Sunday, June 15, 2014

QK Round 2: She Wears Bruises Like Trophies versus Lavender Marriage

Entry Nickname: She Wears Bruises Like Trophies
Title: Lucky Punch
Word count: 71,000
Genre: Adult Contemporary


After two years in a veteran’s outreach program of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), widowed military veteran Poppy Leon is slowly rebuilding her life. She strives to be a great single parent to her son Milo, despite suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), after almost losing her life in a mortar attack in Iraq.

With an unbeaten MMA record Poppy’s career is skyrocketing, and her relationship with her five-year-old son has never been better. But a vicious blow to the head during a match triggers a flashback, and Poppy loses control, nearly killing her opponent. She’s immediately plunged into a mental and physical nightmare. Unable to function, Poppy lashes out at those she loves the most, including Milo. 

Despite the resurgence of her PTSD Poppy tries desperately to hang onto the sanity that MMA has given her. But when she grabs Milo too hard during a school function, the safety of her son is questioned when the authorities arrive. If she doesn’t get herself together and Marine-up, Poppy knows losing a match is the least of her worries. But what was once her most cherished outlet soon has her reliving her past trauma with every strike and blow. Poppy must decide between Marine and Mother if she's ever going to give her son and herself the life they both deserve. 

First 250:

The tent was in flames. Poppy felt like she’d been thrown against a concrete wall. Sand filled her mouth, and her head was splitting apart. All she could think was, move! Tears streamed from her eyes as she opened them, and rough hands grabbed her and dragged her from the tent. 

Poppy fell to the ground next to another Marine and watched in a haze as her savior ran back into the tent to bring out anyone left inside. She choked as she inhaled an acrid breath.

She looked around, the ringing in her ears increasing, and brought a hand to her face and wiped her eyes. In slow motion the smoke cleared and the clatter of a .50 caliber machine gun sang a song in the distance. She heard herself asking the question, what happened, in a voice that didn’t sound remotely like her own. She brought her hand up to her head, grimacing as she felt something sticking out of her skull. She'd felt safe when she'd taken off her battle rattle. Poppy leaned over and retched into the sand. 

She crawled over to the body next to her, putting a shaking hand on the Marine’s neck to feel for a pulse, but not even a whisper beat against her bloodied fingers. Poppy drew her hand away and felt herself up. Head: mostly intact, but the rest of her she wasn’t so sure about. She looked around, wondering who was in charge. Then she remembered: she was. 


Entry Nickname: Lavender Marriage
Title: The Well-Adjusted Household
Word Count: 87,000
Genre: Adult Upmarket Fiction


Ben has been called a lot of things: doctor, husband, father, deviant, liar. His wife Alena calls him friend and her brother Iain calls him lover.

They live in Prohibition-era Pittsburgh and booze isn't the only thing that's illegal. Homosexuality is a felony and Ben and Iain don't care to spend the next ten years behind bars. Luckily, their sham marriages to Alena and her paramour Margaux are the perfect cover.

In public, they are the wealthy and powerful Blackburn family, heirs to a steel fortune. But behind closed doors, they are an improvised household of artificially conceived children and secret passageways between bedrooms. Everything is orchestrated. Nothing is as it seems.

When a conniving maid discovers their secret, Iain and Ben are arrested on charges of sodomy and homosexual behavior. The men and their constructed family are put on trial and it is up to their wives to convince the world of their “innocence.”

With an unjust law and an unsympathetic jury, they are well-aware that the truth will not set them free.

First 250 Words:

On your right!”

The bicycle appeared from around the corner while Ben was lost in thoughts of covalent bonds and chemical reactions. There was no time to avoid impact. His chemistry beakers hit the pavement first, followed by his face.

“Jesus Christ, I've killed him. Hello? Can you hear me?”

As Ben regained consciousness, he assessed his injuries. Pain, but no broken bones. He rolled to his back. “Left. You were on my left.”

Pardon?” The offending cyclist hovered over him, surveying the damage. “Goodness. You're bleeding.”

Ben sat up slowly, his ears ringing and his vision blurry. He poked at his cheek where a shard of beaker glass had lodged. “Blast.” 

Here, let me help you.” The young man grabbed Ben's arm and pulled him to his feet. “I do apologize. I've never run over anyone before.”

Ben wobbled slightly, adjusting the spectacles still somehow perched on his nose. “I find that hard to believe.”

My apartment is just there,” he offered, disregarding Ben's comment and pointing to a building across the street. “Would you care to come up? Use the washroom? That gash is quite a sight.” The young man leaned in closer, inspecting the wound.

“I, um, don't think–” Ben suddenly noticed that his assailant was beautiful and smelled like Eau de Quinine. 

Please. It's the least I can do,” he laughed, gesturing to the mess of papers and glass at their feet.


“I insist.” He offered his hand. “I'm Iain, by the way.” 


  1. Judges, reply here with your comment and vote.


      Query: I think you do an awesome job telling us all about who Poppy is and the stakes are wonderful. I really felt compelled to find out what was going to happen to her and her son! I just had a few tiny things that I think will help this query be flawless. First, I think the transition between the first paragraph and the second is lacking. It's the beginning sentence in the second paragraph. I'd like it to be combined with the second sentence so we get the plot right away. As reader, I felt like it should start there and then I got another sentence of backstory instead. Also, I would like to see the stakes laid out in the third sentence in the third paragraph. The "least of her worries" part is a great place to tell us what is at stake without being vague. Tell me she is going to lose her son! Otherwise, I think this is a knock-out query!

      First 250: This is such a great set up! Starting with action but I feel rooted into the situation and know what's going on thanks to the clear description. The last line definitely packs punch and I'd keep reading from there. There are only two things for me that would make this stronger. I'm not a fan of the passive beginning sentence. I'd like something beside "was" to tell us the tent was on fire. The second is very small but I loved that the machine gun "sang a song in the distance". However, I'd love to know what kind of song. How does Poppy hear it in this moment? I think because I love the way this is phrased, I noticed it and just wanted a little more here. Very strong opening!


      Query: Oh, this seems so juicy! I love a story that is full of lies and deceit and this query promises plenty of that. I'm not sure how much this matters but the only thing that caught my attention is the multiple paragraphs in this one. It doesn't read long when I looked through it but I worry it looks long on the page and I'm not sure if that will put agents off. I'm not even really sure if it is something you should worry about because I really like how this one reads. It's just something I wanted to point out so you are aware of it. I wish there was more I could say but this lays out a lot of characters, plot, setting and stakes in an easy-to-read manner. Bravo!

      First 250: I like that there is a lot going on in this beginning and yet it is still full of dialogue. The sparse description works well. However, I think the impact of Ben getting hit with the bicycle is buried in the second paragraph because we get the appearance of the bike and then we get what Ben was doing which loses focus on the fact that the bike might hit him. Other than that, I think this is a lovely, fast-paced scene and I would definitely keep reading!

      I think these are both wonderful entries that do a lot of things right in the query and first 250 so this choice is really hard.


    2. These two queries are excellent. I don’t need to elaborate to these contestants on having all the elements necessary in a query, because it is clear they both know what those things are. The opening 250 were also very good, though I did prefer one over the other.

      As I read the first 250 for both, however, I was left wondering if they are flashbacks?

      For “Lucky Punch”, the query indicates that we will enter Poppy’s life at least 2 years after the mortar attack, correct? And what is more pressing in her life is what is happening “now” with her son and the MMA. I feel like starting with the explosion is a very *obvious* beginning, sort of the beginning most people would go for. Is there a better place to start?

      For “he Well-Adjusted Household”, it was kind of the same. Was that just a flashback? Or are we going to go through all of Ben and Iain love affair because we get to what is described in the query?

      I don’t know. I feel like both beginning are at odds with the queries. Both are well-written, though, so kudos to the authors. It is hard to nitpick at this point, but there you have it. I just did.

      I do have to pick someone, and my main reason is that the stakes are higher in query#2. Between martial arts and the child--for me, as a parent--there would be no contest. Query#2 stakes and conflict seem more real to me.

      VICTORY goes to Lavender Marriage.

    3. First of all, I want to say that these are two great entries. This was probably my hardest match-up of all the second round entries, so I put it off until the end.

      Both the query and first 250 are very strong. The only thing that threw me off in the query was the last line: "Poppy must decide between Marine and Mother if she's ever going to give her son..." I don't understand the choice here. She's not an active Marine anymore, so why is that one of the choices? And as a mother, I'd think she'd pick her son over anything else. It seems to me that if the MMA is making her relive her past trauma, maybe she has to choose another way to deal with her PTSD before she loses custody of her son. The first 250 was really visceral and powerfully written. However, as someone else pointed out, if the story starts two years after she's been out of the Marines, then it's almost like a flashback-type prologue, which is sometimes frowned upon as a way to start a novel.

      I love the premise for this! It seems really unique and has the potential to be a major page-turner, especially during the trial scenes. I thought the first 250 were well written and gave Ben and Iain a "meet cute" scene; however, the query gave me the impression that the story started after they'd been married for a while. It might be better for the first chapter to start in the present day and weave in a flashback later.

      It's hard to decide between these two entries, but I'm more drawn in by the premise of LAVENDER MARRIAGE, so...


    4. She Wears Bruises Like Trophies

      Query: This query is precise and to the point in telling us about the story, well done on that front. A few cuts here and there of extra words will tighten the prose. Almost losing her life could be cut to nearly dying, and THAT in the first sentence of the third paragraph can be cut, “…hand onto the sanity MMA has given her.” Other than that, my only true question is what are the stakes here? I get a hint that it’s give up her only means of coping versus try and function some other way, which I would totally buy if there was a love interest of some sort who threatened to walk away if she doesn’t give up MMA. But when that same complication is presented and it’s a child the mother would have to choose over her outlet, it’s easy to see which one SHOULD be the obvious choice, thus deflating the tension in watching her struggle to decide. Now if it’s gonna be about watching her fight to get by without MMA, that make more sense. The story overall comes across as well developed, it could simply be a wording issue.

      First 250: The passive voice present drags the pace and deflates the tension in what should be a quick, heart pounding bit of action. To vanquish passive voice, the easiest thing is to remove/replace passive verbs, particularly the easily recognize were and was.

      The tens was in flames is passive. Flames engulfed the tent is active.

      The second sentence is telling, which can be identified with the verb felt. HOW did Poppy feel like she’d been thrown against the wall? Did her muscles ache? Did her limbs throb? Did her joins hurt?

      Did moving hurt? Show us.

      Second paragraph, if we’re in Poppy’s head, wouldn’t she know this Marine’s name and call him by it?

      When a character hears, watching, listens, sees anything, it’s telling.

      This scene is incredibly visual and hooking, but the passive voice and the telling instead of showing weaken the potential strength that is clearly one of the reasons this piece was chosen. By getting rid of characters seen, hearing, watching, and having them interact with their surroundings, it pulls the reader further into the setting and the connection with the character.

      Lavender Marriage

      Query: The way this hook is set up comes across as slow at first, but then winds up and just socks it to you, well done. My only concern is the third paragraph, where behind closed doors they are an improvised household but everything is carefully orchestrated. These two ideas contradict themselves. Improvised means on the fly, no one knows what’s going to happen next, where orchestrated is something deliberately organized, there’s a master plan in place. This contradiction paints two completely different pictures for their lives. Are things done spur of the moment, or are things in place and order until, one day, something slips. I think the latter would have a greater effect, because when you’re flying by the seat of your pants, you don’t really have a place for anything and almost expect things to come undone.

      First 250: A few words can be cut here and there, mostly because they aren’t really necessary. We don’t need to know the beakers are chemistry beakers, or that the glass in Ben’s face is beaker glass. The voice is humorous, and the prose flows, until Been “suddenly notices that his assailant was beautiful.” You can cut suddenly and that, both are fluff words. Instead of telling us the assailant is beautiful, show us, especially since beautiful means different things to different people. A brief description of fine features or some such will do the tricks. Everything else about the page is clean and straightforward, but done so in a way that doesn’t cheapen the description. Just beautiful doesn’t do the rest of your writing justice.

      It’s easy to see why both of these entries made it to the next round, but after careful consideration I’m going to have to declare Lavender Marriage the winner.

    5. She Wears Bruises Like Trophies

      Really interesting story! I do agree that the stakes at the end don't add up all the way. It feels like there's something there that's missing a little bit. Isn't there something else she can do to support her son? She'd joined the MMA to help with her PTSD but it's not doing that anymore so the easy solution is that she'd walk away and do something else. Find another way. So what's stopping her? Is she still determined to win? Is she addicted to it even though its hurting her? What is actually keeping her fighting if it's no longer doing what she started in the first place for?

      Lavender Marraige.

      Really my only concern with this story is I'm SO intrigued by the life that they live I worry I'll only get a hint of it then the rest will be while they're on trial. This isn't really a bad thing, because its super interesting regardless, I just want that 20s lifestyle and hope it isn't replaced by only the trial.This isn't really a critique so sorry about that :) Really, I just want to read it.

      Victory goes to: Lavender Marriage

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

      Definitely off to a action-packed start.

      "brought a hand to her face" - unnecessary... you can just say she wiped her eyes without losing anything

      "brought her hand up to her head" - wordy... can you just say "she touched her head"?

      Overall, interesting, but it seems like it could be tightened up. With so much action and intensity, you don't want to slow it down with long, dragged-out sentences.

      The opening sentences start out strong, with something out-of-the-ordinary in an otherwise-normal day.

      "As Ben regained consciousness" - Was he really unconscious? Or just confused/taken aback?

      It's an interesting scene, but seems somewhat distant. I'd like to see more of what's in Ben's head, especially in the last lines as Iain tries to persuade him to come with him.

      Victory to LAVENDER MARRIAGE

  2. These are both fantastic entries.
    She Wears Bruises:
    You've got a tight, strong query that definitely makes me want to read more. In the 250, one thing that jumped out in the second paragraph was that both sentences use the same format. "She did X as Y happened." I'd consider rewriting at least one of them. You could just say "watched her savior run back into the tent..." or something like that. I'm also a little concerned that something is sticking out of her skull and wondering why Poppy isn't more upset about it. But overall, you've really grabbed my attention with the opening scene.

    Lavender Marriage:
    In the first paragraph of the query, I'd put a comma after "His wife Alena calls him friend" because the "and" is joining two complete sentences. Otherwise, this is amazing. I love everything about it, I can't wait to read the book when it's published.

  3. I like both of these entries. Both subjects are very timely in our society today. My overall comment to both writers, however, is to guard against trying to tell too much in your query. Save such details for the synopsis. Think of the query as simply a way to whet the reader's appetite, like the jacket blurb on the back of a book. Show the reader who the main characters are and the main conflict and build on emotion, not just facts about the plot.

    Lucky Punch: I would strike out PTSD in your first paragraph. Everyone knows what that is (especially since you just spelled it out), and you don't want a reader to feel like you are "talking down" to them.

    The Well Adjusted Household: I would suggest using a different closing sentence. This one almost sounds as if you've already given away the conclusion of the book. Think of ending it with that crucial moment at the end of Act 2 in your story, that "oh, crap" moment that sets up the final act and makes the reader unable to put the book down until they finish.

    Thank you both for entering, and I wish you luck in finding a publisher!

    Victory to: Lavender Marriage

  4. Lucky Punch—
    I like the title. I'm assuming you're referring to the punch that makes her flash back, in which case it's not lucky in the positive sense of the word.
    Take out the passive deadwood in "But when she grabs Milo too hard during a school function, the safety of her son is questioned when the authorities arrive" (remove "the safety of her son is questioned when")
    If you're military, ignore all of the following, because you know more than me. But as a Marine wife, I don't feel like this is that realistic. One, the whole choosing between Marine and Mother. Is that really her choice? The conflict, to me, is more trying to figure out how to deal with her PTSD when nothing seems to help, and her only safe outlet has turned dangerous. Two, it would feel more military if I knew her rank and if, when it's in a flashback to her days as a Marine, she was called by her rank or her last name. I don't know any Marines that call themselves by their first names, female or male.
    A few other things would stop my reading. "Tears streamed from her eyes" in the first paragraph. Inhaling an "acrid breath." The machine gun "singing a song"—it is completely out of tone with the rest of the scene.

    I do really like the first line and the last two lines. Fix the conflict, stop calling her Poppy (I think I also just have an aversion to the name, but at least include rank or last name), make sure your description fits the tone, tighten the diction, and I'd definitely want to read more.

    The Well-Adjusted Household—I wouldn't pick this up based on the title. It's too blah for me, and your query suggests anything but that. Maybe if the cover art was striking enough and showed that it definitely wasn't a "well-adjusted" household by normal standards. Don't even get me started on "Lavender Marriage."

    I think your query is outstanding. Based on that alone, if I were an agent, I'd request a partial. But the first 250 leaves me wanting. Too much dialogue is considered a "loud" manuscript. I'd like more grounding. The dialogue itself comes across as gimmicky, like when you hear a commercial on the radio featuring teen actors, but the dialogue was clearly written by someone middle aged. Ground us in the scene or turn this into a teleplay. If you want the dialogue to come across as more authentic, read more prohibition era texts (actually written in the 1920s and 30s) or listen to old radio shows. Find a balance between the 1920s slang and timeless simplicity.

    These both have plenty of potential! I'm being nitpicky. Go with your gut.

  5. These are both really wonderful queries.

    She Wears Bruises:
    I'd love to see a little more voice in the query. I get a sense of what Poppy is up against. You've done a great job of making the query clean and clear, but I want more of what makes her unique.

    I personally would rather see the story start somewhere else just because I'm a baby when it comes to violence. I want to root for Poppy as a mom and as a character before being thrust into the extreme situation, but again, it's totally subjective. Either way, it is very well written.

    Lavender Marriage:
    Query: It's such an interesting situation and conflict. As I mentioned, this was one of my favorites. I agree with previous posters that the query could be a little more clear in terms of when the story starts. I would also work in the other wife a little earlier. That confused me a bit.

    The 250 is very lively and well paced. I would maybe slow it down a little, just because Ben's accident sounds serious enough that he would need more time to figure out the damage, but that's a small thing. It's such a great idea for a historic fiction off the beaten path. I hope it gets published soon so I can find out what happens.

  6. She Wears Bruises Like Trophies
    Wow, wish I had something constructive to offer. I really liked this one the first time around, and it’s only gotten better. The only suggestion I could come up with would be to consider placing “Then she remembered: she was.” on its own line to set it off for emphasis. Otherwise I think this is a strong query and first page.

    Lavender Marriage
    I also very much liked this query and 250 before. I see some minor changes to the 250, although personally I didn’t have any real quibbles with it the way it was. I do miss the “I'm afraid I can't say the same for your bike” line, but I assume it’s still there after this new 250 (or at least I hope it is; it was a great line).

    Sorry that’s not much help. Another tough match-up for the judges.

    Best of luck to both entries!

  7. She Wears Bruises Like Trophies
    Poppy sounds like a great character, and I'm excited to read her story. But her choice feels like it's leaving out a lot of gray-area options. Surely there must be other things she can do or try? Very tense opening. It's well done, but part of me wants to start the story in the present, dealing with Poppy's current situation. Given the query, it feels like we're starting with a flashback. Personally, I'd rather see Poppy in the ring.

    Lavender Marriage
    Oh, wow, interesting! I'm definitely hooked by the query. But with this story too it feels like we're starting too far back. It's a well-written scene, but is it the right scene to start with? The story presented in the query sounds like it takes place much later.

    Hmm . . . an interesting character in the first and an interesting premise in the second, and both seem to maybe start with prologues. Personally not a prologue fan, but both first pages are well done. Glad I'm not a judge! Can't wait to see both stories one day. Good luck

  8. Bruises: I read yours first round. Think you've tightened up the 250 well. I like the revisions.

    Lavender: I think your query is really strong, but feel like your 250 leads us too far away from the main story. I think it would hook me more if we started with the present and flashed back to that scene later. I think you've got a great premise though.

    I would read both of these!

  9. I didn't read the others' comments, so please forgive me if I repeat anything!

    She Wears Bruises:

    For the query, this sentence tripped me up: "If she doesn’t get herself together and Marine-up, Poppy knows losing a match is the least of her worries." And the rest after that kind of threw me as I wasn't sure what the conflict was. It seems that if she has PTSD now, there's no option---she has to stop because it's causing all of these problems. As the query says, it's no longer her safe outlet, and if that's the case, why do it? I think you need to connect those things together some how.

    The 250 is good except I'm not crazy about the first sentence. Everything else is so descriptive, and the tent was in flames is so passive and removed from her feeling it. I think you can tweak it to put Poppy in the moment. The last sentence is a great twist.

    Lavendar Marriage:

    Wow, what a unique concept!! I liked the query until the last sentence. I would end it with the above paragraph. The conflict is clear--they have to convince the jury they're married or go to jail. You don't need it.

    On the 250, I think you might have started in the wrong place. Maybe it's because I just read the query, but I was expecting the story to start with all of them already knowing each other. I would weave in back story from the present. If this is a flashback, I wouldn't start with a flashback until first introducing the characters in the present. Oh, and as a biker, did they say "On the left" back in prohibition days or was that a more recent "invention"? It seemed a bit out of place given the prohibition setting, but that's just my (uninformed) opinion.

    Good luck to you both!