Friday, June 2, 2017

QK Round 1: Ooh, Crown Molding?! vs. Alternative Facts

Entry Nickname: Ooh, crown molding?!
Word Count: 53,000
Genre: YA Contemporary


Seventeen-year-old Jordan Pearce has three months left of high school. Three months to decide if her alcoholic mom can be trusted to fend for herself without Jordan’s supervision. But when Jordan heads out for one night of fun with her best friends, she returns home to find her mom passed out and bleeding from a head wound. After a brief hospitalization, mom is forced into rehab. With no one else to look over her, Jordan’s absentee dad steps in, mobile tiny house in tow. At first, life in the tiny house with Dad is awkward. Close quarters, no bedroom walls, and a composting toilet are just the tip of the iceberg. There's also the whole "thanks for abandoning me and making mom drink her sorrows away" drama. Good thing she's got her two best friends and a cute crush to get her through. Jordan soon discovers she likes not having to be the one in charge of everything, and being able to put herself first for once. But rehab can’t help people who don’t want to help themselves, and soon Jordan must make a choice: either she puts herself first and heads off to college, risking her mom’s safety, or she gives up on her dreams to make sure mom stays safe.

First 250:

Maybe the first big party of the new year isn’t the place to make my debut. I lag behind Sydney and Hannah as they walk up the front steps, their hands laced together. Guilt churns in my stomach. I should be home, working on my Physics paper and keeping an eye on Mom. But I can't handle missing out on another party, especially this one. Mom will be fine for one night.

The house pulses with music and activity. I hold my breath, step into the foyer, and take a look around. My classmates are more alive than I’ve ever seen them. Everywhere I look, they’re dancing, drinking, kissing, moving. Hannah twists her way through the crowd, moving with the music and disappears.

"Well?" Syd asks.

I nod. "It's good. Fun." She raises an eyebrow. "Really, I’m good." I'm not convinced. My toes already ache and my heart’s beating so fast that I feel shaky but there’s something about all of this that feels right. Maybe it isn't too late for me.

Hannah returns with two beers and a water. “Who’s driving?” Syd grabs the water so I take a beer--my first--out of Hannah’s hand. I wipe off the condensation and then pop it open and take a swig. I scrunch up my face and Hannah smiles.  “Acquired taste. It gets better, but not until the third can or so.”

I take another sip as I look around the room, my gaze landing on a tall redhead across the way. He's here.


Title: All Intents and Purposes
Entry nickname: Alternative Facts
Word count: 68K
Genre: YA Contemporary


Seventeen-year-old Adrian understands that “genderqueer” isn’t exactly an acceptable identity at her Pennsylvania school. That’s why she’s stoked to discover she can blend in as a boy with a group of friends she met online. So when a rape scandal about two of her fellow high school students is plastered all over the news, she brushes it aside as useless chatter; she has more exciting things to focus on.

But escapism meets reality—and Adrian’s stomach drops into the sub-basement—when the accused rapist from her high school, Hunter, arrives at an out-of-town party. Hunter knows who Adrian is under her masculine appearance; he could out her with a single pronoun. Likewise, Adrian could reveal Hunter’s disreputable identity to their new friends. With both Hunter and Adrian holding the upper hand, they hit a standstill.

Yet Hunter doesn't seem all that interested in outing Adrian’s born sex. In fact, he seems captivated with Adrian exactly as she is, genderqueerness and all. As his trial date approaches, Adrian second guesses everything the media's been saying about Hunter—and about the accusations against him. With her gut and the media sending conflicting vibes, she’s unsure who to trust. She needs to figure it out soon, before her heart decides for her.

First 250:

The bass thumped in Adrian’s ears, pulsing her temples to the beat of the overplayed top-40 hit. She would’ve crawled into bed an hour ago if the music—and Katelyn—hadn’t demanded her attention. Or if she weren’t so far from home.

A pang crept from her temples to her forehead, but she pushed on. Like hell would she waste this opportunity to pass as a guy for the night. Even if it meant feigning interest in a girl she met online.

She jerked her hips to the music as Katelyn popped her chest. Katelyn wrapped an arm around Adrian’s shoulder and brought their heads together, huffing shallow breaths into Adrian’s ear. They swayed, enclosed by the heat and sweat of the others dancing around them in Katelyn’s living room.

Adrian side-eyed the clock on Katelyn’s living-room wall. Almost one in the morning. She blinked slowly as her body danced on. One more song. She could do this.

Her head bobbed, more out of tiredness than to the beat. She reached around Katelyn’s waist to regain her bearings, grasping the flesh at the top of her hips. Katelyn whimpered in reply, and an uninvited spark shot up the short hairs on Adrian’s neck. Katelyn dropped a hand between their torsos, resting her fingers at the top of Adrian’s jeans.

Shit. No.

Adrian hunched her shoulders forward, her pelvis back. No way could she let Katelyn shift her hand two inches down or six inches up. One wrong move, and Adrian’s number-one, very-important, do-not-violate-under-any-circumstances partying rule would be broken.


  1. Judges can reply with their feedback and vote here.

    1. Thoughts on CROWN MOLDING:

      - The query is pretty good, as is. It could use a bit more voice, but other wise, clear and concise.
      - I worry that the stakes seem low. Is there more drama in the story you can mention to amp it up?
      - The tiny house, IMO, is the thing that will make this stand out to readers. I haven’t seen this in a book before.
      - The 250 is nice, I get a good sense of the anxiety of the uncomfortable situation. I wonder if it would add something if Jordan is thinking about her mom when she sees all the alcohol. That would present the stakes right away.

      Thoughts on ALTERNATIVE:

      - Is this #ownvoices in any way? If yes, it will be important to mention it.
      - Gender queer doesn’t need to be in quotations.
      - Pennsylvania is a big state and a lot of Pennsylvanians I know are very accepting of everyone. I might say the town is conservative or exclusive instead of lumping an entire state together.
      - I’m curious about Adrian’s pronouns. Would they/them be more appropriate? Or does the she/her reflect the conservative town and the need to protect herself?
      - I’m having trouble connecting Adrian’s identity with the rape scandal with being outed. I would clarify how everything works together as much as possible.
      - I’m struggling with what this book wants to be – a book about a gender queer kid, a romance, a thriller? I’d love to have a conversation with this writer and ask all these questions and talk through things, as I think this story has potential, but the query has me scratching my head.
      - Despite my concerns with the query, the 250 is strong. Adrian’s voice is sharp and clear and I get a good sense of who she is immediately, as well as a tease of the stakes.

      Both of these entries have merit, but my choice is going for the one that seems more ready to move forward. Victory to CROWN MOLDING.

    2. Both of these were really good and I had a very hard time choosing. GREAT JOB!

      I agree with And Peggy on most points, but I felt the potential of Alternative Facts ultimately overshadowed Crown Molding.


      I love that a tiny house is a plot point - very interesting. I think your query is good, no change needed, and that the stakes are high enough. The writing in the 250 is also good, however, I don't think you're starting in the right place. You want to start in the action - that doesn't mean car chases and explosions, but instead, it means start with whatever the MS is about. Yours is about the alcoholic mother, relationship with dad, etc. start with that.

      Okay. This is tough. I don't know if this is own voices or not, but if it isn't, you're going to get some blow back. I'm going to write my comments as if this is own voices and let you decide what to do. Query: You have a great concept here and I would be excited to read this book. The only thing I would suggest is to up the stakes a little bit. Having her heart decide for her (Peggy is right about considering the pronouns) doesn't seem like a bad outcome.
      Your 250 is well written and the voice stands out.
      This is another tough one, but I made the choice because the query seemed too disconnected from the story in Crown Molding, so victory goes to ALTERNATE FACTS

    4. For CROWN MOLDING, I think the query is very strong. I am so into the tiny house thing!! Tell me more. I agree that the stakes seem a tad low. I'm curious to know if the MC is really considering giving up her dreams to care for her mother, because this seems to be counter toward the way that YA is moving. I hate to over generalize but it seems like the general trend is to show teens struggling but ultimately getting help when dealing with addiction or mental illness. I personally liked the first page as was okay with it as a starting point since it seems like this is probably the book's inciting incident.

      On ALTERNATIVE, I agree with And Peggy's notes. I'd also add that the first paragraph of the query sort of concerned me. And Peggy noted the quotation and the Pennsylvania issues, but I'd also add that the way the rape is handled could really rub some people the wrong way. Calling it a scandal and making it seem like TBD because the MC is making new friends on social media could read insensitive. I thought the voice in the 250 is great.

      Victory to CROWN MOLDING!

    5. No One Of ConsequenceJune 5, 2017 at 12:50 PM

      I liked the queries for both of these, and both concepts really grabbed me. In CROWN MOLDING I like the potential of a daughter forced to choose her own life or caring for a parent, and I think there’s a ton of potential in ALTERNATIVE FACTS, though the topic needs to be handled sensitively (and screams for the use of multiple sensitivity readers, if you haven’t done that yet)

      Unable to choose between the queries, which are both strong, I moved on to the first page.

      For CROWN, watch your use of filters. For example, ‘and take a look around.’ Things like that can be implied, and they pull us away from the scene. Also, the feel of it misses me a little bit. She’s holding her breath as she enters in the second paragraph, which indicates she’s nervous to go in, but in the first paragraph her worry is about missing responsibilities…and she states that she didn’t want to miss this. So it kind of creates a dichotomy for me and I’m left a bit confused as to her feelings.

      ALTERNATIVE FACTS the writing jumped off the page. There are a couple of things you could look at – you use the word temples twice, and the last sentence of the sample could be stronger…’would be broken’ isn’t great. But the active writing overcomes those things, which in the end are just tiny details and easily correctable.

      Victory goes to ALTERNATIVE FACTS

    6. Reply as Chief Doodler!

      Tiny Little Life:

      My first thought was that 53k words is a little short for YA Contemp. At minimum I'd strive to at least 55k, though you're sweet spot will be anywhere between 65k-75k! Just something to think about. I really enjoyed the Query, and the tiny house backdrop is super different and fun. Talk about the perfect way to create natural tension.
      I did want more from this story though. At the end, I kept thinking, why is this story being told? What's the big takeaway? I'm asking those questions because I didn't feel like the story went deep enough. The stakes felt a little too thin. I'd just take it further and push your story as much as you can. If she doesn't go to college, what will happen? She'll stay home for a year and take care of her mom and then go to college the following year? That doesn't feel like a big enough reason to tell this story. Also, there are a lot of YA Contemp titles out there with alcoholic parents/siblings/friends. What about your story will stand out? Start from there and make that part of your story really shine.
      All that said, I really enjoyed the writing sample. I think the voice is strong and I'm super intrigued by the redhead. :)

      All Intents and Purposes:

      Anytime I read the word rape, I'm instantly wary. I get super nervous on how it's handled, on and off screen and after reading the query, I wondered about the main character brushing aside rape as "useless chatter". It seemed insensitive to me, and then it was followed up with "she has more exciting things to focus on". I'm so sorry, but this didn't have a great impression of your MC.
      I totally want to root for the MC, but that kind of tripped me up and I found it hard. That being said, it is an interesting opening and I truly felt his (??) panic when Katelyn gets too close. I seriously got nervous!
      I'd just work on your query to make sure the MC comes across as someone we all are cheering for! :)

      Winner goes to CROWN MOLDING!

    7. Ooh, Crown Molding?!

      A strong query. My only suggestion might be to revise for a shorter, snappier opening, and longer second paragraph, but otherwise I think it’s working well.

      First 250 Words:
      As with the query, I think this is reading pretty well as is. I would recommend sticking to one name per character for the narrator (e.g., choose either Sydney or Syd, not both; characters can of course call each other by a variety of names). Also, I’m surprised we don’t get some sort of vibe from Jordan about the beer given, her mom’s condition. Since alcoholism is central to the story, it seems to me its presence should have some sort of noticeable impact on the POV character.

      Alternate Facts

      While I think the overall query works, I’m confused on several points. If Adrian’s isn’t outed yet, how does Hunter know anything? Also, at first it says she regards the news/rumors as useless chatter, but later states she’s “second guessing” which implies she did in fact believe the original reports. I would also echo concerns raised elsewhere regarding use of pronouns and quotation marks in this specific context, and also the handling of the issue of rape as part of the stakes (though I’m by no means an expert on any of those topics).

      First 250 Words:
      A well written 250. My main comment would be that while this opening seems to be teasing the POV character’s identity, the line “opportunity to pass as a guy” sort of gives it away. It might be more powerful to hold off on any explicit giveaways until she tells the reader her “do-not-violate-under-any-circumstances partying rule.”

      Although both have their strengths, I think one entry presents higher (and clearer) stakes and has slightly more polish. So it’s going to be victory to OOH, CROWN MOLDING?!

    8. Critique: Ooh, crown molding?!
      This query excellently tells me the story and stakes. I wish the crush and friends got a bit more screen time, and we go some stronger sense of what changes for her in that realm. However, this query is pretty great, and I would change nothing if it was going to make it any longer.
      First 250 words:
      Similar to the query, this first 250 words perfectly represents the story to the reader. Presumably the dad will show up by the end of chapter 1 and all the pieces will fall into place. This establishes character and everything I want in first 250 words. Bravo/Brava!

      Critique: Alternative Facts
      Wow, not only is this query excellent at establishing the character and stakes, it has the edge of having genderqueer characters. While there are some stories about this already out, the vast majority of YA work does not include LGBT or genderqueer characters so I’m thrilled to see such a strong query that has this as a part of the story.
      First 250 words:
      I love how we are immediately thrown into this world and hit a big drama point in the first 250 words. I might reduce the name checking (which is harder when dealing with LGBT/Genderqueer characters as standard pronouns are not so easily used.)

      Verdict: How am I already wanting both to win?! Honestly, these should be soaring through to the 2nd round, but occasionally brackets like this make us get rid of a great contender early on. Solely based on personal preference, my win goes to: Alternative Facts
      WINNER GOES TO: Alternative Facts

      If our moderators can save one, both of these should move on!!!

    9. coming down to the wire here, so I'm going to vote and if you don't make it through and want/need more feedback aside from what's already been posted - reach out to me via the tag on twitter (tag both my name #sailorsun and #querykombat) and I'll find you. I'd be more than happy to work with you on the query + first chapter as both these premises seem incredibly intriguing.


  2. Two great entries here! Here's my feedback.

    Ooh, Crown Molding?:

    Query: I'd combine the first and second sentences, or even leave out the detail about three months left of high school -- the hook and stakes really shine through in the second sentence. As well, "mobile tiny house" reads awkwardly -- did you mean "tiny mobile home"? Or is this a tiny house on wheels? I also feel like I want to know more about Jordan in this query, like what she wants to do in college and how she absolutely can't do it with her mother. It'd make the stakes clearer.

    I really like the description of the party and Jordan's immediate surroundings, but I want more in Jordan's head, sort of what she's feeling as she's at this party. Anxiety, relief, boredom? Something to give us more of sense of what Jordan's doing and thinking in this scene.

    Alternative Facts:
    Query: Wow, what an amazing concept! Love the mixing of an often untold story of a genderqueer teenager mixed with a thriller. But I feel like there needs to be more connection between Adrian and her relation to that rape case in the first paragraph. It feels like extraneous information until you reveal it to be important in the second paragraph. I almost wonder if you could delete the mention of it in the first paragraph and introduce it into the second, with something like "Jordan's world is rocked when someone from her online group, a recently accused rapist, comes to her school..."

    Really love the urgency in this first 250! You brought Adrian's emotion to the forefront, and I feel her fear and dread as the dancing goes on. Great job making someone seemingly mundane to other people feel super high stakes. I'd wonder, though, if you might want to open with Adrian only coming to this club to pass as a boy. It's the most unique part of the scene.

  3. Wow, both of these are so good!! The judges are going to have a tough time with choosing between these!!

    Ooh, Crown Molding:

    Para 1- I'd cut the second "three months" to avoid repetitiveness. Should it be "look AFTER her" instead of "look over her"?
    Para 2- nitpick, but I would cut the last sentence. It's really about the mother, father, and Jordan, right? No need to clutter the query with other characters.
    Para 3- another nitpick, but I'd take out "risking her mom's safety" because it's implied
    But overall, EXCELLENT job! I definitely want to read this!

    I like this, but I'm missing a bit of voice. As Carlyn said above, what's she thinking or feeling? Also I have no idea how she didn't spit that beer out haha!
    I have no other complaints. Great job!

    Alternative Facts

    Para 1- Good opening/hook. No complaints!
    Para 2- I'd cut the stomach drop line (but that may be personal taste). I'd also reword "both have the upper hand" because they can't both have the leg up. Maybe you can use the word stalemate?
    Para 3- honestly I can't find anything to say. Great hint about what's to come and I definitely want to read this!
    One thing that's bothering me is that Adrian still uses the pronoun "she." Wouldn't Adrian prefer to think of himself/herself as a boy? Or am I completely wrong?? Ignore this comment if it doesn't ring true, but it didn't sit right with me when I was reading the query.

    It sounds great! I really wish I had more to say, but it's an intriguing start and I can feel Adrian's dread. Great job!

  4. Ooh: very good query, with the main character's dilemma clearly established. 250: Good place to begin and strong language. I was a bit confused by this sentence: "Maybe it isn't too late for me." Too late for what?

    Alternative facts: strong opening and interesting stakes. This sentence didn't make sense to me: "With both Hunter and Adrian holding the upper hand." They can both hold a card but they can't both had the upper hand at once. Also, although I like your ending line, I think it could be even stronger. Her stakes are higher than a broken heart if it turns out she's dating a violently dangerous guy. 250: Very exciting place to begin! Not much feedback to give as I liked it.

  5. These are both great stories!

    Crown Molding:

    1st paragraph: It feels more as if the story is about the mom, not Jordan. Not sure about the stakes. If Dad is back, why wouldn't she be able to leave.. didn't Dad come back to take care of the mom?


    Nice descriptives. I felt your MC's anxiety right away and I wanted to read more.

    Alternative Facts

    1st paragraph: Why would having online friends cause a rape at her school to be useless chatter? We just had a big scandal at our high school and the entire community and beyond were shaken. That's why I ask.
    "escapism meets reality" - great line. I'm confused about how she could reveal his identity to her new friends if he's already on trial. Wouldn't it be public already?


    Your first line is amazing. So is the rest. It's a great opening scene with so much unspoken emotion.

    Well done to both of you - congrats!

  6. Ooh, Crown Molding

    I thought it was very clear and laid out the issues well. I also really like the tiny house being a part of the story and am guessing you have plenty of creative ways to use that. My main question is about the Dad - it seems like he disappears after the 2nd paragraph and I'm left wondering why he isn't involved more in Jordan's struggle with her mother at the end.

    Great sense of the party - I felt like I could hear the music and smell the beer. I did wonder if Jordan might have more of a hesitation or some kind of reaction to drinking her first beer, given her mother's disease. But maybe at that age she just isn't thinking it has anything to do with her.

    Alternative Facts

    I love the idea here and the way it morphs into something increasingly complex and muddy as it goes on. The line where she brushes aside the talk of rape threw me though. It seems like every kid in that school would be consumed with the scandal. I loved the phrase he could "out her with a single pronoun." The conflict about being attracted to a potential rapist is great - so strong and multifaceted.

    Great writing capturing the freedom Adrian feels passing as a guy and then the panic as Katelyn gets too close. You seem to have a knack for creating tense scenes with inherent conflict.

  7. Crown Molding

    The query is short but tight. You do use "puts herself first" and "put herself first". I would keep the first and reword the second.

    250: I get a good feel for what Jordan is like- responsible, never parties, good student, caring for mom. But if her mom is an alcoholic, wouldn't she be a bit more hesitant to take a beer so quickly? I would like to see more internal struggle with this from her.

    I like the descriptions but would like to know what Jordan looks like. Maybe a sentence after "Mom would be fine for one night." Something to the effect of, "I brushed a stray chunk of blond hair that whips my face in the breeze, like it's punishing me for coming to the party." This would give a physical and character description.
    I like the story idea!

    Alternative Facts (Hee Hee! I like the nick name!)

    Interesting premise! Lots of mystery going on. The stakes are good and I think the query is pretty tight. The only thing I might change is the last sentence of the first paragraph. It makes Adrian seem a little unlikable. Why would she see rape talk as "useless chatter"?

    250; I read before the query and I had no idea what was going on. Why does Adrian feigh interewst and go to the party? Is she there only to act like a boy? Does she like someone else there? I need more details and emotion from her to understand what she's doing there. I get it from the query but your reader won't be reading that first.

    The last paragraph is great! Could you move that up sooner and build on it to set the scene? Just an idea.

    I'm curious to see what Hunter is up to!

    Nice work to both authors. Good luck!

  8. Ooh, Crown Molding?!

    Query: First of all, that nickname made me laugh. :) I think you could condense a large part of your first paragraph into something like "When Jordan's mom goes to rehab, her absentee father has to step in as her guardian, tiny mobile home in tow..." I don't know that we need all the details about the night out, her mom's injury, hospitalization, etc. Otherwise, the stakes are clear. Good job!

    First 250: I feel for you main character as this is her first party. I do wonder a little that she's NEVER been to a party, like ever. If it were that hard to keep her mom in line, what happens when she's at school, etc? I like the intrigue of the crush at the end. I did wonder if she would willingly drink a beer if that's what's turned her life into a living hell? Maybe we should see at least some hestation that she could be like her mom, or that she hates the stuff after seeing what it's done to her family? That could give her some immediate character depth, too. Overall, it's well–written and I'd keep reading!

    All Intents and Purposes

    Query: I like the dynamic of two misunderstood people knowing each other's secrets and the power struggle that would create. The stakes are clear, but I did wonder about the MC brushing off a rape scandal as useless chatter? That makes Adrian seem a little less sympathetic. But that's a quick fix!

    First 250: Intriguing opening as we immediately find the MC trying to pass herself off as a boy. I was a little confused by the headache part. The word "pang" threw me off a little. Isn't it usually used as an emotion– like a pang of guilt or sadness vs. actual pain? I may be wrong. Does Adrian just have a headache because she has been partying too long? I also wondering about her feigning interest in a girl she's not interested in. I felt a little bad for the other girl. It's definitely an intriguing opening though.

    Good luck to you both!

  9. Fellow Kombatant on her lunch break here.

    Q: Overall, pretty solid and succinct. I'm getting a good sense of the situation your MC is in between the first two paragraphs. But I want to know more in the third, I think -- the line that starts with "rehab" feels thrown in there, and we sort of need to walk backward to remember that Mom's in rehab.

    I definitely want more on the tiny house. I like the second sentence of the 2nd paragraph to start you out here. Getting us into the grainy details of what it means to live in a tiny house is a lot more interesting than just naming it as "awkward."

    I know it's a common thing, but why does your MC feel the guilt that accompanies having an addict parent? I also want a more crystallized motivation for Jordan. She's choosing between family care taking and college. But why is college the dream/right choice? What's she after, study- or career-wise?

    I love that you place us right in the scene, and we get a good sense of your MC's feelings (guilt, anticipation, etc.). I do think there is some room to punch up the dialogue and voice. Maybe Jordan can crack a joke instead of the "I'm good" language, or maybe the friends tease her about her first beer. I also don't know that we need the "Who's driving" bit - one of the two friends would be driving if the aim is for it to be Jordan's first time.

    This isn't answering for me the "Why now, why today" thread the hook needs to embark upon - what has made Jordan decide that THIS is the party to go to at THIS moment of her life?

    Q: You have a great concept, ripe with the opportunity for conflict. You have an important internal one - Adrian's identity - conflicting with becoming friends with someone whose reputation is poor. In paragraph 1, I don't think you need the "Adrian's not interested" mentality - I cannot imagine a high school with a rape scandal and dismissive students. Just doesn't feel teenagery. I do want to note that I also agree with the judge "And Peggy" on the major concerns - I would focus on those. In particular, sensitivity and pronouns are important to really treat.

    It's great that you've pushed two people of the same hometown into a new friend group. I think that's an awesome space for secrets and tension.

    250: The voice in your 250 reads stronger than your query. I think you can cut these lines: "She blinked slowly as her body danced on. One more song. She could do this."
    Is passing as male more important for Adrian here? Is that why she's (your pronoun) feigned interest in Katelyn? This is not clear to me.

    LOVED the final lines in the 250 - spelled the scene very well.

    Good luck to you both!