Wednesday, June 14, 2017

QK Round 2: Girl of Your Nightmares vs. Cheshire Hearts Alice!

Title: Lucid
Entry Nickname: Girl of Your Nightmares
Word Count: 93K
Genre: YA Psychological Suspense (ownvoices)


All Marlowe wants is control. Of herself, of her environment, and most importantly, of the people around her. When an attempt to prove the strength of her self-control through sleep deprivation lands Marlowe in the infirmary of The Diana Banesbury School for Exceptional Young Women, she crosses paths with Gwyn, Sloane, and Ellie. Gwyn, who developed major depression after the death of her brother, wants closure she’ll never get. Sloane, recovering from a black eye, wants an adventure to save her from the monotony of her daily life. Ellie, a student volunteer who recently transferred from her small hometown to the exclusive girl’s boarding school, just wants friends to make the adjustment easier. 

When Ellie offers lucid dreaming—the ability to control one’s dreams—as an unconventional solution to each of their problems, Marlowe sees a better opportunity. Under the pretext of a club for learning lucid dreaming, Marlowe convinces the girls to move to an abandoned classroom in the woods around the school, aiming to gain control by gaslighting and manipulating them until they’re incapable of differentiating reality from dream. As Gwyn, Sloane, and Ellie question their identities, realities, and the lies Marlowe has bound them with, they must find a way to wake themselves from her influence before they reach the end of a path leading to psychological destruction and death. 

LUCID is told from both the perspective of Marlowe, as she manipulates the girls, and Gwyn, Sloane, and Ellie, as they attempt to resist Marlowe’s manipulation. It contains #ownvoices elements, including an LGBT ensemble cast and a protagonist struggling with major depression. 

First 250:

People didn’t tend to believe that insects had free will, but Marlowe never doubted. If something had free will, she could control it. The fly was no exception.

Marlowe was halfway through the second day of her vigil when the fly landed on the bulb of the green shaded lamp on her bedside table. The rest of the girls in the dormitory were asleep, which left Marlowe alone with the dark, the quiet, and the long wooden room with its vaulted ceilings and double rows of beds. She was wearing her favorite silk pajamas and doing fairly well considering it’d been nearly three days since she last slept.

She watched the fly intently, the way its filmy wings shuddered, how it threaded its spindly, segmented arms back and forth through its proboscis whenever it took a break from its paces along the surface of the hot glass. Once they’d been properly acquainted, Marlowe devoted her thin morning hours to mentally coaxing it in one direction or the other, “Come here,” “Go there,” over and over again.

Most of the time, it wouldn’t. But on the rare occasion that its movements aligned with her mental command, she became re-energized by the illusion that her will had been so strong that the insect had been unable to resist, that the sheer force of her own thoughts had pushed it back onto the glass bulb when it wandered off. She indulged in the fantasy that this small, fragile thing would burn itself alive if she wanted it.


Entry Nickname: Cheshire Hearts Alice!
Word count: 70k
Genre: YA Contemporary #ownvoices bisexual, mental health


Rhodes Ingram never thought she'd peak at seventeen. She's dedicated six years of her life to her education as a visual arts track student at Alabama Fine Arts Academy, but depression threatens to undermine all her work. In spite of an empty portfolio and plummeting grades, Rhodes has one last shot at success: The Birmingham Arts Collective's New Horizon Scholarship.

Iliana Vrionides has spent the last two school years struggling to prove she deserves to even darken AFAA’s doorstep. What she lacks in technical ability, she makes up with ferocious commitment to creative expression. But when her parents lose her college savings in bankruptcy court, a last-minute scholarship may be the only chance she has left.

By day, Iliana and Rhodes tear each other down to the studs as they compete for the same scholarship. By night they unknowingly piece each other together again through Slashspot, their school’s anonymous fan fiction community. Then, Iliana’s laptop is stolen by an online bully who knows way too much to be a stranger, and before long their steamy relationship becomes public knowledge. The senior show looms on the horizon, the scholarship hangs in the balance, and when their identities are revealed, both girls must reconcile their love for each other online with their combative relationship in real life.


Iliana Vrionides rests a hand on the curve of my shoulder, and a singular dimple emerges when she smirks. To anyone watching at a distance, this would look like friendship.

This has never been about friendship.

Studio B’s windows are wide as they are tall, bathing the room in glorious, priceless natural light. Air conditioning rattles in the exposed pipes overhead, and Iliana's breath curls hot in the shell of my ear. 

“The difference between a dog walking all over a canvas with paint on his feet and a human doing the same thing is creative expression.” She gestures to the sketch pad that sits across my knees. It’s embarrassingly empty, devoid of anything save a few sketches in the corner. 

Every day, we take seats across from one another in Drawing III. We spend seventy-five minutes glaring over the tops of our sketch pads at one another, ignoring Benjamin Talley’s blathering, endless artistic direction. In spite of this, Iliana manages to churn out one sketch after the next, light-handed and fluid and the kind of technique that’s carefully hidden beneath what she’d call personal style. Her voice. 

Every day, I pray the Lord smites her ass straight off the face of the Earth.

Each prayer is a reminder that God doesn’t listen to me.

“I don’t draw.” A class-mandatory 2b pencil with a blue shaft rolls between my fingers, and I fix my gaze on the purple ponytail in front of me.

This is a lie.


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

    1. No One Of ConsequenceJune 14, 2017 at 12:50 PM


      Love your query. Wouldn’t change a thing. That’s a LOT going on, and you capture it. So hard to do.

      Your writing sample is also strong. Maybe watch the excess use of to be verbs in the second paragraph. You’ll need to watch that you’re not over-writing, as your descriptions seem like they might be a bit long for the kind of book you’re writing, but it works here. I mention it only as something to be aware of in the rest of your book. Also, if we’re getting super nit-picky, I’m pretty sure that in the last line of paragraph 2, third word from the end should be she’d instead of she. Yeah…I’m reaching here. Nice work.


      Love your query. Wouldn’t change a thing. The two set-up paragraphs do well and then you bring it together in the third.
      Instead of saying a pencil rolls between my fingers, I’d assign the action to the character (I roll the pencil…)

      This is impossible. These are both great. I’d keep reading in both cases. I’m going VICTORY to GIRL OF YOUR NIGHTMARES by the thinnest of margins, just because it really grabbed me.

      Nice hook. The sentence about proving self-control through sleep deprivation felt a bit wordy and awkward to me. Introducing all three girls and their issues felt like a lot of info for me. I’m not sure you need to so specifically name each and/or give her her own sentence. I’d play around with combining them into one and condensing their problems.

      Not sure about how lucid dreaming is a solution to each of their problems – how would it help someone make friends?

      Very cool premise and sounds like it would be an exciting read!

      Wow. Marlowe…shows some strong sociopathic tendencies. I definitely got the strong Psycho reference, which I saw way too young as a child, and whose last scene with the fly has definitely stuck with me. It’s an interesting opening to begin with the antagonist. I think it works really well for such a dark story.

      I judged this in the first round, and I really like your revisions. Not sure about using “darken” in that phrase in the second paragraph. Maybe “grace?” Also not sure about the next sentence, her lacking in technical ability, and then making up for it with creative expression. It’s long and wordy and not sure it adds much to the character, plot, or stakes as it is. I like the third paragraph much more than in the previous version, but I still feel like it needs another sentence about their reaction to the reveal, and the stakes of why their relationship is so important.

      Solid. Not sure about the friendship/not about friendship lines. It does feel a bit like you’re launching perhaps too quickly into the girls’ conflict. I’m imagining that you got feedback advising you to do this, but I’m not sure if I agree (isn’t it annoying to have so many opinions?). I just looked back at my feedback. Last time I thought your 250 was pretty perfect, except for one minor line. I liked how we got such a clear sense of your protag, her depression, and her voice. This is great too, though!

      Eek. They are both super strong entries. I personally prefer the 250 of GIRL OF YOUR NIGHTMARES and the query of CHESHIRE. I think you’ll both go really far with these manuscripts and you’re both very talented. However, I have to choose one because this is QK, and I do think one of the queries is closer to where it needs to be. Therefore, with love to each, I must award…


      -Molly Millions

    3. LUCID

      Not much to say here! Love that one of the POVs is the villain (or pseudo villain). I think the query sets up the story nicely, and the 250 rocks. Like scary rocks, as Marlowe’s obsession with being able to commit that fly to its death is creepy! Nicely done.


      I like this query too! The 250 is kind of where you lose me. I feel like their “hatred” of each other is being forced on me instead of watching that hatred in action. Also, I got tripped up by, “I don’t draw” because . . . aren’t they in art class? Same thing with, “This is a lie.” What’s a lie? That someone might think they’re friends? But you explain that in the first paragraph. Maybe it becomes clear if I continued to read, but this 250 seemed a bit off to me. Sorry!

      I love both of these concepts, and both queries really get the job done. Because one’s 250 flowed a bit better and I don’t want Marlowe to seek me out and kill me . . .


    4. Nightmares
      I think this reads pretty well but I could make a case for rearranging your query. I probably wouldn’t have read on once you switched characters, not knowing it was told in various POVs. Is Marlowe your MC? If so, I’d suggest trying to focus in on her story, her motive, character arc and stakes and allude to each of the girls towards the middle of the query, but really make Marlowe’s stakes clear. As it is, I think the stakes for the other girls are clear, but not Marlowe’s.

      Great, atmospheric and creepy! Nice job!

      Drop “track.” So, basically they want the same thing and they are fighting hard in person to tear each other down, but online they are anonymous and really like each other? The stakes are scholarship or relationship? Just checking to see if I got that right. If not, you’ll need to clear it up.

      I don’t think the opening sentence works. Not only is it not compelling, you have two separate actions that really just pull from each other in a distracting sort of way. You could even turn it around to something like: “To anyone looking from a distance, Iliana’s hand on the curve of my shoulder would look like friendship.” Just a suggestion. “Shell of my ear” is awkward. This is a pretty nice opening. I’m not sure how the first sentence fits in with them sitting, doing art. I’d argue that you could drop the 2 opening sentences and start with the art studio description.


    5. Creature of the SeaJune 15, 2017 at 10:28 PM


      I felt a little bit overwhelmed by all the characters introduced here, and though I understand that they're all POV characters, still I'm wondering if it's absolutely necessary. Also, I'm left wondering if there's one that is your true protagonist, or if they're all weighted equally. That said, this is a strong query and you manage to imbue it with so much atmosphere, which I love.

      The first 250 words are fantastic. Great atmosphere. Very creepy and intense. I would absolutely keep reading this. And wow...what a final line. It feels like foreshadowing in the most ominous of ways. Great job.


      This query is great. I feel like I get to know both the young women, their struggles, and what they need to accomplish. The stakes are there, and they are 100% clear. I already feel for the impossible situation they're in. Great job.

      Stylistically, I'm drawn to this first 250. I just had a few small quibbles. One is that I'm having trouble visualizing the position of the girls. They're sitting across from each other. At least Rhodes has a sketch pad in her lap. Presumably Iliana does, too. Yet Iliana's hand is on Rhodes' shoulder, which for me at least, makes me think of someone standing behind someone else, which obviously isn't the case. So Iliana is leaning across to clasp Rhodes on the shoulder and whisper in her ear, right? That seems awkward. (Just a nitpick though.) Also, I'd suggest changing "singular" to "single" in the first line. And in the second to last paragraph I'd suggest changing it from the passive having a pencil roll in her fingers to having her actively roll the pencil in her fingers.


      This is an impossible, impossible choice. Did I mention impossible? Because it is. I love these both, and even just reading the queries and first 250, I think these are both going to be on bookstore shelves soon enough.

      Victory (by the slimmest of margins) to GIRL OF YOUR NIGHTMARES.

    6. Professor McGonagallJune 16, 2017 at 1:46 PM

      GIRL OF YOUR NIGHTMARES: First off, congratulations on the book and on making it to round 2! The premise sounds fascinating. I wish you the best of luck. QUERY: Just a couple of notes. First, the first paragraph feels a bit like a list – any way to talk about these girls in a more story-like way? They all sound like interesting characters, but it would be nice to feel it a little more. Second, and this is hard, is that Marlowe just doesn’t sound very likable. I realize she definitely has her issues, but it’s hard to want to read a book (or query) about someone who I ultimately would not want to hang out with for 93K words. Is she the actual protagonist, or do the other girls tell just as much of the story? Would it be possible to make the query more about a more palatable character? Or does Marlowe have traits that would be easier on the reader? FIRST 250: You have some very poetic writing here, which I enjoyed. Just a few nitpicky things: in the second paragraph it would read better if you spelled out “it had” instead of “it’d.” And in the third paragraph , 2nd sentence, it’s a little confusing as to what Marlowe is getting acquainted with – the fly or the morning? I think the sentence needs a little reworking. Good job and good luck!

      CHESHIRE HEARTS ALICE! Wow, you have made huge changes since the first round – all of them good! This is a very strong entry. Congrats! QUERY: The only suggestion I have is in the third paragraph it’s still a little unclear whose steamy relationship becomes public – it almost sounds like it is with the bully who steals the laptop. If you re-word this sentence a bit, this query is really super. FIRST 250: Again, great stuff. Very strong writing, strong sense of character, strong tension. Good job!

      Again, congrats to you both! Because I think both the query and 250 are stronger, Victory to CHESHIRE HEARTS ALICE!

    7. LUCID:
      Query: I loved your first paragraph, but felt the second paragraph dropped into telling mode and felt more like the narrator than any of the main characters. I’d love to see you rephrase this somehow so it’s shown from someone’s pov. I realize you have multiple povs and this might be difficult, however.

      First 250: Nice and creepy! I love how you trap us in Marlowe’s mind. The beginning of your first sentence feels awkward, but I’m hesitant to change it if this is how Marlowe thinks. But it could be simplified as: People didn’t think insects had free will, but Marlowe never doubted. And I’m not sure you need “it” at the end of your 250.

      Query: Whoa. Excellent first line. In fact, I wouldn’t suggest any changes in your query.

      Or in your 250, for that matter. They both work very well.

      Now, to vote. Grr. I really don’t want to decide, Michelle! (shouting here). BUT . . .


  2. Oh, wow, this is a hard one. Okay, critiques first, vote after:

    I'm a huge fan of a narrative from the POV of the villain, interspersed with the experiences of her victims. You handle the large-ish cast of characters well in the query introduction, though I'll confess I found myself a little thrown by the Diana Banesbury School for Exceptional Young Women because my comics geek background immediately had me assume this was code for "kids with powers." It seems it's supposed to be a finishing school instead, though. Can you add a clause to clarify this? All the talk of Marlowe wanting to assert her power over others, and then of lucid dreaming, makes it all too easy to jump the conclusion that your psychological horror will also include a fantastic element, absent clearer signals.

    As for the first page, I'd suggest cutting the first sentence entirely. We don't need to know what other people tend to believe (and I doubt Marlowe CARES what others believe, just what they can be made to believe or do, and since we're in her close third person POV why pretend otherwise). We just need to know that Marlowe's need for control is so great, she'll spend hours at a time trying to take credit for the movements of a fly. To that end, I'd also suggest getting rid of the word "illusion" in the final paragraph. If you, in your authorial stance, indicate that Marlowe has deceived herself about her powers, why should we fear her? And again, this is HER close third POV. If she's truly a vainglorious power-monger, she won't deny herself credit for anything, given the chance.


    This is separate from the query, but. . . I think you should change your title. I know that "slash" is a common fanfic term for different kinds of pairings between people, but at first glance, I thought this was going to be a gory thriller. Remember that people will see the title of your book before anything else, and they'll make assumptions from it. Even your target readership might not make the connection immediately.

    The logistics of the room were slightly confused for me in the 250 (yes, I'm skipping right to the 250 page, because I have no useful ideas for the query. I'd read this based on the back-cover copy we get here!). We're told Iliana is touching Rhodes' shoulder. I assumed they were sitting next to each other, or that Iliana is the owner of the purple pony tail Rhodes is staring at, because proximity, right? But then I'm told they deliberately sit opposite one another, across the room. Is the idea that Iliana touches Rhodes whenever she passes her to get to the place? Help us be clear on that visual.

    You might also not separate Rhodes' response to Iliana's taunt quite so much. By the time we get to "I don't draw," I couldn't remember who said what to Rhodes anymore. I ended up re-reading the middle part of the page trying to ensure I'd tracked the conversation and the inner monologue correctly, and that took me out of the story itself.

    This is an EXTREMELY hard call for me, because I can see myself reading either of these mss and, if I were an agent, requesting pages to give them a try. But I have to choose, and so with congratulations for all, I'll go with LUCID (GIRL OF YOUR NIGHTMARES).

  3. Girl of Your Nightmares


    This query is well written. My only thing is I'd like to know a little about why Marlowe is the way she is. That's something that comes out in the story I'm sure, but the idea of someone attempting to exert mental control over strangers is out there enough that I need a little of the why. As a reader, the idea of keeping track of 4 POVs is daunting.

    1st 250

    Lots of the character here. I can see her sitting there watching the fly, sending silent commands. Something's wrong with this girl, no doubt. I don't like the use of 'vigil' for some reason. The pace is slow but even. I get the feeling this is going to be a slow burn story.

    Cheshire Hearts Alice


    I feel for Rhodes and like Iliana right away. 'visual arts track student' feels weird to me. I don't know if this means she's got a VA focus or is a VA focus who also runs track (as in track and field). If it's the former, drop 'track' to clear that up.

    1st 250

    Nice voice. I feel the awkward pain. I'm having trouble seeing the scene. It says they sit across from each other every day, yet Iliana is talking in Rhodes' ear as if they're side-by-side. To what is the 'This is a lie.' line referring? I'd typically associate a statement like that with the last thing I read, which is about Rhodes fixing her gaze on the ponytail in front of her. Clear that up by moving 'I don't draw.' to the end of that paragraph.

    Good luck to you both!


  4. Hi. Fellow Kombatant here, and one who doesn't know much about this genre.

    For Lucid: I understand why you need to introduce all the main characters, but I felt a little overwhelmed. And the idea of a 4 POV also seemed like it could be confusing, so I would want you to differentiate a bit more in the descriptions. I also would like the stakes to be clearer for each of your characters. I thought your first 250 was fascinating in the descriptiveness. It also read very creepy, in the sense that the reader feels that Marlowe is somewhat disturbed. I'd certainly want to read more.

    Femslash: I though the query was very clear and the stakes were clear. I was left wondering a bit why their love, when discovered, would be scandalous? Or is it just that it would be so at odds with their non-virtual relationship? Would there be parental disapproval, or might it affect the scholarship process? The first 250 was engaging but also a little confusing. Do we need the name of the professor? I also though the beginning of the 250 was enticingly sexual and not at all indicative of "friendship" -- I assume that is what you were going for.

    Both really good and such a great match up! Glad not to be a judge!

  5. Fellow kombatant here. First off, I love both of these entries. They're both well written, and both queries clearly show stakes.


    Writing a query for a multi-pov story is a difficult task (at least it was for me) and it's clear you were up for the challenge. You covered a lot of ground, and you did it seamlessly. I understood each character's goals, the overall plot, and the stakes for each of them. Great job!

    Your first 250 words were strong and made me want to keep reading. My only suggestion would be to vary your sentence length a bit more, but otherwise I loved it!


    Great query. I wouldn't change a thing.

    My only critique of your 250 is that, in the first two lines of paragraph five, you use the phrase "one another" twice. I'd suggest maybe rewording one of those to avoid doubling up that phrase, but really it's a minor thing. Overall, I love this entry and would totally read the rest based on this query and sample.

    Best of luck to you both!

  6. Girl of Your Nightmares

    While your query does a good job introducing so many characters and such a complicated concept, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of information. I don’t know how you could fix that, since it seems like this book has four protagonists. To be honest, the one that sounds the most interesting is Marlowe. The others seem important, but more like typical, troubled teens. I would get the concept of the book if the others weren’t mentioned in great detail, even though the story is also told from their perspectives.

    First 250:
    I’m glad you started with Marlowe, because, like I said, she is the most interesting by far. You did a great job showing her dark nature. I don’t have any comments to add. I really enjoyed it!


    I really liked your query. I love a good story where enemies are actually friends and don’t know it (like You’ve Got Mail). I think it is good as is.

    First 250:
    I’m wondering if this begins before they know about the scholarship or not. From the query, I thought they became enemies once they started competing against each other for the scholarship. It’s not a bad thing, it just makes me curious to read on!

    I thought the rest of it had great voice. I am not sure I loved the “I don’t draw” line, just because it seems weird at an art school, but maybe she has a different artist focus.

    Both entries are fantastic. The judges have a hard job! Best of luck to you both.

  7. Fellow Kombatant here. If you're hitting refresh, then sorry to make the comment count rise! Good luck to you both.

    Q: Overall, this is well done. I would actually recommend splicing the opening of your 1st para with the 2nd, though -- I'm most intrigued about the lucid dreaming aspect, and I want to see you bump that up from the start. That way, we have a better sense of genre, too. I also didn't quite comprehend what kind of "control" Marlowe wanted until reading most of the query, and that might help explain it faster.

    I often see advice to skip introducing so many people in the query. While I get that advice, I do think you did a good job with it here. I see why you want to have everyone, since there are so many POVs. (COOL concept of having a villain POV - though I didn't realize Marlowe was a villain until later!) I would consider writing another version of this without all of the cast of characters named to see if it still shines as much. Just wanted to point it out.

    250: Was surprised to find a 3rd person approach! I would vary some of the sentences here. I think you capture the free will / energy of Marlowe quite well. Well done.


    Killer. You do a great job synthesizing both in the 3rd paragraph. I find it really difficult to conceive of writing a query for a dual POV book, and this does it wonderfully. My only pitfall here is that Rhodes has spent 6 years here, yet her portfolio's empty. That doesn't translate for me. How would she have made it through school with an empty portfolio?

    What an update! I have 3 suggestions for you.
    1) I think this is a really well-done passage, but I want to see you dip me in a little slower. You put me in the action right away, which is cool - but I'm trying to get acclimated to a new character here, so I'd like to pan in with a wider lens to start. I actually think the 2nd sentence does this better. "To anyone watching at a distance, this would look like friendship. Iliana's hand on my shoulder, my XYZ...

    This has never been about friendship."

    THAT would bang me right into the story.

    2) Every day, I pray the Lord smites her ass straight off [the face of the] Earth. <-- I'd delete the brackets

    3) I too had to "read up" to connect the "lie" line to the "draw" line. You could have the same effect if you rolled it up:
    “I don’t draw.” This is a lie. The pencil rolls...

    Seriously though - great work!