Wednesday, June 1, 2016

QK Round 1: To Be a Man vs. Stolen By Time

Entry Nickname: TO BE A MAN
Word Count: 97,000
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Val has studied, fought and completed her sailing expedition—faster than anyone else—to become chieftess of her tribe. Returning home, she discovers her twin brother is missing—kidnapped by the foreign conquerors—and if she doesn't find him soon, her tribe will go to war and be massacred by their enemies.
Against her tribe’s wishes, Val finds her way into an Airyllen ship dressed as a boy. Surrounded by the people she believes are her enemies, her sole focus is locating her brother. But on the ship, Val discovers that not all Airyllens are pale-faced demons. As she earns Captain Devon's trust, Val is torn between her loyalty to the tribe and her newfound love for the captain—whose affections lie with someone else.
Hiding her true identity from him may cost their friendship and break her heart. But if he learns who she is, he has an obligation to report to the king and Val risks losing her brother, the war and her life in this loose retelling of Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT.

First 250 Words:
No one witnessed the tears staining my ocean-weathered face. Like my ancestors before me, I made this trip alone. If the elder who made that rule still lived, I’d personally see him to the spirit realm.

The purple mountains jutted into the sky, glistening as magic cascaded off them like an early morning fog encompassing the land. I leapt out of my seat. For most the Pass represented the boundary between the southern tribes and the pale-faced invaders. For me it meant home.

My rash movements caused the port side of my sailing canoe to dip under the water.

“Spirits!” If I capsized this close to the end, I’d die of humiliation.

Tonight, after eighty-two long days, the elders would name me chieftess. Chieftess Valerian. I could live with that.

You’re only chieftess if you beat Shecayah home. A voice in my head reminded me.

“Sure.” I rolled my eyes. The elders say the spirits whispering in your ear is a sign. I say my exhausted body is trying to trick me.

Letting my sail out, I tied the mainsheet and moved to the bow of my sailing canoe, the wind pulling strands of my black hair out of its braid and into my eyes.

I sat cross-legged on the bow and opened my pouch. Dust the color of the stars lay at the bottom. When I’d started my trek, Elder Fire gave me a full bag. I dumped the remnants in my hand. The silver stood out against my dark skin and I blew the powder away.


Entry NicknameStolen by Time
Word count: 82,000
Genre: YA Time Travel Romance


A seventeen-year-old Australian girl is haunted by the echo of a love more powerful than time, calling to her across the centuries.

Taylor’s life is on a fast track. Graduation is in four weeks, she’s dating the hot lead singer of a local band, and Sydney’s summer beaches beckon. Until Mum drags her across fifteen hundred kilometers of Australian Outback, to the middle-of-nowhere. And the haunting dreams of Anna begin.

In 1876, seventeen-year-old Anna rises before the sun, milks the cow, fetches water from the almost-dry creek, and stokes the oven. If her parents had remained in Europe, instead of moving to the wilderness of South Australia, her life would be different—civilized, perhaps, as Mother loves to say. In Europe, she would have avoided the raging bushfire that leaves her reputation as blackened as the burnt-out scrub. But then she’d not have met handsome fellow settler, Luke Hartmann.

In her dreams, Taylor lives every moment with Anna. But, as Taylor’s parents threaten divorce and her life spirals out of control, she ventures deeper into Anna’s world. The borders between reality and dreams become increasingly blurred, and Taylor falls for the perfect dream guy; Luke. When tragedy tears Anna’s family apart, Taylor must discover whether her dreams are pure fantasy—or if they recount a story more familiar than she could ever imagine. If she can’t find a way to combine the past and the present, she risks losing her mind and her heart forever.


In Sydney, if you choose the place carefully and wear a top cut low enough, the bouncers don’t check your ID. Just as well, as both Cassie’s and mine would reveal we’re a few months short of legal.

Sweaty palmed, I tug at the hem of my short skirt. The queue shuffles toward the neon-enhanced entry. If we’re turned away before we get through the door, we haven’t broken any laws, we won’t get arrested; yet my heart pounds with the adrenalin rush. 

Fear feeds the high.

Cassie couldn’t care less. She leans forward, brushing imaginary dirt from her knee, loose shirt billowing from her chest. 

Standing at the door for hours, you’d think the bouncers would be sick of perving. Apparently not.

Fisting her hands on narrow hips, Cassie straightens, shooting a mega-watt smile at the ogling security guard.

Despite high wedges, I stretch to mutter in her ear. “Jeez Cass. It’s supposed to be Victoria’s Secret, right?

She laughs as though it was a killer line, flinging an arm around my shoulders. “Don’t get your panties in a twist, Tay. You want to get in, right?”

Hell yeah, I want to get in.

Cassie nods at the crucifix I slide up and down a fine chain around my neck. “Y’know you look like a god-botherer when you fiddle with that thing, right?”

I drop my hand. “Present from my grandparents.”

One perfect eyebrow arches at me. “Thought you didn’t have anything to do with them?”


  1. Replies
    1. To Be A Man: I feel like such a bad judge, but I can’t think of one thing to change. This is a strong query and a strong first 250, well done!

      Stolen By Time: Why is Taylor dragged across the Outback? That part isn’t clear to me. I think this is strong, yet wonder if the connection between the two could be explained more. I get the feeling a lot of the story is about Taylor falling into Anna’s world, but feel disconnected from what that does to Taylor’s own time.

      I like your opening, but don’t get a sense of the query in here, except that we are being introduced to Taylor, first. Not sure if this is the right place to start the story or not based on the 250, but something to consider. I’d definitely keep reading if I could!

      Victory to To Be A Man!

    2. TO BE A MAN

      I really like the idea of taking Shakespeare and setting it in a young adult fantasy! Val seems pretty bad-ass in both the query and your pages. I’d definitely want to follow her on a quest to save her brother. In the query, I did want to know a bit more about why she dresses up like a boy to get onto the ship. I understand this is what happens in Twelfth night but I want more of a sense of why she has to do it in THIS world. Is it simply a matter of going undercover in a way they least expect or are their gender issues at play here? Considering she is chieftess, I am not sure.

      With the pages, I really like that you start us off right in the middle of the action. My main bump is the consistency of the voice. Phrases like “I could live with that.” and “I rolled my eyes.” didn’t really fit the tone/voice of the rest of it.

      Stolen by Time

      In the query, I like how you contrast Taylor and Anna’s different day-to-day lives. I also love that Luke is literally the “perfect dream guy.” I think what I was confused about is Taylor’s role in Anna’s life. I know she is dreaming about Anna’s life but is she just an observer in her head? Or can she make decisions, ones that Anna herself wouldn’t make? Like Buttercup, I also want to get more of a sense of the impact it has on Taylor in her own time. Especially if she is really just an observer in Anna’s body/world.

      When it comes to pages, I liked Taylor a lot. I do think you can tighten it up a little bit. I think because you do such a good job in some places of capturing her teenage voice, the places that didn’t seem as much to be how a teenager would speak were more apparent to me. For instance, I’d change it to: “Just as well. Both Cassie’s and mine would reveal we’re a few months short of legal.” So definitely take a look at some of the word choice, things like “the queue shuffles.”

      This is another case of me wanting both of you guys to advance, but…

      VICTORY: Stolen by Time

    3. To Be a Man:

      Overall, this is a great query with world, conflict, and stakes clearly introduced. I like how you hint at the fact that your MC is a woman of color without stating so directly (always tricky in fantasy, since you can't say "African American" or "Asian" etc, when Africa and Asia don't exist). I love the dual conflict, the exterior conflict revolving around the brother and the warring kingdoms, and the internal conflict revolving around falling in love with the enemy.

      Constructive criticism: First, you may want to try to eliminate one set of em-dashes in your first paragraph. It feels a little choppy to me as is, and I think the dashes contribute to that. Second, are the Airyllens the enemy? If so, I'd EITHER make that clear ("an enemy Airyllen ship"?) or eliminate Airyllen from the query, just say "enemy" for now.

      The 250: by the end, I'd be convinced to keep reading. The little details here make the world feel incredibly well thought out, and while there are certainly some questions in the reader's mind (who is Shecayah? etc), this is not really confusing, but more of an incentive to read on and find out! Nice start to your worldbuilding here. The very first paragraph confuses me a little, though. By saying "ancestors" you make it sound as though this is a very old tradition... and then the next sentence makes it sound as though the rule was made by a single person who is possibly still living? This SCENE feels like the right way to start the story, but I'm not sure about the specific intro you've got right now.


      Stolen By Time:

      YAY CONTEMPORARY WITH A NON-US SETTING! I'm ridiculously thrilled by the setting here, and assuming based on voice that you're an Australian author? YAY YAY YAY.

      I think the query is intriguing. This is very high-concept and your query gets that across well. Not sure if you're concerned about this, but since you've used the American spelling of "kilometers," "middle of nowhere" should have no hyphens if you're going for US spellings. Content wise... I agree with the above judge that I'd like to know WHY she is dragged across the Outback. Is this connected with the impending divorce? I'd also like to see a FEW more specifics in the stakes at the end. Can you be a little more specific with what Taylor's goal is and/or what will happen if she doesn't succeed?

      First 250: I don't have a lot to suggest here. I love the first line, first paragraph... we've got character, setting, voice, all from the beginning. The only thing you MIGHT want to trim is some of Cassie's body language. I feel like there's maybe a SLIGHT imbalance here... too much of the physical, not enough emotion/internal voice?

      Overall, though, I think this is great.


      EXTREMELY tough matchup. I'd say To Be a Man's got the clearer stakes in the query, but the voice in both the query and 250 seem stronger in Stolen By Time. Based largely on character, setting, and a kick-ass concept...

      Victory to Stolen By Time!

    4. To Be A Man:

      YAY for Shakespeare retellings! And you've given this one a unique twist too. Setting it in a whole new fantasy world and expertly laying out those details. The Query flows well. Only comment is if the Airyllens are the foreign conquerers you refer to in paragraph one, call them as such there. If they aren't, who is this third party? On the first 250, I'd concur that the voice is a little bit inconsistent. At the beginning and end, it sounds very serious, proper, but in the middle, it sounds very "teen." While I understand she is a teen, if she's the Chieftess, I'd expect more of that formality.

      Stolen By Time:

      YAY for interesting, non-US/Europe settings! My Thorn Birds loving heart is very happy. I'm a little confused though. Why is Taylor being dragged across the Outback and is she Anna reincarnated? A little more context as to Taylor's life could go a long way here. And while the First 250 is full of voice and easy to picture in my head, how is it connected to the Query, other than featuring Taylor? Consider whether this is the best place to start.

      This is the closest call I've had to make yet. Both are very well written and I really want to read these books.

      The slimmest margin of victory goes to... To Be A Man.

    5. Both of these books sound way awesome! I’m not sure there’s a whole lot more to be said here that what’s already been very effectively noted in the other judges’ comments. Both books have strong concepts (Twelfth Night? Time travel? Yes! Please!) and really awesome opening 250’s. I do agree that the query for Stolen by Time could use some fine-tuning. With our character so close to graduation, it feels extraordinary that a parent would pull her out of school – and I think a brief nod as to why would be in order.

      For that reason, I award victory to To Be a Man!

    6. TO BE A MAN:

      GREAT idea. I love the query. Only thing—how does hiding her true identity cost their friendship? Wouldn’t revealing her identity cost their friendship? That part tripped me up. Otherwise, nicely done!

      I love the first 250. Her personality come through, the voice is great. No suggestions!!!! This rocks!


      Cool setting! Yay for Australia!!! For the query, the one thing that threw me was how is this time travel? It’s like The Lake House, right? Where one’s in each world? At least that’s what the query suggests. Anyway, moving on, there are a lot of characters in here, and I think you have to mention Taylor, Anna, and Luke. I just wonder if there’s a better way of doing it. I’m not sure Anna needs her own paragraph since you mention Taylor’s dreams of Anna’s life. Also, a short blip as to why Mum drug her to no-man’s land would be nice.

      The 250 reads very well. I have no suggestions! Great way to get us settled in this world, talk about Taylor’s normal world before she gets shipped off to the Outback.

      Hmmm, this is another tough one. I love both 250s, and both queries do the job. One is further along though, and since this is Query Kombat . . .


  2. I'm passing on commenting on "To Be a Man" since it's my CP's, so...

    In regards to 'Stolen by Time', I really liked the premise and the first words. The third paragraph confused me a little in regards to Anna's life - her life seems normal, and I'd like to see more stakes in it besides her move and her love for Luke. What is happening in her life besides that? Really enjoyed the stakes at the end, but would like to know the stakes of Anna's life as well as Taylor's.

  3. Jumping in on feedback here, too for ECHOES ACROSS TIME.

    What hooked me: Voice. Two strong female main characters, even though in different centuries, is instantly important to me. The very first line of the query tells me this author has a knack for poetic description, and I can't help but think of The Time Traveler's Wife. The author has done a great job giving such a strong voice to both characters. Really sucks me in.

    I want to read on to see how the two lives parallel one another, what similarities in sisterhood do they have given they're centuries apart? Or are they the same person? How does this romance with Luke fit in? There's so much I want to know. My only question is if this is YA, because it'd appeal to adults, too, but I'll trust the author on that. Well done!

  4. BE A MAN

    I like the premise of this, and am intrigued, but my first reaction to the query was to wonder why it would help for her to sneak on the Airyllen ship as a boy when her dark skin should give her away immediately. That may not be the case, but given that skin color is brought up, it seems like something you should find a way to explain or leave out. It is also a bit disconcerting for it to be important that she is faster than anyone else at a sailing expedition and then jump right into the kidnapping. I think you need to make the stakes of the sailing expedition clearer (winner is chief/chieftess?). I like the voice in the 250. Drew me in.


    I like the premise a lot, and have high hopes for the story, but the query left me a bit puzzled. If she is four weeks out from graduation, why would she follow her mother to the Outback? Why not just move into an apartment or in with the hot rock singer? This may be answered in the story, but it makes the query a little harder to buy. I love the start of the 250. You get a strong sense of both her attraction to danger and her nervousness about it. Her friend also sounds like fun.

  5. TO BE A MAN

    I love the writing in the sample, clearly the author has a talent for words. The query leaves me wondering if the premise is original enough though.


    Love the premise of this one. It seems so different to the usual tropes in YA. Great voice too. I'd definitely pick this one up and read it. Would appeal to a broad readership.

  6. TO BE A MAN

    As I read the wonderful query, I was thinking, 'this sounds like Twelfth Night,' and for good reason! I did wonder why a woman powerful enough to be a chieftess would disguise herself as a man. I was disappointed she would until my Twelfth Night comparison was confirmed. The 250 is also fantastic. I do have a question: does the character's voice, which sounds a bit informal/today's teenager ("I can live with that..." "'Sure,' I rolled my eyes.") jar a little against the more ancient or mythical setting and lovely language of the descriptions? But this is nit-picking a great entry... really well done! Can't wait to find out what the silver powder is!


    I love this premise so much that before I read it, I was considering something similar for my next WIP! I love to question the nature of reality and whether it matters if we're living in a dream. So I'm sold straight out.

    Honestly, it didn't bother me that I don't know why she's dragged to the Outback - moms do that sort of thing to teenagers and since it's not integral to the plot, I'm okay knowing I'll find out. I love the query...

    In the first 250, I wondered if you could maybe loosen up the second line - keep the voice sounding teenager-y? Maybe something like, "This is good because Cassie and I won't be legal for another couple of months." Is there another description you could use for "mega-watt smile" that would be a bit more unique to Cassie? That's a phrase I run across a lot so it stuck out on a first page... I LOVED the Victoria's Secret line - very cute! Maybe leave it "Cassie laughs" so the reader who might also find it funny isn't judging whether it's a killer line.

    Again, these are only suggestions for an already amazing entry. I just finished The Forgetting Time yesterday and would LOVE to read this next as I'm in a reincarnation spirit, so to speak.

    Fantastic entries and both should be agented and published immediately!! :-)

  7. Again, both of these are great entries! There's so much talent in this contest.


    Query: I like your query a lot because it's concise--it says everything it needs to say without unnecessary flash or description. The stakes are clear, and the premise itself is great.

    250: You do a great job in bringing the reader into the scene--just enough detail that it's easily imagined without feeling clunky. I already like your protagonist, which makes me want to read more!


    Query: I really enjoy the concept, but I'd like to know a little more about the relationship between Taylor and Anna. She lives every moment with her, but are they friends? Also, it seems like Luke is Anna's love interest, so it seems weird to me, then, that Taylor would be interested in him as well. Does this create tension, or is the relationship between Anna and Luke strictly platonic? That's the only part that gave me any issue.

    250: The voice here is great. I like that you start off with some humor and rebellion, which is personally my favorite way to start a book I'm reading. ;) I love the line "fear feeds the high." Great writing. Would love to continue reading!

  8. To Be a Man: The only comment I have is that I look forward to when this is published, so I can read it. It's seriously that good.

    Stolen: The beginning scene in itself wasn't unique enough to grab me - but I do think the dialogue could make up for that it was sharpened a bit. There are some great bits and pieces, it just needs some polishing to pull it all together. for example, the Victoria's Secret line is cute, but it feels misplaced - it seems like it belongs after the line where her shirt is billowing out, I assume to reveal her bra, which sparks the comment?

    Good luck you guys.

  9. To Be a Man

    Query – It has conflict. It has character. It has stakes. It has a touch of voice. I like the story idea and the situation the MC is thrust into. I fear the query loses a bit of the main conflict thread of Val finding her brother because it doesn’t explain how being on the ship and staying true to her tribe will help rescue him. Other than that, it think it’s set up very nicely.

    250 – Interesting. I’m intrigued by the situation and what’s going on, but I’m a little lost. What is this trip she’s on? How long has she been on it? It seems like she’s heading home, but instead of being happy about seeing the divide, she’s mad at an ancestor.

    The other thing that’s throwing me off is that the POV seems a bit forced, as though this was 3rd person and was switched to 1st. For example, tears staining my ocean-weathered face – I don’t think someone would think about their face being ocean-weathered unless they were trying to draw attention/describe it while being aware that they’re telling a story; that puts some narrative distance in there to me. May just be me, though. Third person wouldn’t feel that way, but first does-it pulls me out of her head.

    Overall, the opening is very tight, but perhaps a bit too tight, almost as though it’s been trimmed and withered and trimmed again, cutting out a little too much. For me, I could use a bit more grounding in what’s going on. Also, I’d like to know about this boat. It’s a sailing canoe, and she rides in the front, but that is so different from any boat/canoe I’ve been in that I would like to know more about it. May just be me, though.

    Stolen by Time

    Query – There are hints of conflict, but it’s unclear. It has character, but I’m confused here too. It says some stakes, but I’m confused here too. It has a nice voice.

    First paragraph looks like a nice logline, but I don’t know if the Australian girl is Taylor or Anna.

    Second graph - Are we talking about high school graduation? Is this lead singer in high school? Or are we in college here? Also, this is totally my taste, but you’ve chopped up a beautiful sentence into three clauses and a phrase. For most people that works. Me, I’m a sucker for someone who shows me I’m in the hands of a master sentence builder.

    Dreams of Anna begin – hah – reminds me of an ancient Counting Crows song. Nice.

    Third graph – wouldn’t change a thing.

    Last graph – This is where I got confused. First, I was thinking she was in love with Anna. She “lives ever moment with Anna” and then “ventures deeper into Anna’s world.” I was thinking, how is she going deeper into her world – then I was like, oh, she’s falling in love. After a second read, I see I was just confused. Maybe instead of saying “lives every moment with Anna” you say something like she lives every moment through Anna’s eyes, cause then I won’t think they’re separated in these moments. Shrugs. From this point out in the query, I just have all kinds of questions. Unfortunately, I don’t get why the dreams will harm her and what will happen to her if she can’t jump back in time to be Anna. Or will she jump back in time to be herself and steal Luke from Anna? And if she does, bend time, what will happen to her bod here? Anyway, totally confused. Sorry.

    250 – I don’t have a lot of complaints about the first page. It flows pretty well. There are a few spots that seem a little forced, but overall, it sets the stage for a good scene with some conflict. I would change “Fisting her hands on narrow hips” to something along the lines of She placed her fists on her narrow hips, or With fists on narrow hips, she . . . .

    Nice job getting here and good luck to both of you!

  10. TO BE A MAN

    Girl in a nautical setting is interesting as some of my own work captures the same dynamic. Like how the first 250 opens, giving vivid imagery and giving insight into Val's character. She mentions 'sailing canoe' several times. Perhaps one or another of these might be replace with 'my boat' or 'my craft' to avoid repetition. ‎And twice in close proximity we read she's on the bow. Maybe eliminate the second reference?

    ‎Stolen by Time‎

    At the first mention of the haunting dreams I though Anna was your protagonist Taylor, not the century-plus-old ghost haunting her. ‎ Seeing how the situation between two girls sharing a consciousness and both pining for the same boy would keep me reading. Taylor has wonderful and authentic voice in the first 250, but I would have liked to get an inkling as to the coming conflict. The query or back jacket copy serves that purpose well enough, but lacking core conflict or action those who ascribe to "hook 'em in the first 250" may question whether you've done so.