Friday, June 2, 2017

QK Round 1: Talking Swords FTW vs. Life as a Dumpster Fire

Title: Freedom
Entry Nickname: Talking Swords FTW
Word count: 115K
Genre: Adult High Fantasy


Query:

Being a tax collector is a miserable job, but being a tax collector in a world of sorcerers, undead, and dragons is downright deadly.

The country of Albion is struggling with debt from two wars. Alas, the wealthiest citizens, refusing to pay their taxes, have transformed most of the tax collectors into toads.

Thus, the dryad Head of the Royal Tax Collectors has sent out a call for mercenaries of any species, sexual orientation, and criminal record to collect taxes. Their new recruits include a once and future king, the next prophesied dark lord, and a weapon of mass destruction with the personality of a toddler—but they are effective at getting the job done. Just as long as the gods who want them dead don’t catch up.

Welcome to the kingdom of Albion, where death is sometimes optional, but even the undead pay their taxes on time.

First 250:

Two soldiers hurled Dain into the cell with considerably more force than necessary. He bounced off the stone wall in a way which might have broken a bone if he had been human, but dwarves were made of tougher material.

Step one: analyze his surroundings. His face was embedded in packed dirt smelling of excrement. The stone corner walled in by iron bars lacked so much as a bench. A holding cell, then. Empty, so perhaps there was truth in the street rumors of a recent jailbreak.

Exactly how bad things were remained to be seen. Dain risked lifting his head. Beyond the bars was a dim, windowless room, a staircase, a trap door, and two very ugly men rummaging through his belongings.

One, a giant hulk of a man with a scar running down his nose and disfiguring his lip, upended Dain’s pack to shake out what remained onto the floor. The other guard picked through the assortment of camping gear, food, and clothes. He was shorter than his companion, but better-looking, although he had an unusually small nose. Dain dubbed him “Pug-nose” and still felt justified thinking of them as the ugly duo.

Pug-nose unwound Dain’s fur coat to reveal a leather bundle the length of a longsword. He whistled.

“What’s that?” Scar-face asked.

“Finally something of value.” Pug-nose tore away at the cover.

This roused Dain to his feet. Here we go again, the tired part of his brain whispered. “You don’t want to touch that sword.”


VERSUS


Title: ORPHAN
Entry Nickname: Life as a Dumpster Fire
Genre: Speculative Noir, #ownvoices
Word Count: 103,000

Query:

Jeb knows there are only two kinds of family: the ones who leave you, or the ones who own you.  Now a reluctant member of the crime family who raised him, he’s balanced on his last chance after getting a lifetime of strikes trying to escape Felicity Harbour—a city as anxious and brutal as everyone living in it. When he gets his last strike, his death is imminent; so, a federal agent offering Jeb a way out of town looks too good to be true. All Jeb has to do is hand over the access codes to his boss’s technology empire. Except Jeb’s best friend, Booker, has the codes.

It isn’t a matter of stealing information. Jeb and Booker have been best friends since they were kids, but their relationship is complicated. Especially when they’re both more than a little in love with one another, the first of two secrets Jeb can never confess—the second secret being he’s never told Booker about wanting to leave Felicity Harbour, or why. Jeb can't throw away everything he and Booker have been through. Despite this unsurmountable breach between them, betraying him is unthinkable—until Booker betrays Jeb first. Now Jeb must decide which is preferable: the future ending shortly in a shallow grave, or the future where the only way out means becoming as brutal as the place he’s trying to leave behind.

First 250:

ERROR. There is a problem with the application. Please restart your device. Jeb stabbed at the screen and the notification disappeared from view. Annoyed, he yanked open the taxi door and got out. His first step sank him ankle-deep in a pothole disguised as a puddle. Cold, dirty water flooded into his shoe and soaked the hem of his jeans. “Damn it,” he sighed, his frustration rising. He shook his foot. The distant waves breaking against the waterfront laughed at him.

Jeb didn’t even have to be at the docks. Except Booker had asked for his company, and Jeb felt better about life when Booker was around.

The message appeared again, this time scrolled across Jeb’s contact lens. There is a problem with the application. Please restart your device. Cold wind grabbed at Jeb’s nose as it passed—it smelled like misery and fear, and that all-encompassing loneliness embedded into Jeb’s childhood. He squeezed his eyes shut and scrubbed a hand over his face. Then he restarted his device—the edges of the implanted screen burned hot against the skin of his wrist—and retried the phone call he’d just tried to make.

THIRD STRIKE PROTOCOL flashed across the screen, even as the connection went through. He’d gotten another third strike alert that morning. Two in one day was annoying enough for Jeb to get Hyun to look at it. Everything combined made him want to lay down on the wet tarmac and take a nap.

Booker picked up. “Where the hell are you?”

22 comments:

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

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thoughts on FREEDOM:

      - There’s an awful lot about taxes in this query.
      - Who is the main character?
      - This, for me, reads more like back cover copy than a query. I don’t get any sense of stakes or conflict at all.
      - The concept of being a tax collector in a deadly world is interesting for sure, new to me, but I just need more information.
      - In the 250, I think you’re going for an action scene to open, which I like, but it gets bogged down in unnecessary description. I like the voice in the first few sentences a lot and then it just peters out for me. Grab me right away and keep me there.
      -

      Thoughts on ORPHAN:

      - I love the first line of the query. Voicey right away.
      - Second sentence is very long and packed full of stuff. Break it up for clarity and better flow.
      - Stakes are super high here, which is great. Betray his family and betray his friend/love. Very dark and twisty.
      - In the 250, I get Jeb’s voice immediately and the urgency – though I think it might be wise to say exactly what system he’s trying to get into. You give us a taste of the relationship with Booker, but not the issue with the family yet. I think you could tease it with a phrase or a sentence fairly easily.
      -

      Based on voice and readiness, I’m going with victory to ORPHAN!

      Delete
    2. Talking Swords FTW
      I agree with what Peggy said about it reading more than a back cover copy than a query. I did, however, find it hilarious, and relevant. A nice example on how you can use Fantasy to tackle real-world problems. BUT there's no main character. I'm assuming your three MCs are going to be "a once and future king, the next prophesied dark lord, and a weapon of mass destruction with the personality of a toddler" but that's it. And what's the conflict/what happens if they fail to collect the taxes they need?

      As for the first page, I liked it, but I think you can improve it. Mostly, by taking out the passive descriptions. "His face was embedded in packed dirt smelling of excrement" could become "Packed dirt smelling of excrement embedded his face," for instance, and "The stone corner walled in by iron bars lacked so much as a bench" could be "Iron bars walled in the stone corner, which lacked so much as a bench". Stuff like this will make the action and scenery pop more, in my opinion.

      LIFE AS A DUMPSTER FIRE
      A great query. I do think, however, that the second sentence is WAY too long. Also, I'd start a new paragraph with "Despite this unsurmountable breach..." That way you have the stakes right at the end, separate from the rest.

      The first page is also very good. We do get Jeb's voice right off the bat, along with his frustration. I also agree that it'd be useful to know what kind of system he's trying to break into, and why.

      I really loved the concept of the first one, which is why this is killing me, but... Query and first page are better in the second, so, VICTORY TO LIFE AS A DUMPSTER FIRE!

      Delete
    3. I applaud Talking Swords FTW"s query for being very original and I really like the concept of the story as a whole. I agree that the first 250 get weighed down a bit with description/passive voice, but this can be remedied.

      I am also impressed with Life as a Dumpster Fire's polished query/250 and clarity of voice, but didn't I didn't feel a strong enough connection to the plot to declare it as the winner.

      VICTORY GOES TO TALKING SWORDS FTW!

      Delete
    4. Talking Swords:
      This query is not a query. There is a specific format you are to use when writing a query. You must introduce the MC, build up the world a bit, and then give us the stakes. You did not do this. I have no idea who the MC is and only a vague idea about the stakes. I love it. It was a nice break from all the ones who followed the rules. I would, however, love it even more if the MC was introduced. The 250 is well written and leaves us at a perfect point. Well done.

      Orphan:
      The second line of your query lost me. It put way too much information into one sentence and broke up the flow you'd established with the nicely done first line. I did, however, really like the way you presented your stakes. It brought me back into wanting to read this book.
      As for the 250: I love how you've incorporated the computer text right from the beginning. The rest of the 250 is spot on. Good job.

      These are both excellent entries with equally well written 250s. because the 250s are both on the same level, I'm going with the query I personally enjoyed reading more. Victory to TALKING SWORDS!

      Delete
    5. No One Of ConsequenceJune 5, 2017 at 1:16 PM

      In TALKING SWORDS, I’m extremely taken with your world, concept, and tone. With that said, I have no connection to the characters, as the query is written about the world. It looks like a story I’d love, but I think you could do more to bring us closer to the characters, who are described from a distance, and not brought to life.

      The page delivers on the tone promised by the query, and you get right into the action, which I love. You could take a look at your use of to-be verbs, which are a symptom here of some telling. You’ve got a pretty visceral scene here with him landing in dung, but you don’t really bring that out to its full advantage. This is one of those ‘show don’t tell’ situations where I feel like it would make a lot of difference.

      In ORPHAN, the query is sort of a jumble. I’d look to use a paragraph to introduce the character and the situation, then give us plot, conflict, and stakes in the next two.

      I like the active writing. The second paragraph kind of threw me…he wants to be around booker, but we don’t know where booker is, but that’s minor.


      This was a close contest, but I'm going to go Victory To TALKING SWORDS, because of the voice, but it's by the smallest of margins.

      Delete
    6. Replying as Chief Doodler!

      Freedom:

      This might be me, but I wouldn't talk about someone's specific job. What if the agent's dad/wife/husband/sister/brother is a tax collector? I'd just say that being a tax collector in world of X, is deadly. From your query, I didn't get a sense of whose POV we were going to be in, either? If it's multiple point of view, introduce each with a quick line about who they are and what they want. Then tie it all together with what stands in their way of reaching their big goal. I think the Query would benefit with clear stakes. If they don't perform their job, what happens? If they continue to collect taxes, what happens? Will they lose friends? Will their families turn on them? Be sure the stakes are super clear.
      I thought the 250 words was interesting, but because I had no idea who Dain was—based on the Query—it left me with a vague sense that I didn't know who I was rooting for. There were a lot of gear descriptions, but not much about the character whose head we're in.

      Orphan:
      I liked this query! Great sense of the characters, conflict and stakes. No gripes here.
      As for the 250 word sample, I'd be careful with telling sentences, especially those that include "filtering" words. Example: "Jeb felt better about life when Booker was around". The word "felt" is filtering, because you're telling us how Jeb feels and not showing us. Don't tell us how much Jeb loves being around Booker, show us in scenes and a dialogue exchange.

      Based on the query, my vote goes to ORPHAN!

      Delete
    7. Talking Swords FTW

      Query:
      Great opening line! And the overall query has some great humour throughout. Unfortunately, there’s no clear sense of a main character (or characters) and no clear sense of either the stakes or hook. A strong voice is absolutely essential, but it has to have a story to tell. At only 150 words or so, there’s definitely room to provide more detail.

      First 250 Words:
      A decent introduction, but I don’t get quite the same sense of voice as I did from the query, and the narrative feels like it’s moving a bit fast (for example, it seems to assume the reader knows what a dwarf is and thus doesn’t bother describing him, but goes into detail describing the other two). Also, while the query had a number of unique and intriguing elements, the opening page reads as fairly generic fantasy.

      Life as a Dumpster Fire

      Query:
      Overall I think this query is working pretty well. I would suggest making the opening sentence its own opening paragraph. And the presentation of the two points is oddly structured. I would suggest revising to make it more straightforward. Also, I think there’s probably a better phrase than “unsurmountable breach.”

      First 250 Words:
      A solid opening page. I would set the dialogue off as its own paragraph. Also, watch out for melodramatic lines (e.g. “it smelled like misery and fear, and that all-encompassing loneliness embedded into Jeb’s childhood”). And while you don’t want to bog the reader down with unnecessary detail, certain items should probably be explained at least briefly when they first come up (e.g., Third Strike Protocol).

      *****

      While both entries have their merits, I think one is in better shape to move forward. So it’s victory to LIFE AS A DUMPSTER FIRE!

      Delete
    8. Critique: Talking Swords FTW
      ----
      Query:
      ----
      Lots of charm in this one. I wish I understood who the characters were a bit. I assume the 3 mercenaries are them? The first and last line seems kind of like two hooks, which can work, but I think that, if you can, give us a strong concept of the stakes/plot of this one. That being said, it’s a 115K word novel, so if you can’t do it without getting bogged down in a lot of nuts and bolts, better to keep it short and sweet. I just worry people might not have a strong idea of what the story is about.
      ----
      First 250 words:
      ----
      I like this overall. Introducing 3 people at once is always hard, so if you could find a way to better help us visualize the events (you use “the other guard” or “one” a lot. I can follow it, but it’d be nice if you made it easier.

      Also, OMG, I really hope they touch that sword and it breaks out into a hilarious crooning song like in Roger Rabbit.

      ===================================
      Critique: Life as a Dumpster Fire

      ----
      Query:
      ----
      I like this over all. You name check Jeb and Booker a lot. It’s hard to avoid (I assume they are both men) when dealing with same-sex couplings, but if you can tone it down, your query will sound better and be more appealing.

      I wasn’t sure what a strike was. A lashing? Or like a charge?

      ---
      First 250 words:
      ---
      Interesting, I like the tech aspect.

      ===================================
      Verdict: In a first round, both of these really have a lot of promise. However, as I understand more of where Life as a Dumpster Fire is going. That’s my winner.
      ===================================
      WINNER GOES TO: Life as a Dumpster Fire

      Delete
    9. FREEDOM CRIT:

      You give us a good bit about the circumstances and plot surrounding the story, but not necessarily enough that is specific to your main character. Not enough to give him/her/they agency.



      ORPHAN CRIT:

      I quite liked this query and the 250. They got my attention and the voice lent itself well to the tone of your genre. Aside from the general clean-up mentioned by other judges, I think your sample is wonderful.



      ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
      VICTORY GOES TO: ORPHAN

      Delete
  2. Talking Swords FTW

    Query - It's pretty brave to submit a query that doesn't tell us anything about the MC (or if there is one). My follow-the-guidelines side says it's a non-starter, but my creative reckless side is screaming 'Great voice!' and loves it. It's so unusual I don't even have any suggestions.

    1st 250 - Nice imagery. I see the cell, Dain, and thugs outside. "You don't want to touch that sword" is nice and ominous. I wish there was a 'Step 2' though. That probably comes somewhere after the 1st 250.

    Life as a Dumpster Fire

    Query - I like the caught-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place feel you're conveying. The 'strikes' confuse me though. I don't know what they mean, or why they'll result in Jeb's death. Maybe think about another way to say he's in trouble. Love the idea Jeb doesn't want to betray Booker, but Booker screws him over first. Nice conflict.

    1st 250 - You've definitely got talent. I can see the scene clearly, and feel the wet chill Jeb is feeling. Since you're opening with the error, I'm assuming it's important, but from what we have that doesn't come through. Is it a tool you're using to get him out of the cab? Also, I'm not sure what 'device' needs to be restarted. Is it the screen in his wrist? Maybe I'm missing something. I've read a lot of these today, hehe. Still, I'd read this book.

    Thx.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Talking Swords - I hadn't realized that the query didn't mention an MC until rdelaneyjr mentioned it. I guess I assumed it would be an ensemble story (which I love.) I loved the premise and the voice. Even the query had great voice, which is hard to do. As for the 250, my only critique is this: You had a "step one." I kept anticipating a step two, which didn't come, and that was a bit distracting. That may just be me, though. That said, I would definitely read this book.

      Life is a Dumpster Fire - I loved the grim mood. I was a bit confused about the strikes, too. From the query, I assumed that Jeb had strikes against him. But from the 250, I got the impression he was in the business of dealing with other people who had strikes against them. (I realize these two are not mutually exclusive.) I guess I'd just like a quick clarification of what strikes are.

      Delete
    2. I'm just popping back in to say that, days after reading the Talking Swords FTW entry, the voice and premise stick with me and I'd love to read the book. I wish you the best with this story!

      Delete
  3. FREEDOM (you know I kind of like your nickname better than your title)

    Hi Katie! *waves*

    Great query and first pages. I can't think of a single thing to change. It makes me think of Brandon Sanderson's work. rdelaneyjr is right, it's pretty brave, but in my (humble but don't-you-dare-change-it) opinion, it works.
    I wish you 100 x good luck in the contest.

    ORHPAN

    Describing a city as 'anxious and brutal' is ingenious.

    Only one suggestion: In the following sentence you used 'sighed' when I think something like 'hissed' or 'spat' would be more fitting.
    “Damn it,” he sighed[[spat/hissed/yelled/grumbled/snapped (I'm getting carried away)]], his frustration rising. He shook his foot.

    ReplyDelete
  4. TALKING SWORDS FTW

    Query: This query caught me completely off-guard with how unconventional it is. By all accounts, it shouldn't work, but I can't help but be enamored with it. It has a great concept - I love the juxtaposition of the mundane tedium of tax-collecting with the fantastic nature of this world - and a great voice. I also love the contrasting of the characters making up this trio, and I'm interested to see how their personalities play off of each other. The stakes feel a bit vague, even with the mention that gods want them dead (Why? What gods?). The finishing line is a thing of beauty though, and I think the strengths in this more than make up for the weaknesses.

    First 250: I like that our (seeming) protagonist is a dwarf, already challenging our perceptions of how POV usually works in fantasy novels. However, I don't get the same level of delightful voice in the writing that I saw in the query. I have to wonder which of the three mantles is Dain's - king, dark lord, or WMD - and how this talking sword factors in, since it's featured in your nickname but not the query. I feel a bit of disconnect between query and 250 that might need to be improved.



    LIFE AS A DUMPSTER FIRE

    Query: I like the opening line, which gives a strong sense of Jeb's perspective, and a nice bit of foreshadowing into the fact that Booker will eventually "leave" him as well. I'm intrigued by Booker's betrayal and why he has the access codes. Is he a member of this crime family as well? Is he picking loyalty to the family over loyalty to Jeb? I find their relationship very intriguing, and the final line setting up the stakes is fantastic. I love the internal conflict of needing to channel what you hate in order to escape it, knowing it might leave a mark you won't be able to leave behind.

    First 250: I like the description and Jeb's voice and POV, but there are some details that confuse me. What is this application he's trying to run, and the third strike involved? I guess I would keep reading to find out, but it does make me question how relevant it is. I also think the 250 could end in a stronger place.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hello! Fellow Kombatant here. Take my advice with a grain of salt. :) Good luck to you both!


    Talking Swords FTW

    Query:

    So it seems like a number of previous commenters have already mirrored my sentiments so I'll paraphrase:
    - While I appalaud your creativity, I'd really love to meet your MC in the query.
    - I love the first line, but beyond that, I want stakes. And I think this could easily be solved by adding the MC into the mix. Yes, his daily life is dangerous as a tax collector, but what in particular is the conundrum for this story?

    First 250:

    I love being dropped right into the action, but I do get pulled out a bit by some of the descriptions. Try interspersing them as they interact (which we might not get to see in the first 250, but will play out well later on). You've dropped us into this lovely predicament, and I want to stay there and see how it pans out.

    Life as a Dumpster Fire

    Query:
    Strong query! Again, it seems others before me have already shared my thoughts, so I'll be brief:
    - Try to cut down some of the longer sentences to keep the flow and impact of your words strong.
    - You can probably nix the second reference to "best friends" since you've already drawn attention to that fact
    - I'm a little confused by the strikes -- who awards them? The crime boss? Is he getting strikes because he's trying to escape Felicity Harbor? Restructuring that second sentence will help in more ways than one, I think.

    First 250:

    Strong voice, but again I'm confused by the strikes. I know you don't want to bog the reader down with details right away, but this might be vital. "After my last attempt at leaving the city, [Crime Boss] put upped my strike to a three--death if I didn't complete my next job." IDK. Obviously your words are going to be better (it's your book and I haven't read it), but something small to give us a bit more.

    Good job to you both!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Swords FTW:

    I love the query. I read it and I am ready and rarin' to jump into your book. I LOVE the idea and how it's written. It's so full of voice and life. The only thing I'm missing is the mention of the MC of the novel, which I'd try to work in there...somewhere.
    The first 250 is where you lose a lot of momentum. Yes, you need the world building and the description. But I think you end up wasting so much of your precious first page on description. The part with the sword, the cool awesome part of the story, doesn't even come into play until the very end. Which I think is a problem. You paint a lovely, beautiful picture of the jail. But by the end, I don't know much about Dain or the sword. I would read on because I'm intrigued by the story and I know you can write, but I'd probably give you until the end of the first chapter. I'm not hooked. YET.

    Life as a Dumpster Fire:
    I like the query. You've got a great idea and the stakes come across nicely. Some of those sentences are LONG though. I stumbled over the second one in the first paragraph and the third one in the second paragraph. I had to reread them a couple of times to really make sense of them. Consider changing them to help with flow. Also, is there a love story between Booker and Jeb? That part wasn't clear in the query, but I think I got it.

    First 250: I like the voice. I like the imagery and I get a strong sense of Jeb's character in the first section. I would use a stronger verb than "sighed" when he says damn it. I'm also confused about the strike protocols, but I assume you probably get to that in your second 250. I'd keep reading!

    -Ashley/unilocular

    ReplyDelete
  7. TALKING SWORDS FTW: Loved the voice in the query, but agree with others. Who is this book about? What is it about? What are the stakes?
    The first 250 were great (and the voice carries through). I didn’t mind the descriptions in the passage, but (unless it comes later), I was waiting for what “Step two:” might be.
    LIFE AS A DUMPSTER FIRE: Love the first line of the query. The voice in the whole thing was very compelling. I had questions about the strikes (it reminds me of a sci-fi book/movie I once saw? I wish I remembered). The stakes are very clear and very high.
    The first 250: Loved the voice. Good set up of tension with the technology frustration, the stepping out of the cab, and the first spoken line.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Title: Freedom
    Entry Nickname: Talking Swords FTW
    [Like a few people above, I agree that the nickname is better than the title! I don't think the nickname necessarily would work as a high fantasy title, but "Freedom" is pretty generic. I think you'd stand out more in the query trenches with a better title!]

    Query:

    Being a tax collector is a miserable job, but being a tax collector in a world of sorcerers, undead, and dragons is downright deadly. [Lol lol love this first sentence!]

    The country of Albion is struggling with debt from two wars. Alas, the wealthiest citizens, refusing to pay their taxes, have transformed most of the tax collectors into toads. [Ha!]

    Thus, the dryad Head of the Royal Tax Collectors has sent out a call for mercenaries of any species, sexual orientation, [Not sure why “sexual orientation” is necessary? It might send off red flags that you’re using it as a joke] and criminal record to collect taxes. Their [Maybe this should be “the”] new recruits include a once and future king, the next prophesied dark lord, and a weapon of mass destruction with the personality of a toddler—but they are effective at getting the job done. Just as long as the gods who want them dead don’t catch up. [Wait, I’m confused. The gods are the enemy, not just the wealthy citizens? Or are the gods hired by the citizens?]

    Welcome to the kingdom of Albion, where death is sometimes optional, but even the undead pay their taxes on time. [This ending line confused me a little because before, it seemed like people DID get away without paying taxes. Also, the concept of undead people seems kind of random.]


    [Overall, this query is hilarious and really sets up the world. However, I’m unsure who the narrators will be. I’d love to know more about the main characters and the stakes they have in this world.]

    Page:
    Two soldiers hurled Dain into the cell with considerably more force than necessary. He bounced off the stone wall in a way which might have broken a bone if he had been human, but dwarves were made of tougher material. [This could be tightened. Maybe “He bounced off the stone wall and would have broken a bone if he were human, but…”]

    Step one: analyze his surroundings. [This seems a little bit like odd language for high fantasy. Will there be a step two?] His face was embedded [Best word? Maybe “jammed”? Something a little more active?] in packed dirt smelling of excrement. The stone corner walled in by iron bars lacked so much as a bench. A holding cell, then. Empty, so perhaps there was truth in the street rumors of a recent jailbreak.

    Exactly how bad things were remained to be seen. Dain risked lifting his head. Beyond the bars was a dim, windowless room, a staircase, a trap door, [Uh how does he know this? Aren’t trap doors like, hidden?] and two very ugly men rummaging through his belongings.

    One, a giant hulk of a man with a scar running down his nose and disfiguring his lip, [Love this detail!] upended Dain’s pack to shake out what remained onto the floor. The other guard picked through the assortment of camping gear, food, and clothes. He was shorter than his companion, but better-looking, although he had an unusually small nose. Dain dubbed him “Pug-nose” and still felt justified thinking of them as the ugly duo. [Not sure you need the second half of this sentence.]

    Pug-nose unwound Dain’s fur coat to reveal a leather bundle the length of a longsword. He whistled.

    “What’s that?” Scar-face asked.

    “Finally something of value.” Pug-nose tore away at the cover.

    This roused Dain to his feet. Here we go again, the tired part of his brain whispered. “You don’t want to touch that sword.”

    [I’m so excited to learn what happens next! Great last line here! Overall, this first page really draws me in, but I do think it can be tightened.]

    ReplyDelete

  9. Title: ORPHAN
    Entry Nickname: Life as a Dumpster Fire

    The basic concept you describe in this query sounds really intriguing! However, the speculative nature of the world didn’t come across until I read the first 250. Instead, the “strikes” read like a metaphor. I would try to simplify the query and be specific about the world and exactly what’s going on.

    Query:

    Jeb knows there are only two kinds of family: the ones who leave you, or the ones who own you.  [Love this first line!] Now a reluctant member of the crime family who raised him, [Hmm, I’d be inclined to tweak this to play off your first line. Like: “Jeb’s family owns him.” Also, is he adopted? This makes it sound like it.] he’s balanced on his last chance [What does balanced on his last chance mean?] after getting a lifetime of strikes [Also not sure what you’re trying to say with “lifetime of strikes.” It wasn’t clear that this was something literal.] trying to escape Felicity Harbour—a city as anxious and brutal as everyone living in it. [Not sure you need the second half of this sentence…don’t the people in the city make the city anxious and brutal? I love how you’re painting the city as a character, though] When he gets his last strike, [Maybe just tell us what the strike is?] his death [Should you just tell us he’ll be murdered?] is imminent; so, a federal agent offering Jeb a way out of town looks too good to be true. All Jeb has to do is hand over the access codes to his boss’s technology empire. Except Jeb’s best friend, Booker, has the codes.

    It isn’t a matter of stealing information. [Then what is it a matter of? Convincing Booker?] Jeb and Booker have been best friends since they were kids, but their relationship is complicated. Especially when they’re both more than a little in love with one another, [Yesss! M/M mafia? Sign me up!] the first of two secrets Jeb can never confess—the second secret being he’s never told Booker about wanting to leave Felicity Harbour, or why. Jeb can't throw away everything he and Booker have been through. Despite this unsurmountable breach between them, betraying him is unthinkable—until Booker betrays Jeb first. Now Jeb must decide which is preferable: the future ending shortly in a shallow grave, or the future where the only way out means becoming as brutal as the place he’s trying to leave behind.

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  10. First 250:
    [Poor Jeb! You’ve made him sympathetic despite being angry here. I hope things start going better for him…but I have a feeling they won’t!]
    ERROR. There is a problem with the application. Please restart your device. [I’m not sure how I feel about this as a first line, given that I read on mobile devices, ha!] Jeb stabbed at the screen and the notification disappeared from view. Annoyed, [Cut annoyed. We can tell that from his actions.] he yanked open the taxi door and got out. His first step sank him [cut “him”] ankle-deep in a pothole disguised as a puddle. [Is it disguised? Could he just step in a puddle in a pothole?] Cold, dirty water flooded into his shoe and soaked the hem of his jeans. [Poor Jeb! Very relatable moment, haha.] “Damn it,” he sighed, his frustration rising. [I suggest putting the dialogue on its own line. Also, it seems like he’s angry. Would he really “sigh” damn it? Be careful using action words as dialogue tags. He didn’t really sigh the words “Damn it.” If he said them and then sighed, the punctuation would be: “Damn it.” He sighed, his frustration rising.] He shook his foot. The distant waves breaking against the waterfront laughed at him. [Great description here! Actually, I think you could also cut “his frustration rising” because this shows it.]

    Jeb didn’t even have to be at the docks. Except Booker had asked for his company, and Jeb felt better about life when Booker was around. [Maybe show this—how had Jeb felt when he got the message from Booker?]

    The message appeared again, this time scrolled across Jeb’s contact lens. [Wait, what? A ha—I went back and read your genre. This is speculative. I didn’t really get that from the query, which made it seem like it was just high tech.] There is a problem with the application. Please restart your device. Cold wind grabbed at Jeb’s nose as it passed—it smelled like misery and fear, and that all-encompassing loneliness embedded into Jeb’s childhood. He squeezed his eyes shut and scrubbed a hand over his face. Then he restarted his device—the edges of the implanted screen burned hot against the skin of his wrist—and retried the phone call [you can cut the end of this sentence. Retried tells us he just tried it before.] he’d just tried to make.

    THIRD STRIKE PROTOCOL flashed across the screen, even as the connection went through. He’d gotten another third strike alert that morning. Two in one day was annoying enough for Jeb to get Hyun to look at it. Everything combined made him want to lay down on the wet tarmac and take a nap. [Ooooh so in the query, strikes were something literal? That needs to be explained a little more.]

    Booker picked up. “Where the hell are you?”

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  11. Loving both, so glad I'm not a judge!

    Talking Swords: Grabby query (but I'm a sucker for fantasy), and the ending for the first page is perfect. Maybe it's just me, but I'm pretty distracted by a Dwarf named Dain because of Tolkien similarities? It's too reminiscent for me, so I'd think about changing the name or spelling so it's not exactly the same.

    Third Strike: Word count is high, so I'd think you're going end up cutting at some point, whether by trimming here and there, or omitting a minor storyline. You've landed us in the setting really beautifully - but the comment about his childhood pulled me away from the here and now, since he seems like he's got a lot on his mind to be reminiscing about the past.

    Best of luck to you both - either way, you're talented, and should feel fantastic about your work!

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