Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Spirit Slayer versus Multitude of Death Stars

Entry Nickname: Spirit Slayer
Title: No Such Thing
Word count: 60,000
Genre: YA Southern Gothic


It’s easy to overlook an old house being reclaimed by the woods; it’s a common sight near Candor, North Carolina, where seventeen-year-old Virginia “Dare” Cleaster lives with her family. But on a sweaty summer night, Dare and her ex-boyfriend Bobby unintentionally wake something sinister that’s been dormant in the crumbling Waters residence for years, and it refuses to be ignored.

Dare doesn’t believe in ghosts, but the tragic spirit of Atheleen Waters appearing to her all over town quickly changes her mind. As Dare and her friends are drawn into the mystery surrounding Atheleen’s life and untimely death, it soon becomes clear that she isn’t a troubled apparition seeking closure. She’s a twisted killer driven mad by love, and death hasn’t made her the least bit remorseful for her crimes.

Now Dare must figure out how to lay her powerful spirit to rest before Atheleen can add to the body count she began over a hundred and fifty years ago.

First 250 words:

When I was little, I believed in everything. I thought aliens, Bigfoot, the Tooth Fairy, and even the cartoon mascots from cereal boxes were out in the world somewhere, driving cars and wearing suits to work like men I saw on TV.

I had a big imagination because I lived in a small town where most of the men I knew didn’t even own a suit.

The two men sharing a booth in the old café were as well-dressed as they came in Candor. Nothing too fancy, but at least they wore neatly pressed uniforms.

As I watched from behind the counter, wiping crumbs from the surface with my rag, the sheriff stared down at his untouched plate of bacon and eggs. He poked them with his fork as if expecting them to spring to life and attack him at any moment.

“Somethin’ wrong with your food, sir?” I said. My voice carried across the empty room. The sheriff and his deputy were pushing the limits of common courtesy by keeping us open past eleven-thirty on a Friday night.

“Huh?” Sheriff Thompson grunted, looking up.

I weaved between tables with practiced ease to reach their window-side booth in a flash. “Look. I know the bacon’s probably too crisp for most folks’ taste. But if you don’t want it, I’ll eat it. Mr. Forrester’d be happy to make you somethin’ else.”

I gave them a smile and tugged my apron down. It stopped several inches above my knees, but it was still longer than the skimpy cutoffs I’d worn to my shift.


Entry Nickname: Multitude of Death Stars
Word Count: 86,000
Genre: YA Sci-fi


Seventeen year-old Pon Devrier is one of the best thieves on her planet—even though she doesn’t particularly approve of stealing. She spends her days collecting money to give to the poorest people in her Sector, and her nights sabotaging the Galactic Empire, but she’s still hesitant to become overly involved in the Rebellion her friends support. After all, both sides have already shed more than enough blood with the war that’s tearing their Galaxy apart.

But Pon soon finds herself engaged in a more personal war when her childhood foe, Cose, reappears in her life and is readily accepted by her friends. Pon can’t find proof Cose is a liar sent to infiltrate the Rebellion, but Cose’s ability to control minds is shared by only one other person in the Galaxy: the Empress.

Amidst the chaos Cose has brought to her life, Pon is chosen to have a private audience with the Empress during a photo-op interplanetary tour. Pon is glad to bring her planet’s grievances to the Empress, but instead she finds that the whole thing’s a ruse and is interrogated for information on the Rebellion. With Cose watching from the sidelines, and the girl’s relationship with the Empress still unclear, Pon is thrust into her Galaxy’s Civil War, and will have to decide if freedom is something worth dying—or killing—for.

First 250 words:

This was taking too long. Pon paced around the narrow alley, counting the seconds that trickled by as she waited for the signal. Two small flashes of light were all she needed, but as time stretched on the unbroken darkness taunted her.

They shouldn’t have tried to do this tonight, but once Jorl set his mind to something, he couldn’t be talked out of it. The Empress’s announcement would provide them with a decent distraction, but that was only if they could get into the Aquifer in time. If they started too late, they probably wouldn’t live to see the end of whatever surprise Empress Letienne planned to unleash on the Galaxy tonight.

Pon glanced up at the second window on the second floor. Still nothing. Stars Above, what was taking him so long? She should have been the one to break into the Aquifer – she was quicker and way better at sneaking around. He was too clumsy. He could get hurt.

“What’re you doing here?” The guard’s voice broke through the silence as his hand tried to break her nose. She grabbed his hand, twisting it around his back and shoving him against the wall.

Rius stepped out from behind the corner, knocking the guard out with the hilt of his sword. Pon let the guard fall to the ground, focusing on Rius’s light brown eyes. They shone in the moonlight, sending a wave of warmth through her body. She fought the urge to run her hands through his dark brown hair.


  1. I love both of these! The queries are great and writing is superb! Good job!

    Spirit Slayer: Love the line about her believing the characters on cereal boxes are real! I also adore the twist that the ghost being a madman who may kill again. I love a good Gothic novel, and then sounds like a good one!

    Small nitpicks on Multitude of Death Stars: The problem with nicknaming your query "multitude of Death Stars" and then referencing a "Galactic Empire" and a "Rebellion" is it immediately made me think of Star Wars. In fact, knowing my Star Wars filled brain, I probably would have thought of it without the Death Stars reference. You want to be careful with naming conventions that are too close to other popular media. Also, I thought Cose was a boy until you said "the girl's relationship" in the third paragraph. You might want to find away to subtly mention it in the second paragraph when you first introduce her. But as I said earlier, your writing is super strong and I love your premise. I would read this.

    I would read both of these!

    Good luck!

  2. Victory to Spirit Slayer

    This came down to the voice in the opening page. Spirit Slayer's opening hooked me a little more than Multitude of Death Stars page did.

    Multitude of Death Stars this was so close and I think it came down to taste. The only thing I can offer is the first sentence and paragraph didn't hook me enough.

    Great job all around!

  3. SS: I immediately got the Southern Gothic vibe from your entry. Your query was lovely, though I wish it were a bit less vague in the middle bit. "Untimely death," "seeking closure," and "driven mad by love" all felt like they could use a little specificity. The premise reminds me of Anna Dressed in Blood, which I really enjoyed. In your first 250, I was immediately drawn in by the first lines, which fit well with your query. It was cool to see a story where you immediately get a sense of the genre in the very first line.

    Death Stars: I love the idea of a sci-fi Robin Hood character, but I didn't quite connect with the how and why of the plot in your query. Your opening page was well-written and had some nice tension, which makes me want to read on. If I'm being nitpicky, I would say that I felt like there were a lot of (unusual) names introduced in that first page, which might make it hard for readers to keep track of everything.

    This is a tough one! I like them both. Good luck to you!

  4. Victory to Spirit Slayer - Ultraviolet
    I do love me a Gothic, which definitely factored into my decision. I also got a clearer sense of voice from Spirit Slayer's query/250. I'd have liked a tad more detail about the ghost in the query, I don't think telling us more would rob the actual story of excitement. I found myself trying to reconcile "tragic" with vicious killer and being frustrated. Also I found the lead-in (talking about her imagination) a little tell-y and as a transition to the scene setting with two cops it was kind of clunky.
    Death Stars - There was a lot of information, as well as unfamiliar names, to try to get a handle on in your query. I'd have liked it spelled out immediately that Cose is a girl. I'm also not a huge fan of life-death situation followed by immediate lust with no real transition. It bugs me in the old James Bond movies too. Having said that, I like the idea of girl-girl potential betrayal and the Robin Hood element (esp. when RH is a girl).

  5. Spirit: I love the atmosphere you set up here and I agree the voice and opening scene is well done. I'd like a little more background on the ghost in the query. Otherwise, good job!

    Death: I love the political intrigue and how she doesn't want to get involved, she just wants to help people. I was confused by the character of Cose, which I think is intentional, but I didn't get why they were foes, why no one else would suspect Cose of being a spy, what gender she/he was (until the line about the girl's relationship to the empress being unclear), and a few other things like that that a little more fleshing out might improve.

    I did like the first 250, a nice tense, mysterious scene with a little love interest thrown in. Good job!

  6. Victory to Spirit Slayer.

    Ack, this was another really difficult match up. Ultimately, it came down to character voice for me. Both of you guys had great queries and great first 250. This could have been one of the final match ups. I'm sorry you had to go head to head in the first round. Good luck to you both!

  7. Spirit Slayer: I love your southern style. The voice was apparent without being overly done. The query and 250 are well done.

    Death Star: Unlike some of the other readers, the unusual names aren't a problem for me. The 250 are well written. My only nitpick is in the query. I didn't understand why Pon had refused to take sides in the Civil war. Few people are neutral.

    This is a very tough match up. Good luck to you both!

  8. Victory to Spirit Slayer: I wish you’d infused the query with the MC’s voice because it shines through in the first 250.

    Multitude of Death Stars: This seems like a fun story. The play off Star Wars left me a bit uncomfortable. Is this intentional? Star Wars has inherent world-building base which most fans already know. Your references immediately made me picture this world when reading. When the guard appeared, I imagined a stormtrooper and the sword as a lightsaber.

    You both did an excellent job. Good luck to you both.

  9. Wow, this one was a tough match up. I love both entries, lots of voice on display here. I expect to find them on the shelf one day (alongside mine I hope).

    Spirit Slayer - I agree with Flame that there is a disparity between the voice in the query and in the 250. The query read kind of classic gothic which I love, but it would be even better if you could inject some of the fun voice of the character that shines through on the first page. The query could also benefit from some more specifics about the ghost. First page, don't change a thing.

    Multitude of Death Stars - On the first page, I might flesh out the paragraph a bit where the guard attacks Pon. It isn't clear to me whether his voice is her first warning (kind of sloppy of him) or if the physical attack came at same time. And in the query, I agree it would help to make more clear Cose's gender. A tiny bit more about her relationship with Pon other than foe might strengthen the query also. Great work overall. Good luck!

  10. HI! I believe Ms. Death Stars has off-and-on internet connection, but I wanted to clarify something on her behalf since I'm her CP and I've read the manuscript. :)

    The concept is a Les Miserables retelling, but with a Star Wars twist. So all of the comments comparing it to Star Wars... you're right! It's totally intentional. And the character names are plays off the french names in Les Mis.

    I hope that helps in giving a frame of reference for this entry! This information is in the housekeeping paragraph of the query, so it was cut for the contest.

    Cheers all!

  11. Good dang grief! Two great queries and promising openings! Man!

    Spirit Slayer! I'm a sucker for Southern Gothic stuff. And the voice of your character carries the perfect blend of innocence and "seen-it-all (if THAT makes any sense)." Don't really know where you're going with the story, but I like that. I like mystery. And promise.

    Multitude of Death Stars! Your writing shines! Like a freakin' star! I may've liked Spirit's query better(more my thing,)but technically, you're awesome!

    I wanna' read both books. Really.

  12. Spirit Slayer-Oh my! I LOVE the voice in the 250. It read with a southern accent to me, and it was just gorgeous. I agree with what others are saying that I'd just like that to come out in the query as well, but this was a fantastic start!

    Death Stars-I assumed your nickname was a purposeful connection to Star Wars, and I'm happy to say that I thought of Les Mis as soon as the character of Cose was introduced as it made me think of Cosette.

    This is tough. Both great ideas. I think Spirit Slayer had a really strong voice in the 250, but both left me wanting to read more!

  13. Victory to: Spirit Slayer

    This was a tough one, because these are so different and both are awesome. I went with Spirit Slayer because the 250 were stronger.

    Spirit Slayer: I feel like your 250 are much stronger than your query, but both are great. I think I'd just like to see more of Dare's voice in the query. Right now it kind of falls flat until the last line, and that's gonna be too late for agents. Very cool take on a ghost story, though, and your writing in the 250 is fantastic. Great job :)

    Death Stars: I was SO into the query until the very last line. "...worth dying -- or killing -- for." Who would she kill? Why would she die? I feel like that just threw a wrench in your whole query and made me tilt my head like a confused dog. ALSO, "She fought the urge to run her hands through his dark brown hair" is so cliche as to make me stop reading. That's NOT a good way for your first page to end. Find another way to communicate her attraction to him. This story has a TON of potential, I just think it might need a bit more polish :)

    Good luck guys!

  14. Victory to Spirit Slayer.

    Sprit Slayer—I’m literally scared right now by reading your query. And it’s past midnight where I am, so I’m a bit scared. This is AWESOME, but you got me scared now! Ahh! I’m freaking out internally, kind of. I love how you showed your town’s character so uniquely, by saying most of them didn’t own a suit. So unique and fresh! (I’d maybe change the town’s name from Candor to something else, as Candor now has a sci-fi feel due to the Divergent series. I know, it sucks when something like that happens!)

    Multitude—Your world seems amazing just by reading the query. You have an awesome story, but I think the 250 can be improved by tightening, cutting, and freshening. The beginning three paragraphs can be cut down and merged, maybe. Great entry, though.

  15. Victory to Spirit Slayer

    While I love the NO SUCH THING query and think it's strong, the 250 didn't do as much for me, I'm afraid. You have voice, so that's +1 from me. It's the details that I got hung up with. After seeing "suits" and being "well-dressed," I was expecting business attire not uniforms. So when the MC addressed the sheriff, I was thinking he and the deputy were there watching two other men. Also, since this is first person POV in immediate past, and she obviously doesn't know the officers, how does she know the sheriff's name? That's a POV break. And even in a small town, I'm not sure waitstaff would tell a customer she'd eat their leftovers.

    The RED AND BLACK query left me wanting more. More uniqueness. More plot. Going by the query, it doesn't feel like there's enough substance to carry a book. As for the 250, a couple of things stood out. Is it dramatic irony that she claims being better at sneaking and the query says she's one of the best thieves on the planet when a guard can so easily discover and sneak up on *her*? Who is Rius? I expected maybe someone named Jorl to meet up with her, but then this love interest pops up instead. And that she's feeling romantic toward him while waiting for some important signal makes me wonder if this is a YA geared toward girls rather than boys, which is OK, but something that should likely come through in the query. Also continuity-wise, there seems to be plenty of moonlight to make Rius' eyes sparkle at the end, but in the first paragraph the unbroken darkness is taunting her.

  16. Victory to Spirit Slayer

    Spirit: Reminded me a little of The Diviners in the creep factor of the house and the occupant. Liked the voice in the opening though the connection between the suits and the uniformed officers and the sheriff threw me a little- i think just a matter of clarifying- I didn't immediately connect that it was the Sheriff referenced when you introduced the two men in uniform.

    Death Star: I think the terms Death Star, Empress, Rebellion and Galaxy brought to mind too many Star Wars similarities for me to see this as something other than fan fiction. Why not name them something of your own creation? Also I was confused in the query until the very end about whether Cose was a girl or a boy. Maybe clarify earlier?

  17. Victory to Spirit Slayer.

    This one came down to how I felt about the character. Ultimately, I was more connected to Dare than Pon.

    Spirit Slayer, the voice in your first page is awesome. I found myself wanting to know more about your MC and wondering how she will handle dealing with a murderous spirit.

    To Death Stars: I was expecting something Star Wars-y, and to link your story to the successful franchise is a ballsy move and MUST be backed up. I think in your case, my expectations hurt you. Biggest brow-raiser for me was the guard asking what she was doing there while throwing a punch. That seems like a weird combination of actions to me.

  18. Victory to Spirit Slayer!

    Spirit Slayer: Your query flowed beautifully but I’d like some specifics about what the ghost wants or what the ghost is doing besides killing people. That was the only thing that felt vague to me. I enjoyed how you got from a bit of back story to the present day scene in the first page. A neat connection.

    Multitude of Death Stars: Your query was a bit more confusing. She’s a thief against the Galactic but doesn’t consider herself on the side of the rebellion. I’m not sure how she can avoid that. Her destiny seems determined.
    While I like the sci-fi Robin Hood connection, at the end of the first page I couldn’t help thinking that it didn’t seem like the best time to be getting all twitterpated. And she displays a lot of body strength in taking out a man larger than herself. I hope this gives you ideas.