right spot.

    When I first read "Denali" and "Captain of the American" in the DENALI IN HIDING query, I will admit to feeling the author was intentionally trying to capitalize on popular keywords. And I have to admit I wondered why Denali and the Captain couldn't reach a compromise having to do with a trip away from the island, a burner phone, and a warning to State Dept officials with the bomber's description, address, information about the bomb type and anything else Denali can see. Why does Denali think she has to stop the bomber herself? As for the 250, it doesn't really convince me that the world-building has been completely thought through. If Mom's concerned that whoever Ethan is has a remote chance of finding out about her, then why is Mom more concerned about what to say to the mechanic than the fact that Denali was lifting trucks out on a driveway in plain view of any prying eyes?

  21. These both are AMAZING. I seriously mean that, and both will get agent interest!

    Revenant -- awesome conflict in the query, awesome stakes in the 250. I just love this overall.

    Denali -- I loved the voice and your writing style a lot. I loved how your query showcased the voice in your 250. Maybe cut down on some of the list of 'I wasn't surprised'? to just two amazing ones? (Like the piss water and the truck one, maybe? Or come up with something even better?)

    Victory to Denali, not because I found many faults in Revenant (I didn't) but I just thought the query was better for Denali, and the writing style was better there too. But Revenant had an AWESOME 250 as well, and a good, working query. This was a really hard one. I almost don't want to vote (but I must :( )

  22. VIctory: Denali

    Well-written query:) In the first sentence, I think I would end with "like her parents can" because I was left wondering if this was an actual ability or just something she thought would be cool if it existed. Of course, we find out in the next paragraph that her parents have it, so I think it would be good to clarify from the start. Also, the set-up in the beginning paragraph is that the mere fact that she possesses this healing power means she has to choose between dying by using it or going mad by not using, so that took away all of the stakes for me when you presented the choice between bodybag or straightjacket at the end of the query. You already told us that was her fate either way, so it doesn't matter to me that she now has to make the same choice, but related to helping her parents. I saw it as a "yeah, but she was already facing that predicament" and it lost the dramatic build-up I think you're hoping for.

    Denali: Pitch perfect query. Love the line about "even telekinetic guys can be jerks." Seriously awesome voice. I was less enthralled with the first 250, only because I think you'll grab readers better if you SHOW us the power she has in action, versus telling us about times she's used it in the past. it can be a harmless use of it (doesn't have to be high-drama scene), but it would be fun to see her using her powers the way a teen (well, unless she's Carrie) would and would also give us a great sense of her character to see where she'd choose to use those powers and for what gain. I think that would suck us in right away!