Wednesday, June 14, 2017

QK Round 2: Beards vs. Bounty and the Beast

Title: Chai, Beards, and Harmony
Entry Nickname: Beards
Word count: 71K
Genre: Contemporary Adult Rom-Com (Own Voices)


Amira Khan is too old for her dorm and exhausted from reporters’ constant calls for her personal 'hot take' on Islamophobia. She needs peace and quiet, and intends to get it by leaving grad school early to finish her thesis at her grandmother's house. But it turns out, her grandmother rented the basement to… a barbershop quartet?! Amira needs silence; they need to rehearse for an upcoming competition, and the overgrown garden-gnome of a baritone is making her absolutely crazy.

For the sake of his family, baritone Duncan Galahad has to stay in the tiny town he calls home. But he needs big-city cred even for small-town gigs these days. Winning this competition might give him top billing, so he won’t let an outspoken, overbearing engineer like Amira get in his way. Even if outspoken, overbearing women are his exact catnip, Duncan knows women like that have no time for small-town singers with no steady pay-check. And Amira might be way too much… even for his tastes.

Amira finds harmonious friendship with the misfit singers. And she finds that clashing with Duncan outside the bedroom only means hitting all the right notes between the sheets.

But their differences are more than skin deep. Duncan comes from a world that sees Amira as nothing more than a cautionary tale against multiculturalism. And Amira long ago decided that only someone like her could understand her. When family, jobs, and distance pile up to make their connection seem impossible, Amira and Duncan realise that to make it work, they have to not only accept their differences… but fight for them.

First 250:

If there was a Sufi Saint protecting single women travelers Amira Khan was sure she’d royally pissed her off at some point in a previous life.

The last time she’d tried to travel, she’d been unceremoniously escorted out of the security clearance area of Toronto airport, having been denied boarding her flight to Philadelphia. Nothing like that could happen now— this was a train, and there was no border crossing between her university in Kingston and her house in Toronto. No border meant no overzealous guards accusing her of terrorism because of her last name and fondness for Arabic calligraphy. But seeing as her train appeared to be stuck in some place called Port Hope, and a creepy man wearing silver pants was leering at her, Amira clearly couldn't trust any deity to help her reach her destination unscathed.

She peeked at the creep. Shiny grey pants, black shirt open to reveal a silvery undershirt, plus gold chains and a vile facial expression. Fuck. Amira hated traveling alone. She’d left grad school early because of overly creepy members of the male species— only to get stuck on an almost-empty train car with one.

Finally, the doors slid open for new passengers. Good. More people meant more protection should things get hairy with the slick sleaze. Only one boarded— a large man with a lurid, orangey-red beard. Holy hell, that was bright. He accessorized his facial hair with a red-plaid flannel shirt and black suspenders, resulting in a look that could only be described as Garden-Gnome chic.


Title: Dangerous Beasts
Entry nickname: Bounty and the Beast
Word count: 85,000
Genre: Adult Fantasy Romance


Exiled beast charmer Leena Edenfrell is in deep shit. An empty pocketbook pushes her to sell her mythological beasts on the black market—an offense punishable by death—and the Charmers Council has just the assassin for the job. With the realm’s most talented murderer for hire nipping at her heels, Leena makes him an offer he can’t refuse—a promise to procure a handful of magical creatures in exchange for her life.

For assassin Noc, murder comes easy and pays well. So when Leena’s life falls into his capable hands, he doesn’t hesitate to accept the bounty. But only fools pass up the chance to own a rare and powerful magical beast—let alone one for each of his closest friends. Agreeing to her terms, Noc quietly keeps the hit live on Leena’s head until the creatures are his. Two paychecks, one job, no sleep lost.

Embarking on a hunt across the countryside of Lendria, Leena, Noc and his trusted band of assassins follow the trails. But traps capture more than beasts, and ensnared hearts are hard to untangle. Bound by the magic of the assassin’s oath, Noc can’t renege the price on Leena’s head—unless he wants to sacrifice his own. Yet, neither he nor Leena can tame their growing feelings, and the ever-watchful eye of the Council calls for blood. But with Noc’s hands and heart tied, no manner of beasts or money can protect Leena’s hide.

First 250:

By the time evening fell, three things were certain: the gelatinous chunks of lamb were absolute shit, my beady-eyed client was hankering for more than the beasts in my pocket, and I was being watched.

Two out of the three were normal for my after-hours dealings.

Sliding my meat to the side, I propped my elbows against the heavy wood-plank table. My client lasted two seconds before his black gaze roved to the book-shaped locket dangling in my cleavage. Wedging his thick fingers between his shirt collar and neck, he tugged gently on the fabric.

“You have what I came for?” Nasally and high-pitched, his voice grated along my skin. A businessman. A rare visitor in the black market bar of Midnight Jester. My pocket hummed with the possibility of money, and I fingered the copper key hidden in my jeans. Sinking further into the booth crammed against the shiplap wall, the cracking black cushions let out a soft oof.

“Maybe.” I nudged the metal dinner plate farther away, and the gray meat jiggled. “How did you find me?”

Dez, the bartender, sourced most of my clients, but a businessman? Neckties and Midnight Jester didn’t mingle. Shady with a side of grime, the regulars were as dirty as the floors. The unseen pair of eyes lingering in a dark recess of the bar burrowed further into the back of my head. Earlier, faint movement from the shadows had flickered into my awareness. Movement that should have gone unnoticed, but I’d learned to be prepared for such things.


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


      A little confused by the query, as I'm just not sure what Amira is doing in the story other than falling for Duncan. I feel like there needs to be a bit more agency--thesis for what? What's her goal? Does falling for Duncan ruin her career prospects? Duncan I get. He needs to win the competition and doesn't have time for distractions. I think Amira's can be improved with more specifics.

      I like the voice. I wonder about re-arranging the paragraphs to start with action and the present rather than explain past travel experiences. '


      I love this query . . . up until the last couple lines. I feel like it started strong with Leena, but in the last paragraph all we're getting is Noc's struggle. I want Leena to have her own goals, own choices, and face her own decisions about how she can get out of this mess. Something that shows she's not at the mercy of Noc's decision making.

      I like the first 250. I think it starts with a strong version of Leena, which again makes me want to see that she has some agency in the query!

      These are both good. I hope you did well in the agent round! Regardless, get to querying!!


    2. No One Of ConsequenceJune 14, 2017 at 3:48 PM

      I agree 100% with Javy Baez' comments above. Like exactly. Let's pretend I'm smart enough to have written that.

      I'm voting based on the writing sample of the winner, which just jumps off the page to me. Victory to DANGEROUS BEASTS.

    3. Beards
      Great voice, well-written and concise. I did think the following lines got bogged down a bit. I would suggest trying to cut out extra words and up the tension: “Winning this competition might give him top billing, so he won’t let an outspoken, overbearing engineer like Amira get in his way. Even if outspoken, overbearing women are his exact catnip, Duncan knows women like that have no time for small-town singers with no steady pay-check. And Amira might be way too much… even for his tastes.”
      Also, this line made me lose interest as it lets the tension go: “Amira finds harmonious friendship with the misfit singers.”

      I had a hard time with this opening. I think it’s because we’re thrown immediately into a flash-back mixed with the present time. It feels jarring and disorienting. It also feels like a summary. Once you get further in, there are some good details and feelings going on about traveling alone, but I’d rather see a more focused beginning so that we really feel her unease. Each time you reference the past or explain something, it pulled me out of the present moment.

      Dangerous Beasts
      Opening line is vague. Strive for more voice—more unique and specific wording. There are too many vague/cliché phrases used which make the reader feel disconnected from the premise. Phrases like, “an offer he can’t refuse,” “nipping at her heels,” “in exchange for her life,” “falls into his capable hands,” “embarking on a hunt,” etc… are vague, hinting at excitement, but I can’t quite tell what it is. It also makes me fear that your writing is full of these types of phrases.

      I love your opening line! Totally different voice than your query. Work on infusing your query with this same voice and specificity! This line is clunky and I don’t know what “black gaze” means: “black gaze roved to the book-shaped locket dangling in my cleavage. Wedging his thick fingers between his shirt collar and neck, he tugged gently on the fabric.” Overall, I like how you stay in-scene in your opening and allow the reader to sink deeply into the story right from the beginning.

      Argh! This is a hard one!!!

    4. Creature of the SeaJune 15, 2017 at 11:54 AM


      I'm not usually a big romcom reader but this query makes me want to read this book. You do a fantastic job of bringing your characters to life with just a few words. I do think the query is missing stakes for Amira. They're hinted at in the first paragraph, in that she left grad school early to finish her thesis (side note: "left grad school" is a little confusing though; I'm guessing she didn't drop out if she's trying to finish her thesis, so did she just physically leave the campus?). So what exactly are the stakes for her? Is her relationship with Duncan jeopardizing her degree? Her whole career? I would also suggest losing the third paragraph since I don't think it adds anything to the query.

      The first 250 are engaging and entertaining, and I already feel like I know exactly what kind of book this is, which is exactly what you want to accomplish. But for me, Amira is coming off more judgmental than wary. The creepy man leering at her definitely sets the scene for her wariness, and I absolutely feel that, but then immediately she talks about leaving campus because of creepy men, and then immediately after that, she passes judgment on the looks of the bearded man. For me, that was just too much and started to make Amira a little too unsympathetic. I get that you need to set up how Duncan looks, but I think there are ways you can soften it so it isn't so overtly judgmental. For example, I'd suggest losing the word "lurid" because it's so commonly used to describe something inappropriately sexual (even though I get that it has multiple meanings).


      Your premise...I am completely hooked. The query is solid, and the stakes are evident--Leena's life. This line loses me though: "Noc quietly keeps the hit live on Leena’s head until the creatures are his. Two paychecks, one job..." I'm assuming this means he is just waiting to kill her until he gets the promised creatures. I think that could be a little clearer. Also, we lose Leena towards the end of the query. What does Leena need to do/sacrifice/choose in order to save her own life? This is so important.

      The first 250 have a great voice, and pose some interesting questions about what's happening. Also, I love that noir sort of feel you create. There's some awkward writing here and there (eg. The unseen pair of eyes lingering in a dark recess of the bar burrowed further into the back of my head.), but nothing that isn't easily fixed.


      This is tough. Both of these are strong and compelling...and SO DIFFERENT, and I think both will catch an agent's eye.

      Victory to: DANGEROUS BEASTS

    5. BEARDS:
      Query: Your premise has a ton of potential, and I think you’ll see some interest while querying. The voices are solid and different, which is a challenge in a query. My concerns: I’d like to see more agency in Amira. She leaves school and moves in with her grandmother, but what are her goals? What happens if she doesn’t achieve them? Duncan’s goal and stakes are clear. Also, since this is rom-com, I’d also like to see more humor in your query. While the garden-gnome bit is cute, I’m not sure it fits as a descriptor for the love interest in a romance.

      First 250: I found the past/present switch jarring. And I’d also like to learn more about Amira than her travels in your start. Ground the reader in character/voice before flashing back to what happened to her in the past.

      Query: Another excellent premise, but I wonder how much of your query is set-up vs your story. I assume the majority of the book is about the quest for the magical creatures. If so, I’d love to see more of their journey and how it impacts their relationship in your query.

      First 250: I love Lendria’s voice in your first 250. We get a good sense of who she is and what’s happening. Your sentence structure feels heavy (to me) at times, and I think lighting up on the descriptors would increase your pace.

      And, now, to vote. I enjoyed both of these entries, so this is a tough choice. But Michelle won’t let me pick both, so I’m declaring victory to:


    6. BEARDS
      (Yay! Glad to see you made it to round 2. I really loved your entry last time.)
      I like your hook, but I wonder about tweaking it to have a comma? It just reads a little long to me as is. I think sentence 2 is missing “she” at the beginning of the second phrase. Someone must have told you to put an exclamation mark in the barbershop quartet line, but I strongly disagree with them!! (I’m even using two to show how strongly.) So I love the “overgrown garden gnome of a baritone” line, but I’m not really clear what it means. Does it mean he’s short?? Not sure.

      Love the rest! Want to read it ASAP!!!

      You’re missing a comma in the first sentence after “travelers.” I love your revisions here. Reads really well, though a couple of sentences felt really wordy. So wait, is the guy who gets into the train Duncan??? (Because of the garden gnome reference?) Ooh.

      LOVE your hook except I think the last phrase could be reworked to be a little punchier and make it a little clearer verb wise that she is being hunted. The first sentence in the third paragraph is confusing both because of Lendria and Leena being so close and the names being listed.

      I think overall it reads really well, and you did an especially great job of making the stakes clear, which is hard. I’d totally read this book!!

      Nice voice right off the bat. Not sure about the oof line. Overall, I think it’s fab. Great tension, great voice, great worldbuilding in a way that feels effortless. The last paragraph threw me a little because you reference something seen earlier.


      This is BY FAR the hardest choice for me this round, and you guys are my last in the blog. Though they’re both romance, they’re so different (fantasy vs. contemporary), and so here’s when judging gets really hard because they’re apples and oranges. First of all, I have ZERO doubt that both of these entries will end up in book forms. Fresh, awesome, fabulous concepts with a crap ton of voice and amazing writing. You’re both INCREDIBLY talented and I’m seriously in awe. That said, I do think that one was the teeniest, tiniest bit more polished and finished, and so I must award…


      -Molly Millions

    7. Professor McGonagallJune 16, 2017 at 3:38 PM

      BEARDS: Congrats on getting to round 2! You’ve made some good changes here. QUERY: I’m still not sure if Duncan is a part of the barbershop quartet and lives at the house? Or how is it he and Amira know each other? And then, where does the distance come in that is mentioned? Does she go back to school? FIRST 250: Very strong, and very enjoyable. You mention that the creepy guy is wearing silver pants, then say they are shiny gray and his undershirt is silver. Just wanted to clarify the pants! Still love the Gnome Chic.

      BOUNTY AND THE BEAST: What a fun premise! Congrats on getting to round 2. QUERY: This is very strong, and I feel like I got a good idea of the characters and story. The only sentence I had a question about was: But traps capture more than beasts, and ensnared hearts are hard to untangle. This feels different from the rest of the query, and makes me wonder if it’s one of those sentences you like so you hate to get rid of it. But I think it sticks out and should be cut… FIRST 250: Very strong! I enjoyed this excerpt and don’t really have any suggestions. Good, smooth writing and a great sense of place and what it feels like to be in her situation.

      Congrats to you both, and best wishes for your books! Because I feel it is just a bit stronger,

      Victory to BOUNTY AND THE BEAST

    8. Okay, comments first, then the vote. Here we go...

      The query works fine for me until, quite out of the blue, I go from hearing all the reasons Duncan doesn't think Amira is his kind of girl to hearing that they're sleeping with each other. That's a major change in tone and not something the second paragraph prepares me for, so think carefully about how to segue from "nope nope nope" to "heeeeeeey," as it were.

      The first page starts strong, with a nice piece of internal reflection, but it turns into so much internal reflection and description, with relatively little external activity, that I find myself drifting out of it far too easily.

      Similar to my concern for the "Beards" query, I'm totally on board until the third paragraph, where assassin and beast-charmer are journeying together. This is because we've stepped away from the business of her selling the beats off for long enough, I've forgotten that he's not just buying them off of her, but that they need to retrieve them together. Is there a way to make clearer in Noc's introduction that this will be the case?

      The opening page gives a nice blend of tension and style -- lots of fine details. I was a bit surprised to notice details like "jeans" and "businessman" in character descriptions, though. Obviously there are plenty of urban fantasies around, but nothing in the query gave me a signal that we'd be dealing with a modern or semi-modern setting, which is what I read into these details. Think about how to cue the reader to issues of setting in the query.

      Though both queries left me surprised (in a negative way) or confused by something as some point, the pages made my decision easier. My vote is for Bounty and the Beast.

      Good luck!

  2. Beards


    Your premise of engineer (science) clashes with barbershop quarter singer (art) is whacky, but I kind of like it in that 'opposites attract' sort of way. I can see the flow the story will take, from 'they drive me crazy' to 'something about them gets me going', which is good. I don't like the third paragraph. Not the writing, that it's there. It feels unnecessary. We meet Amira, then Duncan, then go back to Amira as opposed to going straight to the stakes. I'm guessing you love the '... all the right notes between the sheets.' line (it's a good line) but I'd drop it for flow and pacing reasons. Also, you use 'but' and 'and' quite a few times. I'd try to reword to clear some of those out.

    1st 250

    Love the opening line. Lots of voice on the page. I can see Amira sitting on the train, her face splashed will equal parts annoyance and revulsion. Without some connection to Amira, the 'Holy hell that was bright.' line feels like the writer to me. Maybe add 'she thought' or something.

    Bounty and the Beast


    Nice first paragraph, but I'd ditch 'is in deep shit'. This is a delay, just like 'has a problem'. Just get to the conflict. The second paragraph is good, but the 'closest friends' thing distracts me. I say remove it, and the 'and his trusted band of assassins' part from the third paragraph. That will let the query focus exclusively on your two MCs.

    1st 250

    Great opening. Tons of voice. 'black market bar of Midnight Jester.' confuses me. Is that the bar's name, or the name of the town in which the bar sits? If it's the bar, maybe 'A rare visitor in the Midnight Jester - the black market bar I used for my deals.' or something. I'd put a paragraph break before 'The unseen pair of eyes...' since the focus switches from visitors to the place to the MC being watched.

    Good luck to you both!


  3. Beards- I love the query. I agree with a previous comment that you could eliminate the third paragraph. I also like the idea of keeping the first 250 in the present without the flashback. The scene with the creepy guy is evocative. You captured the creeped out feeling well there.

    Query- I love the premise. One small thing. I didn't get why Leena and Noc we're traveling together in the third paragraph. How did that arrangement come to be?

    First 250- both your query and 250 use "shit" in the first line. I feel like it would be more powerful if only one of the two used it.

  4. Beards

    Query: I really love this entry. It reminds me a bit of SOFIA KHAN IS NOT OBLIGED. Query lays everything out well, describing both characters while making sure we know Amira is the primary. I especially like how you've juxtaposed their conflicts.

    250: This is the kind of rom-com voice I'd happily fall into. I can see the point others have made about Amira coming off as judgey--maybe the bit about the creepy guy should be lessened? Unless he's an actual threat who they'll have to deal with soon. I think it's balanced pretty well by her initial thought that this new person could help her, but another positive detail about Mr. Gnome would probably help.

    Bounty and the Beast

    Query: I think I want the second paragraph to end on a note that Noc's feelings are going to get involved, so it's not as abrupt in the third paragraph. In the third their growing feelings are very important to the stakes, so I'd like to see them hinted at sooner.

    250: A really solid opener here, classic for fantasy and underground dealings but not cliche. I like Leena's attitude, her forthright assessments and the way she plays the tools at her disposal. Would definitely keep reading.

    Very different stories, and tough to weigh against each other. I hope you both find success!!

  5. Fellow Kombatant here. Good luck to you both! These are two really different entries, and I don't envy the judges.

    You do an awesome job of illustrating the complexity of this relationship in the last paragraph of the query. I was a little bit surprised that they got together in the 3rd para - consider establishing this transition more smoothly. Is any of this in Duncan's POV? If not, then I'd maybe strike the 2nd para altogether and weave in any required info between the 1st and 3rd.
    I'd cut the "?!" from the "quartet" line. It takes me out of the pace.
    Why is Amira the go-to for these reporters? I'd love to see you up the stakes here with Amira's arc.
    Good setup of Amira traveling to open, but I want to see something happening a bit more here instead of reflection.

    If your'e going strictly grammatically, then you're missing a comma/"then" in the first sentence (the if/then structure). Instead of having her quit grad school just because she'd had "enough," maybe make the inciting incident a bit more concrete than just the "creeps" of the world.

    I want to know more about Amira as a person - she's overly cautious about creepy men, but I don't really understand why. (The man on the train with the silver pants - why does he frighten her so?) Give me more AMIRA, who I would love to follow based on your query, instead of just her surroundings assessment.

    I really want to see this piece succeed. It is quirky and offbeat and an awesome idea.

    Q: You've set up this world in a really clear way, with a unique premise. I have some concerns about the common cliches relied upon (nipping/heels, offer can't refuse) to get your point across. The good news is that you know precisely what you want to say here - you know the meaning behind these. I'd just focus on bringing them out in a way that's more creative. I would love to see you find a way to shade in Noc's character here - is he pure evil? What makes him complex? Is there any way to include it with a minor phrase?

    Loved this barroom opener! I also find the voice strong. The speaker really knows her stuff. Great vibe of confidence. (And that lamb made me shiver.) Couple quick notes --
    The "beady-eyed" phrase is an echo of the above - find another way to write this.
    "A rare visitor in the black market bar of Midnight Jester." Is this the bar they're in, or a place/town/city? If it's the former, then you can do something like "a rare visitor in Midnight Jester, the black market bar..." The "of" as it is trips me up.

    GOOD LUCK to you both!

  6. Beards:
    OK, this query immediately has me hooked. I'm all in!

    While the 2nd paragraph of the 250 is very interesting, it seems like a bit of background overload for paragraph 2. Is there a way to place this a little later in the story? I'd add a comma after "travelers" in the first sentence. It's a little runny without it. Otherwise, I like the immediate conflict on the first page; it already gives us a glimpse into Amira's circumstances and personality.

    Bounty and the Beast:
    Great way to snag us with the query! This story feels fresh and fun.

    I love the voice in the 250. You've thrown us right into this world and I'm ready for the ride.

    Great job to both of you, and good luck! I'm glad I'm not in the judges' shoes.

  7. Sorry for the late (and lame) comments:
    Query: I liked the query’s structure and how clearly it sets up the character and conflicts. You set up the two characters very well. I wonder if there’s a way to set up the last line or two to make feel less like a resolution (i.e., they realize they have to fight for their differences) and more open (when all the various obstacles come between them, they must choose…).
    First 250: I liked this. “Gnome chic” is hilarious.

    Query: Loved this. Great world-building and voice. The last line is great.
    First 250: Love the voice. My one question is whether there’s too much about gelatinous/gray meat, but maybe my summer cold is influencing me.