Wednesday, July 1, 2015

QK CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND: BEST(IARY) WESTERN vs ELEPHANTS NEVER FORGET

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

Query:

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 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.

Bingo.

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


VERSUS


Entry Nickname: Elephants Never Forget
Title: THE IVORY NEEDLE
Word Count: 72K
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy

Query

Only two are yet remaining,
Precious magic ever waning . . .

That’s just part of the mysterious message 16-yr-old Chessie receives when she’s forced to visit her great-grandmother for the summer. Bad enough Gram lives in middle-of-nowhere, Kenya. But when Chessie’s contacted by the spirit of Jhelani, an eons-dead elephant, things take a total left turn toward weird. Communicating with cryptic songs and strange symbols, Jhelani’s message slowly emerges: if someone cannot save the last of her once-immortal tribe, the Earth may pay an unknown price. Freaked out and overwhelmed, Chessie shuts down, breaks communication, and refuses to help.

Meanwhile, Kenyan teen Daniel can’t feed his family when his crops fail. Desperate for work, he’s coerced into a gang of poachers with their sights set on a huge payday: the remaining elephants of Jhelani’s tribe. Just this one job, he swears. Then he’ll find honest work. Hold his head up again.

Chessie finally comes to a decision. She wants to be the kind of person who, as Gram would say, “grabs life by the tusks.” But by the time she finds the missing elephants, the poachers are closing in. With elephants charging and bullets flying, Chessie’s taken prisoner and her world and Daniel’s collide. To survive, Chessie must conquer her fears and seize a dangerous opportunity to escape. And Daniel must decide where he’ll draw the line: thief, poacher, or accessory to murder.

First 250

When your family falls apart, I suppose you shouldn’t expect anything to be the same again. Not even your mother’s smile.

Mom’s goofy I-love-my-life smile hadn’t been seen in months, and I’d become all too familiar with the distant impostor that had replaced it. But the smile she wore right now? Pretty sure I’d never seen that one before. Like something you’d grab at the mall without stopping to try it on, it was too tight and way too bright.

And she was cooking, for the first time in months. “Mom? What’s going on?” I dropped into a kitchen chair and watched her pull something from the oven.

“Roast chicken? Dibs on the drumstick,” Bent shouted, slamming his scrawny ten-year-old frame into the chair nearest the chicken. He leaned across the table, freckled nose practically up the bird’s butt, and took a deep sniff. “Look, Chessie, mac-n-cheese, too.”

Mom set a tray of steaming cornbread on the table and sat down, still beaming. “Your great-gram has invited us to visit her. In Africa.”

I paused, forkful of mac-n-cheese halfway to my mouth. My stomach felt hollow. I had the feeling no amount of mac-n-cheese was going to fill it, not even one with four gourmet cheeses and a crispy crumb topping. “Can you get enough time off for a trip like that?”

Her smile flickered like the lights during a thunderstorm, right before the power went out for good. “I . . . I can’t go. But you two will go without me.”

28 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. These are both great entries. They aren't anything I've seen before in YA, and the opening lines are interesting. Congratulations to both authors for making it to this final round, and best of luck going forward after the contest!

      These entries seem so evenly matched that I'm going to have to give my vote to the entry which I would personally pick up to read first if I had them both sitting in front of me (sorry!) and that one would be...

      Victory to BEST(IARY) WESTERN!

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    2. I'm going to keep this short and sweet. I've seen these both before. They are evenly matched as far as query quality and sample writing. I'm going to choose the one I think has the most appeal for agents, the best chance on the market, and would appeal to me most if I were in a bookstore with only these two books.

      VICTORY TO ELEPHANTS NEVER FORGET

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    3. First off, congratulations to you both. It's no easy task to get into the final two!

      I really wish you both the best. We're all rooting for you.

      I've been obsessed with one of these entries from the beginning, so it is my great honor to vote VICTORY TO BEST(IARY) WESTERN.

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    4. Well, what to do, what to do? This is definitely a tough call, and I can see why these two entries made it to the final round. I'm big fantasy fan, so would honestly give both a read. And although I still think both queries could use a final tweak, the 250s are pretty solid IMO. I guess that means the decision comes down to narrative voice, in which case one pulled at me a little more strongly than the other. So for me it's going to have to be...

      Victory to BEST(IARY) WESTERN!

      Delete
    5. All right, down the nitty gritty Congrats on being the final two. Alas, in the infamous words of immortal Connor MacLeod, "There can be only one."

      For me, it's about which one engages me more in the writing. Western does that a little more because the opening scene pulls me in and immediately lets me know this isn't just some normal motel. I think it's a great way to draw the reader in and keep them wanting more.

      For that reason, my final vote:

      Victory to BEST(IARY) WESTERN!

      Delete
    6. Congratulations to the two left standing. Clearly, this means both queries and story premises are strong. Be proud of that! Good luck to both writers with querying and the wonderful, roller coaster ride that is publishing.

      Victory to ELEPHANTS NEVER FORGET

      Delete
    7. Congratulations to the finalists! Both of you have outstanding queries that promise compelling novels in unique settings. Well done.

      BEST(IARY) WESTERN has a killer concept, and drops us right into a scene where we can see it for ourselves.

      ELEPHANTS NEVER FORGET entices us with an otherwise normal protagonist dumped into an exotic locale, and as I've mentioned before, sheds light on the important issue of ivory poaching.

      I fully admit that by now I'm casting a subjective vote.

      Victory to BEST(IARY) WESTERN!

      Delete
    8. Jackie Jormp-JompJuly 1, 2015 at 1:44 PM

      Congrats! Excellent entries!! I don't really have anything new to say about either entry, but I wish you both the best of luck in this crazy world! Since you are so evenly matched, I'm voting with my heart this round, and that heart loves monsters so,

      Victory to BEST(IARY) WESTERN!

      Delete
    9. Princess ButtercupJuly 1, 2015 at 1:54 PM

      Okay. Decision time. I’ve voted for each of these entries in earlier rounds, so please know that despite having to make this horribly tough decision now—I’m rooting for *both* of you in a major, major way.

      In my opinion, one entry’s query is stronger while the other’s first 250 is the stronger of the two. And that makes this decision all the more difficult. Tic toc, which to choose?

      I could elaborate (and boy am I tempted to) but I’d be giving the same feedback that I know has been given before.

      I believe I just heard the Man in Black say, “You’re stalling now.” And he’d be right.

      VICTORY TO BEST(IARY) WESTERN

      ***I’d also like to echo another judge’s comment that I think I like Best(iary’s) nickname in the contest better than the original title. I almost mentioned that the last time I voted for this entry! 

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    10. Congratulations to the both of you for reaching the FINAL round! It was a really tough choice and I read and re-read again just to make sure. I loved the concept of the supernatural motel in Best(iary) Western, but was enticed by the oh so important topic of poaching in An Elephant Never Forgets.

      In the end, my gut is telling me VICTORY TO BEST(IARY) WESTERN.

      Delete
    11. Dr. T.J. EckleburgJuly 1, 2015 at 4:03 PM

      Congrats on reaching the final round! You both have great concepts, good queries, and strong 250s. Best of luck to you both in your future publishing endeavors!

      While I found you to be pretty evenly matched, one 250 stood out as slightly more compelling and creative.

      VICTORY to BEST(IARY) WESTERN

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    12. Oh, man. You guys are NOT making this easy for us. I love both these entries! How can I choose?!

      Not only are they both incredibly strong, but you also both did great revisions. You should be so, so proud. I can't wait to see both these books in print.

      I really do like these equally, and think they're equal in quality. Given that I have to choose one, however, I am going to go with the one I feel has a marginally stronger and more compelling first 250, since I can't pick one query over the other. So…

      VICTORY TO BEST(IARY) WESTERN!

      Delete
    13. Bookalicious MamaJuly 1, 2015 at 5:02 PM

      So, here is the thing. I am torn. Beyond torn. These are two amazing entries with stand-out queries and 250's. But for me, it's all about the voice I most connect with, and even though I didn't vote for it last round, I still didn't forget it. So, with that being said...

      Victory to: BEST(IARY) WESTERN

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    14. Congratulations to both authors - these are fantastic concepts and you have both worked so hard to polish these entries. The ability to take criticism and accept praise will take you far in this process! My vote is simply for the one I would read first.

      VICTORY TO BEST(IARY) WESTERN!

      Delete
    15. Congrats to both of you! These entries are unique, and I'd happily gravitate toward them in the bookstore.

      It's hard to have people pick apart your entry for all of cyberspace to see. Give yourself a hug and a high five!

      Although I hope I get to buy both of these books someday, I can only choose one winner. My vote is based on personal tastes...
      Victory goes to: Best(iary) Western!

      Delete
    16. Congratulations! You are both already winners. Both of these are amazing and unique and I see them each getting snapped up by an agent. But I must choose one, which is hard to do --- so I'll go with subjectivity and vote for the one I would read first.

      Victory to ELEPHANTS NEVER FORGET

      Delete
    17. Congratulations to both of you for making it this far! I love both entries, I've voted for both before, and I know that you'll both find agents soon.

      With that said, I think we all just want to get to the good stuff at this point, so --
      VICTORY TO BEST(IARY) WESTERN

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    18. Excellent job both of you! You should feel very proud to have made it to the final round of this competition. I'm sure you'll both get tons of requests no matter who ends up the final winner.

      I've voted for both of these in an earlier round. I'm voting this time on the book I'd be more likely to pick up and read. So for me....

      Victory to ELEPHANTS NEVER FORGET

      Delete
    19. Gah, I have voted for both of these entries multiple times. Both are so strong. It's a really tough choice between them. Both have great originality, wonderful premisses and strong writing.

      In the end, however, the voice on Best(iary) Western just drags me in and won't let go. I need to read that book. It edges out past Elephants by a smidge. I know both of these books are going to get snapped up by agents, however.

      Victory to BEST(IARY) WESTERN!

      Delete
    20. Huge congratulations to you both for making the final, brilliantly done! The stories for both of these sounds fantastic but I don't think the first page for Elephants is quite there yet, while the one for Western is original, polished and gripping, so...

      VICTORY TO BESTIARY WESTERN!

      Delete
    21. I liked each of these entries, and I expect great things from. But the one I've had my eye on in particular is Best(iary) Western.

      Victory to BEST(IARY) WESTERN

      Delete
  2. Two of my favorites! I voted for each one in a different round. I think ELEPHANTS has a unique premise and is relevant. BEST(IARY) has both a unique premise and interesting voice. If I were an agent I'd request both. However, since I have to choose, VICTORY to ELEPHANTS for voice.

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  3. Well, here we are. The toughest competitors on the block squaring off.

    I'm going to do something very out of character for me here, maybe. My guiding principle has always been that when it's close, the sample writing decides it. However, while I find the sample writing very closely matched, I do think there's a stand-out in terms of the query.

    It's ELEPHANTS. Here's why I say that.

    As much as I love the concept of BEST(IARY) WESTERN (by the way, I kind of like that title *better* than Fugitive Motel, author. Just FYI.), I'm still troubled by the vague quality of the final statement about stakes. In comparison, while I'm no fan of the verse used to start ELEPHANTS' query, that (opinion here -- please take no offense) somewhat hokey move is much less of a problem than not being clear about the nature and reason behind the MCs' choices. Both Daniel and Chessie's ultimate challenge is laid out clearly, and that's not quite the case for Iris, to my way of reading.

    Best of luck to BOTH authors here. I have every confidence you'll find a home for your stories. Good luck! It's been a pleasure.

    VICTORY TO ELEPHANTS for clear final stakes in the query.

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  4. Wow, such great entries! A tough decision for the final round. I've voted for both of these entries in prior rounds, because I think each is special.

    Elephants has a unique premise and the topic explored is highly relevant.
    Best(iary) (can I also say this is a great title?) has great voice.

    For my final vote, I'll have to go with personal preference. If I stood in a book store holding both of these in my hands, I'd pick: VICTORY TO BEST(IARY) WESTERN!

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  5. Love both of these entries, and wish them both so much success. I love the relevance of ELEPHANTS and the uniqueness and fun of BESTIARY. But I have to pick one. Because I've loved it since the first round, and appreciate all of the good editing changes, I give

    VICTORY TO BEST(IARY) WESTERN

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  6. Congratulations to the finalist. Victory to Elephants Never Forget! Please do email the manuscript my way at mgottlieb@tridentmediagroup.com

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  7. Congratulations to all the entrants!!!

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