Sunday, June 21, 2015


Entry Nickname: My Monster Twin is Rotting
Title: A Savage Miscreation
Word count: 86,000
Genre: YA Gothic Horror


When Talmage True was born, people said it was a mercy that his mother died, for the child’s razor-sharp teeth would have torn her apart.  He was born with a full set.  

Now fifteen, Talmage hides his misshapen face from those who condemn him for being unnatural.  But a chance meeting with his estranged uncle, a curiosity peddler hawking the medically grotesque, brings Talmage a spark of hope.  For the first time, Talmage feels a kinship with the bizarre creatures on display--the eight-legged taxidermied kitten and the dog whose body ends in a shell.  After all, Talmage, too, is an aberration. 

Talmage is drawn into his uncle’s dark world and together they create a clockwork boy, covered in the flesh of stolen corpses.  Late one night, the figure comes to life and Talmage--who has never had a friend before--welcomes it as a brother.  But the world is no place for a clockwork boy, especially when its body starts to rust and rot.  Desperate to stay alive, it turns to murder to harvest fresh body parts.  When it sets its sights on Alice, a girl scarred by fire who sees beyond Talmage’s monstrous appearance, Talmage must decide: dismantle his clockwork brother or watch it kill the only person who has ever shown him kindness.

First 250 words: 

I always supposed it would be difficult to kill someone you love.  More than difficult.  It would be impossible, a gut-wrenching, mind-numbing horror that, if achieved, would haunt your soul forever. 

It has haunted me every single waking moment of my wretched life. 

You see, I did.

But if I had the opportunity, I would do it again.  I would tear his body limb from limb, extracting bone from delicate socket and shattering them into a thousand pieces.  From those shards, I would grind what was left of him into powder and then bury it miles apart so that there would be no chance his body could ever come together again.

If only I had. 

That night within a ruined clock tower, his chest weighed against the curve of my back, his breath rasping into my ear.  I dragged him down the rickety stairs, his bare feet knocking against the planks.  Outside, amorphous shadows clawed at the edges of the cobblestone street--only the moon would be witness to my heinous act tonight--and so, without looking back, we slipped into the trees. 

He was not awake and yet his lips began to murmur.  I must move quickly but how to do it?  A swift stone to the temple?  His skull was too thick.  Saw his head off his shoulders?  The spinal column too wiry.  A blade, then, through the center of his heart?

“But he has no heart,” I whispered into the night. 

A fire then, the thought dawned.  Yes, a fire would do.


Entry Nickname: Queen of Drones 
Title: The Chimera’s Snare
Word count: 85K
Genre: YA Sci-fi Postapocalyptic


June was only a child when a failed scientific experiment spawned an incurable chimaera-virus, dissipating humanity. Now, at sixteen, she lives confined to a bunker at Alpha, one of the twenty-four armored settlements scattered in the ruins of North America. Unlike the other settlers, June is never allowed above ground. Her only link to the outside world is the streaming feed on her holographic monitor; her only companion is her stoic, infuriatingly secretive guard Kyle.

When ravenous, flesh-eating chimaeras destroy Alpha, June’s isolation is shattered. Together with Kyle, she treks across a mutant-infested bayou to the neighboring Omega, where they encounter three other Alpha survivors. But, each person remembers the attack differently and June must race to piece together the truth behind their conflicting memories before the survivors turn on each other and before the monsters strike again. Alpha’s subterranean database could hold the key to reconciling their stories and finding a way to defeat the chimaeras, but with four other settlements already fallen, time is quickly running out.

June and Kyle return to Alpha to search for clues, instead they unravel a past that ties them directly to the horror of chimaeras. June discovers she is a clone, engineered to turn the world into a beehive of zombie-like drones, and Kyle is an assassin sent to stop her. An assassin, whose wiped memories are beginning to resurface. If June isn’t strong enough to override the monstrous program in her DNA, she must persuade Kyle to follow his orders and kill her.

First 250 words:

June felt the vibration in her bones seconds before the emergency siren shrilled to life. The wave of sound passed through the thick layer of earth, slamming against the bunker’s titanium bearings. The walls and ceiling shuddered and the silver chess figurines on the table knocked against each other, June’s careful strategy scrambled into chaos.

In the space of a heartbeat she was up, her ear pressed to the concrete, straining to catch familiar sounds beyond the blaring wail.

The main generator was silent.

We can’t stop the apocalypse, but we can survive it.
 June scowled at the enclave’s oh-so-optimistic motto flickering on the holographic monitor above her bed. Clinging to a false hope wasn't surviving.

She climbed on the mattress, licked her fingers and reached towards the air-conditioning ducts. Nothing, other than a faint scent of mildew. And apples. In the settlement, apples were a luxury. Wondering which chemical compound could've produced the odor, she didn’t notice when the siren cut out.

For several long moments the walls trapped its echo, fainter with each iteration. But the air conditioner, the generator, and the intercom system didn’t come back online.

“Kyle?” June’s voice pitched high, amplified by her room’s armored carapace. In response, something groaned and from above issued a long, plaintive screeching.

“Kyle, where are you?”

Not in the bunker. Otherwise, he would’ve already responded. Her stomach went weightless; in the last two years, Kyle rarely left her side.

She jumped off the bed and rubbed her bare foot against her calf. The floor was rapidly cooling and this too was wrong.



  1. Judges, reply to this comment with your vote!

    1. This is so, so, so, so, so hard. Is this what Sophie's Choice was about?

      Monster Twin:

      I still don't like that your first page is a prologue. It's a well-written prologue, yes, but it's a prologue. You're starting page one in the middle of your story and then flashing back (if you're not, the query letter makes no sense at all). I get that it's a Frankenstein retelling and Frankenstein has this but this is your story, not Frankenstein, and I want the first page to start at the beginning. I adore the concept, love the query, and the writing is excellent. I also prefer horror to sci-fy, honestly. But since this is a contest not a query, and I'm a judge not an agent who can skip down to page 1, it really bothers me that I can't see what's on your real first page.

      Queen of Drones:

      The changes to this are amazing. You've done a fantastic job incorporating the feedback. It hasn't changed much since that last time I commented on it, but you should be extremely proud of yourself overall.



      I liked this query. It does have a Frankenstein feel to it. I would've liked Alice to come in sooner. I'd cut "for the first time" and leave it as Talmage feels a kinship...I think the first part could be cut and you can say, Fifteen-year-old Talmage was born with a full set of razor-sharp more description about how his face is deformed. And is it only his face? I like the steampunk aspect of a clockwork brother who turns into a monster.

      If this is a prologue, label as one. If it's a flashback, which it appears to be, maybe designate it as one either by setting it off in italics or changing the font. I'd much rather read about Talmage either seeing the "monsters" his uncle has for the first time or meeting Alice or meeting his clockwork brother. Although your writing is strong, this doesn't seem like it starts in the right place.


      The query is good. Watch your use of adverbs. This feels very dystopian which isn't a bad thing in my opinion but I wonder about the market for this.

      The writing is good. It drew me into the action right away and I wondered why the siren was going off. I'd read more.

      For the reason I stated above: VICTORY TO QUEEN OF DRONES

    3. I suspect I'm going to be an outlier here, but:


      Now, here's why:

      I love the confidence in the writing sample, and that is always the #1 driver of what makes the cut. Others have accused this of being a prologue, but I don't think we've necessarily read enough of the text to know for sure that this is the case. If the story is told, for instance, largely through flashback, then there is no prologue, just a broad structural device. So the anti-prologue argument can take a hike, says I.

      My only quibble with Monster Twin's query is the assertion that Alice is the only one who's ever cared for Talmage. What about the uncle? If he's no real solace or family to the MC once he appears in his life, that should be established, so that we know Alice is a standout, something special. Love that the query makes clear why the clockwork creation is driven to kill.

      Queen of Drones, this is a fascinating premise, and the writing is solid in the sample, but I'm really struggling with your query. The second paragraph seems to detour needlessly into the conflicting stories from the other Alpha survivors. All that matters is that they need to find a way back to their ruined hideout; the conflicting memories of the attack and piecing the story together may be a big plot point in the story itself, but it's less important than the quest to return. I'm also struggling with the final line. If Kyle has forgotten his original mission to slay June and is now only just recalling it, and if she can't fix her monstrous programming... then she has to talk him INTO killing her? I get that this is the "I must be sacrificed for the good of all" plot point, and that's not the problem. The problem I have is the awkwardness of Kyle needing to be talked into destroying June. It doesn't feel like a threat, because clearly, he doesn't want to do it. She feels so much more at risk if it's "fix the monstrous programming or be killed by the only person she's ever trusted" or something. Let the synopsis and the ms demonstrate that June may be faced with a heroic sacrifice. Here, it just dampens the sense of danger to put it all in her hands.

      So, again: VICTORY TO MONSTER TWIN. Good luck, querying writers!

    4. Two very unique entries here, and this judge should disclose a subjective bias for science fiction over horror. Let's dig in.
      My Monster Twin is Rotting uses language to wonderful effect, with name and words that had my skin crawling from the get-go. The created toy that turns to evil is a somewhat predictable outcome, but I like how the author ends the query with a clear presentation of the MC's dilemma and what's at stake. The prose is solid, although if I read it correctly, the MC has already made a decision to murder the clockwork brother, so that takes a bit of the tension away.

      Queen of Drones sets up an interesting premise backed by promises of great world-building. The opening had me picturing Whedon's Dollhouse series. There were a couple of grammatical errors in the query, but I love the potential for a story in which characters piece together a mystery as their memories return.

      Victory to: Queen of the Drones

    5. Dr. T.J. EckleburgJune 22, 2015 at 7:03 PM

      Monster Twin:

      Overall, a good query. I'd cut the phrase "For the first time" in the second paragraph; it doesn't make much sense. Otherwise, my big issue is that Alice needs to come into the query much earlier. You throw her in at the last minute to create some stakes, but it doesn't have real effect since this is the first we're hearing of her. He has more connection to his uncle's bizarre creatures than her the way this query tells it. So you need to show her importance much earlier in the query. I like the steampunk Frankenstein angle, even though I'm not really a horror fan.

      Love the first 250. It's very compelling, and I was immediately drawn into the story. The atmosphere you paint is wonderful and does a great job setting the tone of the novel. I'd request.

      Queen of Drones:

      Unfortunately, I was confused by multiple things in your query. I didn't know what you meant by a chimera-virus "dissipating humanity." Are they literally disintegrating? Then when you got to the part about flesh-eating chimeras attacking the base, I wondered if these were humans transformed by the virus. I didn't understand the emphasis on reconciling the survivors' stories. It's actually normal for people's memories of the same event to differ, so I didn't get why that was an issue, nor why the survivors would supposedly "turn on" each other.

      The last paragraph felt rushed and overloaded. Lots of things thrown at us from left-field all of a sudden--he's an assassin; he's also memory-wiped. But now he's remembering who he is, and he might kill her. But that's okay because suddenly she's a clone, and she's engineered to turn everyone into monsters. It's like you're throwing every plot twist in the book into two sentences. Also--not sure how being "strong enough" will override her programming.

      The other issue here--you're contradicting yourself. On one hand, you're implying we should be worried that with his resurfacing memories he'll kill her. But then you go right on to say she may need to talk him into killing her. (Talk someone into killing you? Aside from basic survival instinct, if she feels that strongly about saving the human race, she can kill herself.) I think you need to cut most of paragraph two, which seems mostly irrelevant anyway, and concentrate on expanding the info from three more.

      First 250 feels a bit generic dystopian for me, with the bunker and siren. I get that you're trying to start with urgency and danger, but since I don't know or care about the character at this point, I don't feel any real alarm for her.

      For me, it's an easy VICTORY to MY MONSTER TWIN

    6. This was one of the harder choices for me.

      MONSTER TWIN: I love the premise and voice. I'm not sure you should start the query with birth. I also find the first 250 a little confusing. I wonder if there is a better place in your manuscript to start. It reads a little like telling vs. showing. I'd rather see action, him attempting to build or kill his brother rather than talking about it.


      I just love the 250 here. If I picked it up in a book store I would want t keep reading. My comments in the last round about the query still hold. I really think you can streamline. We don't need to know about the whole journey. The query could still use some more voice.

      Again, this is hard. I'd like to see both in he final four, but as this is a query contest, I'm going to have to say VICTORY TO MONSTER TWIN.

    7. My Monster Twin is Rotting:

      I remember this query from round one, and I like the changes. A lot. Well done.

      First 250: I also remember having apprehensions about the starting point. I still do. It reads like a prologue. I’d much rather be dropped in a scene with him and his uncle.

      Queen of Drones:

      You made some great changes to this query. I like the voice and feel like I understand the premise much better this round.

      First 250: I feel like you picked a good starting point. I’d keep reading.

      Victory goes to: QUEEN OF DRONES

    8. I've been putting this round off. Why is MONSTER TWIN always involved in the most agonizing match-ups?


      I voted against you in the first round in what was an incredibly hard match up. I was greatly relieved to not be involved in your agonizing pairing against BRAIN GOURMET. I really like this entry-- I love the whole elevated style of it, and I appreciate and see what you're doing. I also appreciate you having changed out your "bitter cry" for "a whisper into the night", which is better, although arguably still a little too much. Your challenge with this manuscript is threading the needle between the Gothic writing style (which is purple by definition) and modern taste.

      Oh, and this has nothing to do with anyone's voting in QK, but you _really_ should find another title for pitching to agents. A SAVAGE MISCREATION just isn't it.


      There's something about Queen of Drones that just sticks in my craw, in a good way. I remember this query, and I remembered it from seeing in the slush. I agree with WonderPig about the query's imperfections. But there's something about the 250 that just sticks with me.

      It's a subjective reason, but for its tenacity,
      Victory to QUEEN OF DRONES


    Again, I don't read horror, but this is really well-crafted. I think I praised this 250 last time, and it still rocks. I think it'll do well in the query trenches.


    You've improved this query substantially, as well as the urgency with which the siren beginning starts off. Excellent editing. Very impressed.

    You people are killing me. I've seen both of these before. Both are so well done. Assuming the rest of the books measures up to the beginning and the promise of the queries, neither will have any trouble in the query trenches. Based on purely subjective reasons and the astonishing improvement,

  3. MY MONSTER TWIN IS ROTTING – Your story sounds amazingly creepy. There’s a lot going on in this query. For me, it’s a little disjointed, as though you’ve got more than one book here. The relevant part of the query seems to be all in the third paragraph. I don’t need to know quite so much about Talmage’s background in the query. I do want to know more about this clockwork boy. I’d like to also know more about Alice if stakes are going to be built around her. She shouldn’t be thrown in a the last second.

    Nitpick - I’m getting hung up on “For the first time” as well. It makes sense to say “for the first time, he feels a kinship…” but when you throw in “with the bizarre creatures” I feel like something got edited into a weird, dare I say monstrous, sentence. Maybe drop “for the first time”?

    Your 250 sets a very creepy tone, but I’m thinking it’s a prologue and the story will start on the next page.

    QUEEN OF DRONES – Your writing is lovely. I had some nitpicks over word choice here and there: “dissipating” humanity threw me, and strategy “scrambled” hit me odd. But your writing's so easy on the eyes. I had a moment’s confusion over what the chimaera are. They’re described as a virus, but then they seem to be monsters with an intelligent design. Are they creatures with a visible form? Otherwise, all I can say about your query is stakes galore. As for the 250, it’s not the most exciting opening, but there’s a wonderful sense of dread, and I have faith in where you’re going because the writing is so strong.


  4. Monster Twin:
    Query: Are his face and teeth his only differences? I think the last sentence in the 2nd paragraph needs less commas. The jump from the uncle to them making Frankenstein’s monster feels abrupt. And Alice feels a little out of nowhere, maybe she could be mentioned in the 2nd paragraph.

    250: Good except for that first sentence. Based on the query, I jump to him thinking he killed his mom (even if it wasn’t really his fault). Otherwise, good.

    Queen of Drones:
    Query: So much better, yay! Instead of “But, each person” I’d say “The survivors all remember.” I still feel like the 3rd paragraph goes into synopsis land, but otherwise good.

    250: Good

  5. Monster Twin: I like the query, I get a good idea of the story and tone from it. I also love your first lines, but after the first paragraph, it reads like a prologue. I'd sprinkle all that backstory throughout in small bits and get to the now after those first few lines.

    Drones: This really isn't my kind of story, but that query is fantastic! I have no crits. The 250 is great as well.

    Good luck guys!

  6. I love both of these. Although different genres, they both have high stakes, which I love. Both queries are very strong and very intriguing. However, this line from Queen's query bothered me a little: Unlike the other settlers, June is never allowed above ground. I had a hard time reading the rest of the query because of this line. I couldn't help but wonder why she isn't allowed above ground when everyone else is. At the end of your query, you mention that she's a clone. I'm assuming this is the reason why, yet the answer comes so far from where you mention she is different that I almost missed it. Doesn't June question this?

    Based on the queries and the 250, both of these books sound awesome. I hope to see them both in print one day so I can read them in their entirety. Good luck to both!

  7. Monster Twin: This is weird and creepy and atmospheric and compelling in the most delightfully strange way. I like what you've done with the query because it sets both the mood (which is pretty hard in a query) and the stakes. I have one quibble with your 250 (Which I also really like. Very polished and powerful.) My quibble: You write that killing someone he loved has haunted him every day of his life. I get that it's a setup to the next line. But he must have lived a fair amount of life before killing the clock boy, so the sentence confuses me. I went back and read it again. I wish there was some way you could tweak that so it isn't inaccurate but still leads beautifully to that powerful next line: You see, I did.