Wednesday, June 1, 2016

QK Round 1: Ivy League Sex Scandal vs Chocolate, Wine and Salsa

Title: The Professor and Miss St. James
Entry Nickname: Ivy League Sex Scandal
Word Count: 105,000
Genre: Contemporary romance/ Women’s fiction


At 25, all Jocelyn St. James has to show for her life are three homecoming crowns, two blue lines on a stick, and a ton of regret. She’s cutting her losses and heading for Dartmouth. Moving across the country is her only hope of hiding her pregnancy from the baby’s father.

She’s got seven months until her due date. That’s not much time to get a master’s degree or figure out the whole motherhood thing, but she’s got a plan: work hard, live quietly, don’t ruin any more lives.

When her sexy professor locks eyes with her on the first day of class, her plan is the first casualty of his killer smile.

Best-selling author, Michael Kensington is no average academic. The New York Times calls him the second coming of Fitzgerald. He’s brilliant. He’s gorgeous. He could charm the pants off any grad student, including a three-time homecoming queen with a mysterious past.

If Jocelyn doesn’t address the rising heat between them, she won’t have a prayer of focusing on school. But when things get way more intimate than either of them intend, Jocelyn not only falls in love— she kind of falls apart.

If she wants to be part of his future, she’ll need to come to terms with her past. The last thing she wants is to choose between Kensington and her secrets.

But Jocelyn isn’t the only one with a past that won’t stay put.

First 250 Words:

I make him nervous. 

Dr. Katherine Moss’s current teaching assistant clears his throat, shuffles some stacks of paper, and clears his throat again. His eye contact falters when he glances across the desk at me.

I close my eyes and roll them behind my lids. Over it.

I grow more nauseated with each tick of the noisy clock. The office reeks of air freshener. To keep from gagging I have to breathe through my nose, but the revolting scent turns breathing into a double-edged sword.

“How long do you think Dr. Moss will be?” I ask, ending our awkward silence.

He looks at me and forms an accidental smile, shy and quick. “I’m sure just a few more minutes.”

I return the smile with as much grace as I can manage. “Tell me your name again.”


“Jocelyn,” I say.

“You’re new to Dartmouth?”

I nod.
“Dr. Moss mentioned you were planning to help her put together her curriculum for spring. Her new class?”
“Yes.” I’m not in the mood for flirting or sharing my future plans with a stranger, but I don’t want to piss him off either. It’s a delicate balance. Men always are.
“What are your languages?”
“French and Italian. Some Portuguese,” I say.
“Romance, huh?”
He doesn’t ask it in a derisive way, but the question somehow manages to dredge up every insecurity I have about whether I deserve to walk the halls of an Ivy League school.


Title: American Honey
Entry Nickname: ChocolateWine & Salsa
Word count: 81,000
Genre: Women’s Fiction


CHOCOLATEWINE & SALSA, complete at 81,000 words, is women’s fiction weaving together a journey in two timelines about coming-of-age, leaving your past behind, and then recapturing it.

Sandy Jo thought if she didn't escape Texas and her controlling mama after high school, she'd lose her soul. After being dumped by her boyfriend and best friend in New York, at twenty-seven, she's realizing she feels more lost than when she left. Meanwhile, Sandy Jo’s childhood best friend calls and begs her to return to their favorite childhood ranch in Texas, to confront their friend’s mysterious disappearance all those years ago, and the discovery of her body weeks later. Hoping to find herself again, Sandy Jo revisits Texas, and tries to recapture a time when she and her teenage friends lived life and confronted raw sexuality.

However, a surprise visit from Sandy Jo’s estranged mama compels her to address a family secret,and she must find the strength to stand up for herself once and for all. If Sandy Jo is ever going to put back the pieces of her life, she must learn the truth about what happened that summer at the ranch. In the process, she discovers that a broken mother and a lost daughter can find their way to forgiveness, and that a certain cowboy might just be worth a second shot.

First 250:

[1985] One month ago, all of the sky’s hues had washed away and I prayed to find any hint of color to bring me back. I wasn’t the type of person to let a breakup dishevel me like this. But Rich was my New York, he made the city make sense for me. And somewhere in the last few years, I began to think we were going to be that metropolitan couple in Manhattan. Problem was, he didn’t like the New York me, and I was pretty sure the Texas me was long gone.

But I knew that if I went back home to Texas, I’d lose my soul. New York was the promise that I could be anyone, far away from Mama and her rules. People walked with purpose in Manhattan and I wanted to be one of them.

Reaching across the kitchen counter to grab my keys, something flashed and caught my eye. Staring at my answering machine light: blink, blink, blink. I wasn’t sure I wanted to play it. My boss could be canceling the meeting today. It could also be my mama. In that case, maybe I’d wait till after work to listen to it. But then I realized, it could be from Rich… 

I sighed; I had to know. Running over to the machine, I pressed the play button.

Then I heard my childhood best friend’s voice from the good ol’ days at the Red Retriever Ranch.

“Sandy Jo, where are you? Call me back STAT.”


  1. Replies
    1. Of course, the first entry has to be a really hard choice!!! But I should've known from the two great titles that it wouldn't be easy.

      Ivy League Sex Scandal

      I’d loved the title and your voice. You do a great job of setting up the stakes and the romance in your query. I definitely get a sense in the first 250 of the main character. With the query, I would have loved to have a bit more about her past since you allude to it so much. I specifically wanted to know a bit more about why she is hiding her pregnancy from the father. My other small note is that when you initially say she’s heading to Dartmouth, I assumed it was as an undergrad.

      Chocolate, Wine & Salsa

      You are also making me want to step my title game up! You also do a great job of setting up that there are stakes and tension. You end your first 250 on the perfect place to make me want to read more. In terms of the query, I wanted more information on how the dual timelines work. Based on it being 1985 in the first 250, it seems that both timelines take place in the past, but that wasn’t clear in the query. It should be. I also would love if you started your first 250 with more showing versus telling. The first two paragraphs almost felt too much like a summary of her background, whereas I would love for this to flow out more organically. Might be stronger to just start with the answering machine part.

      It was a tough call but…

      VICTORY: Ivy League Sex Scandal

    2. Ivy League Sex Scandal: Right off the bat, I’d suggest choosing either Contemporary Romance or Women’s Fiction, as these are two different genres.

      I like your first paragraph, though I do wonder why she’s hiding the pregnancy from the father. Can you give a hint to raise the stakes? The second paragraph feels weak and I wonder if it could be condensed and combined with the third?

      Because we know Jocelyn is pregnant, I’m wondering how that plays into her romance with Michael. Surely her condition would become obvious at some point!

      Overall I think it’s an interesting concept, I’d like a little more on Jocelyn in the beginning and her emotions, to help build the stakes here.

      Your opening is intriguing, the writing strong, but I’m not getting a good feel of Jocelyn. She comes across abrupt and I’m not able to connect to her feelings in this situation. I wonder if this is the right place to start, as I’m not sure how this scene relates to the query.

      Chocolate, Wine, and Salsa: Great voice! I got pulled right in, but in the middle of the first paragraph it grew wordy and felt bogged down. Can the plot be simplified? I feel there is too much here and I’m missing one crucial element: why does Sandy Jo need to stand up for herself? I’d love to get a stronger sense of her character and why this journey is so important to her.

      I really enjoyed your first 250. I think some of the writing could be tightened, but we get a sense of Sandy Jo’s character, and that great cliff hanger of the message.

      I vote for Chocolate, Wine, and Salsa!

    3. I totally agree with the other comments that right out of the gate, the mash ups are tough! I would be thrilled to read both of these books and hope one day I will be buying both off the shelf.

      Ivy League Sex Scandal
      I thought this query was concise and did a great job of covering the essential areas of character, conflict and cost. I was really intrigued by the fact that Jocelyn is hiding her pregnancy. I would agree with the other comments that the grad school issue is a tad unclear, particularly the line about having seven months to complete grad school since that sounds borderline impossible depending on the program. I really like the first 250 and would have kept reading.

      Chocolate, Wine & Salsa
      The first paragraph for the 250 words here were pretty much sensational. The voice is amazing and I feel like just based on that one paragraph I get a good sense of who Sally Jo is. I’d also agree with other comments that the title is wonderful. The query, however, felt a little unfocused to me. I’m in love with the idea of the dual timelines. But in the second paragraph, we’re in Texas, then New York, then Texas again before ever really being oriented in the character’s world. And the appearance of the cowboy in the very last sentence came out of nowhere for me.

      While I think both queries are great, Ivy League Sex Scandal has my vote.

    4. OK, I've put off judging this one because it's TOUGH (but aren't they all)... but, here goes!

      Ivy League Sex Scandal:

      I love the query and don't have a lot to suggest... The one thing you might want to do is make it a little clearer what the choice is that Jocelyn has to make. It makes sense that being pregnant with another man's baby, plus being his student, would be obstacles in the way of their relationship, but maybe just a LITTLE more specific about what about her at might hurt her future, and how.

      The first 250 are also great! I love the first line, but it's a LITTLE misleading... my initial assumption is that"him" is the eventual love interest... but it's not, is it? I'm also not exactly sure what you mean by "Over it." ... she's over the fact that she makes him nervous? Slang-y things like this can contribute to voice, but at this point in the story, that paragraph as a whole kind of confuses me. The dialogue that follows is great, though, and I love Jocelyn's uncertainty about being at the school in general. I'd definitely be interested to keep reading!


      Chocolate, Wine, and Salsa:

      Again, great query... working voice into your query is one of the hardest things, and you've managed to do that very well. Nice Southern sass! I love the hints of both mystery and romance here, and I think this does a great job of enticing the agent to want more! The one thing you might want to do is lose the "a women's fiction about..." I think if you move your word count and title to the end of your query, and just say "women's fiction complete at XX,000 words," the themes have been well established by your blurb. As is, this sentence reads a little long and awkward, and coming right at the beginning doesn't make as good an impression, IMO, as starting with "Sandy Jo thought..." would.

      The first 250 get off to a little bit of a weak start for me. Based on the query, I assume 1985 is the "present" timeline here, and the other will be further back in the past. But the date (which is in the past as far as readers are concerned) coupled with the "one month ago" leave me floundering to get my bearings a little. The first two paragraphs also feel a little too much like emotional exposition... I love the idea of the "New York me" vs. "Texas me," but the second paragraph in particular feels like "telling" of some character traits and backstory that I want to be "shown."


      Both are great, but I have to vote...

      Victory to IVY LEAGUE SEX SCANDAL!

    5. There's things I like about both these entries!

      For IVY LEAGUE: I'd hardly change anything with your query. I'd remove the word, "kind of falls apart," and end it with her falling in love because then in the next paragraph you explain why this is a problem. The falls apart is vague anyway, and doesn't really add anything. (HOWEVER, if you do keep it, then I'd suggest dropping the "kind." Increase the conflict--make it that she falls apart.)

      For the 250, the "Dr. Katherine Moss's current teaching assistant" is a mouthful for the second sentence. Maybe just "teaching assistant." And then, look where to cut to make things crisper. "You were planning to help her put together" can be "You're helping her with her spring curriculum, right?" Yes, I get that it's dialogue so you don't have to be grammatically correct, but when I see the 105k word count, I cringe a bit, and this is something that will help get that word count lower throughout your MS. Overall, I love the voice in the query and would continue reading after the 250.

      CHOCOLATE WINE & SALSA: I think there's a great story behind the query, but when it came to specifics, the query was a bit disconnected between the controlling mom /figuring out what happened with dead friend/how/why it's affected the MC. And I did get thrown off a bit with the 250 and the dual timelines. That being said, I do think there's an interesting story here, just not enough to capture my interest. I will disclose though that I do not read women's literary fiction, so I could be completely missing the boat.

      In the end, one of these really wanted me to read more, and I thought the query was very spot on . . .


    6. Ivy League Sex Scandal:

      I get a pretty good idea of the plot and romance tropes from the query, so good job there! You do need to pick one or the other genre and adjust the word count accordingly. In the query, to me the paragraph about Kensington sticks out a bit because the next paragraph goes back to discussing the stakes for Jocelyn. Consider reframing the stakes so it's a challenge (or challenges) they both have to overcome. Also, 7 months seems pretty ambitious for finishing any grad program. The First 250 have great voice and I like this girl already. I do agree with the comment re Dr. Moss's first mention re shortening that name a bit.

      Chocolate, Wine & Salsa:

      I like that your query is concise and tight, but a few more little details would help kick this up a notch. Particularly I want to know, what part of the story is told in in the second timeline (do you mean flashbacks?) and how/is the mother connected to what's going on with her best friend in Texas now? Also, while I get that calling her "mama" brings the character's voice into the query, it was distracting for me. First 250 were really solid. Some good imagery, I get a real sense of how she's feeling/disrupted, and then the hook with the voicemail message. Good job!

      Victory to Chocolate, Wine & Salsa!

  2. Ivy League Sex Scandal: Love your hook! Especially "two blue lines on a stick." I think your query sets up the story nicely and I'm super intrigued by the mysteries in both Jocelyn and Michael's pasts, especially why the baby daddy can't know that she is pregnant. Also really like the voice in your opening pages. My only suggestion is that I'd like to know more about what threatens to make the truth of her past come out; is it just that they're getting closer to each other, or does some specific event cause the problem?

    Chocolate, Wine & Salsa: Love coming of age stories! I immediately felt hooked in by the promise of family drama between Sandy Jo and her controlling mother. I also love the concept you introduce of a "New York" version of Sandy Jo vs a "Texas version," because I think the feeling of having different versions of yourself for different situations is very relatable. My suggestion is about the 2 timelines; when I saw 1985 at the start of your sample, I thought that was the flashback and assumed the adult part of the story was more contemporary. I'd be interested to know why both timelines are in the past, and what's anchoring your story in each period.

  3. I vote for American Honey/Chocolate, Wine and Salsa! It made me want to keep reading!

  4. Two great options right out of the gates. I have lean towards Choc, Wine & Salsa as I love the character development of Sandy and challenges with mom. Feels very nostalgic and relatable.

  5. I'd love to hear more from Chocolate, Wine & Salsa - that's the direction I'm leaning. Feels relatable and I already want to know what's next for Sandy Jo!

  6. Both novels have a compelling premise and would make great summer reads.

    Ivy League Sex Scandal pulled me in with the promise of heat mingled with the tension of a troubled past. If the man story is the romance between Jocelyn and Michael, then your genre is romance. If the romance is not necessarily the main story, then you have women's fiction. I struggled with this myself:)

    The stakes are high and the tension palpable--a cold case disappearance. The query for Chocolate, Wine and Salsa pulled me in with the premise. The first 250 are a good start although using stronger verbs (like you do in your query)will amp up the tension.

  7. Great job, writers! Both of these have great hooks and compelling stories.

    Ivy League - I'm intrigued by Jocelyn's past, especially why she's hiding her pregnancy from the baby's father. The first half of the query is strong, but I think you could shorten the second half (e.g., the paragraph about the professor) to tighten it up. The first 250 are well-written - and I love the line about romance - but I was hoping for something more to grab me.

    Chocolate, Wine & Salsa - I want to know what happened that summer at the ranch! I love the premise, and also how the mother/daughter relationship seems key to the main character's journey. Sandy Jo's voice grabbed me right away - it shines through in the query and the first 250 words. If I could vote, I'd pick American Honey.

  8. Chocolate, Wine, and Salsa: I really like the opening of the first 250, and as it continues, all the bits of conflict that will play out through the book are present without feeling crammed in. I hit the end of that 250 and want to know what's going on at the ranch!

    Ivy League: Great hook on the query! I did want some little hint in the query about how her pregnancy would affect the romance since it's the first thing we learned about her. So curious to know why she can't tell the dad (but in a "I want to read the book" way, not in a "tell me in the query" way)

  9. Ivy League: I really love that opening line, it made me laugh and feel a little sad. Nice bittersweet twist. It's a fantastic hook. I felt a little like it left off after that with the pregnancy and how it would affect the future romance, but that's the only real problem I noticed. I enjoyed the first 250 and would definitely keep reading.

    Chocolate, Wine, and Salsa: The premise feels very fun. The only confusion I had when reading was between the boyfriend/best friend and the childhood best friend. I get caught on it every time I read it over. The voice in the 250 was pretty fantastic. It reads fluidly and I would absolutely turn to the next page.

  10. I really enjoyed the voice in both stories, but Ivy League had a playful, teasing tone that drew me in right away. I may be in the minority, but I do sometimes find the world-weary superior heroine in romance off putting (rolling my eyes, over it, etc) but I think the premise sounds fun and the writing was witty and quirky!

    Chocolate, Wine, and Salsa is a fantastic title. Again, it's a minor quibble, but I'd like to see something more eye catching as the opening line of your query. I feel like I might just skim by it as is. Generally, though, the writing was fun and the concept drew me right in!

  11. These titles are the best!

    Ivy League:

    Query: I love the two blue lines! So clever! To me, this definitely reads more contemp romance. Women's fiction readers might feel a disconnect about why you have her completely focused on getting a degree and working hard, and then on the first day of school she's already locking eyes with the sexy teacher. Other than honing in on the genre, I think the query is well written. I especially love the line about how she not only falls in love- she kind of falls apart. (That line is kind of awesome!)

    250: Between assuming she makes someone nervous and the sarcastic "over it," The first impression I have of Jocelyn is that she's a bit arrogant. It's not until the last line about her insecurities that she shows some vulnerability. The scene is well written and if that's the type of girl you were going for, then you nailed it. It's hard for me to tell not having read more. Otherwise, you might want to soften her up a bit for her first impression. This sounds like it will be an intriguing story!

    Chocolate, Wine, and Salsa:

    Query: I would start with the second paragraph. I had to read the query twice to realize the missing friend/body was someone other than the best friend. Maybe add in some names? Otherwise I think it's a great story idea with lots of layers and opportunities for relationship exploration. This is one I would definitely want to read more of just from the query.

    250: I love the 1st paragraph but needed some action to start right after that.. Perhaps the answering machine message can go immediately after that with some additional dialogue? Backstory about mama & why she left Texas can be woven in as the story unfolds.

    Best of luck to you both!

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  13. Chocolate, wine and salsa.

    I just wanted to start off by saying how awesome this title nickname is. I am pretty sure I would just buy the book based just off of that, not to mention the great writing in the first 250! I think maybe loosing the first sentence works better, because you jump right into the mc head right off the bat, but either way I would definitely keep reading! The query tone is a little stronger than the first 250, but I personally thought you did a great job! Good luck!

    Ivy league sex scandal

    Another great title. The query does a fantastic job of introducing the character, the stakes and making the reader want more! The first 250 are solid as well, though it is hard to start off with a character not directly mentioned in the query, because he is who matters and not the Dr. Moss right? Overall, really well done! Not much more to add!

  14. Ivy League

    I think this query is very well written and has a ton of voice. I agree with previous comments about the line about how she not only falls in love, she kind of falls apart. Very clever. The voice carries into the first 250. Maybe look for how you might tighten this dialogue: “Dr. Moss mentioned you were planning to help her put together her curriculum for spring. Her new class?” Maybe something like: "You're helping with her spring curriculum?" Overall, this story grabs my interest right away and I’d keep reading.

    Chocolate Wine and Salsa
    First of all, great title! I think you can do without the first line of the query -- with the exception of the two timelines, which is intriguing and I’d like to know more about it. The rest of that first line seems like it could be about any story. After that though, the query has a great voice and clearly defines the stakes. Your voice carries right into the first 250, but I feel a disconnect between the first two paragraphs and the rest. I think your story really starts in the 3rd paragraph. When she says she’s not sure if she wants to play the message, maybe find a way to show that vs tell us. Maybe she puts her finger over the button and hesitates. I’d like to understand better why she hesitates to play it, and I’d definitely read on to find out!

  15. Ivy League Sex Scandal

    The two blue lines on a stick threw me, until I read further. Overall, I thought this was an excellent query. My only concern was getting a master’s degree at 25. Did she have a gap year(s?) between college and grad school? Is that where the mysterious past comes from? I’m not convinced there’s much mysterious about a 25 year old unwed grad student, but the flow and execution of the query kept me reading.

    250 words:
    I admit, I am neither a women’s fiction nor contemporary romance person, and I enjoyed this opening! I enjoyed her disdain of Will, her reaction to the air freshener while pregnant, and her self awareness regarding her position as both a woman in general and a female academic. This made me LOL: “It’s a delicate balance. Men always are.”

    Well done, you!

    Chocolate, Wine and Salsa
    Greatly appreciate your straightforward first sentence. I got confused in your second paragraph, wondering if her boyfriend was her best friend as well, and then confusion between the NYC best friend and the Texas childhood best friend. The phrase “confronted raw sexuality” didn’t sit well with me. I wonder if there is a better phrase.

    I do like the concept of a murder mystery with a female protagonist, and I’d like more of that in the query.

    250 words:
    I think I get where you are going with this opening but it doesn’t have the emotional urgency or despondency to the degree I would expect from someone in this situtaion. I also found myself wanting to trim your third paragraph to make it more active. May I?

    Reaching across the kitchen counter to grab my keys, something flashed and caught my eye. Staring at my My answering machine light: blink, blink, blink. I wasn’t sure I wanted I didn’t want to play it. My boss could be canceling the meeting today. It could also be my mama. Or it could be Mama. In that case, Maybe I’d wait till after work to listen to it. But then I realized, it could be from Rich…

  16. The pair of you are going to make for a tough decision by the judges; that’s for sure.


    Normally, I glide right past Adult lit to seek the YA. Then my eye caught your first sentence, and I HAD to slam on the brakes to scroll back up and read. That’s quite something!


    Your query is full of voice and has a cleverness to it. On my second read, though, I noticed the three-time homecoming queen/ three homecoming crowns and wondered if there might be another way to present one of the mentions. Also, the “kinda” feels out of place and YA-ish in such a smooth adult query.

    I’m a little unclear on the secrets part of the last line. Since Jocelyn moves to Dartmouth in order to hide her secrets, if she has to “choose” between them and the professor, that would mean she’d have to give one of the two up (wouldn’t she want to get rid of her secrets like they never happened?). I assume you mean she’ll have to choose between Kensington or keeping her secrets safe and untold.


    That first line grabs your reader and makes her want to know why Jocelyn makes Will nervous. Great!

    In this first 250, you start five paragraphs with “I.” Perhaps you could shuffle “I grow more nauseated with each tick of the noisy clock” to read “Each tick of the noisy clock makes me more nauseated” or “…nauseates me more” to get rid of one and vary your opening sentence beginnings more (?)

    Those things said, after reading your query, coupled with my reaction to your first line, I’d want to read on! Good luck!



    There seems to be a lot going on here, with a lot of players involved. A better starting point might be something along the lines of, “After being dumped by her boyfriend in New York, Sandy Jo returns to Texas to face the mama and the secrets she once fled” or even “Sandy Jo never intended to return to the Texas farm of her childhood, but when a long-ago friend…” We don’t need to know the ex is also her best friend. I can’t tell if the story will center on the disappearance and murder(?) of her Texas friend or repairing the mother-daughter bond—the way this is currently written, one doesn’t flow into the other; they feel like two separate things. The cowboy in your ending sentence feels thrown in, since he hasn’t been mentioned as part of either equation (the mystery of the friend or the reconciliation), and he also ends a rather dark-toned query with a happy twist that feels a bit off.


    But after the query, you BLOW ME AWAY with the word painting you do! That first sentence is beautiful! The word “dishevel” is the only thing that sticks out to me, and that just might be me. I read this sentence more than a few times, just to “hear” it in my head. Excellent.

    I’d love to see that “but” taken off the second paragraph and “that” removed to make it a sentence with punch, especially after that fluid paragraph above. Without those two words, it’s another WOW for me.

    In your fourth paragraph, you get into a bit of telling regarding how she feels about the answering machine. If she’s as nervous about who the message might be from, as you conveyed in the paragraph above, let us feel it. The way you wrote your previous paragraphs, fixing the telling will be cake for you to do!

    Great job! Good luck!

  17. First, sorry I'm late to the party. Hope I can still leave you my two cents :)

    Ivy League
    Query: Love the first sentence, esp the two blue lines! I did think a few of the sentences could be tied together a little better and perhaps combined into one tighter, more cohesive paragraph. "Her plan is the first casualty" is also a great phrase. I would take out the "kind of" and either replace it with something with more punch, like "damn near" or merely leave it out completely.

    First 250: Is the clock noisy or just the ticking? Double-edge sword sounds weird in reference to breathing. Sorry to be picky there but those were the only two things that caught my eye as awkward. Everything else was great and flowed smoothly. Last sentence shows her insecurity even though she already appears to be well on her way to success. I'd really like to read this novel!

    Chocolate Wine & Salsa
    Query: I'm certainly no expert but I know there is a lot of debate about queries beginning with a word count and summary sentence. Maybe for contests, nix it to save on word count and focus? The second sentence of the actual query, the mention of her age seems out of place. Maybe find a way to incorporate her return to her ranch in TX, the mysteries and raw sexuality while getting rid of wordiness about the best childhood friend calling and begging her to return. What I like is your query puts all the pieces out there, her 'escape,' her mama, the secret, need to forgive and that damn cowboy (who seemed to appear out of nowhere in the last sentence, but I think since it's not a strict romance, that's just icing on the cake).

    First 250: Loved the sky and the hues but wondered what colors she actually saw. I could feel her trepidation about being caught between TX and NY although you mentioned something about Manhattan being a place where people walked with purpose; any more description about what exactly in TX called her back? (ie, hazy landscapes, more laid-back lifestyle, etc.) Being animal lover, of course I loved Red Retriever Ranch :) This is also a novel I'd love to read!

  18. Ivy League Sex Scandal

    "she kind of falls apart" I think the presence of "kind of" detracts from the bold, dramatic statement this line would otherwise make.

    There is action in dialogue, but with so much dialogue I'm not sure just who the Jocelyn is. Or why I should care about her. And "double-edged sword" struck me as cliched.

    Chocolate, Wine & Salsa

    "Mama" has a certain voicey quality to it that I'm not sure fits in a query. I would expect to see "mother" here instead. "Best friend" shows up twice in close proximity but in two different contexts. Maybe change the terminology of one instance or the other? And what "certain cowboy" are you referring to? Anything to do with when she and her best friend "confronted raw sexuality"? If so I would like details of the connection here.

    Loved the line in the first 250 about people walking with purpose. Maybe instead of "..voice from the good ol' days..." you could use two sentences. Period after "voice" and a new sentence suggesting her voice sounded the same as the day Sandy Jo left the ranch.