Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Sharkey Malarkey versus Not Odette

Entry Nickname: Sharkey Malarkey
Word Count: 87K
Genre: Contemporary YA


Claire can sum up her first fifteen years with three words: middle child syndrome. She’s utterly unremarkable while her two siblings and parents are all mega geniuses in one way or another. Sophomore year is off to a rocky start: her Grandma Rae dies, she’s got a new boyfriend (that sounds great until she realizes he’s got a seriously dark past and maybe a couple of issues), and she’s seeing dead people. She’s finally got the extraordinary talent she's always wanted, though it is seriously affecting her social life.

Claire doesn’t have time to mourn her grandmother. Grandma Rae’s spirit keeps hanging around to dole out wisdom, mostly to tell Claire to stay away from Graham, the dreamboat next door. Oh, and Graham’s dead mother keeps hanging around, mostly to tell her to date her son. Obviously, she takes Graham’s mother’s advice. The list of things to love about Graham expands exponentially each day, but so do his worrying behaviors. It’s a lot to handle, and Claire’s family is too busy being brilliant to notice. Claire has to learn to cope, to accept her gifts, and to lean on her friends and family. None of these lessons are more important than when a spirit delivers the worst sort of news and Graham is ripped from her life.

First 250 Words:

Grandma Rae didn’t leave me anything in her will. I’m used to be forgotten. It’s the curse of being the unremarkable middle child of a quite remarkable family. Grandma Rae left my older sister, Cecilia, most of her jewelry, even though Cecilia already has plenty of jewelry. My younger brother, Cameron, got the piano that had belonged to our grandfather, even though we already have a piano. My mom was her only daughter, so she got everything else.

I guess I’m surprised because, deep down, I always suspected that I was her favorite. She spent the most time with me. Maybe that’s just because she felt sorry for me. I certainly do. It’s hard being sandwiched between my siblings. Cecilia is a bona fide genius. At seventeen, she takes mostly college courses, going only to our high school for home room and gym and home economics. She’s a great cook. And she’s gorgeous. And she’s sweet. And everyone likes her. It’s hard being her little sister; but that isn’t the half of it. Cameron, who is twelve, has autism. And he’s a musical prodigy. And he can paint. Like, really paint.

Me, I’m passably smart. I’ve got a few really good friends who really seem to like me. And my Grandma Rae adored me. But now she’s dead. C’est la vie, as Cecilia would say. She’s fluent in French and Arabic. Vraiment, she should say “c’est la morte.” But what do I know?

The fact that my grandma left me out of her will is certainly casting a shadow over her funeral service--as if funerals aren’t shadowy enough.


Entry Nickname: Not Odette
Title: Princess of Swans
Word count: 84,000
Genre: YA Fantasy


As the heir to her war-torn country's throne, teenage princess Feyana Belmaron should be the most powerful woman in Amgovar. Instead, she is a prisoner. After a traitor killed her mother and disfigured her, Feyana’s father confined her to an isolated castle to keep her safe. Ten years later, Feyana gives up hope that her father will ever let her go—and with a face like hers, no storybook prince is likely to come to her rescue.

But perhaps she can come to his.

When a gravely injured volkarei witch foretells Feyana’s marriage to a handsome enemy prince–a marriage that would not only end the war, but unite the feuding countries for good–the scarred princess seizes the chance to put her castle walls behind her. Eager to finally serve her people, Feyana disguises herself, scales the wall, and sets out to find the prince.

But the outside world is far more dangerous than she imagined, full of pirates, soldiers, and thieves angered by her father’s policies and eager to revenge themselves on his sheltered heir. Her only allies, a volkarei-cursed monster and a lowborn, gay thief, are both convicted criminals...and one has already betrayed her. When her prince, too, turns out to be far more alarming than charming, Feyana must face a bitter choice: turn back and abandon her country to an unwinnable war, or keep on and give up her hard-won freedom.


First 250 words:

Tavor Castle is beautiful, for a prison. The white stone castle is small but well-kept, and its fields and woods cover almost a square mile. Even the looming, twenty-foot walls enclosing the grounds have an odd charm to them. To protect you, Father says, but I know better. It’s to hide me. The only ugly thing in Tavor Castle is its princess.

I jam my foot into Lulari’s stirrup and glare up at the walls, wishing my hate could melt them. Only a little longer, until the war ends, and I’ll be free. Father promised that much, at least.

I turn away and cluck Lulari to a walk. The warm breeze ruffles my fascinator and fills my nose with the scent of horse. I smile. Outside, there may still be walls, but at least there’s no ceiling. I brush back a lock of hair—and an ashen, black-cloaked woman appears in my path.

Lulari rears.

I clutch at her mane but grasp nothing. The ground races up to slap me, and pain jars through my shoulder and back. Breathing hard, I stir my arms and legs, then probe my ribs for tenderness. Nothing broken, praise Dal. A stablehand races toward me, calling my name. I sit up and groan.

“I’m fine,” I say. “Is she all right?”


The mysterious woman lies crumpled beneath her cloak, her face unnaturally gray. I crawl toward her, my shoulder throbbing, but the stablehand pulls me back sharply.

The black mass I took for a cloak is a vast, dark wing.


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

    1. Victory to Not Odette. Your query was fantastic as were your first 250. I have no advice on anythiing to change. I would definitely want to buy this book.

      To Sharkey, I struggled connecting with your character in the first 250. She just seemed a bit too selfish to me. Also, you listed your genre incorrectly. If they can speak with ghosts, it's paranormal. Don't try to hide that, agents don't appreciate it. You are cleary a talented writer though. I do like that you started the first 250 out focusing on her grandmother. That definitely grabbed my attention. Good luck.

    2. Victory to Not Odette

      So loved Princess of Swans' premise and voice. I have nothing to add.

      Sharkey Malarkey, loved this, as well. So good. This was a tough decision. I do wonder why Claire listens to her neighbors mother instead of her grandmother. You mention that Claire thought she was her grandmother's favorite when inheritance was being handed out. Why wouldn't she trust her grandmother over the neighbor woman? The genre should be paranormal, btw, just so you can correct that.

    3. Victory to Not Odette

      I read these entries yesterday, but I couldn’t come to a decision. They’re both stories I would want to read. After reading these again, I’m going Not Odette. The first and last paragraphs of the 250 hooked me.

      Sharkey Malarkey, I really love your voice. Plus, I’m a sucker for ghost stories :)

      Good luck to you both!

    4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    5. Victory to Not Odette

      Sharkey: Your query ends in an odd place, without giving any kind of choice for Claire. And your 250, while well written, weren't very gripping. Maybe a little more action, like... is she doing something while she's thinking all this? What's she watching? Does she see her siblings? Etc. I love the ghost story premise, though. Keep working on it!

      Not Odette: "...give up her hard won freedom." was a bit confusing to end the query on. Why would she be giving up her freedom if she's not going back? I don't get it. I really like your 250 though, and the retelling of Swan Princess/Ugly Duckling is SO intriguing. This is a book I would definitely LOVE to read!

      Good luck to you both!!!

    6. Victory to Not Odette

      Sharkey: Your query left me at a bit of a loss to where your story goes. What are the stakes for your MC?

      Not Odette: Uh...great job. I really don't have anything else to say. Your premise is intriguing and your first page makes me want to read more.

    7. Victory to Not Odette

      We get a lot of set up in the PLAY IT COOL, CLAIRE query, and mystery about the ghosts, but without any motivation to lean on, it just seems more like a premise than a story. Dark past, issues, and worrying behaviors are quite vague and it's difficult to know what Claire is actually dealing with: Is Graham cutting himself, obsessively cleaning things, hitting her, cheating on tests? What those behaviors are would really color what this relationship is like, so maybe give a concrete example - it generally takes no more words to be concrete than to be vague. And a bit more concreteness would help in the final sentence, which ends abruptly with no stakes mentioned and no resolution forthcoming. As for the 250, I felt the voice coming through was a little too young in some places and a little too adult in others. That unevenness makes it sound not authentic.

      I really like the turned-on-its-ear retelling of the Swan Princess in PRINCESS OF SWANS. Reinvisioned fairy tales are still trending, so good timing. I like the casual mention that one of her allies has already betrayed her and her prince charming isn't. Then you give us the stakes and obstacles. It's not a query that shouts you into submission to read the accompanying pages, but one that whispers for you to turn the page and see what happens. As for the 250, it feels like you've started in the right place. We get the background and her being locked up quickly. I like you don't have her wandering inside the castle feeling locked in but that she's outside feeling a prisoner. And the end on the dark wing is perfect for this submission.

    8. Victory to Not Odette!

      Sharkey Malarkey: You’ve got a case of ‘woe is me’ main character which comes out very strongly in the first 250. I’d much rather you show all this set-up/back story she narrates to us in the first page. I jived with the middle child syndrome right away. That is great. But I was more attracted to the query than the first page. And I wonder if making the query focus more on how she got her ability to see ghosts and whether she wants to get rid of it would work better than detailing how much her life stinks.

      Not Odette: I love everything about this.

  2. I absolutely love Not Odette. You've got the princess saves prince story, but it's the details that really make it stand out. Her disfigurement, the prince being "more alarming than charming" (seriously love that turn of phrase), and that one of her allies has already betrayed her! All great. And the 250 is great. The language is lovely and what I expect from a high fantasy but still has voice. Perfect. Great job.

    Regarding Sharkey Malarky, a couple of things stood out to me. (1) It says it's a YA Contemporary but it's clearly a YA Paranormal. If you don't like calling your story paranormal for one reason or another, then at least go with "YA Contemporary Fantasy". But ghosts are pretty much considered paranormal. (2) I found the second paragraph of your 250 a little jarring because so many sentences start with "and". It's totally a stylistic choice, but it's not the kind of voice that works for me. (3) Love the last line of your 250. "As if funerals aren't shadowy enough" made me smile. Good job!

    Good luck to both of you!

    1. Sharkey Malarkey here! I really appreciate the feedback! I have definitely tweaked my query and have been struggling with genre, so this is helpful. I have added in "paranormal elements" or just refer to it as "magical realism" PS. Not Odette: want to read your book!

  3. Sharkey Malarky - Yes, it is definitely not Contemporary. As soon as I got to the "seeing dead people" part, I stopped and scrolled down to see if there was a comment/edit about that. It's YA Paranormal (unless she's hallucinating, but since she see's the bf's dead fam too, I know she's not). One crit I would work on is the language of your narrator. Sometimes you really hit the mark of the voice of this teenager, and sometimes you don't. Like in this part: "Cameron, who is twelve, has autism. And he’s a musical prodigy. And he can paint. Like, really paint." The repetive "Ands" totally work and the "Like, really paint." Totally works. But the "who is twelve" sounds so formal, so grammatically correct, you know? Doesn't fit with the rest. But I am getting the "woe-is-me" teenage angst overall, so good job with that!

    Princess of Swans - Um, yes! I don't have anything to criticize, I'm almost sorry to say. I would totally pick this up and read it!

  4. Sharkey: I think you have an intriguing concept with average middle child + ghost granny. Consider making that the focus of your query? Others have pointed out the genre label, but I also think the way you've presented the query is burying the paranormal crux of the story under the contemporary elements. It's only the last line of the first paragraph that we're stopped in our tracks and realize this is an entirely different story that we thought. Your first 250 are solid and I would keep reading!

    Not Odette: I remember seeing this pitched somewhere else and absolutely loving it. Still do. And I really want to know what happens next, so thanks a lot for the tease. Really great work!

  5. Sharkey: I enjoyed your 250. You got me right into the head of your MC, and I'm really interested in the relationship between her and her grandmother. I agree with Jeannette that you are burying your lede in your query. I wish I saw a little more of her reaction to her new gift.

    Not Odette: Love, love, love the first line of your 250, and I enjoyed the rest as well. I think your query is solid. If I were to nit-pick, I'd say that the fourth paragraph got a little bit laundry list/kitchen sink-y, but I like the way you present the stakes.

  6. Sharkey-- I like the premise of talking to dead people and the cute idea of her grandma and neighbor's mom interfering in her love life. I agree you could bring the dead people angle up sooner, that's the real meat of the story. I'd also be careful in your query there are several times where your wording feels a little stilted or off. For example when you say two siblings and her parents you could just say family and get to the point much quicker. And the aside about her boyfriend having a dark past and a few issues can just be something like -- a new boyfriend with a dark past,
    A few other places-though it is seriously affecting, expands exponentially each day, but so do his worrying behaviors-- all feel like awkward wording. And the last two lines don't really work for me. I think there's a better query lurking in here somewhere.

    In your first 250 words I like the last line, it's cute. I'm not quite sure if starting out listing all her siblings better qualities is the best way to grab the attention. And I'd be careful with having too many short sentences, it can get a little choppy.

    Not Odette- I'm a big fan of the idea here, it feels unique and interesting. Love that she's not your cookie cutter hottie and that the prince isn't some knight in shining armor-- I like the turn of phrase "more alarming than charming" as well. I think you can tweak your query to make it stand out even more. "Instead, she is a prisoner," feels a little formal. Also the third paragraph starts with a long sentence, it might work better if you break it up. And you have a few descriptors that are unnecessary -- "gravely injured" and "scarred princess," you already described her as a princess and disfigured. You don't need other descriptions unless they tell us something new. And you definitely don't need the "Forever," at the very end, I don't think it adds anything. But the premise sounds great, I'd be interested to read it.

    As for the 250 pages, the first line is great and the first paragraph tells us a lot. I feel like the woman appearing can be more clear or create more tension-- I feel like you make a choice to have her come out of nowhere to surprise the reader but it throws me off balance so much I have to go back and read it. I'd love for her appearance to be surprising and clear at the same time. The wing reveal is a great idea and a great way to end it.

  7. Sharkey - love the concept, and that would be enough to make me keep reading, but the first 250 is a lot of exposition, no action. For your query, you might be able to cut some of Cecelia's language skills.

    Not Odette - this is awesome, very much one I'd keep reading although I don't do much high fantasy. It's just unique enough and ends the first 250 making me want to know about the woman under the wing.

    Nice job, both of you!

  8. Victory to - Not Odette - Ultraviolet
    Sharkey M - While I am truly a sucker for ghost stories, and middle child syndrome is a relatable condition for many, there were some things that could be improved. Repetition in terms of words and thoughts in both query and 250 slows pace and saps excitement. The second to last sentence of your query is too much a summation of the story's themes and the last sentence is overly mysterious. Believe me, I know how hard it is to strike the right balance between too much and too little info in a query. There are also contradictions about whether she thinks her grandmother adored her, or didn't, which make me scratch my head. The first 250 felt like a long complaint, and while it seems your MC has plenty to complain about, from my perspective it's not a great intro to her. Think about meeting a new person at a party who rambles on about their miserable job/marriage etc. First there's a flash of sympathy, and then there's the urge to slink away.
    Not Odette - I really liked everything about your query and 250. My only two nitpicky things were 1, in the query I'd like a little more clarification on why she'd be giving up her freedom if she moves forward with marrying Prince Alarming (love that). And 2, what is a "fascinator"?

  9. Sharkey Malarkey - Love the fact that she can see her dead grandmother, and that Gma is giving her advice. Also love the fact that of course the MC goes with one of the OTHER ghost's advice...'cause it's the advice the MC likes better. Very teenager. Also like the fact that she's the lost middle child, but she does discover something special about herself. Really like the query up til the second-to-last sentence... it seems a bit generic and abrupt. I think you can explain a bit more there, make it more specific to your story. For the first 250, I wanted more immediacy, a sense of place and time... where is the MC, what is she doing when she thinks all of this? If she's at the funeral, how about starting the book with the last sentence in your first 250? Then you can describe the service is like, what her siblings are doing, and intersperse your exposition among those details. The premise sounds great, overall, to me!

    Not Odette - Great premise! I was left wondering how the prince needed to be rescued, however- what is she saving him from? The war? Then maybe point out early on that she's not only saving him, but two countries and countless people... those stakes are even higher. In the first 250, definitely wanted the fascinator to be defined, that kind of made me pause. I also wanted a bit more sense of place, what is she turning away from (the stables?) , does the woman come out of trees onto the path, or right into the middle of a courtyard? Love the last sentence - that pulled me instantly into the story, wanting to know more.

    Kudos to both of you!

  10. Sharkey - Voice comes through well in your query and I like the idea of competing ghosts regarding Graham. But I do think you need to drop a specific or two about his issues. Maybe where you write "Sophomore year is off to a rocky start: her Grandma Rae dies, she get a new boyfriend (who does ???), and she's seeing dead people." I also want a little more hope and less despair from the MC. I like that you include "Claire has to learn to cope, to accept her gifts, and to lean on her friends and family." But that is too hidden. Help that stand out through your query. In the first 250 I wanted a good reason to invest in your MC beyond pity. Her voice is clear, but you might consider showing her wit or humor sooner. I imagine dialogue between MC and ghosts could vary between creepy and funny. That would keep me reading for sure! Good luck.

    Not Odette- In your query the stakes and motivation are clear and concrete. Query and 250 read very smoothly except for the fascinator bit. Is it a hat? A saddle? What? A nitpick that can be ignored or easily fixed. Good luck.

  11. Sharkey- Is Graham the new boyfriend referenced in the first paragraph? I was unclear whether this was another character altogether. Also, this is definitely paranormal so be sure to list it that way when you describe it to agents. In the first 250, I was having a hard time sympathizing with Claire because she came across as a bit of a sad sack. I think there's a fine line between an underdog your reader will want to root for and a whiner and, while you're close and your writing is stellar, I'm not sold on her as a relatable character just based on this sample.

    Odette: I love the stakes you've presented in your query- it's like a grown-up Tangled and I love that she's the one doing her own rescuing. I'm not one to read fantasy usually, but I would definitely give this one a shot.

    1. sorry- forgot to add VIctory to Not Odette

  12. Hi all-Sharkey here ;) I eagerly concede to Not Odette who obviously rocked her query. (Am I right?) I thank you all so much for your feedback. I can say that I have made some great changes to my letter-adding detail, taking out some vague stuff and CHANGING MY GENRE. Lol. I actually decided magical realism was the best description. Seeing ghosts definitely propels Claire forward in the story, though it is just one of many things. I've also been thinking a lot about Claire's attitude in the opening of the story. Though I may not change it (because, she is feeling rather sorry for herself at the beginning and this is her starting off point for a lot of growth) I love knowing that this is something that I can change if I don't get the bites on it that I want. I am very pleased to say that a newer version of this letter has gotten me a few very exciting full requests, and I know I have this contest to thank! Good luck to all moving forward, though obviously I am rooting for Not Odette!