Wednesday, June 14, 2017

QK Round 2: Delicious Vicious Cycles vs. I Fell for a Convicted Felon

Entry NicknameDelicious Vicious Cycles
Word count: 74K
Genre: YA Contemporary, Own Voices


17-year-old entrepreneur Vera Davis starts a business to sell revenge in VERA WITH A VENGEANCE, a 74,000-word young adult contemporary novel. Vera and I are both Jewish and sexual assault survivors.

When a car accident paralyzes Vera’s college basketball hotshot brother and kills her parents, she's suddenly in charge of the medical bills, the mortgage, and her own anger and helplessness. Vera's always been good at getting back at people who hurt her, but she can’t exactly get revenge on the curve in the road where her father lost control of the car. 

Meager insurance payouts leave Vera desperate for money, so she starts a business: when the traditional justice system fails her clients, Vera wrecks wrongdoers’ careers and cars, relationships and reputations. She revels in taking down racists and sexual assaulters, but her crush--her brother’s best friend--thinks her style of vengeance is morally wrong. 

Then, while helping a client get payback for a leaked nude picture, Vera finds new evidence about her family’s “accident.” Turns out there is someone for Vera to blame, but the perpetrator had her own very good reason to seek vengeance. 

Now Vera must decide whether getting even is worth getting blood on her hands. 

First 250:

This creeper keeps staring at me with this little half smile, like he thinks I want his eyes undressing me. His face, all chin and cheekbones, reeks of always getting what he wants—women, money, free drinks in first class en route to Ibiza. I want to walk away, but his wife is shopping for an evening gown, and I need the commission to pay the energy bill.

I focus on her, and hold up a green dress to hide my body. “This would look great with your eyes.”

Her eyes are blue, but the green dress sells well, and if she buys it, I’ll hit the monthly quota for a higher commission percentage. I can only work so much after school, and I have to make the hours count.

She turns to Creeper. “What do you think?”

“I’d like to see more.” His eyes flicker down to my calves and back up to my chest. For all his wife can tell, he’s checking out the dress, but his gaze burns my skin.

I hold the dress higher to cover my breasts and look at my boss for rescue. He mouths work it. If I didn’t need this job so badly…I force myself to smile.

Creeper’s gold smartwatch buzzes, and he glances away from me. Those watches cost ten grand. Ten grand would keep the lights on and pay for three months of the mortgage. Ten grand could keep Levi and me from losing the house our parents raised us in.


Title: Unreasonable Doubts
Entry nickname: I fell for a convicted felon
Word Count: 91,000
Genre: Contemporary Women's Fiction


29 year-old Liana Cohen is an idealistic public defender fighting to overturn the convictions of her indigent clients, whether they are guilty or innocent. But after several years of standing up for hardened criminals and repeat offenders, she is careening toward burn-out. Her boss has given her an ultimatum: recommit to the mission, or find a new job. Liana would give anything to have one client, just one, whom she can believe in. Someone to reignite her passion for the cause and salvage her career.

In this charged emotional state, Liana's professional struggle spills over to her personal life. While she loves Jakob Weiss, 
her long-term boyfriend, she's not ready to embrace his self-assured vision of their future together.   

Determined to get back on track, Liana pins her hopes on her newest client, Danny Shea, a convicted rapist. Danny's astonishing blend of confidence and vulnerability intrigues Liana, who finds him
 intelligent, magnetic and compelling. And he could well be innocent.

As their attorney-client relationship transforms into something less than arms-length, Danny painstakingly makes a place for himself in Liana’s world. After Liana wins Danny a reversal on a legal technicality and he is released from prison, she is confronted with a man who is both free and single-minded in his desire to be with her. Danny’s attentions intensify just as Jakob proposes marriage. Liana is forced to choose.

First 250 Words:

                                                                                    July, 2012

Dear Ms. Cohen,

Forgive me for being so direct, but I have no choice.        

I need you to do something for me, something that goes beyond just doing your job. I’m begging you to put aside what you think you know about me based upon my conviction and from reading the testimony of the witnesses at trial, and to search out the man behind those words. It’s critical that you know in your heart, as my public defender, but even more so, as a woman, that I couldn’t, and I didn’t, rape Jennifer Nash or anyone else. I need you to believe in me.

My case could have been assigned to any attorney, but I have you. I believe there’s a reason for this, and I know that with you on my side I will emerge from this terrible darkness that has engulfed me since this false accusation was lodged.  I pray that you’ll have the courage to stand with me.


Danny Shea

Who is this guy? Liana wondered.

                                                                    Chapter 1

“Liana, you have a call on line 1 – Randy Napoli from the New York Law Journal. Want me to ask him what it’s about?”          

“No, thanks.You can put him through, Tony,” Liana said. She and Randy had the kind of friendship that sometimes flourishes because both parties know that it exists only in cyberspace and they’ll never actually have to meet. When Randy needed an angle or had a legal question, Liana would provide background information, off the record.


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

    1. Delicious Vicious Cycles
      Some of this is really good. This reads really awkward: “college basketball hotshot brother.” One question I’m left with is, if Vera is hard up for cash, how does she start her business. I’m sure she’d need resources to get vengeance for her first client. It’s probably just a technicality, but it stopped me as I was reading. Also, the fact that, in this sentence, “…but the perpetrator had her own very good reason to seek vengeance,” you allude to a new character make me wonder if this is a character that just comes into the story, out of the blue since there isn’t any reference to this person in the rest of the query…or not that I can tell.

      Opening reads a bit wonky…especially “This creeper” and “this little half smile” and it’s cliché with the “eyes undressing me.” Then, “cover my breasts” sounds like she’s naked. Maybe, instead, “cover my chest”?? The last jolted me out of the scene and made me think this character is much younger than I imagined at first. Otherwise, the opening is fine.

      Convicted Felon
      Your first paragraph is pretty solid and shows us stakes up front. The premise of her falling for a possible rapist is disturbing and I’d hope that it is done really well…but it makes me wonder if this is a really dark story. But then your last two lines really peter out and make it seem like we’re dealing with a cliché love triangle. Clarify if this goes dark or not…and try to up the stakes at the end.

      Your opening is intriguing to me and it’s well-written. I have little to nothing to nit-pick on it. I would just caution the use of the letter out of context at the beginning of the story. Make sure that it’s absolutely necessary there. I don’t dislike it. I’d need to read more to make sure that’s where it should be.

      VICTORY: Hard to choose but I’m actually going with VERA WITH A VENGEANCE because the premise is stronger and more clear to me.


      I was good with the query until the last line. I honestly don’t know what you mean by getting even and blood on her hands. The way I read it, the perpetrator had a good reason for seeking vengeance, so that to me would mean there is nothing for Vera to “get even” for. And then the blood on her hands throws me completely off because I have no idea what that means or how Vera would be getting blood on her hands?

      I like the 250. No suggestions!


      I have some real-world issues with this story. One, the public defender doesn’t care about “the mission.” The attorney in charge of that dept. just wants attorneys to handle the work. If Liana’s getting the work done, her boss isn’t going to care if she’s idealistic or there as a stepping stone to working at a lucrative private criminal defense firm. Two, any relationship between her and her client would get her disbarred in any state.

      Those are big things for me, but putting them aside, the rapist as love interest is bound to put agents off unless you come out and say that he is innocent. Not “very well could be innocent.” I think it has to be innocent.

      For the 250, I’m not sure about leading with the letter. Can we see the MC doing something and then open a desk drawer and read the letter on the second or third page? I’d like to start stronger, more MC-centric.

      Congrats to both of you to making it to the agent round! For totally subjective reasons, one appealed to me a lot more.


    3. Thoughts from another Kontestant here:

      VERA: I love the premise of Vera, very original. Here are just some thoughts that popped into my mind as I read:


      - Is there some incident that forces Vera to start the vengeance business other than just needing to pay the medical bills? I realize you said she can't get revenge on the road that killed her parents, so I'm wondering if there's someone else she's out to get.
      - The second to last paragraph leaves me wanting more. Maybe leave out the bit about the nude picture and include more details about what new information she finds out and who this mysterious new person is.
      - I assume that your last line means she has to decide whether or not to kill someone, but you might want to add a bit more detail there to make it clear.

      Overall, pretty solid query.

      First 250

      - Just a really, really small thing - you have the word "this" twice in the first sentence.
      - I'm wondering how a seventeen-year-old is so familiar with what older men are used to getting. This part made her voice sound older than seventeen.
      - I'm also wondering how she knows how much those watches cost. Maybe it comes from her job. Not sure.

      Love the name Vera, by the way. It's the name of the MC in one of my WIPs.

      FELON: Again, some thoughts as I read.


      - The phrase "self-assured vision" is vague to me. What specifically does that mean?
      - I'll admit, I cringed when I read "convicted rapist." I agree with the previous comments - you should make his innocence known in the query.
      - I also agree that the ending of the query fizzled a bit and just kind of ended, sounding like a typical romance. Let us know what makes this love story different.

      First 250

      - The beginning of your book definitely makes it seem like he may be innocent, but again, I think pointing out the query is key.
      - Some of the sentences seem a little long and filled with commas (I tend to do that myself!)
      - This is a really small thing, but the word "to" in the sentence "and to search out the man," is throwing me off. I think the sentence would flow better without it.
      - Again, I agree with previous comments that the letter thing may not be the right place to start, but it's hard to tell with just one page.

      Good luck to both of you and congrats for making it this far!

      I haven’t said this before, but I honestly think it’s fab as is. Really clear premise, plot, and characters. I love it!
      I think the first paragraph reads incredibly well, except I didn’t get she worked in the store as a salesperson. Maybe substitute “I need this job” for commission.
      Well done. You’ve endeared me to your protag and introduced me to her plight in a nice backhanded way. Since it sounds like she ends up doing some pretty unlikeable things in your story, it’s important that we like her early one.

      I think the first paragraph reads really well. I’m completely sympathetic to your MC and what she’s trying to do. The second paragraph felt more awkward to me. Not sure you need the first sentence at all, and I think the next could be combined in another paragraph somewhere. In the last paragraph, I’d pick a stronger and more clear verb (in terms of hinting his intentions) in the sentence about Danny “making a place for himself.” The last sentence feels too short. I’d combine it with the previous sentence or rework it. Also is there a psychological thriller piece, once he’s released? If so I’d put in a sentence about that, along with clearer stakes.

      I’d take out the random “Who is this guy?” line. It kinda didn’t lead anywhere.
      Hmmm…I don’t know about this opening. I might consider switching the order—starting with Liana at work, and then have her opening the letter. I think it would feel less like a prologue then. Overall, I think you’ve got the makings of a real page-turner here. It has so many elements that would glue me to a book. My suggestions are tiny tweaks in a sea of awesome.

      Whelp. I don’t want to make this decision. You’re both so clearly talented!! I enjoyed both of these so much and look forward to reading them when they’re published. But since I must choose, I do think one is the slightest bit closer to being totally polished, so as hard as this is to do, I must award

      -Molly MIllions

    5. Creature of the SeaJune 15, 2017 at 7:45 PM


      This is something I haven't seen before. It's a compelling concept, and the query draws me in. I think your final line needs to be reworked, however. For one thing, is there really a "getting even" for the kind of tragedy that's befallen Vera? But also, what does "getting blood on her hands" mean exactly? This is way too cryptic for a query letter.

      The first 250 of this are great. Really. I was completely in the moment with Vera and the creeper, and you did a great job of weaving in the facts needed to set the stage. I absolutely would keep reading.


      This is a solid query, but I'd suggest cutting the second paragraph. To keep the bit about her personal life, you could simply tag on "...and maybe her failing personal life, too" (or something similar) to the very end of the first paragraph. The fourth paragraph of the query loses focus, and feels rushed. What are the stakes for Liana in this choice? Is it even really a choice? (Which I think goes back to the line, "And he could well be innocent." I think you need to show us that she believes in his innocence.)

      I'm on the fence about the letter as a start to your manuscript. On one hand, I find it interesting and want to know more. On the other hand, wouldn't Liana, being a public defender, have heard "I"m innocent" over and over again? So why would this proclamation be any different and cause her to wonder who this guy is. I'd give this some thought.


      One note for both: Don't start a sentence with numbers. Write them out as words.

      Another two solid entries. Ultimately, victory to: DELICIOUS VICIOUS CYCLES

      The voice in your query is stellar, and your goal/stakes/conflict is solid. I really love the idea of a less-than-perfect MC. I have no suggestions for your first 250.

      As I read your query, I thought you were introducing us to a romantic suspense, with Danny becoming a stalker. But you lose that in the last line, turning this into a traditional romance/love triangle. My advice is to make it clearer what the story is about.

      I’m not a fan of starting with the letter, since I prefer to be grounded in a character first, but I’d read further to see where this goes.

      Since this is Query Kombat, I have to pick a winner of the query/250 round. And victory goes to . . . DELICIOUS!

    7. Both of these are very strong queries.

      "college basketball hotshot brother" is a mouthful. Why not just say her brother? The rest is unnecessary to the query, IMO.
      The first sentence: "This creeper keeps staring at me with this little half smile, like he thinks I want his eyes undressing me." I suggest getting rid of the "ings" because they really drag it down. Just have "This creep stares at me with a little half smile, like he thinks I want his eyes to undress me."

      From a craft standpoint, the query's stellar. Creature of the Sea said everything I was going to say about it. Like Ginger, I also thought this would be a romantic suspense, but then it lost me with the "innocently accused rapist" part, which is a personal turn-off for me, especially when she starts falling for him? I'd be way more interested in the story if he turned out to be a douche stalker who'd been using her doubts to con her.

      I'll also add my voice to the choir and say that starting with the letter is probably not the best choice. You should be using that first page to establish your MC.

      Due to the concept and voice being stronger, VICTORY TO DELICIOUS VICIOUS CYCLES!

    8. Professor McGonagallJune 16, 2017 at 3:01 PM

      DELICIOUS VICIOUS CYCLES: Wow, this is a really interesting premise, and I will look forward to reading this book! Congrats. QUERY: I think your first paragraph should move to the end – while this is important information, you need to get right into the story and hook the reader. Your second paragraph will do that, with a few additions (her last name, etc.) once you switch the other par. to the end. Very strong other than that! First 250: Very, very strong. Great sense of place and character. The only suggestion I have would be to say “I focus on the wife” instead of “I focus on her.” Other than that, really great stuff!
      I FELL FOR A CONVICTED FELON: Congrats on making it to round 2! QUERY: This is very strong, and very clear. Not sure what I would suggest to make it better! Good job. FIRST 250: First, very strong writing. I enjoyed it. A couple of suggestions: I the year on the letter 2012 for a reason? If not, it dates the story immediately and you might want to update it. In the last paragraph, what would you think of changing this sentence, “No, thanks.You can put him through, Tony,” Liana said. To “No, thanks, [space!]” Liana said. “You can put him through.” I think it would read better.
      Two very strong entries. Congrats to both! Because I think it has just a bit of an edge:

  2. Fellow Kombatant here, not a judge.

    Delicious Vicious

    Terrific query. I want to read this book.

    Couple nitpicky comments: Does college basketball hotshot brother need some hyphenation? I got a bit tangled in it.

    In the paragraph which begins, "Then, when helping…" maybe adjust the wording slightly to something like this, "while helping a client get payback against the ex who leaked nude…"

    The first 250 are really great. Love the line, "all chin and cheekbones." Can't wait to see this book on the shelves. Good luck in the Kompetition.

    Convicted Felon
    Not a lawyer here, but isn't the whole point of lawyers that they represent their clients regardless of the client's innocence. In fact, if a lawyer knew a client to be guilty then there would be ethical problems, right? (All my knowledge is coming from TV shows, so please take this with a grain of salt.) My concern with the first paragraph of your query is the phrase, "whether they are guilty or innocent." I think this would be more powerful and would be an opportunity to insert some voice if you tweak this phrase so that it's clear Liana suspects many of her clients are not as innocent as they would like to appear.

    And now my big concern after reading the whole query - is this not a huge ethical lapse on Liana's part, to start a romantic relationship with a former client? I am in no way interested in reading about a woman who would throw away her career for a man. And one whom your query suggests only got out of his charge of rape on a technicality. If these things are not true, I think you need to adjust to make it clear that she's not being unethical, she's not trashing her career all for a man, and that the man is not, in fact, a rapist.

    Good luck in the Kompetition!

  3. Another Kombatant here ...

    Delicious Vicious Cycles

    Query: So many emotions when this reading this! I’m not sure if I want to cheer her on or lecture her ... or maybe hire her lol! I definitely want to read this though. I would love to know more about the perpetrator here and why the decision is so tough. The end to get to the stakes feels a bit rushed and without much detail.

    250: I love where you’ve opened the story. One suggestion: you use the word “eyes” several times in the first three paragraphs. See if you can switch it up for flow. Maybe say “This would look great with your coloring.”

    I Fell for a Convicted Felon

    Query: I do love a good love triangle, but I could never cheer for a rapist. If he's actually innocent - you should have that in the query, otherwise why would she want him? In the beginning, I think you should leave out “whether they are guilty or innocent” as this immediately makes me question her morality and look at her in a negative light when clearly her goal is to have a client she believes in. One other nit-picky thing – it’s been 20 years since I’ve practiced law, but I do remember from my criminal law class that a criminal lawyer never asked their client if they were innocent or guilty (they didn’t want to know because if they did know of guilt, they had to report it!) Their job was to convince the judge or jury of reasonable doubt. If they did know of guilty party, then their job was to try to get them a fair sentence. Wouldn't "out on a technicality" if guilty still be morally wrong? What is pulling her towards thinking he's innocent?

    250: I like how you begin with Chapter one. The writing is strong and it's a good intro to your character. I think the letter, though is too early, I might introduce it at a later time after you establish Liana’s disheartened feelings about her job.

    I can’t wait to read both of these once they’re published! Good luck to both of you.

  4. Okay, here we go. Comments first, then the vote.

    Delicious Vicious:
    I want to give you an award for that second paragraph. It's so clean and perfect, I could eat off of it, which is perfect, because the rest of the query gets messy (in the sense of Vera's situation, not the writing, I should say). The ending of the query is a marvelous tease, and the nod toward a love interest but not an end-all, be-all reliance on it as the sole source of drama is refreshing. I should point out that you and Fell for a Felon both commit the error of using numerals instead of spelled words when starting a sentence with a number. It's "seventeen year-old."

    My only complaint about the first 250, honestly, is that I just spent ten minutes Googling gold smart watches and couldn't find a single one that costs 10k. Up to a thousand or a bit above, sure, but that price tag pulled me right out of the text, wondering if Vera is a reliable narrator, or if we're in some future where stuff is hella more expensive than it is now. So maybe not so high a price tag, and you can still make your point?

    Fell for a Felon:
    I mentioned in the last set of comments that you should spell out any number that begins a sentence, and so that's something you need to do in your query, too.

    I'm going to skip right to the end, with the 250, which was the place I knew I would need to focus to make my decision. This is because I'm just not compelled by the query to believe that Jakob vs. Danny is actually a valid decision at all. Perhaps it's bias, but I can't get over the combination of "formerly convicted of rape" and "starts basically stalking the main character." It hits a lot of triggers, and if the query can't make Danny sympathetic and human with more than adjectives as its ammo, I need to see if the writing itself is slick enough to seduce me, instead.

    Starting with the letter doesn't work for me because I need to be eased into the idea of accepting Danny as someone I want to "see" in this story. Leading with "I have sunk into darkness," etc etc because of a supposedly unjust rape conviction puts so much burden of character building on you up front, I think we need to work UP to hearing from Danny, have a chance to be taken off guard by him. If he hits out "he's okay" buttons and THEN we learn what he's been prosecuted for, then we as readers might have to wrangle without doubts and concerns in a way much more similar to your MC?

    Good luck out there, Kombatants! I'm voting for Delicious Vicious this round, and want its author to know I would punch a baby seal to get a copy of this book. Even if it had done nothing wrong.

  5. Delicious Vicious Cycles


    I think "college basketball hotshot brother" is probably unnecessarily wordy, especially since it doesn't seem to have any bearing on the rest of the query. I would just say "brother" or "older brother." I don't really have any experience with this, but would hospitals and mortgage companies really try to force a 17-year-old minor to pay the bills? I would think there might be some laws governing how exactly this works.

    I also wonder about the nature of this business. I assume it would be under the table and quite illegal, so keeping her identity and involvement secret would be of the utmost importance. But it seems like the brother and his friend both know, which seems like an error in judgment. The more people know, the more likely that she'll not only lose any source of income for the family, but also wind up in prison.

    I like the twist that the accident wasn't accidental, thus giving Vera a target, but that they might have been seeking their own vengeance. It sets up an interesting conflict. I think the premise is interesting as well, but there are a lot of questions that make me question its credibility.


    I think your voice works, and I like the ending where Vera is checking out the man's watch and thinking of what she could do with all the money it's worth. I think it's a very natural reaction. I don't know if this scene really does much to further the plot or introduce the conflict, although there is an undercurrent of desperation about her money situation, so it might work in setting up that need.

    I Fell for a Convicted Felon


    I like the first paragraph, because I have always felt that defense attorneys must feel some weight about defending clients that are guilty. I do have some doubts about her boss talking "commitment to the mission," since public defenders are usually just there to fulfill a function. But if the mission is "do your job well enough not to make me look bad as your boss," then I can definitely see that.

    I'm a little unsure as to how her professional issue bleeds into her relationship. I can definitely see the stress of her job affecting her personal life, but I don't know why it would keep her from accepting the engagement. Maybe a little more clarification would help here. Does she think she's not good enough as an attorney, and thus thinking she's not good enough as a potential partner?

    The premise of her client is interesting. I can see her desperately wanting to believe she finally got an innocent case, but I would think she'd be a little too jaded to get emotionally involved with someone who "might" be innocent and only gets off on a technicality. Why is she also willing to form a relationship with Danny, but hesitant to move on with Jakob, unless she was having subconscious doubts about him to begin with. That said, I do think this a very interesting conflict, especially since the question of Danny's innocence hasn't actually been established. I'd definitely like to know more!


    I like the letter that you open with, although maybe starting with some action like Liana finding the letter and opening it would be more active. It's an interesting approach from the client's perspective, and it makes me wonder if this is a true plead of innocence or a sociopath's play for sympathy.

    The rest of the 250 after the letter is interesting, and it makes me wonder what kind of interactions Liana has with Randy and what kind of information he has for her, but since he's not mentioned in the query, I'm not sure if this is best place to start. Is his info about her client Danny? Maybe find a way to end on that note to tie this to both the letter and the query.

  6. Delicious Vicious Cycles

    Ooh, this is an intriguing story!

    A suggestion for the query:

    Open with, “In VERA WITH A VENGEANCE, 17-year-old entrepreneur Vera Davis starts a business to sell revenge.” Then skip to paragraph two with “When a car accident…” And put the line about being Jewish and a sexual assault survivor at the end of the query. Reading that line about you after reading about Vera threw me out of the query. I would focus on the story first, then your connection to it.

    Your first 250 are great. Very emotional and powerful at the end.

    I Fell for A Convicted Felon

    I think the query could be tightened a little bit. I would take out, “her long-term boyfriend.” I’d also take out the “well” in “and he could well be innocent.”

    Also, what are the stakes? What does Liana lose with her choice?

    Also, I would take out the line, “Who is this guy? Liana wondered.” In the opening.

    Other than that, this is all great! Good work!