Sunday, June 21, 2015


Entry Nickname: Best(iary) Western
Title: Fugitive Motel
Word count: 90K
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal Fantasy


By day, fifteen-year-old Iris Vox sleepwalks through high school. By night, she plays a grown-up behind the reception desk of her father’s Kansas hotel, checking supernatural Others in and out. Quick with a dart gun or a convenient lie, Iris provides her guests with live food, fresh blood, or a quiet place to spin a web.

It’s the only life Iris has ever known, but it was safer when her dad didn’t spend so much time as a human smoothie. Born with a hereditary curse, he liquefies then pupates back to his normal shape. Dad’s metamorphosis used to happen on a schedule. Now it comes without warning, leaving Iris to hold everything together.

Just as sleep is a luxury to Iris, so is the truth. Her father won’t admit that something’s changed in his curse, or where her mother went. Enraged by her father’s silence, Iris turns to her guests for human contact. Consoling a vampire’s fading blood moll, soothing the self-hate of werewolves, and helping a handsome insect learn to fly, Iris finds her role as listener and solace. While Iris navigates her anger, the curses that fuel the Other world get stronger and stranger. Deeply buried magic is rising to the surface, bringing with it ancient beings who lack the “humanity” that makes Others worth protecting.

Faced with how these new beings will corrupt and endanger the world of Others, Iris finally learns her father’s secret, and its cost to her family. Now she has to decide whether she wants to become the next Innkeeper, or leave the Other world behind.

The 250:

5:45 a.m.

A man staggers in through our automatic doors. Glad for some action, I slide last month’s National Geographic under the counter to focus on my customer. Nothing special about him; anyone else would see a regional salesman coming in after driving all night. An older man with skin like a re-used paper bag.

But the stagger…it’s not quite right. Drunks weave. This guy lurches forward like he’s got an absolute goal. Our desk. Me.

Yep. Pale, sullen, haggard with a side of desperate determination? Definitely looks like one of ours, but I have to be sure.

“Can I help you, Sir?”

“Have you got a room, Miss?”

The man grips the rim of the counter to steady himself. His well-groomed fingernails point toward me. With a great effort he lifts his left hand and slaps it on the counter twice. That’s good. It’s half the sign. Still, he’s not finished performing.

“What are you looking for exactly, Sir?” I prompt.

There’s a long anxious pause as he tries to remember. He grips so hard that his nail beds turn whitish gray. My right hand creeps under the counter so that my index finger can rest on the pebbled steel of the trigger. I feel it and my heart rate drops.

“Rest and feed,” the man answers finally, fishing the words from some hard-to-access place in his brain, laying them out heavily on the counter.


The words before the knocks would have better though. Doing it backwards means he’s starving.


Entry Nickname: Guinness
Title: Blacktop Oracle
Word count: 65,000
Genre:  YA Supernatural Fantasy


Seventeen-year-old Cooper “Coop” Lambert excels at mischief. After he takes a joy ride in the school’s athletic van, he’s given a chance to expunge his record: community service through Seniors Serving Seniors. He’s assigned to Mac, a 92-year-old crotchety piece of work, but he has a way with cars. They’ve nearly finished restoring Mac’s badass 1969 GTO when Coop arrives at the garage to find Mac dead. Days after burying his elderly friend things only grow more treacherous when Coop discovers Mac left the GTO to him.

Mac failed to mention that Sybil goes all funhouse mirror while doing 80 on the interstate. The windows wash out and instead of the landscape he sees visions of people in trouble. If that isn’t enough to get him committed, the prophecies start coming true, and the cops eyeball Coop for knowing more than he should. He doesn’t haveto tell anyone, he can keep it to himself. But when he witnesses a murder, he has a choice to make. If he keeps his mouth shut, someone he knows dies. If he talks, it’s a one-way ticket up crap creek, where his parents have a rubber room on reserve.

First 250:

Dust swirled around Coop’s head, clinging to his hair, skin, and eyelashes. Grit lined his nose and tickled his throat, but Mac kept reminding him that restoration was art, a way of bonding with the GTO. Coop cut off the sander and ran his gloved hand across the fender.

Mac grunted, sitting with his cast up on a case of WD-40 while tapping his glass with one nail.

Coop pulled the dust mask down and inhaled deep. What’d I do this time? Not bow on one knee before touching her? “What?”

“Don’t get many dates, do you?”

The old man was famous for causing whiplash with topic changes, but Coop had learned to go with it.  “Huh?”

 Mac shifted in his fifties La-Z-boy, easing the pressure on his leg. His garage was a haven for old shit, stuffed everywhere, even in the rafters. “A car’s like a woman.”

Coop mopped sweat off his forehead with one arm. What the hell did that have to do with anything? Mac’s wrinkled gaze homed in, and he realized the old guy wanted a response. “Yeah, how so?”

“A woman must be handled gently.” Mac ran his calloused hand lightly, almost lovingly, across the fender. “Stroked in a way that soothes rather than offends. A car is the same way.” Mac was full of…little bits of wisdom.

Coop eyed the fender, struggling to follow the old fart's logic.

“Take that blasted glove off.” Mac’s gravelly voice landed on Coop’s last nerve, but he ripped it off.


  1. Western: Interesting concept. Your 250 is great, especially the last line of it. Very intriguing opening. In the query, however, I feel like maybe you're trying to get in too many details. I had to read it several times.

    Guinness: I've seen this one before, and I liked it before. I think it has a really fun and unique plot. Only criticisms: check out your first mention of Sybil in the query. We don't know who/what that is. Also, you need a space between "have to" and check the punctuation in that sentence.

    This choice is purely subjective, and based ONLY on what I'd buy if I were in the store and had only enough money for one book.

  2. Best(iary) Western has been one of my favorite entries since the beginning. I love the concept, love the way you've incorporated the suggestions, and am completely pulled in by the first page.

    The query for Guinness is much too short. Adding another 50 words or so to flesh out the plot would go a long way toward making agents desperate to turn to the first pages. As for the first 250, it's fine. We're at the subjective part of the competition, and I'm not interested in reading about people working on cars. Which really just means I'm not your target audience, and that's OK.


  3. BEST(IARY) WESTERN – You have a cool premise, and I loved the 250. You get us straight into the heart of Vox’s world and end it on a very creepy note. I don’t write YA but 90K seems a bit high on word count. Also, the query feels a bit long to me. I counted the words and was surprised that you’re only hovering just around 260 words, which isn’t exactly a tome, but there’s so much going on, I feel like you could tighten it up more. I’m not sure you need all the set-up you have in there to explain the dad’s condition for instance. Also, I caught 2 commas in the query that aren’t needed.

    GUINNESS – Unique twist on the precognition trope. And I love your voice in both the query and 250. The 250 does a nice job of setting up the relationship with Mac and Coop, and you show that the car is going to need to be treated in a way that Coop doesn’t yet grasp. Your writing is very nice and tight.

    I have a few nitpicks in the query since they get in my way of reading for content.

    In the sentence “but he has a way with cars,” the “he” reads ambiguous to me. I assume you mean Mac, but the subject of the sentence starts out as Coop. Also, you should mention that the badass GTO is named Sybil so it’s clear in the second paragraph Sybil’s the car. (I inferred it, but no need to make a reader stop and wonder.) And this sentence -- “He doesn’t have to tell anyone, he can keep it to himself.” -- is a comma splice. You could either change the comma to a semi-colon or an em dash.

    These were both excellent. I think you can both make some improvements to get to the next level, but at this point, it’s polishing. I’m voting for the 250 I felt got us up and off the ground running faster.

    Victory – BEST(IARY) WESTERN

  4. Best(iary) -
    Query - The set up is clear -- you do a great job introducing us to this new world quickly. I did stumble over one word, though I got what you meant when I read it again: '...finds her role as listener and solace.' First 250 - Love this opening. The details you include set the stage without being 'telly' and the descriptions remain fresh.

    Guinness -
    Query - I like the opening paragraph -- it sets up the situation much more clearly. One picky point, perhaps 'who' instead of , but' in '...piece of work(, but) who has a way...' There also appears to be a space missing between 'have' and 'to'. The query closes with clear and urgent stakes. First 250 - Nice sensory details bring the opening scent to life. Great line: 'Mac was full of...little bits of wisdom' - it tells us so much about the mc and his world view.

  5. Hmm. An intriguing matchup! Here goes:

    Query Matchup:
    The stakes for Best(iary) Western seem to take a long time to emerge clearly. And, honestly, I'm not sure that they do. So, Iris needs to figure out her dad's curse... but then her own future with the hotel is at stake as a result? I'm not sure how much of a problem that is for her. If the idea is that her coming around to know and understand the Others means she's made a kind of family of them, one she might have to lose with that Innkeeper role, then maybe that really IS something... but there's a lot going on in this query, and a lot of windup that may be preventing it from emerging clearly.

    The query for Guinness is TRULY transformed from my last reading (round 1), and hat's off to the author for making some tough choices here. I was very bothered, though, by not learning the car has a name until I had to figure it out from context in paragraph 2. Dropping that info in paragraph 1 would have made the whole document read more smoothly.

    250 Matchup:
    Ugh. So torn here.

    Okay. There's at least one missing word in this sample, Best(iary) Western: "The words before the knocks would have better though." (been better, you mean, right?). Be careful of your proofing! This isn't the place to miss a word, since it's the first clean copy from you a prospective agent will be seeing. I love the imagery, pacing, and voice of this sample. We have the sense of a character who is in her element and we're catching up to her.

    Guinness, little has changed in this first 250, and while it's solid and conveys personality even through the limited 3rd person POV, it didn't pop for me the same way the writing in Best(iary) Western did.

    I think Guinness has the stronger query now, but the writing is always the win-maker for me.


  6. Best(iary)
    Query: I can't pinpoint the exact changes you made, but I really do like the result we've got here. It reads...clearer, somehow, I think. Happy to see that the super unique concept and high stakes ending to the query.

    250: I'm soo happy with the changes in the 250, like how you took out some of Vox's italicized thoughts, and I think it really helped it all read cleaner. Plus, ugh, I love the feeling of the 250, and it's great that that's still there.

    Query: I don't think I've read this entry before, but the query did its job. It kind of reminds me of Christine, and I'd be eager to read this novel. In particular, I love the way you introduce your MC in the query's first paragraph. I'd definitely want to follow this guy's story. :)

    250: I thought the 250 kind of starts abruptly, but I did enjoy it very much, and would definitely keep reading. I love how the relationship between Mac and Coop already feels developed, even on just the first few pages.

    Another two awesome entries. I wish you both the best of luck.

  7. Best(iery): I would read this in a heartbeat. Love the query, the voice, the concept, it's all right up my twisted, fantastical alley. And I am sorry, but I can't find anything in need of a crit.

    Guinness: I've seen this entry in the early stages, and I have to say I miss your original opening line. I thought it was perfect and am sad to see it gone. I know you're trying to put more of Coop's POV up front, but I also feel like you've taken a bit of the magic out of the first 250. I felt it flowed much better before. The query, though, is 100% better. :) Good job!

    Good luck to you both!

  8. I echo YoSaffBridge's statement that things are getting awful at this point, from the judges point of view. These are both obviously excellent entries, and I expect good things from each of them. I am loath to choose here.


    I've always liked this entry, and I think that the revisions have helped it considerably. The 'pupates' sentence is still a little vague to me, but this is a strong overall. The 250 is inviting, and if the rest of the manuscript is as strong as this, you've got a bright future.


    I'm fond of the 250 in Guinness, and I like the work you've done with the query. I was a little thrown by the initial mention of the car being named 'Sybil' but this is obviously a very minor detail. It's also a well put together entry.

    For me, it simply comes down to me preferring the voice of kombatant's manuscript.

    Victory to BEST(IARY) WESTERN

  9. This one was hard. There's a lot to love about them both.

    BESTIARY: Love, love, love the premise and voice. My one suggestion is to concentrate on the stakes of the query. What does she risk by making the choice? What would she lose/gain by making the choice? As of now I can't tell why she wouldn't walk away from the crazy world.

    GUINNESS: Some really great stuff. I think you can ramp up the voice, thought. I don't know that a 17-year-old guy would say "treacherous" or "excels at mischief." I think you could delete the name of the car to make it more clear at this point. I also don't get the reference to his parents and the room on hold.


  10. I love these kinds of stories. I would totally request both of these if I were an agent. That said, based on the samples here, I think Best(iary) Western had the stronger one. Guiness, you left me with more questions about why I would want to read your book instead of leaving me want to see it. I have no idea who Sybil is and I'm clueless about the prophecies. Also, why are the cops interested in Coop? What exactly is going on here? You've given us stakes, but they aren't connected to anything. I need to have some sort of investment in Coop and what's happening to him, in order to want to read his story and cheer him on.

    As I said before, if I were an agent, I'd probably ask for more material from both of these. They both sound great. Good luck!

  11. Dr. T.J. EckleburgJune 22, 2015 at 11:28 AM

    Bestiary Western:

    Overall, the query was quite good. It's original and intriguing, and for the most part, easy to follow. My main issue is that your actual plot/stakes are a bit unclear. For instance, the final line. There's nothing in the rest of query about her becoming the next innkeeper or about leaving the Other world, so it's a really odd & confusing way to end the query.

    The ancient beings seem to be the real threat, but you don't elaborate on that much. How exactly are they threatening the Other world and Iris? How are they related to the final stakes you mentioned? I think you need to tighten up the first 2.5 paragraphs so that you can focus a bit more on the end.

    I loved your 250. It was a great introduction to your world, and immediately pulled me in. I'd definitely turn the page.


    Nice query, great voice! For clarity's sake, I'd suggest changing "but he has a way with cars" on the third line to "who has a way with cars." Also, I didn't know who Sybil was (cut it or explain) and the whole funhouse mirrors line was confusing.

    I felt like you could have elaborated on the second half a bit more. The car with the prophetic windows, and how it effects his life, is the real meat of the story. So I think we need a little less on how he gets the car, and a bit more fleshing out on what happens after he gets it. Along with this, the final stakes need work. First off, "up crap creek" is too vague--you need concrete stakes. Second, I can't tell if that dig about the rubber room is in earnest. Are his parents really threatening to send him to a mental institution?

    First 250 is pretty good. While there's not a lot happening, I get a really good sense of the characters. Nice voice.

    Tough call here, as I think you both did a good job. The first hints of more originality and complexity to me, so I'm going to give VICTORY to BESTIARY WESTERN.

  12. Western: This is my first time seeing your entry. Fascinating and unique premise. I loved your first 250. Especially that last line. The query has too many details for me and I just felt confused. Could you take out any details it doesn't absolutely have to have and see how you like it? Maybe simplify the Dad's odd condition and just say he's under a curse and is out of control, or something simpler?

    Guiness: The query is really improved. Two nitpicks: He’s assigned to Mac, a 92-year-old crotchety piece of work, but he has a way with cars. This reads a bit awkwardly to me. I'd try to take out the "he" because you started the sentence with "he" and it can be confusing which of the two males the second he refers to. SEcond nitpick? When you mention Sybil in the second paragraph, I'm confused because you never mentioned that Sybil was the car in the first paragraph. Both easily fixed!

    First 250: Shows us the two characters and their relationships very nicely. You mention that Coop has a hard time following the old guy's logic. I was having a hard time too, so perhaps the first page might ease us into his weird topic changes a bit later, once we've gotten to know Coop a bit more?

    Both very strong entries. Glad I'm not voting.

  13. Best(iary) Western:

    I like the premise and can imagine this world clearly, but consider tightening the third section and focusing more on the magic rising to the surface. The voice is great, and I would dive into the pages.

    The first 250: Although the first few sentences didn’t immediately grab me, the scene picked up quickly and I enjoyed the scene you created!


    I like the changes to your query and the stakes are clear. Plus, the voice really pops in the query and first 250.

    This is really, really, REALLY hard. I would buy both of these books in a millisecond. This is purely subjective as I believe these are both strong and deserving of a win.

    Victory goes to: GUINNESS

  14. Both of these are such cool, creative stories!

    Best(iary) Western

    For such a complex world, you do a great job of explaining it succinctly! I might put the scare quotes around human instead of humanity (Unless they are considered human? In which case I would leave the scare quotes out entirely. I took humanity in this context to mean kind/having human qualities as opposed to the ancient beings.). Your 250 is gripping!


    I love that your query and 250 have the same Devil-may-care, 17 yo boy’s voice. That’s hard to pull off! I have mixed feelings about the funhouse mirror line – it’s funny and works with the voice, but it also took me a minute register what you meant because of the informal phrasing. I would consider rewording the next line (The windows wash out and instead of the landscape he sees visions of people in trouble.) It’s an important plot point, but I think it could have more impact. It’s so nice to see male protagonists, and I would definitely keep reading.

  15. Best(iary) Western
    Query: The premise is pretty awesome, but I wasn't as hooked by the stakes at the end as I'd have liked. Finding out the truth of her father's secret is a little vague; I'd rather know exactly what the secret is. I think that would clarify the stakes. For a back blurb, this would be perfect, but as far as I've heard (however much you want to trust that...), it's better to put spoilery things in the query than to leave it too vague.

    250: Love this opening. It conveys a strong sense of character and the motel pretty instantly with solid tension.


    Query: I love the revisions you've done on this query. The one semi-awkward thing is that, due to the cuts I think, the car's name now comes out of nowhere in the second paragraph. But I think this has improved a lot!

    250: I feel like one or two lines have been added here about the setting, and they feel to me like they're interrupting the flow of the scene (particularly the line about the garage being a haven for old shit) rather than adding to my understanding. Finding a balance can be super tough, and I know conflicting feedback is obnoxious, but I think I preferred the earlier versions of this I saw. Sorry! I still love it. I just loved earlier versions (of the 250) more.

  16. Here are two more great match-ups! I love them both so I certainly don't envy these judges who have to decide!

    Best(iary) Western: I've seen your query before and I think you did a great job of clarifying how and why Iris' father is a human smoothie. I still love your 250 with the man lurching towards her and the secret code. I noticed one thing in the second to last line, though. Should it read: "The words before the knocks would have been better though" ?? I think you're missing the "been." :) Great entry!

    Guinness: Wow. I love the changes you made to your query. You've streamlined it and kept only the most important details. Well done! I still love your 250 but I can tell you've added more and it's great. I've always liked how Mac compares cars to women. I think this is such a great premise and I really, really hope this gets published so I can read it!

  17. What a matchup here!

    BEST(IARY) WESTERN gives us a sympathetic character and fantastic world-building right from the start. I love how the little details of this query work in the foreground even as a major conflict builds in the background. Overall a very nice query with good structure and hook.

    GUINNESS is all about the voice. I can tell that the story is going to be entertaining just by the way the query's written, and I simply loved the last line about the rubber room on reserve. Unfortunately, I'm just not compelled by the actual plotline. I'm being pitched a YA Supernatural Fantasy (which is already a little double-dipping) but there's very little supernatural or fantastic promised in the query. The second half is all vague thriller generalities. While I'm nearly enchanted enough by the voice to want to read this one anyway, that alone isn't enough.

    Victory To: BEST(IARY) WESTERN