Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Sillius versus Sugar Tales

Entry Nickname: Sillius
Title: Citizens of Optimism

Word count: 70,000
Genre: YA Contemp.


Hunting criminals is a new thing—before that it was all charity stuff and helping kittens out of trees.

Growing up, superhero comic books were NICK DOYLE’s escape. When his dad was sent to jail for molesting him, he created a superhero alter-ego. Running around in a mask and cape was cute when he was a kid. As a six foot three seventeen-year-old, it’s not so cute anymore—especially when Nick crosses the line between vigilante and idiot and busts a dangerous drug dealer. It starts with a rock through his sitting room window and ends with his grandmother half-dead on the kitchen floor.

Now Nick wants justice—and he’ll do whatever it takes to get it.

Complicating things is Charlie. She’s pretty in a weird kind of way, with a laugh that seems to start in her heart and not in her lungs at all. During a study session, she finds Nick’s blood stained mask. Every hero has a story and she wants to discover his. Except Nick’s story is complicated and he’s not sure he wants to let her in—but little-by-little she opens him up.

Soon caught in an ever-more-elaborate game of cat and mouse with the druggie who hurt his nan, Nick must decide whether to hang up his cape for good or lose the girl he loves.

First 250 words:

Hunting criminals is a recent thing—before that it was all charity stuff and helping kittens out of trees.

Tonight’s targets are two druggies who think I’m a joke. One of them laughs like some kind of super villain, all rumbling guffaws. He’s short, squat, about forty, a baseball hat hugging thinning hair. I’ve seen him around.

They laugh even harder as I enter the car park. Maybe it’s because my mask doesn’t quite fit since I put it in the tumble dryer. It isn’t the cape. There is no way they are laughing at my cape. It’s too cool.

A single orange lamp casts sparse light over empty parking spaces, painted lines ghostly white on black tarmac. A shiver trails down my spine, my heartbeat flush in my ears.

Flicker. Buzz.

Streetlight’s blown.

The closer I get, the more a dull sense of fear thuds in my chest. Sweat. Everything smells of sweat. Dunno if it’s me or them.

“Stop!” My voice echoes and it sounds misplaced, like it hasn’t come from me. It’s creepy here, so empty and quiet. Everything is louder than it should be: every breath and footstep magnified.

“Who’re you supposed to be?” the dealer asks. The five feet between us seem so vast and so close all at once. Despite the dark, their details are sharp.

He turns his face, inquisitive—catches the light—and he looks so much like my father, though his nose is rounder; eyes a darker shade of blue. For a moment I am back there, frozen, memories of clammy hands and the fear as real as ever.


Entry Nickname: SugarTales
Title: Sweet Little Lies
Word Count: 64,000
Genre: YA Contemporary


Fifteen-year-old Adelaide Dorsten is an expert liar. But when her lies no longer seem believable and her friends begin to question her tales, she confesses her biggest secret to her best friend. The bruises she’s always tried to hide don’t come from falling down stairs or running in to doorknobs, they come from her brother.

Harper Maddock is a new student at Adelaide’s posh private school, desperate to keep the secret of her rape and attempted suicide from her new classmates. But when she falls in with a couple of popular girls, she finds herself in a spotlight she never desired. As Harper tries to keep up with her growing list of lies, she catches the attention of a popular boy – Adelaide’s older brother.

Gemma Drayton is Adelaide’s best friend, and she doesn’t want to know anyone’s secrets. In fact, she’s quite content believing what she knows are outright lies – even if that means covering up what she suspects about Adelaide’s family. But when the abuse takes a deadly turn before her eyes, her suspicions are confirmed.

With one confession, each girl’s web of lies will unravel, risking the people they love, their friendships, and even their lives.

First 250

The bruises fade long enough for a new crop to pop up, raising more eyebrows and even more questions. I run my fingers along the cheek bone under my right eye, wincing as I graze the three knuckle-sized bruises. I fall back, leaning against the glass door of my shower, glaring at myself through the mirror. How in the world will I cover these up?

My excuses get weaker and weaker, to the point that I'm not sure anyone believes me. I'm not even sure I believe me. Stuttering halfway through sentences only makes the story even less believable than it might have been in the first place.

I fling open the top drawer of my bathroom cabinet and pull out a bottle of foundation. I'll cake it on until you can't see a single bruise, despite the fact my skin will look eight shades darker when I'm done.

"Let's go loser," my brother shouts from outside my room.

I throw the foundation on the counter, silently cursing as the glass bottle chips the edge of my sink, a small porcelain triangle falling down the drain.

Glancing back in the mirror, I try carefully not to let my eyes fall to my ribs, to the pancake-sized bruises right underneath my fading violet bra. It's a relief clothes are a school requirement. No one would believe I got these bruises from a not-so-graceful fall to the ground. They're clearly in the shape of a fist.

"Adelaide, let's go!" he shouts and hits my door hard.


  1. Sillius: I really, REALLY love your entry. Do you need a beta reader by any chance? :) I can't find fault in any of the first 250... it's captivating, funny, and hints at the complexity of your character whom I'm sure we all we all want to read more about now. The only thing in your query that I would consider is your set up to the last line regarding Charlie. The "little-by-little she opens him up" line is vague and lacks power compared to the heightened emotion in the rest of the query. Can you think of a way to show us how she does this, or convey Nick's feelings for her more profoundly? Best of luck. I'm keeping my eye on this one!

    SugarTales: Your entry is strong too. Is the story told in alternating POV between the three girls? I'm assuming that's why each girl has her own paragraph, and if so, then I think this is done well. When you query agents, I would clarify that with a quick note in your last paragraph with word count and genre. Your set up with the three MCs is good, but I'd consider giving more details at the end. From what I see, the brother is a dink and should be found out, which I know would be shattering for Adelaide's family, but better than the alternative of letting him continue. So how would exposing this secret REALLY shatter them all and risk their lives? I know you have something good in this story, but the complexity is lost in that last line because it's vague. Good luck!

    1. Thanks for the comments! In my agented querying there actually *is* an extra paragraph detailing the three POV's, word count, and genre but for this contest we were supposed to keep our queries to the meat of the story :)

  2. Thanks, Jeannette!

    I don't need a beta reader, as it so happens. I've got four great ones! But thank you so much for the offer and the kind words. Always a lovely thing to hear! And good call on that line. I'll have a think. :)

  3. Sillius: Love this! As a superhero fanatic, I love the idea of a kid who's trying to work out his issues trying to emulate a superhero in the real world, and how criminal and disturbing that really is. Fantastic. Love the voice in your first 250. I would read this in a heartbeat.

    SugarTales: Interesting premise! I do have to wonder though how her brother gets away with beating her up without parents interfering. Does she lie to them too? Do they just not care? Do they beat him up and then he retaliates by beating her up? Your query is well done for having three POV paragraphs, but I agree with the previous commenter that you should make it clear if they're all POVs in the novel.

    Good luck to you both!

  4. Victory to Sillius - Ultraviolet
    Sugartales - I was intrigued by the premise of sibling abuse because it seems "different" from the standard parent/child scenario. Unfortunately the query was so full of "lies" that I got the feeling the story would frustrate me too much. One unreliable narrator can be great. Three such characters and not only does my head begin to spin, I limit my emotional/intellectual investment. That might just be me though. I thought your first 250 was engaging and showed genuine writing skill (but I would argue that porcelain is harder than glass and so the bottle would chip, not the sink...)
    Sillius - yes, I voted for you but not because of the first sentence in your query/250. You need to identify that the character is talking about himself. Some other things in the query confused me too. Why is NICK DOYLE in upper case? I'm not sure the "line" between vigilante and idiot makes sense. The sentence after that is confusing and at first I thought he'd almost killed his own grandmother. Also, I'd argue that detecting the particular shade of blue of the drug dealer's eyes in the dark...seems far-fetched. BUT I do really like the idea of a big, bumbling super-hero with an ill-fitting mask and a lot of fear inside, and that's why you got my vote.

  5. Sillius: Love the concept, and I think the query is pretty strong for the most part. I feel like it might be a little too vague at the end. I don’t really get a true sense of how the stakes are rising. I see the ultimate choice Nick has to make, but I want a bit more info (without too much, of course) of how that comes about. Regarding the 250, it’s fun. I admit I didn’t know why Nick said “Stop!” It had been a few paragraphs since it’s mentioned the drug dealers had been laughing (I had to reread it). I’d also use more contractions. Some parts feel unnatural because contractions aren’t used.

    SugerTales: I like the concept of your story, too. Even though this may differ according to the reader, I do feel like, in general, it’s tough for readers to keep their emotional investment high when the story’s split between three main characters (I take it all three are main characters, right?). Readers tend to like to go very deep with one (sometimes two, though usually the line is drawn there) character. What might work best for not just your query, but your story, is to make one of those characters the “true” main character and have the story revolve primarily around that one, but also have the other characters’ stories as subplots, so to speak. That way, the reader can invest very richly and deeply with one of them while still experiencing to a degree the other characters’ somewhat similar plights/situations. I think that would overall make a stronger story. In the query, I’d stick with just the main character’s plight, really home in on that “battle.”

  6. Victory to Sweet Little Lies. I loved the premise and your writing was so strong! I see so much promise for this weaving into a beautiful and deep YA contemp. I'd definitely buy this book.

    Sillius, I also am super interested in yours. I'm a bit confused-- is NICK DOYLE his super hero name? Or his regular name? The capitalization befuddled me. I think this super hero story has promise and one I would certainly pick off the shelf to check out.

    Good luck to you both!

  7. Victory to Sillius

    Here's why ... I love this premise. It's sounds like it a fun ride. But please don't use the first line for both your query and your hook line in your manuscript. I'd choose to start the manuscript off with it. Nick's name doesn't have to be in all caps. in the query, but you do have to have it in all caps. when his name is first mentioned in the synopsis. That could've confused you, so I thought I'd clear it up. I love the details that make me feel like I'm in that parking garage, and how his mask doesn't fit because he put it in the dryer. Brilliant!

    SugarTales, I love yours too. I'm curious how the POVs will play out in the story. It's tough getting several POVs to sound different. I don't have enough to help you there, but I don't doubt you've pulled it off. Your first page is written well. I had a hard time connecting with Gemma in the query. Why is she content ignoring her best friend's abuse? What is her reason for this? If there is one, you should address that in the query or she may come off as unsympathetic.

    Another close one. Great job, you guys!


    I'm sure somebody has already said this (I don't read the other comments before I reply haha), but Nick's name doesn't have to be in all caps in the query. Other than that, I love this query and I'm super fascinated by the concept. I love the line "crosses the line between vigilante and idiot"--great writing.

    I don't like that the query and the manuscript start with the same line (especially because agents will probably read both as quickly and as close together as I did). Actually, I'm kind of in favor of cutting them in both places, and putting it somewhere a little bit later in the manuscript. I think the rest of the 250 does a great job dropping me right into the story, though I am kind of wondering why the street light blew out? Was it just a coincidence?


    Normally I would freak over three characters being presented at this level of detail in the query, but I think it works. It gives me the vibe of an ensemble cast a la Pretty Little Liars.

    The 250 reads smooth to me except the line "It's a relief clothes are a school requirement." uh...I don't know any schools that don't require clothes? Did I misread this? Lol. Other than that I think it's solid. I'm really interested in the story and where it's going to go.

    Best of luck to both of you!

  9. Wow. These are both excellent. Bravo!

    SIllius– Love the idea. Wondering if the rock hit the grandmother? Or did the drug dealer come into the house and hurt her? One's an "accident" and one's not, but it would make a big difference in the story... Also, the sentence "complicating everything is Charlie" felt a bit awkward to me. Love the next sentence, though. The first 250 put me right in the scene and in Nick's head-great job. Wonderful details about the sweat smell, the dryer, etc. I'd definitely read this book.

    Sugar Tales-this is an interesting idea and your first 250 really make me want to read on, to find out why her brother does this and how she can possibly keep covering up the abuse. The descriptions are great. The first two POVs in the query sound fascinating to me...Gemma's less so, and I'm not sure why. I guess the first two have SO much conflict and drama that Gemma's seems mild by comparison. Not sure if it's like this throughout the story, or if you just need to amp up her section in the query.

    You're both very talented. Good luck!

  10. Sillius- this totally reminds me of KickAss http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1250777/ you should totally use that as a comp title. Awesome sounding story, good luck!

    SugarTales- This sounds great, but I'm wondering if you can put a little light into your query. I get that this is a dark story, it's supposed to be that way, but it's hard to excite people without at least a little hope, or something to root for. It's just a matter of how you present it.

    And the multiple POVs confused me here. It's really hard to do in a query because we don't know the characters well. I don't remember who's name is who so at first I thought paragraph 1 and 2 were talking about the same person.

    Good luck!

  11. Victory to Sugar Tales: LOVE this query and first 250.

    Sillius: Hot dog! Love this query, too. Hilarious first 250, but also poignant in regards to his motivations. Maybe get rid of (at all) after lungs in the fourth paragraph for more impact. This is also my opinion and maybe others will weigh in, but I think you should also delete—but little-by-little she opens him up.

    Man, this was a tough choice. Makes my brain hurt, and I'm sad both of these can't go on. They're amazing. Good luck to you both.

  12. Victory to: SweetTales

    Sillius: Honestly, this feels way too "Spiderman" for me. The writing is fine, query is great, 250 could use some tightening, but the premise feels too unoriginal.

    SugarTales: I like the organization you have going. The query gives a good sense of drama and tension, which is great. I think your 250 could be tightened a bit. And watch out for your setting, you went back & forth from being in the bathroom to saying "my room," which makes me think of a bedroom.

    Good luck to both!!!

  13. Victory to Sillius

    Both of these entries are fricken awesome. The reason I didn't choose SeetTales is because a huge question is left unanswered in your query: Where are the parents?

    To Sillius: Only problem with your entry is starting out your query and story with the same first line. It packs quite a punch in your query, so I would leave it there. Your voice is strong enough to be effective without it.

  14. Victory to SugarTales

    I was hanging with the CITIZENS OF OPTIMISM query and all was going great (except I think Charlie's laughter starting from her heart period would work better than belaboring that small point). But the final paragraph left me with two concerns: big-time drug dealers *usually* aren't druggies, and I'm at a loss as to how Charlie's geting close to him suddenly becomes an issue where he could lose her. As for the 250, I think the narrator is trying too hard to be more omniscient than the 17-yo POV. If the cape is too cool and can't be the cause of the laughter, the MC likely wouldn't even consider it. I know you want to clue the reader to his attire, but he could maybe do it by snagging it on a car mirror or something physical. There are some breaks in voice, "Streetlight's blown," being one and "I've seen him around" being another. Those breaks make it seem like the book wants to be hard-boiled and noir while the character is anything but. I think that dichotomy could be a GREAT way to handle a conflicted character and his narration, but it would need to be consistent, and right now the voice is kind of uneven.

    In the SWEET LITTLE LIES query, Adelaide and Harper's paragraph mesh great and build tension. Gemma's leaves me befuddled. It seems contradictory - she doesn't want to know secrets but her suspicions are confirmed - and "deadly turn" might be better off being elaborated on. The 250 has nice voice and attention to the details that bring the scene to life. In this case, having the character looking in the mirror doesn't produce the dreaded discussion about the color of her eyes and hair and shape of her nose. It makes a nice example of how a mirror can work in a scene.

  15. Victory: Sugar Tales

    Sillies: Great query, though I was confused about whether Nick had created an actual alter-ego (ie he was delusional) or whether he was conscious of his choice to don the cape. In the first 250, I almost got the sense that this should be written as third person to allow you to keep your lovely phrasings (which have a beautiful literary style) while still allowing Nick to sound authentically teen.

    Sugar Tales: I thought your query was well organized but it left me with unanswered questions. Is this presented in alternating POV's? Where are the parents? How does Gemma figure in- it sounds like she's a more passive observer so I didn't get what lies she was telling. Of the three I had the hardest time connecting with her. Overall though, totally creepy premise and I appreciate that the abuse is coming from the brother versus a parent because I don't now that this perspective has been explored a lot in YA and it seems fresh (though sad, of course).

  16. Victory to Silius

    Quite honestly, these two are among my most favorite entries in the competition.

    Silius -- I LOVE the characterization in the query and I love your style of writing. I love your premise as well, and the darkness of it. You've scored all around.

    Sugar Tales -- I LOVED this. The 3 POVs? Honestly, I feel this can be a bestseller (and Silius too!). This match-up is basically two best-sellers against each other. Honestly. Both AMAZING premises and writing. The critiques I had for you were that I'd like to see a 'summing up' paragraph at the end of the query, showing how all three girls get together. And in the 250, I felt some of the dialogue was forced (like 'loser'). Small details, still a best seller, but you're up against another best seller :(