Tuesday, June 28, 2016

QK 2016 Round 5: Cement Gargling 101 vs Madam Butterfly

Title: The Siren Episode
Entry Nickname: Cement Gargling 101
Word Count: 82,000
Genre: YA Fantasy


Arlen’s parents kill monsters—sirens, gorgons, and even leprechauns—then broadcast the murders on their TV show, Myth Slayers. And killing is a family business.

Ever since mythological creatures destroyed San Francisco twelve years ago, Myth Slayers has been number one in the ratings. Now the show’s stars want to retire and force the reins upon their son. But at seventeen, Arlen doesn’t want to slaughter monsters on primetime TV—he just wants to survive high school, where a quirk in his Myth Slayer blood makes life unbearable. 

Arlen’s blood gives him power, but repels members of the opposite sex. He can’t even approach girls without making them physically ill. So when he finds a girl who’s not getting sick, he finally sees a chance at a normal life. Problem is, Lenora’s a siren. Worse, she’s a murderer. And Lenora hides a secret: the location of a safe filled with evidence that Arlen’s parents destroyed San Francisco, not the monsters. If opened, the safe’s contents could ruin his family, leaving humans unprotected against nightmarish creatures. Arlen’s parents want the siren dead, and Arlen faces an impossible choice: kill Lenora to bury the secret, or trust the siren and expose the truth. 

First 250 words:

Arlen Boggs hopped his neighbor’s fence and slipped past the protestors. They’d camped in front of his house again, picket signs raised. He tried to keep his footsteps light, but the rain puddles didn’t help his cause.

Two blocks, he thought. You can do two blocks without getting recognized.

The morning air chilled his neck, and he buttoned his father’s trench coat, too big for his lanky frame. Arlen wore the coat, baseball cap, and sunglasses to keep himself hidden. He hoped it would work this time. 

Head down, he hurried along the narrow sidewalk. Trees rustled on either side of the street, and he glanced up at the sycamores. Nothing but windblown leaves.

A woman’s voice came from behind him: “There he is.”

Arlen turned to look at the protestors, five houses back. “Great,” he muttered.

Two of their poster boards read, “GO AWAY, MYTH SLAYERS!” and “MYTHS HAVE RIGHTS, TOO!” Despite the wet September morning, the crazy zealots surged onto the road and shouted at him.

A few months shy of his eighteenth birthday, Arlen still didn't have his driver's license. His parents never had time to teach him, always out filming their TV show. Otherwise, he would have driven himself to school and avoided the daily hate-fest.

Another tree rustled and a branch snapped. 

Could be a monster.

The protestors sped up, chasing after him with their hand-painted signs. 

Arlen broke into a jog. Monsters in the trees, protestors on his tail. Why were mornings so complicated?


Title: The Absence of Butterflies
Entry NicknameMadam Butterfly
Word count: 80,000
Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance


Will Kavanagh is the only one who knows the truth about the drug overdose that killed Christy Talbot. Not that he’s telling. The world famous actress may have starred in the film adaption of his novel, but that doesn’t mean he wants to go to jail for giving her illegal drugs. Troubled by a mounting sense of self-loathing and guilt, Will returns to the only place he has ever felt something other than lost: home. Not that everyone in town is rolling out the red carpet for Cherrington’s prodigal son—especially not his former fiancée, Jessica Locke.

Following the unexpected death of her father, Jessica needs something—anything—to keep herself busy, and fixing up a property for Will’s mother sounds like just the ticket. The only hitch is her ego-fueled ex-fiancé is back—the one who left her in the rear-view mirror on his way to literary fame in NYC. Will is the last person Jessica wants to talk about, let alone see. The trouble is, she never could resist those piercing blue eyes and tortured writer’s soul. It isn’t long before things heat up between them once again.

Each dealing with death in very different ways, Jessica and Will navigate conflicting emotions and their undeniable attraction to find something worth saving. Too bad Will, haunted by the knowledge of how Christy died, isn’t exactly relationship-ready. Neither is Jessica. She knows Will is hiding something and she’s determined to find out what.

Then Will realizes that unless he’s willing to reveal his secret to Jessica, fast, he could lose her trust—and her love—all over again. Because, as it turns out, Will isn't the only one who knows the truth behind Christy’s death.

First 250:

When Will Kavanagh stepped out of the coffee shop, his eyes were drawn to the bookstore window like a magnet.

Just get back in the damn car, he commanded himself.

But his legs seemed to move of their own volition, taking him over to the book display. He would have recognized those red and gold splashed covers anywhere. Bold black letters at the top of each one proclaimed Now a Major Motion Picture. Underneath was a snapshot of the two main stars. The one on the right gazed back at Will, her full lips curved in a wide smile. His gut twisted into knots of guilt.

As he stood transfixed on the sidewalk, the world around him faded away. He didn’t see Christy Talbot with her arm around her leading man. Instead his mind burned with the image of the actress as she lay sprawled on the floor next to an upended pill bottle, her eyes empty. Those eyes had haunted him every day for the last two months.

“Excuse me.”

The voice made him snap back to the present. A man stood beside him, holding out the bag that contained Will’s bagel. “You dropped this.”

“Thanks,” he mumbled.

“Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere?”

Will stiffened. “No.”

He strode back to his BMW. With a tightness in his chest, he drove past the downtown stores, this time making damn sure his eyes faced forward. He needed another reminder of Christy like he needed a hole in the head.


  1. Judges, cast your vote here for the Grand Finale!

    1. Honestly, both of these are great. I voted FOR both of them in previous rounds, and would be glad to read either one.

      Honestly, this is going to come down to voice for me. With Cement Gargling, I'd want to give it a few more pages to see if I really clicked with the MC, whereas with Madam Butterfly I'm invested in Will's story from the start.

      Personal preference playing a BIG role here, but, VICTORY TO MADAM BUTTERFLY!

    2. Oh man, this is hard. I like the query and concept for CEMENT GARGLING more, just on a subjective level. MADAM BUTTERFLY has a good, layered concept as well. I get a good sense of the characters and worlds in the pages of each. There's good tension in each. I would read either of these. It comes down to the fact that I think BUTTERFLY does a slightly better job of world-building, sneaking in facts unobtrusively with regard to the action. So, VICTORY TO MADAM BUTTERFLY!

    3. I love these both. The queries and 250 are both strong. I like where the stories are starting. I would read either, but I have to vote for one. At this point it is purely subjective. VICTORY TO CEMENT GARGLING

    4. Both entries are well written, but I think the first query has a stronger, more compelling hook, so victory to CEMENT GARGLING 101!

    5. I'm going for the one whose story-telling appealed to me more, and that one is...

      Victory to MADAM BUTTERFLY

    6. Such a tough match up! Both queries are tight and do a good job conveying the character, conflict and stakes. I especially love the concept, snarky voice and SF setting in Cement Gargling, but when I get to the First 250, it's Madam Butterfly's ominous mood and subtle world-building that pull me in and give this entry the edge.


    7. Both entries are strong and well done, I wish them both luck along their journey. I have to choose the one I can see on the shelves more and this is more than likely completely subjective.

      Victory to Madam Butterfly!

    8. So I've been pretty much dreading that something like this would happen. These are two of my favorite entries in the whole competition and here they are facing off against each other. Both of the writers are big winners in my book as both have very polished queries and excellent first pages.

      At this point, I'm mainly judging based on personal preference. And on that note, victory to Cement Gargling 101 for its high concept that I'm dying to read more about.

    9. Best wishes to both of these great entries. Each so good in its own way. Congrats!

      Victory to CEMENT GARGLING 101

    10. From CatWrangler

      These are both such strong entries. Both queries provide character, conflict and stakes in an engaging manner -- and their opening 250 words are absorbing as well. I want to read both books when they're published.

      Victory to Madam Butterfly

    11. Ugh. Why are they both so good?? This is truly a gut-wrenching decision, as both are worthy to move forward. However, Michelle says I have to pick one, so...

      Victory to CEMENT GARGLING 101

    12. These are both very strong entries. Both have fun, suspenseful queries, and both writing samples are full of voice. My vote is subjective. I just dig one genre more than the other.

      Victory to: Cement Gargling 101

    13. There is a reason why these two made it to the final four. Good stakes, intriguing premises, and engaging 250s. However, I have to choose one and I'm going with the story concept I feel is just a little stronger.

      Victory to Cement Gargling 101.

    14. Two incredibly strong entries and I see them both going far. Both queries are well-written and both engaged me with their 250. They feel pretty evenly weighted all-around, making this the most difficult decision I've had to make so far in this contest.

      Ultimately I'm going to go with what I feel is the more original entry, so victory to...CEMENT GARGLING 101

    15. My vote goes to the one I think is most unique and hookish since both of these are well written overall.


    16. Picking one is like eating just one Pistachio. It's damn near impossible. These are both great entries, but if I could only pick one I'd have to go with:


    17. Both of these are excellent queries and the first 250 are intriguing, but I am sticking heavily with my guns here, because I love the themes and concepts behind MADAM BUTTERFLY.


  2. Both of these entries have polished up really nicely from earlier rounds. Great queries, compelling first pages that I would definitely turn.

    I think the writing in Butterfly is more polished, and yet the premise of Cement Gargling is so wacky and unique.


    Victory to Cement Gargling

  3. Both of you have worked hard and your queries and first 250s really shine from your efforts.

    But this is Query Kombat, and may the best query win.

    Victory to: CEMENT GARGLING!