Wednesday, June 14, 2017

QK Round 2: The Barringer Museum vs. Switcher

Title: We, Freaks
Entry Nickname: The Barringer Museum
Word count: 78K
Genre: Adult Speculative Fiction


Sideshow barkers claim the true freak is born, not made. That a pregnant mother’s fascination with an eerie neighborhood dog led to the birth of a fur-faced baby boy, and that a woman’s all-consuming fear of sea serpents etched scales on the fetus growing inside of her.

To Theodore, a museum owner in 1850’s New York City, these boasts and backstories are improbably beginning to resemble truth. And after his museum burns to the ground, he decides he’s willing to pursue any lead if it means restarting his career with a theater of the most astonishing humans the world has ever seen.

In a parallel storyline set in present-day Michigan, zoo ticket seller and PhD candidate Max is grudgingly hosting a scientific study testing if expectant mothers can impress bestial traits on their fetuses through extensive exposure to lions. When Max attempts to quash what he considers to be mockery of science, he’s kidnapped by a collective of unusual humans depending on the study to validate their origin stories.

As Theodore risks his reputation to exploit a folktale, Max contends with the nature of belief as he becomes introduced to a world he hadn’t thought possible. At the center of both stories lie the individuals with fur or gills or multi-colored skin who seek an answer for their bodies, but are instead becoming wrapped up with the lives of men who will never understand their existence.

First 250:

Theodore Barringer had planned to spend his morning crafting an exhibit about a romance between Thomas Jefferson and America’s first swivel chair, but instead, he faced the extraordinary: two women whose natures he could not discern. At Spooner’s and the Eastern Dime Museum, Theodore could always recognize the hoax—the 90 year-old woman boasting 160 years of age, the siblings from Virginia advertising Mayan heritage, the thin men who never weighed as little as they claimed they did… The frauds of humanity were growing commonplace in New York City, but the sisters currently sitting in front of his desk… Yes, they were asking to perform in his museum, and yes, they were identical twins, but they were also beings he’d never once heard rumors of. He knew of giants, Circassian beauties, and wild men, but no humans quite like these—none so completely authentic in their peculiarity.

Because the fascination was more than their twin sisterhood, but rather that the sister on the right explained that with costuming assistance the two could create the illusion of four bodies, yet failed to describe how it was that each sister reflected the other as a live mirror of flesh and movement. How upon the right side of one and the left of the other, their tan skin shrunk into the thin lines of a crooked spider web and broke a reflective, silver coating up into shards. Their reticence made him want to scream out: how had a mirror shattered and fused itself to you, and how could he replicate the effect?


Title: The Switcher Chronicles
Entry Nickname: Switcher
Word Count: 96,000
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy


Cade Hightower is a professional body switcher, paid to step into a client’s body and take his place in the dentist’s chair or at the in-laws’ dinner table. There are some jobs he won’t do—no pranks, no lie detector tests, and no switching bodies without permission—but he’ll take some risks to keep a good client happy, especially if the price is right.

Cade’s sister Daphne practices the art of injectable magic. She can give a politician a shot of Charisma or soothe a perpetual worrier with a syringe-full of Nonchalance. She has a five-year plan for her career, and she hasn’t noticed that’s it’s left her without much of a life outside of work.

The Hightower siblings have drifted apart in the last ten years, but after their uncle dies, Daphne sets out to repair the estrangement. Unfortunately, Cade’s never forgiven Daphne for putting ambition ahead of family. When their mother got sick and their father ran off, she left him with his no-good uncle. Now she claims she wants to keep him safe in his dangerous job, but where was she when he was a lonely, scared teenager who needed his big sister?

When Cade is hired to find the person swindling rich old people out of their fortunes and their lives, brother and sister run smack into their worst fears. Daphne’s afraid her brother will get killed, leaving her with no family. Cade’s nightmare is losing his own body, stuck for the rest of his life in a stranger’s skin. And their fragile relationship may not survive when the investigation brings their ugly family history into the light.

First 250:

I had been back in my body for twenty-four hours, and the mosquito bite between my shoulder blades itched like a rhino’s hide in a drought. The next time a client took my body camping while I did trust falls at a corporate retreat in his, I was going to add a bug-spray requirement to the contract.

But ignoring annoyances was part of my professional skill set, so I focused on getting the bus washed and ready for my next job, whatever it turned out to be. When the phone rang, I was balanced on an over-sized tire, squeegeeing the giant windshield. I jumped to the asphalt to take the call. The screen said, "Private Name Private Number." I got that a lot.

“Cade Hightower,” I said.

Harlan Ambrose’s voice on the line was deep and quick. “Cade, bro, what’re you doing?”

“Washing the bus, sir.”

“Hey, do me a favor and go inside. Got a job for you.”

I nudged the garden hose that snaked from the bus to a faucet sticking out of the grass.  A high school parking lot on a Sunday was as private as the surface of the moon, but arguing with clients was bad for business. With a shrug, I climbed the three steps into the school bus I’d converted into my home. After I settled in the swivel recliner anchored to the floor, I put the phone back to my ear.

“I’m inside, sir. What’s this job?”


  1. Judges please respond with your feedback and vote here.

    1. WE, FREAKS

      For the query, I’m wondering how Theodore’s reputation can be exploited? If he does the sideshow thing, then that is his reputation, so??? Also, while I understand you have two plot lines going here, I think you need to have something that sets out the main conflict with a bit more clarity. Max is kidnapped, so I guess we can imply he’s trying to survive. Theodore though? That could be clearer.

      For the 250, I’d make shorter paragraphs. Ease of reading is a big thing agents talk about, i.e. white space on the page. And I do think you have some natural paragraph breaks in here. I’m also not sure about the second paragraph. I’d rather see Theodore doing something. It’s very much of an info dump, and the first page is not where you want to do that!


      Query typo: “that’s it’s” should be “that it’s”

      I think the query can be shorter. Can you cut out the background of their family history? “The Hightower siblings have drifted apart in the last ten years, but when Cade is hired to find the person swindling rich old people out of their fortunes and their lives, brother and sister are reunited . . .” From there, I think you need to tie in how each of their powers is at risk/at issue/etc. Right now there’s a disconnect. Cade doesn’t say his job his dangerous. He says he loves it and has set limits, so when we read that Daphne is worried about him getting killed, it kind of comes out of nowhere. Same with Cade’s fear of being trapped in someone’s body. And there’s nothing showing us how Daphne’s power has any bearing on any of this. If you’re going to mention Daphne’s ability, then make it relevant. Tell us how these powers are integral to the conflict/plot. And then I think you need better stakes. Ugly family history coming to light is not interesting enough given everything you have going on here. Keep it focused on the main conflict—Cade wanting to figure out who is swindling and the dangers involved in that.

      Good, clean 250. Nice!

      Two interesting tales here! Both with some query issues, but overall two strong entries. Because one’s 250 appealed to me more . . .


      (So glad you made it into this round. Really enjoyed your entry last time.) If you really want to keep “improbably” I think you should set it off with em dashes on both sides, otherwise it makes the sentence too wordy for me. In the next sentence, I’d use Theodore’s name instead of “he” in the second phrase. Overall I feel that the “restarting his career” phrase is much too long. I’d condense. In the next paragraph, you lost me on the first sentence. Again, too long and too wordy for me. Same for the next sentence. It’s a combo of you having long sentences with lots of multi-syllabic words, which makes sense given one of your MC, but I think it makes your query too tough a read at times. Solid last paragraph. LOVE the premise. Love, love, love.

      Love the voice. So pitch-perfect. It’s much clearer this time that they have some form of gigantism. Did you fiddle with the phrasing overall a lot? It feels wordier than last time, though I might be misremembering. Again, I’d play around with inserting some shorter sentences for punch among the longer ones. Overall, fab work. I’m being nit picky because this is round 2 and because I really like your entry. Already you’ve put me in your unique world, and I absolutely want to read on!


      Wowzas. GREAT HOOK. Damn. It quickly gives us the set up, along with a nice dose of voice. I think your query is pretty close to perfect, except I would fiddle with the last paragraph, the part about the sibs facing their worst fears. I wouldn’t then again say “Daphne’s afraid…” but rather just use a colon or em dash and present the possibilities of what could actually happen. I think this will help boost the stakes.

      I think it’s also pretty close to perfect. The first paragraph read a little wordy to me, though. Maybe just fiddle with the phrasing. Great voice, great set up.

      Ahhh I don’t want to make this decision! I love them both so much, and I think that you’ll both go far. Both have great, fresh concepts and great voice, and wonderful writing. However, I think one was the tiniest bit more polished, and so, as much as it pains me to do this (!!!!), I am going to award…

      -Molly Millions

    3. Museum
      Such a great, unique premise but I think the query can read clearer in a couple of places so that the reader doesn’t have to reread to make sense of it all. For example, I’m not sure what this means or what you’re trying to imply: “…he decides he’s willing to pursue any lead if it means restarting his career.” Also, this line has me scratching my head as well: “As Theodore risks his reputation to exploit a folktale, Max contends with the nature of belief as he becomes introduced to a world he hadn’t thought possible.” I’m not sure that Theodore’s story-line and motivation and risks/stakes are clear. Also, do you really mean “parallel universes” or do you mean that to say that this is told in two POVs? And, why did you write the book from these two POVs? What is essential about these two stories that they have to be in one book? Try to draw some connection between them.

      As with your query, I think your writing style is overly wordy/long. I’m not sure what the second paragraph has to do with the first, other than trying to explain something about the sisters, but it is rather confusing.

      I think you’re focusing too much on the special gifts your characters have and their family issues and not enough on the plot and the stakes involved. I really like the concept you have set up here but there is some disconnection between the elements I mentioned. Also, don’t introduce something new in the last lines of your query (danger Cade is in, investigation) or they risk seeming unimportant and disconnected from the rest of your story.

      Nice writing, interesting set-up. I like that he lives in a bus. Your writing has a nice rhythm to it!


    4. Creature of the SeaJune 15, 2017 at 9:18 PM


      This is a phenomenal concept, and I love the way you illustrate it in your first paragraph. This feels fresh and unique, and from the writing in the query I already get the feeling that this is going to be beautifully atmospheric. I think Max's part in the story is pretty clear, but I'm less clear on the plotline for Theodore. What does it mean that he'll risk his reputation to exploit a folktale? And where do Max's and Theodore's stories cross?

      The first 250 left me curious and wanting to know more about what's happening. Also, I LOVE the first line. I do think the writing, at times, is pretty wordy and awkward, and there were moments when I was quite confused as to what was happening. Specifically, I'm not understanding what's happening with the sisters, nor what the illusion is exactly. This is compelling, but confusing.


      There are some great things in this query--I love the idea of injectable magic and of body-switching--but it all feels a bit disconnected to me, and overall, just too long. To that end, I'd suggest paring down some of the backstory. I'm also not understanding why Cade is hired to find out who is swindling rich, old people. How does body switching play into this? And how does this force them to face their own worst fears? And what is truly at stake--their relationship or Cade's life? A few clarifications and some focus will go a long way to making this query even stronger.

      The first 250 words are great. I was hooked. But one question I found myself asking was if Cade is so afraid of losing his own body, why would he let other people take it to do things out of his control, like camping? If losing his body is his personal nightmare, I'd imagine him having some kind of clause in his contracts for what happens to his body while he isn't in it. But that's just a small personal nitpick. This 250 is strong.

      Two great entries. Victory to SWITCHER

    5. WE, FREAKS:
      Query: What an exciting idea! Suggestions: I'd love to see a better connect between Max & Theodore in your stakes. Right now, their goals/stakes feel independent of each other, which makes me wonder why you have dual pov. I'm confident it's clear in the book, but making it clear in your query will make this even more solid.

      First 250: Can you describe the twins? Theodore sees them, and showing them to the reader could make this scene even more vivid.

      Query: Another creative idea. I'm drawn right in from paragraph one, but I think you lose that momentum by focusing much of the query on the sibling relationship. Is there a way to tighten the sibling portion of the query so you have room to show how the body-switching job impacts his life, and then bring the two plotlines together in your stakes?

      First 250: No suggestions. I really enjoyed this. Just enough description to pull me into the scene, and you've created questions that make me want to keep reading.

      And, now for the vote. This one is tough, since I loved them equally. But it's Query Kombat, so...


    6. Professor McGonagallJune 16, 2017 at 2:33 PM

      THE BARRINGER MUSEUM: Wow, you’ve done some great work on this entry! The premise was always fascinating, and now your query and 250 are getting even stronger. QUERY: The parallel tracks of the two men are clearer now, but I still wonder – do the two stories ever converge? FIRST 250: Very fun and interesting. I still think the 2nd paragraph is confusing, the first sentence, especially. How can you make this simpler and more understandable? Also, the word shrunk should be shrank. Good job and good luck!

      SWITCHER: What a fun premise! I enjoyed it very much. Congrats! QUERY: This is a pretty strong query. Just a couple of nitpicks: In the third paragraph it would read more smoothly if you said “Cade has never forgiven” rather than Cade’s, and in the next paragraph the same with Daphne’s and “Daphne is afraid.” FIRST 250: Very strong. I don’t really have any suggestions. Good job and good luck!

      Congrats to both of you! And best of luck!

      Victory to SWITCHER

  2. We, Freaks

    Query: Man, I absolutely adore this concept! The first paragraph of your query draws me right in, but the second paragraph kind of loses me a bit. I'm not sure I see the connection between Theodore's museum and sideshow freaks--unless the two were related somehow? Maybe think about adding a quick clarification if that's the case.

    The first sentence of your third paragraph "In a parallel universe..." is very long, but I'm not sure if there's any way to actually shorten it.

    "Max contends with the nature of belief as he becomes introduced to a world he hadn’t thought possible." -- "Becomes introduced" sounds kind of clunky to my ear, possibly change to "as he is introduced".

    250: Your tone here is excellent. I did have to reread the second paragraph a few times to truly get what you meant, however. The explanation, I think, got slightly lost in the language.

    The Switcher Chronicles

    Query: This is such a cool premise. Your query is pretty solid as well. In the last paragraph, I admit that I'm having a hard time seeing the connection between body switching and finding out who's swindling the elderly. It feels like a bit of a side step from what you've described elsewhere in the query. I would also love to know what their ugly family history is, if it's something beyond Daphne abandoning Cade.

    250: "I nudged the garden hose that snaked from the bus to a faucet sticking out of the grass." I pulled a bit of a blank trying to picture this. Is the hose attached to a faucet, or is he just kicking it out of his way? Other than this one line, I have no suggestions for your 250. Great voice, great opening line/paragraph.

    Overall, I really enjoyed both of these queries, and I wish you both lots of look!

  3. The Barringer Museum

    This premise sounds very interesting. Each of the stories sound great independently, but I’m just not sure how they tie together. It’s the fourth paragraph that I’m not following, especially Theodore risking his reputation. I guess I didn’t realize he had a reputation to risk. It sounded like he was down on his luck and desperate after his museum burned down. Maybe there is a way to show how these two stories converge/relate.

    First 250:
    I think you have some intriguing stuff here, but it is mainly in one large paragraph. In the second paragraph, I didn’t quite grasp what these two women were doing or looked like. I think you could have him asking them questions and interacting with them, to give the reader the full picture of their oddity, while also showing action instead of just telling.


    I love the concept of body switching and injectable magic. I also think you do a good job at introducing Cade and Daphne. I was a little lost in the last paragraph and had to read it a few times to get clarification. I agree with another commenter that Cade didn’t seem too concerned about his job in the first paragraph, but in the last paragraph he has a nightmare of being stuck in a different body. That seems like a major problem if body switching is your job. Maybe it isn’t a nightmare, but more of a low-level but constant worry? I feel like you were great with specifics in the first 3 paragraphs and then the fourth was very vague.

    First 250:
    I like your passage. It seemed in the moment and felt like something was going to happen. Either he will argue with Harlan or get a new job. Both sound interesting. The only part I stumbled on was when he nudged the garden hose. I didn’t know what that mean. Nudged it out of the way, nudged it toward the bus, nudged it because it was stuck on something, etc.

    Both entries sound very interesting and I would definitely read on in both cases! Good luck!

  4. We, Freaks
    I love the changes you’ve made in this query! It is so much clearer to me what the plot is. Woot!
    “Depending on the study” confused me a little. Maybe this could be: “Who want the study to validate”?

    The first page still confused me a little bit, though it was clearer. Were the two women appearing as four bodies right then, at that moment?

    What a cool concept!!! Yes! I want to hire Cade! And how hilarious that Daphne is a workaholic. My main question about the query is why do Cade’s switching skills come in handy to solve this particular mystery of a swindler?

    Hilarious first paragraph, and this sounds so good and rich in setting!

  5. The Barringer Museum

    I'm torn here, because I can tell from the writing style and slightly unconventional narrative structure that you're crafting a literary-minded speculative story, which I really admire. However, the stakes feel blurry. Theo wants to have the best freak museum anywhere. Got it. Max wants. . . what? To not be professionally embarrassed by the sketchy research going on in his lab? It's said that he must confront "the nature of his beliefs," but what's truly at stake for him if these beliefs must change? And what about the people who are trying to recruit Max and Theo to accept them, employ them, etc.? When the query ends with a sentence promising that these men will "never understand" them, then what hope do you offer the reader to tantalize them into reading?

    The 250 is stylistically strong, but just as Theo struggles to comprehend and visualize the trick these twins say they can accomplish, I'm struggling to visualize it, too. Would it serve the narrative better for the reader to be plunged into a recruitment scene that doesn't disassociate so much for us right off the bat?

    Switcher Chronicles:
    The query is strong up until the second half, where the Hightower sibs' estrangement is introduced more fully. I'm thrown by the information here because it's clearly moving us back in time and now framed in a way that does this as clearly as it could. I need to know more about Cade being abandoned with his uncle at the start of the paragraph, not in the middle of it. The complexity of the job Cade's being offered and the risks it poses to him aren't quite clear, either. I love the first page, but I can't shake the feeling that I don't actually understand HOW the sibs are thrown into direct conflict by this specific case, or how Daphne's powers are important in it.

    Nevertheless, the KIND of conflict in Switcher Chronicles is, in broad terms, more specific and "if this happens, then x" than in The Barringer Museum, and so that's going to be my deciding factor.

    My vote goes to Switcher Chronicles.

    Good luck!

  6. The Barringer Museum

    Query: Naming the two leads is a definite improvement, I have a much clearer sense of who they are now. But, I don't think I like Theodore very much. It sounds like his goal is to exploit these people for profit. If that's his initial goal, I want to see how he changes to become a more likeable person. Otherwise he comes off as sort of villainous, and I'm not sure I want to spend a lot of time with him. Max's reluctance is clear--he thinks the whole scenario is bunk, and he's startled when it turns out there's some truth to it. I'd definitely want to read more about him.

    250: First paragraph is great, it sets the tone and the world. In the second, it's still not 100% clear what's going on with the women. I gather they have mirrors in their skin? And I think they may each be two-headed so that together they look like four? But that's a wild guess. I would want to find a better description immediately on the next page.


    Query: First three paragraphs are really clear. Fourth is a little vague. How does Daphne get caught up in Cade's assignment? If Cade is terrified of being trapped, why does he do this job? And what could their ugly family history be, when we already know it involves abandonment?

    250: I like this, because it demonstrates something straight out of the query--Cade being willing to do sometimes dumb things to please a client. It makes me feel oriented right away. The mosquito bite is a nice detail, too, because it's the sort of thing one might not think of as a consequence of switching bodies.

    I would happily add both of these to be TBR pile. Good luck!!