Sunday, June 15, 2014

QK Round 2: The Past is Back versus Love is Hell

Entry Nickname: The Past is Back
Word Count: 67,000
Genre: Adult Paranormal Suspense


Reine doesn’t want to die; once was more than enough.  It’s not because she’s afraid of the permanent end to mortal life. After slipping into the frigid waters of the Venetian lagoon in 1498, that’s no longer a possibility. It’s actually the reason she’s stopped aging and can heal almost instantly. No, Reine’s afraid because her new gifts came at a price: her memories. Forgetting the first twenty-three years of her existence made Reine swear to maintain her safety – and thereby her past – even if it meant living a quiet, solitary, and uneventful life. 

She’s successful for five centuries, but when the Georgetown art historian’s invited back to the Serene Republic to examine a resurfaced DaVinci, she finds her secret’s been compromised. The portrait is of her. More importantly, the painting’s owner was – and still is – Massimo Baldovini, her husband who also should have died long ago. Although Reine has no memory of this pompous, domineering, and utterly irresistible man, Massimo’s desperate to rekindle their relationship. Reine now has the chance to trade her quirky sock collection, musty libraries, and an ordinary life with any mortal she’d surely outlive for the man who’s apparently loved her for half a millennium. The choice should be easy, until she inexplicably gets sick for the first time in five hundred years and starts to remember things Massimo wishes would remain buried.

With her immortality – and maybe even her life – on the line, Reine must determine if she can trust Massimo to save her or whether she’s just been a pawn in his self-serving plans from the very beginning.

First 250 words:

Reine clutched her broken hand to her chest and repeatedly tapped the “Door Close” button with the other. The pain in her fingers was almost unbearable, but it would be gone soon. Hopefully it would be soon enough. 

As the elevator door slid slowly into place, she looked out into the hotel’s sleek, modern lobby one last time. Thankfully, it was still deserted. This wasn’t unusual given the wintry weather and the late hour, but she knew he had to be right behind her. 

He couldn’t catch up. He couldn’t see her. Not just yet.

With a small jolt, the elevator finally began to move upward and she looked at her hand again. It was shaking, but as she flexed her fingers, the last signs of bruising – and of the pain – disappeared. However, that didn’t make her happy. 

For the second time in two weeks, she almost inadvertently revealed her secret. A secret her life depended on. She should have just ended the conversation when she fumbled to answer a simple question: “Are you married?”

But she didn’t, and that was mistake number one. 

The blunder was a warning sign, and she ignored it. She had uncharacteristically let her guard down. But who wouldn’t have, if they had looked into those eyes or had seen that smile? As always, her heart would be her downfall. That’s why she had avoided listening to it for so long.

Until tonight. 

And that’s when she made the second mistake: getting injured.


Entry Nickname: Love is Hell
Title: Daughter of Lilith
Word Count: 71,000
Genre: YA Paranormal


As a half-demon, sixteen-year-old Ariel rips souls from the living as casually as mortals order coffee.

Raised by her abusive headmistress, Batal, Ariel blindly accepts all humans as a worthless blight on the world – especially males. But when a car accident leaves her stranded, a minister’s son, Mike Flannery, goes beyond the call of duty to help. His genuine concern forces Ariel to question her education.

Mike’s kindness and sincerity suggests he’s not the filthy slime her teacher claims him to be. She soon realizes he brings out something in her she didn’t know she had - humanity. Feeling deceived, Ariel runs away and vows to never again let Batal or anyone else manipulate her. However, Batal is not about to let one of her pawns escape without a fight.

Now the renegade demon realizes letting Mike into her life endangers them both. Ariel is faced with a choice as cruel as the punishments she endured from her teacher. She can deny her new feelings and walk away to protect Mike from the creatures of Hell, or confront her sadistic headmistress, risking an eternity of suffering for a chance at love.

First 250

I stand over the young woman asleep on her side, next to a male. An elongated pillow rests between her knees and under her enlarged belly, supporting her womb.

Searching the bedroom – as I must – I look for any signs that would prevent me from fulfilling my duty. As usual, there are none. No one from today remembers the ancient agreement.

I return to the bed. Glaring down at her mate, the corners of my mouth tighten into a scowl. How can any self-respecting female allow a son of Adam to defile her?  The bile in my stomach churns creating a bitter taste in my mouth, making me want to spit. Control, Ariel. Stay in control.

I’m not here for him. He is not my purpose. I must serve the Mother the way I’m expected. Taking a deep breath, I return to my task.

Holding out my hand, palm facing down I listen to the expectant mother’s breathing. Her heartbeat comes into focus, slow and rhythmic. Moving my hand so it hovers over her belly, another heartbeat emerges, faster but still harmonious – the child’s.

Directing all my attention on the mother’s womb, a gentle, soft glow made from thousands of faintly illuminated sand-like particles rise from the woman’s stomach. It grows in intensity as I gradually lift my hand. The tiny crystals follow, collecting below my open palm forming into a baseball size orb.

It always fascinates me, what the soul looks like outside of the body, maybe because I don’t have one myself, none of us half-breeds do.



    Query: This sounds like such a fun read! I love the idea of her losing her memories in exchange for supernatural powers. I just had a few things that didn't quite work for me in the query. The first paragraph confuses me. I'm not sure how Reine isn't afraid of the permanence of death but is afraid of being found out? Then in the last paragraph, the stakes become her life which is something that she isn't afraid of? I'm just having a hard time figuring out how death and the price of her memories are connected. I understand that when she died the first time, she lost her memories. Is that something she theorizes will happen to her again if she dies? I'm also funny about the line "It's actually the reason she's stopped aging". Is there a way to slip that into the first or second sentence by streamlining them? Right now, the first paragraph reads a little jarring. The rest of the query is wonderful and really sets up the problem she faces and the stakes. I'd keep reading to find out what Massimo is up to!

    First 250: This is very good. I get her frantic energy and need to get away immediately by her "repeatedly tapping" the elevator button. There are only a few places I'd like to see this expanded. First, instead of telling us that the pain in her fingers was unbearable, it'd be nice if it was shown. I'd like to see how a character who heals takes pain. Is she stoic about it? Does she clench her teeth? Another thing I noted was the use of "However" which felt passive. I'd consider taking it out. The last thing is her talking about "those eyes" and "that smile". If this is Massimo or a character that stays in the story, I'd like a little more here to tell me what it was about those eyes and smile that have her heart racing. I loved the last line!


    Query: This sounds great and I like that it is a fresh take on a demon story. I haven't read anything like this before! I think the stakes are high and clear and I love that three characters were introduced without it being confusing. I'm totally tempted to see what Ariel decides to do and I think this one suggests a lot of potential for character growth. I also think that first line is a great hook! The only thing I wanted answered is why Batal is hellbent on getting Ariel back. Is she a star pupil or is it just the idea that one of her minions would abandon her?

    First 250: I love this beginning! It already has me intrigued and I want to read more. Ariel seems absolutely wicked (which again, means there is plenty of growth opportunity for her)! I love that her first reaction is anger at the woman for being with a man. That is really fascinating. The only thing I'd like to see in here is a sign of what Ariel is searching for in the second paragraph. Can she just say what it is--a cross, a bag of something in a drawer? It would only take a word or two but as it reads now, I was pulled out of the story to try to figure it out.

    These are both paranormals I haven't read before which I love and I think both beginnings are really strong since they highlight the supernatural element. This makes my decision really difficult.


    I love the premise and it seems like it would be a fun read, I just wish the query was a little tighter. As it is, I was confused a few times by it. In the first paragraph, I didn’t understand why she needed to “maintain her safety”? If she has lost her memories, why does she feel she’s not safe? It seems like she would have forgotten everything, even if someone meant her harm? Or is the memory loss partial? Maybe she still has instincts that warn her? I feel this needs to be clarified. Also if she is immortal and can heal almost immediately, it seems she shouldn’t be afraid of much, so why hide for 5 centuries unless she knew someone was after her? I was further confused by the first 250. Why is she flustered by someone asking if she’s married? Why is she so afraid of being discovered? Who does she think is after her?

    I remember this from the first round and see some changes and improvements. Great job! Opening the first 250 with the pregnant woman has a much greater punch, and paints a clear picture of Ariel’s “heartlessness.” I don’t like people who take unborn baby’s souls, but man! Does it make her an interesting character? And does it make me want to keep reading?

    VICTORY GOES TO . . . Love is Hell

  3. The Past is Back would get my vote based on story concept, but the writing is bogged down by adjectives and adverbs and the query still doesn't make sense to me. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

    Love is Hell also has plenty of adjectives and adverbs, but I'm more turned off by the cliches and illogical diction.
    "worthless blight" (is humanity worthless, or is it a blight? Pick one), "goes beyond the call of duty," "filthy slime" (is it filthy, or is it slimy? Pick one), "one of her pawns" (maybe that's just a demon trope that I'm unaware of, but I'm tired of it), "corners of my mouth tighten" "stomach churns," "bitter taste in my mouth." This feels like first draft work.

    My vote is The Past is Back.

    Query - I have to admit that this query kind of confused me, particularly the first and third paragraphs. If Reine's immortal, she can't die, but her memories can? How can both her immortality AND her life be on the line? Don't both options mean that she dies? The second paragraph was better, because it introduces the reappearance of her husband and the potential for conflict. I think there's a really interesting story here, but the query confused me to the point that I didn't understand how Reine was threatened.

    First 250 - I like the tension here as Reine anxiously waits for the elevator to close and whisk her away. There's enough intrigue here to make me want to keep reading.

    Query - Really well done. The main character, the set-up, and the conflict are all established without going into lengthy explanation or description. To me, this is an example, of a well-written query that gives the reader just enough to go on, but also ends with a high-stakes hook.

    First 250 - Great voice here. I don't have much to say because it read smoothly and pulled me into Ariel's viewpoint. I'd definitely keep reading!


  5. The Past is Back: I know you are trying to inflect voice into your query but writing "historian's" instead of "historian is" and "secret's" instead of "secret has" it really tripped me up because my brain went right to the possessive forms of those words which then completely muddled up the meaning, and I had to read the sentences a couple of times. Also, I would consider reconstructing the first sentence of the second paragraph because suddenly throwing in the art historian career the way that sentence is structured also caused me to read it twice, thinking, "Wait, what art historian." You don't want anything to trip up the flow of your query, because an agent/editor might then be concerned that the story itself is written in this confusing way as well. Also, in the 5th paragraph of your 250 words, I would add the word "had" for "she had almost inadvertently..." Again, it's just something small that keeps the narrative clear.

    Love is Hell: A well-structured query. You give us just the right amount of character/conflict information. My one nitpick is simply to eliminate the phrase "especially males." It's not necessary in the query. Perhaps it's important in the story, but you don't need it in the query because when I read it the concept seemed disconnected to me because the cause of her pain is the headmistress, not a headmaster, which would make me understand "especially males." So throwing that in there just threw me and made me read the sentence again to make sure you wrote "mistress" and not "master".

    In the 250 words, not sure "womb" works in the first paragraph because that is interior, and it's her exterior that the pillow supports and that we see. Again, just something that jarred me when reading it. But besides that nitpick, it's an intriguing opening.

    Victory to Love is Hell

  6. The Past is Back
    I think the query's solid, and I'm immediately interested in the story. Great tension on the first page. I want to know how she got injured and who's chasing her. I know the intention is to be vague, but the paragraph talking about the second time in two weeks and how she didn't answer the question right confused me a little. Certainly wouldn't stop me from reading on.

    Love is Hell
    Another solid query. I'm a little torn on the first page. I think you do a great job with this scene. It's absolutely serving its purpose, and I get an immediate sense of this character. My problem is I'm really not drawn in by her. From the query I get why she's this way and we get a clear sense of her character arc, but just on this first page I'm not connecting with her. It may only be a matter of personal taste here. I tend to not connect with duty-bound characters as much. I do think you've set the scene and the rules for this world very well, so good job!

    Two solid queries and two intriguing premises with gripping openings. Great work, both of you! Good luck!

  7. Past Is Back
    I like the concept here but I'm confused by the first paragraph. Why does losing her memories make her determined to keep her safety? It also feels a bit round about in the beginning. She doesn't want to die. Well, she can't so that doesn't matter, right? So why mention it? Just so you can say that cute line? Seems like it. I think you'd do better to simplify that paragraph and just simply tell us she's immortal and doesn't remember anything from her mortal life. Then cue old husband whom she doesn't remember. That's just my preference, though.

    Love Is Hell
    Sounds like an interesting story. The ending confused me a little though
    "She can deny her new feelings and walk away to protect Mike from the creatures of Hell," I'm GUESSING that you mean if she leaves he'll be safe, but its doesn't really read that way at first. I suggest rephrasing to get that point across a little stronger.

    Victory to Love Is Hell

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

    I feel like we're starting in the middle of the action here, and personally, I'm not very fond of that kind of setup in the opening. I don't know who she is or why she's in the hotel or who she's running away from, or what her secret is (that she's immortal? able to heal herself?) I also don't really get a good feel of who she is or what she's feeling while all of this is happening.

    The opening lines definitely give me a foreboding feeling, make me nervous for the woman and her child. Harm to babies/children is one of those things that I avoid reading about, and because of that, I'd be really hesitant to read any further - just a personal thing. Overall, though, I do think that the voice is strong and we get a solid impression of the MC.

    Victory to LOVE IS HELL.

  9. The Past is Back:
    I love the story, but this paragraph confused me: "Reine now has the chance to trade her quirky sock collection, musty libraries, and an ordinary life with any mortal she’d surely outlive for the man who’s apparently loved her for half a millennium. The choice should be easy, until she inexplicably gets sick for the first time in five hundred years and starts to remember things Massimo wishes would remain buried."

    I wonder if it could be streamlined. Maybe break up the sentences. I think the important thing is that she has a chance to live a mortal life, but why is that appealing? I also think you can probably delete the detail about getting sick and focus on her starting to remember.

    The 250 is a little vague, but I'm still intrigued.

    Love is Hell:

    The query is very solid. I love the first line. I was a little confused about the last sentence about the stakes. That could probably be fixed pretty easily by getting rid of extra words.

    I like the way the 250 starts, but I'm unclear about what she is there to do. Is it steal the baby's soul? How would that serve the mother? Maybe you need to clarify in the query what her role is in terms of serving mothers.

    Great job on both entries!

  10. The Past is Back: I love what you've done with your query since round one. This is so much easier to follow and lays out the stakes much clearer. The first one left me scratching my head a bit, so congrats on really utilizing all the amazing feedback we so well!

    Love is Hell: The query looks great. The premise is intriguing. The only suggestion I could offer would be to look at the last sentence of your first 250. I feel like it could be broken up a bit. If you did that, it might make it stronger instead of running together with all those commas like it does now.

    Good job guys! These both look so interesting!

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

    Victory to Love is Hell

  12. Here's the feedback I promised.

    The Past is Back

    Query: The first paragraph confuses me. Reine doesn’t want to die, not because she’ll be dead but because she’ll lose her memories. Is it because she knows she’ll forget and be reborn with more gifts again? Cause if she’s dead, the memory thing is moot. And if she’s immortal, until she gets sick in the distant future, why would she be afraid of death? The premise is intriguing, but I’m losing it under details like sock collections and the roundabout explanation of how this entire thing started. It’s got an faint Dorian Grey quality to it, which I like.

    250: The pain in her fingers was almost unbearable, almost is a word you want to avoid, along with begin. Have her fingers throb, ache, pulse with the pain, that will nix was and make the sentence more active. The elevator finally moved upward, getting rid of began. The phrase “as always” makes me think this has happened before, and often, but if she hasn’t listened to her heard for a long time then that contradicts the phrase.

    Love is Hell

    Query: This paints a nice picture of the character and her conflict, both internal and external. Only a few nitpicky things here. Second paragraph, second sentence, “she soon realizes” the she refers to the teacher, so the next sentence should start with Ariel.

    250: The only thing that slowed me down in this was the description of the light lifting from the woman’s belly to Ariel’s hand. Gentle and soft provide the same visual, so I’d cut one or the other, as well as the faintly before illuminated. That’s three descriptors, three SIMILAR descriptors, used to describe one thing. It’s overkill, and you don’t need it.

  13. Love is Hell:

    Such great edits to this over the last version! I love that you cut the extraneous details about the couple, and allow us to get right into the soul-reaping. It works really well. And I had complained about all the emoting last time round (with the bile and glaring and what-not) and you kept it and made it work quite well. Interspersing it with the italicized question made it feel much lighter. Good work! I wish my edits were this effective! :-)

    In the query: is suggests really the right tense? It should be suggest, right? Max's son and daughter suggest that we visit the park. Despite the 'and' the subject is still singular, right? That's what I think, although I'm no king of grammar. I stumbled over that regardless.

    The Past is Back:

    Getting to the party this late, I feel like I don't have much new to add here. I will say that I really stuggled with the connection between these two sentences. "After slipping into the frigid waters of the Venetian lagoon in 1498, that’s no longer a possibility. It’s actually the reason she’s stopped aging and can heal almost instantly."

    I'm honestly not 100% sure of what you're trying to say here. Also, it's 'Venetian Lagoon' not 'Venetian lagoon'. That body of water is a proper name, like the Gulf Bay.