Sunday, June 15, 2014

QK Round 2: Cozy for Geeks versus Attempting Average

Entry Nickname: A Cozy for Geeks
Title: The Genuine Fake
Word count: 75,030
Genre: Mystery Cozy


You'd have to be drunk or crazy to hire Dahlia Moss as a detective, and her client was conveniently both.  Drunk was verifiable-- there was a wine glass in his hand.  Crazy was self-evident: Dahlia's got no experience, no money, and the only thing she'd been reliably good at finding were pink slips.  

The details of the job only makes it seem stranger.   The client wants her to recover the Bejeweled Spear of Infinite Piercing, a powerful and breathtakingly gaudy weapon from the online game "Kingdoms of Zoth".  The pay is insane, a thousand bucks just for looking, and double for finding it.  Dahlia thinks the job is certifiable, but pragmatically signs on; two thousand bucks buys a lot of Ramen.

Her investigation takes her through the student slums of St. Louis and into the on-line jungles of Zoth, interviewing aggrieved gamers, out-of-work actors, drunken fire-mages, misogynist golems, and an extremely petulant tree.  But just when she gets a handle on the case, her client shows up dead-- skewered by a 3-D printed copy of the very spear she was looking for.

Suddenly, the police are involved, and Dahlia is in the middle of a murder investigation.   Gamers are showing at her doorstep, detectives are trailing her, and more 3-D printed spears are mysteriously showing up in the mail.   It's exactly the wrong time to learn that her client's decision to hire her wasn't so random after all.

First 250:

The only time I ever met Jonah Long he was wearing a fake beard, a blue pinstripe captain's outfit and a toy pipe that blew soap bubbles. He did not seem like someone that was about to change my life.

"I have a proposition for you," he had told me.  Admittedly, that does sound like the kind of thing a life changing person might say. It's right up there with "it's dangerous to go alone-- take this!" and "you are the chosen one." But a plastic bubble pipe really takes the edge off this sort of thing.

It was a nautical themed party, which partly explained his ridiculous outfit. I had thought he was hitting on me. “I’m in a non-dating phase," I had told him. Not entirely true, but I repeat: bubble pipe.

"A financial proposition, Dahlia."

I had no idea who he was. I was irked that he knew my name but it was clear from the way Charice was hovering over him that my roommate was involved. She was wearing an over-sized mermaid's outfit that made her look faintly seal-like-- especially with her mugging at me as Jonah spoke. Eh? Eh? I felt like I should throw a fish at her.

But really: what could I do? I had seventeen dollars and twenty three cents in my bank account at the time of this exchange, with less in savings. I could only use ATMs that dispensed tens. Despite my correct sense that Jonah was 1) ridiculous and 2) trouble, at the phrase "financial proposition" he had my undivided attention.


Entry Nickname: Attempting Average
Title: Love and Fat-Free Cheese
Word Count: 68,000
Genre: Romantic Suspense


With her love of ice cream and disdain for yoga, Juliet Easton seems like an average twenty-three-year-old woman. Seemingly average, because no one knows about her involvement in the disappearance of her sister’s fiancé two years ago.

Now, with a new job, a doting boyfriend, an irresistibly handsome boss, and a jealous, diamond-covered rival, it seems she can move on. However, hopes of putting her past behind her are dashed when she walks through her front door to find the missing fiancé sitting on her couch.

His arrival and the chaos that ensues prove that someone close to her can’t be trusted. Is her boyfriend only pretending to care for her to discover her family’s secrets?  Is her boss, with his ambiguous past and financial trouble, somehow involved? In order to protect herself and her family from the choices they made two years ago, she must figure out who’s betraying her and on whom she can rely. As she’s forced to trust one of them, she hopes happiness is found when caution is lost.     

First 250 Words:

I thought yoga was supposed to make me feel tranquil, peaceful, and sculpt my legs into those of a Greek goddess. However, as I strain every muscle in my body in an effort to do this Downward-Facing Dog pose, I feel anything but calm or goddess-like. I guess it is clearing my mind. For the last three minutes, I’ve been too focused on the intense physical pain that this relaxing exercise is causing me to think about how nervous I am to step foot inside The Bradley Corporation.

“Breathe. Remember to breathe,” the instructor sporting head-to-toe spandex sings out as she demonstrates a One-Legged King Pigeon. Where do the names of these poses come from? I already feel ridiculous as I try these positions. I’m turning purple, gasping for breath, shaking profusely, and have sweat pouring down my face, but to top it off, I’m being referred to as a boat, camel, cow-face, plow, and now a one-legged king pigeon.

I want to scream out that I can’t breathe when trying to touch my feet to my head. Instead I slip in a giant puddle of sweat. I flop down on my mat, ignoring the angry look from the woman next to me. Her shirt bejeweled with the word “Enlightened” is contradicted by her furrowed eyebrows. Closing my eyes, I picture myself inside The Bradley Corporation meeting a man whom I know nothing about. I do have his name and office number written on a paper in my purse, Owen Denny, 9B.


  1. Cozy for Geeks:
    I really like the changes you've made to this query. I wasn't a fan of the original opening, and this reads much more smoothly to me.

    The opening reads like the narrator is conveying the story to a third party after the fact and the whole thing's a flashback. Is it a prologue? If that's the intent, then ignore me. Good job. :-) Some very minor changes could make it feel more like we're watching their first meeting instead of having someone tell us about it later. But that's a personal preference. Also, I'd hyphenate "life-changing." Overall, though, this is great.

    Attemping Average:
    Again, great changes to the query. Now I feel like I've really got a good handle on the plot, and the suspenseful elements hinted at before make a lot more sense. I'd still like another sentence about what exactly happened to the fiancé or what role she played in his disappearance.

    This is a great opening. I've been that woman in yoga. I instantly connect with the main character. And her nerves about the meeting get me wondering what's about to happen next, which makes me want to read more.

    Great job, both of you. The judges will have a very tough decision.

    Absolutely funny and great! The query is excellent and conveys the voice of the novel and character perfectly. The first 250 do the query justice (or the other way around ;), continuing with the upbeat, funny voice. The opening line in the first 250 caught me right away. I mean, one doesn’t meet a man wearing a fake beard very often (or ever), so it is just silly enough that I want to find out what is next. Also, the hook at the end got me. It is like “you have me at financial proposition." No doubt I would keep reading. Fun!

    Good query for the most part. I love the normal girl entrance followed by her involvement in someone’s disappearance. Immediately hooked. I love the second paragraph, too. The sister’s fiancé is back! Holy cow, now what? However, I feel that things fall apart a bit on the 3rd paragraph. It feels like the conflict just comes out of nowhere. I thought it would have something to do with the man’s disappearance and Juliet’s involvement in it, and I suppose it does, but the query isn’t clear on that respect, because then “family secrets” are thrown in and something that happened two years ago. “The choices they made…” leaves me wondering who “they” are, I guess it is the family, but who all is involved? I really don’t have a clear picture of what to expect. The first 250 do a good job at letting us get acquainted with Juliet and the humor is great, but as I put query and 250 together, I don’t feel certain of what to expect going forward.


  3. A Cozy for Geeks—
    Your first 250 is hilarious! This is why it's so important to include sample pages in the query. Take that voice and humor and put it into your query, but more importantly, show us the stakes in the query. We know why Dahlia wants to solve the case—that's a lot of Ramen! ;) But what happens if she doesn't solve it? Why does she continue NEEDing to solve it after her client (and presumably her reward) are gone?

    Attempting Average—
    I'm not sure what this story is about. The first two paragraphs of the query are all set-up, until the missing fiance arrives. Start with that. But what does his arrival have to do with her being betrayed? Why does her family need protecting? I have no idea what the stakes are, so I don't know why I should care about the story.

  4. I gave feedback to both of these before, and they haven't changed that much since then, so just two very quick points: I still think the flashback on GEEKS' opening page would read more smoothly in the past tense, not past perfect; and I still think the humour on AVERAGE's opening page would come across better if the prose, sentences and paras were shorter and snappier.

    Otherwise both of these are good, but Geeks' voice, humour and originality make it the clear winner to me, so VICTORY TO A COZY FOR GEEKS.

    Query - Really cool premise. I love the idea of a mystery set in the on-line gaming world. The voice is great, and I sense this is going to be a fun read. The only thing that threw me off was the third paragraph, when it states that Dahlia interviews "drunken fire-mages" and "misogynist golems." For a brief moment, I wondered if you meant ACTUAL fire-mages and golems, as in an urban fantasy, but then I realized you meant online characters. I don't think this is a big deal, but it's just something that caught my attention.

    First 250 - Fantastic voice! I love the details - the nautical party, the seal-like roommate, and the bubble pipe! I don't have much to say here because I liked it SO much. I'd definitely keep reading!

    Query - The first line kind of threw me off - why does liking ice cream and disdaining yoga make Juliet an average 23yo? However, I was intrigued about her involvement in her sister's fiance's disappearance. The second paragraph is great, because it sets up the conflict. But in the third paragraph, you lost me again with too much vagueness. Phrases like "Family secrets" and "the choices they made two years ago" don't really tell me anything. And the last line, "she hopes happiness is found when caution is lost," is too generic to reel me in.

    First 250 - I like the juxtaposition of the yoga exercises with Juliet's anxiety over going to the Bradley Corporation. At first, I thought maybe she was starting the new job mentioned in the query, but her anxiety seems more about meeting someone, so I'm curious enough to keep reading.



    Query: Oh, this sounds like SO MUCH FUN! Seriously, I want to read it like now! I love the first paragraph in the query and all the little online details we get throughout it. My only suggestion would be to tweak the second to last sentence in the last paragraph. We get “showing up” twice in the same sentence (in reference to gamers and spears). If that was changed, I think this one would be perfect. I’d totally pick up this book in a bookstore!

    First 250: Yeah, this is exactly as fun as I thought it was going to be. Dahlia’s voice is distinct and hilarious (seriously, the throwing a fish at her thing has me laughing out loud) and I’d love to keep reading. The only thing that I noticed was the first sentence mentions that Jonah Long was “wearing a plastic bubble pipe” which you can’t really do. Consider adding something like “and clutching a toy plastic bubble pipe between his teeth”. That is the only thing I say that I can suggest to make this even stronger. But as it is, I love this!


    Query: I think there is a lot of good stuff here with the disappearance of a past fiancée and many different suspects. However, I think that excitement gets buried in the first paragraph. The hook isn’t snappy enough. I love the addition of her being involved in the disappearance of her sister’s fiancée but I think that information needs to be the punch in the first sentence. I also think the last sentence is lacking a little because of these big vague words instead of telling us how she might find happiness if she trusts the right person. Show us those stakes! The reappearance of the fiancée in the last paragraph really grabbed me and made me want to figure out what is going on. Getting Juliet’s involvement with the disappearing fiancée in the first sentence and making that last sentence pack a punch with specifics on how trusting the right person will help her will make this a very strong query!

    First 250: I like how this begins because it tells us a lot about the character (especially when she slips). I think the second paragraph reads a little clunky though. It’s the repetition “these poses” in the second and third sentences. Also, the fourth sentence is a lot of telling. I’d rather get these details sprinkled into the story than just be told what is happening to her body. Smoothing out these few wrinkles will help this voice shine through.


  7. A Cozy for Geeks: I love the opening sentence, but in the third sentence I would change "Dahlia's got no" to "Dahlia has no". Using the apostrophe s (like the possessive form) confused me, and I had to read the whole first paragraph over (not something you want an agent/editor to have to do). In truth, I would keep the first sentence and cut the rest of the paragraph. Though it's amusing, it's not necessary, and the query is a bit long as it is, so that would be one easy way of shortening it. I like your voice, but don't over do the humor in the query--save that for your first 250, which I thought was great!

    Attempting Average: I think the first two paragraph of your query are very strong, but I would work a bit on the third. Throwing in the ambiguous "family's secrets" distracted me, and the final sentence in particular confused me greatly. I liked your first 250. We got a good sense of the character and your voice.

    Victory to Attempting Average

  8. A Cozy for Geeks: Love your query. It's not my usual genre of choice, but it's so cleverly written, it would make me pick up the book in a heartbeat. Love the opening, too, but I am not sure of your verb tenses. Having "he had told me" at the start of your second paragraph instead of just plain "he told me" implies that this conversation is deeper in the past, that it happened before all the other past-tense events you're describing. But how can that be, when you're describing their first meeting? Nit-picky, I know, but that's all I've got. Otherwise, I think it's fantastic.

    Attempting Average: I thought paragraph 2 was the strongest part of your query. Paragraph 1 was fine but nothing special, and paragraph 3 got a little confusing. The last sentence threw me in particular. Trust one of them? Trust one of who? You mean her boyfriend or her boss? It's not clear if that's who you're referring to, or why she would have to pick one of them over the other. I liked the 250, although the description of the trials of yoga poses went on a little too long for my taste. But the end hooked me. I loved the transition into your last sentence.

    Nice job, both of you!

  9. Cozy For Geeks
    Sounds like a cool story! I don't quite understand the description of 3D printed spear. That's what killed her client? How? I'm just kind of confused. Do you mean a replica of it? I just can't picture it.

    Attempting average
    I'm on board up to the point where her sister's fiance shows up on her couch. But then you go into "Who betrayed me" territory and never explain what the fiance is even doing there. What does he say? What does he want? Is he threatening her somehow? Black mailing her or something?
    At least give us a hint as to whats actually happening at this point.

    Victory goes to Attempting Average

  10. Cozy for Geeks
    Nailed it. Enough said :-)

    Attempting Average
    I also really like the changes in this one. I think the query flows well and leaves off with a great hook. The only detail I’m still a little unclear on is what the disappearance of the fiancé entailed (I originally took it to be something sinister) and what his return might mean. Also, consider changing “it seems she can move on” to something like “she hopes to move on” to avoid overuse of the word “seem.”

    And one nit in the 250: I’d find a way to drop the double reference to “a one-legged king pigeon.” It’s hilarious, but more than one use kills it a bit IMO.

    Best of luck to both entries!

  11. NOTE: Since I focused on queries in round 1, this time I'm focusing on the first 250 words.

    Like the description in the first lines. I get a great image of Jonah Long, and the plastic bubble pipe made me chuckle.

    The voice really comes through in this opening, and I love the snarky little comments about the bubble pipe and ATMs.

    I'd keep reading!

    The opening lines are relatable, but don't really grab me.

    I have no idea what the Bradley Corporation is or why she's thinking about it during yoga, but it's kind of a jarring jump in the narrative.

    Victory to A COZY FOR GEEKS

  12. A Cozy for Geeks


    I like the changes you made to the beginning. You have a strong voice, and the premise is interesting, but you have some grammar issues. You change from past tense (there was a wine glass in his hand) to present (Dahlia’s got no experience) back to past (the only thing she’d been reliably good at) then back to present for the rest of the query. The first sentence of the second paragraph should be “The details of the job only make it seem stranger” instead of “only makeS it seem stranger.” The verb make needs to agree with details, not job. With just a little clean up, I’d be drawn to read the manuscript.


    Again, great voice, funny, intriguing characters, but grammar is getting in your way. The past perfect tense (he had told me, I had told him) isn’t technically wrong, but it gives the scene the feeling that it’s being told in flashback. That distances me from the character. I’d much rather meet this weird man with Dahlia and join in her adventures than hear about them after the fact.

    Attempting Average:


    Again, I like the changes you’ve made. The beginning is much stronger, but it gets weaker at the end. Why does she suddenly suspect everyone around her? Has guilt driven her to irrational paranoia or do they behave in ways that justify her distrust? Either would be interesting; I’d just like to know.


    I keep stumbling over the first line. I think you have a problem with your parallel structure. You need to be able to say each item in the list as its own sentence and have it make sense:

    I thought yoga was supposed to make me feel tranquil.
    I thought yoga was supposed to make me feel peaceful.
    I thought yoga was supposed to make me feel sculpt my legs into those of a Greek goddess.

    You can see where it breaks down.

    Then the sentence at the end of the paragraph is too bulky. You could cut it down to “For the last three minutes, I’ve been in too much pain to be nervous about my new job at The Bradley Corporation,” (or whatever her reason is for going there).

    Overall, the writing is pretty strong, but the scene just goes on too long with too much detail about a person and a situation (the yoga instructor and the class) that seems like it won’t matter in the rest of the story. Unless it does, in which case, I’ll shut up.

  13. A COZY FOR GEEKS: This looks so weird and is so amusingly written. I can't really think of any criticisms for the query -- it makes sense, it's funny, it's unusual. I think you'll do really well with this. And as for the opener, you had me at soap bubbles. Sign me up, please!

    ATTEMPTING AVERAGE: This opening made me LOL. Poor Juliet! I was a little confused as to who the diamond-covered rival was and how it related to moving on, when that seems like another complication. Also, the last paragraph lost me. It'd help to outline things a bit more specifically instead of using general statements. Also, if you can bring some of that great humor into the query, it'd really help make this shine.

    Wishing you both the best of luck!

  14. Sorry, I meant to say the last paragraph of the query, not the first 250.

  15. Strapped for time, voting, will offer feedback afterwards.

    Victory to A Cozy for Geeks


    Couple nit-picks: I’d keep the query in present tense: “and the only thing she's been reliably good at finding are pink slips.” Also, it should be, “The details of the job only make it seem stranger” because the subject is “details” not “job.” I’d get rid of, “Suddenly, the police are involved,” because the next part is that she’s in the middle of a murder investigation and assumes police involvement. And then, last thing, do you need to add a final sentence that sets out the stakes more clearly? Like, “It's exactly the wrong time to learn that her client's decision to hire her wasn't so random after all. But if she’s going to keep herself out of jail/catch the real killer/whatever she has to . . . .” Not sure. Just a thought.

    250: Love it . . . except the constant past tense, “he had told me” references take me out of the moment. Since the first paragraph announces she’s talking about a meeting in the past, can’t you just say: “I have a proposition for you,” he said. I think it might read more fluidly.



    I like the voice of the query, and the fiancé showing up sound like a fun read, but I’m unsure of the conflict. Obviously, if he’s still alive she didn’t do anything nefarious, so I’m not sure how it raises trust issues, etc., much less is connected to her current job, boss, etc. I think you need to put a sentence in there that provides the reader with a way her old life/the fiancé showing up is actually a conflict.

    First 250:

    I think you might need to tell us what the Bradley Corporation is and why she’s nervous about it. Otherwise, I like the voice and the weaving between yoga and her train of thought. The only thing missing to me is the why she is worried about the meeting.

    Good luck!

  17. Cozy for Geeks

    Query: The first paragraph is cute, but I’m wondering why Dahlia is a detective if she is as inept as the end of the paragraph states. Offer up something that’s redeeming, that makes it believable Dahlia would be hired, even if it’s strange. Maybe she has a super keen mind, or her father was a detective, or something. Doesn’t have to be a lot, but if the reader is wondering why this guy hired her when he had every reason not to, we’re wondering why Dahlia isn’t suspicious as well and doesn’t say no thank you. Second paragraph, nix seem in the first sentence. Seem is one of those words you want to avoid if not needed, and you don’t need it here. And the last sentence in paragraph two, Dahlia thinks her client is certifiable, not the job. The job would be crazy or insane, but certifiable is usually assigned to people and throws the sentence off. Otherwise, the story is well described and looks to be a lot of fun.

    250: He “wore a fake beard” makes the sentence more active. Avoid was. Last sentence, “he didn’t seem like the life-changing type” or some variation of that, to avoid using was and that. The tense is a little flip-floppy. You bounce between past perfect (I believe) and present a couple of times. With past perfect, I believe you can use had a few times then don’t have to for the rest of the time you’re in the flash back. It’s established that it’s a flash back. If the entire book is gonna be a flash back, no need to have it at all. The voice is funny, and I enjoyed reading the page.

    Attempting Average:

    Query: The changes made to this query bring the stakes and the conflict from and center instead of hinting at several possibilities like before, job well done on that. The only thing I find confusing, which affects the entire query, is the hint that this disappearance has to do with more than just her family, especially if people might be getting close to her to find out what happened. That sort of snoopery takes dedication and patience, and a hint as to why someone would do that is needed. No need to reveal any secrets, but if this was national news, or if there was a reward for solving the case or something, that would explain things. Otherwise, the reader is left wondering why the boyfriend or boss even care.

    250: Unless yoga is gonna be a focal point of the book, I wouldn’t spend the entire first page on it. Mentioning it in the query provides voice and depth to the character, but utilizing ALL of your precious first 250 real estate on something that isn’t going to move the story forward at any point at all doesn’t pull us into the plot. Of course show her doing something normal, this scene can definitely be utilized, but maybe a little later, or have her thinking about something that’s essential to the plot while she’s floundering or some such.