Wednesday, June 13, 2018

QK Round 2 Match 2: Capes and Clorox vs. My Babysitter is a Skeleton

Title: House of Heroes
Entry Nickname: Capes and Clorox
Word count: 87K
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy/Romance


As a member of the exclusive housekeeping staff at C.A.P.E Quarters (The Crime-Fighting Association of Powered Entities), Dee’s duties include more than just windows … try cleaning up excretions of acidic slime, forgotten outwear-panties, and husks of skin left on the war simulator/foosball table.
Maybe Dee should be suspicious when super scientist Dr. Wisdom convinces her to participate in an experiment. But if the heroes don’t suspect that he is working for a telepathic megalomaniac, why would the cleaning lady?
Thank goodness Henry, the lovable jet mechanic, stumbles upon her just as the experimental laser knocks her flat. The laser alters her genetic makeup and suddenly she isn’t just Dee Dalsey anymore. She trades her apron for some spandex to become Prism, an invisible, ultraviolet-ray-wielding, forcefield-generating, bonafide superhero.
As she transitions from housekeeper to hero, Dee struggles to let go of her old life, including her secret love for Henry. Fortunately, Titan, the beefiest of the packing powerhouses, is doing a super job helping her move onwards and upwards. Turns out, a good way to get over unrequited love is to be five hundred feet in the air, legs wrapped around a perfectly sculpted torso. Sometimes spandex can be too constricting.
Dee is flying high until, one after another, superheroes begin touting a "might is right" philosophy … even Titan. According to Henry, who surprisingly moonlights as a genius rocket scientist, Dee’s powers might be the key to the superheroes’ increasingly violent behavior. He suspects Deity, a telepathic villain with out of control entitlement issues, and he thinks he knows how to stop her. Dee realizes that to free Titan and the rest of the heroes, she’s gotta free herself first.
A hybrid of Maid in Manhattan and The Avengers, House of Heroes is a funny, feminine take on the superhero genre.
First 250:

Most people don’t realize that there is a right way to clean a toilet. There is a specific process. It’s practically an art form. However, when it’s your job to clean the toilet bowls of the most powerful super-humans on the planet, you become this specialized kind of artist.
With a click of my thumb, the blue tip of my toilet wand plopped into the garbage bag. I pulled off my Peep-yellow gloves and gave my project a final flush. Beautiful.
"Damn I’m good," I said to myself. By the end of the day, the solitary nature of my job got to me. I ended up either having entire conversations with myself or singing without shame to my painstakingly-crafted 1980’s playlist.
"Dee Dalsey. Keeping superheroes hygienic one toilet at a time," I said in my best Diane Sawyer voice. I raised an eyebrow and flashed a toothy smile as if posing for a headshot on the six o’clock news. 
"Cute," an unexpected voice answered from the doorway. My heart lurched into my throat.
"Henry! I didn’t see you standing there."
He made his "oh, please" face. I knew all his faces, and he had a whole repertoire locked and loaded behind those big brown eyes.
Did his fiancé know all his expressions so well? Was it slightly pathetic to even wonder?
His features shifted into his “genuine smile” face. "Like you would have reined in your weirdness just because I was standing here."
Good point.


Title: King of Sand, Queen of Bones
Entry Nickname: My Babysitter is a Skeleton
Word count: 71K
Genre: YA Fantasy


Fifteen-year-old Patella is tired of being coddled by her necromantic cult. No one lets her help with the goat-rearing, the morning worship, or even the sacrificial blood clean-up. While everyone else has a job, she’s expected to memorize their boring history book. Desperate to prove herself useful, she ditches their desert cave for the nearby castle town, hoping to find a job and a little freedom. At least, that’s the plan until a case of mistaken identity involving her skeletal guardian and Ash, the city’s reluctant young king, accidentally outs her as a necromancer. Lucky for her, Ash is running away, too. They flee into the desert together, leaving the cultists and guards hunting them far behind.

Unfortunately, neither of them have half a clue how to survive on their own. Their first monster attack is almost their last until a trio of adventurers pull their butts out of the quicksand. Under the adventurers’ wings, Patella learns to use both life magic and necromancy while Ash studies swordplay. Patella’s a natural, healing Ash’s training wounds as easily as she summons lizard skeletons. Finally, she’s useful to someone, someone with a cute smile who trusts her despite knowing what she is.

But Patella doesn’t know what she really is. The cult was waiting for her 16th birthday to tell her she’s their god’s Chosen One, and the God of Death is not at all pleased about his hero’s last-minute change of profession. He and the cult won’t rest until she’s dragged back to complete the job she was born for: the destruction of the life mages’ last known refuge - Ash’s kingdom. Just when she was getting the crazy idea that she could be its queen.

KING OF SAND, QUEEN OF BONES is a young adult fantasy novel complete at 71,000 words and would appeal to fans of REIGN OF THE FALLEN and CITY OF BRASS.

First 250 words:

A sea of black hoods surrounded Patella, all eyes on the young man, the old man, and the soon-to-be-dead man in front of the enormous dragon skeleton. Talus and Father Parietal stood before the sacrificial altar, while old Calcaneus lied on it, a gleeful smile on his face. It was no secret that he was ready to go to Nymok and no surprise that he had volunteered to be his grandson’s initiation sacrifice. All the adults agreed it was the most desirable death and the greatest sixteenth rites gift anyone could ask for.

Patella fumed with jealousy. Her grandparents had all passed on already, her parents were far too young to be her ritual sacrifice, and Tibby didn’t count because she was already dead. She’d probably end up with a boring old goat. How was that fair? Talus was only a week older than her, but he always got the best of everything. At least no one could see her scowling under her hood and ask her what was wrong.

“Brothers and sisters!” Father Parietal raised his hands for silence, though the echo of his voice around the great dragon’s cavern was loud enough to wake the dead without any magical aid. “Centuries ago, after our founder’s destruction, our ancestors wandered the lands, aimless, directionless, brotherless. Lost and alone, they struggled, they sought, and eventually, they found each other. They gathered here, at the site of our fallen founder, where all that remained was the Book of Nymok and the founder’s faithful steed.”


  1. Judges, please reply here. Good luck!

    1. The Queen of ThornsJune 13, 2018 at 11:04 AM

      Greetings, Kombatants! Judge Queen of Thorns here. Let's dive in, with the caveat that all of this is subjective analysis and should be taken with a proverbial grain of salt.

      Capes and Clorox:

      Query: I LOVE superhero stories. LOVE. I especially love superhero stories that subvert the narrative tropes, as this one seems poised to with its gleeful objectification of Titan and sly references to spandex. That said, I think you might be giving TOO much away in the final paragraph of the query. I want to know that the Dr. Wisdom and the reference to the telepathic megalomaniac earlier will pay off, so coming back to that is good, but I don't want to know quite so much about who figures out what, and what happens next. Is there a way to get Henry back in the picture and connect the dots between the second graph and the last without turning this into a synopsis?

      First 250: I've said in other sets of feedback that voice is hard in first person, but you have it here in spades. My only real critique, which is hardly substantive, is that "however" in the first paragraph is unnecessary. There is an art to cleaning toilets AND your MC knows it and appreciates it. There's no contradiction being set up in the final sentence.

      My Babysitter is a Skeleton:

      Query: I confess I cackled with delight at the idea of a girl in a necromantic cult being named "Patella." It's not clear to me, though, how ditching the cult and going to a nearby town connects to proving herself useful -- what I mean is, useful to whom? Herself? Her cult? Does she really hate the cult and want to leave it, or is the goal just to prove that she has skills to force the cult to give her real work to do, and then shove that in their face? In short, I can't tell if she ALWAYS meant to run away for good, or if that's a side-effect of Ash and other circumstances. As for the "Chosen One" angle coming in the narrative, unless you're planning a huge subversion of that trope you can showcase in the query, it's an immediate source of disappointment for me. I'm just. . . not interested in another Chosen One story? I wonder if what you're doing that sets yours apart needs to be showcased differently.

      First 250: Having come down pretty hard on the idea of Chosen Ones, I do want to say that the humor infusing Patella's close third POV is really charming. I want to spend more time with her and see her jaundiced view of "ho-hum blood sacrifice why am I always missing out?" develop. Again, I point this out to underscore how we need to dismantle that chosen one idea in the query a bit, because she isn't REALLY going to be tempted to serve in this Chosen One capacity, right? Or is she?

      My vote is for Capes and Clorox, but I want to stress that I'd read both of these mss into their sample pages to see how the voice and characters develop. It's not a matter of product but packaging, and right now, "Capes" has packaging that is (broadly speaking) closer to being ready.

      Good luck, Kombatants!

    2. Capes and Clorox
      Query: This was a fun query that really drew me in. I like this new take on the rags to riches type story. I do think this query is a bit long, though, and that it dragged a bit. For example, the second paragraph. Do we need to know that much about Dr. Wisdom and the accident? If you can get it down to three solid paragraphs I think it would be stronger.

      First 250: I thought the voice in your first 250 was just as good as the voice in your query. I especially love that first line. There were just a few times when your exposition felt a bit stilted, like when Dee started thinking about the solitary nature of her job, so perhaps just be aware of that. And I’d like one or two more details about Henry. But great job!

      My Babysitter is a Skeleton
      Query: Great query (especially that first line!). Maybe this is just me, but for some reason I thought this was an urban fantasy going in, so it caused a bit of a disconnect when I realized it wasn’t. Can you make that clearer earlier? Also, during the second paragraph this began to feel more like a romance query than a fantasy query, so I would have preferred a bit less romance and a bit more plot.

      First 250: Your first 250 words felt so fresh, and they had really great voice. I can’t think if I’ve ever read a book like this before. I don’t often say this, but I actually almost want you to slow down a bit, to take more time to establish the scene and the setting. You have so much going on, and it’s all really great, but I would have liked more.

      These were two such unique, fresh concepts with great voice. However, I thought the second one went slightly deeper into what the main character was going through so victory to My Babysitter is a Skeleton.

    3. House of Heroes:
      Query: I love the idea of this manuscript! It sounds so refreshing and like an interesting twist on the traditional super hero genre. I’ll admit, I found the query a bit convoluted and hard to follow. There were too many characters mentioned, and I had to read it through twice before I understood the plot. I’d recommend culling some of the unnecessary details and staying with the basics—focusing exclusively on the 2-3 major characters, the main conflict, and what Dee is at risk of losing if she does not succeed.

      First 250: I love how you immediately draw us into the story. This intro is so loaded with Dee’s voice, I love it. I would have liked slightly more interiority on her part when she realizes Henry is there, but otherwise, I think it’s great!

      My Babysitter is a Skeleton
      Query: This is such a killer concept, and I love your comp titles! My only issue with your query is that I feel like you introduce too many characters in such a short span of time. It’s difficult to keep track of all of them, and without explaining how each character plays into the story, I have difficulty relating and sympathizing with them. My suggestion is that you focus on the characters who are absolutely necessary for the plot, while omitting others that don’t play a huge role.

      First 250: This is a great first page! It’s such an unique beginning, I’m dying (no pun intended) to find out what happens next. I suppose my only critique would be to consider your repetition of “man” in the first sentence, as it is slightly confusing and takes me out of the story. Aside from that, great job!

      Although I loved both entries, I feel like MY BABYSITTER IS A SKELETON grabbed me a bit more and was also easier to follow. For that reason, VICTORY to MY BABYSITTER IS A SKELETON!

    4. Posting for Jumping Jellybean.

      Capes and Clorox
      The voice! The humor!
      I love that you describe this as a funny, feminine take on superheros.
      My one suggestion would be to cut “who surprising moonlights as a genius rocket scientist” when you describe Henry.
      Also the last line feels vague. What do you mean set herself free?

      1st 250:
      I absolutely loved this!


      My Babysitter is a Skeleton
      I feel like the tone of the query is disjointed. I think it’s the “sacrificial blood clean up” line that makes me think this is going to be hilarious, but by the time I get to paragraph two, I feel it’s more romantic. Then, paragraph three is all drama.
      The premise itself is great. Maybe even out the tone.

      1st 250:
      I love the voice and humor mixed in this! I feel like I’m grounded in the setting. The last paragraph felt info-dumpy to me. Find a way for these details to naturally unravel.

      VICTORY to Capes and Clorox

    5. Hello!

      These were two fun entries to read! I'll be starting with CAPES AND CLOROX.

      I have seen probably every superhero movie and tv show under the sun thanks to two small children I call my own, so I got a great chuckle out of reading both your query and first 250. I liked the idea of a cleaning girl turned superhero, but in both the query and the 250, I felt myself thinking it would be better suited for a younger audience. The voice of both of them is just so catchy and funny I found myself thinking it would make such an excellent middle grade book. Obviously, this is my subjective opinion, but its got that snap that I always find in middle grade and I think the humor would most definitely appeal. Getting down the nitty gritty, I think the query might be a bit too long. If you could condense it down into a solid three paragraph-er, I think it would be much stronger. Your first 250 is full of character and voice. I really loved it and felt Dee jumped off the page.

      I loved the idea of the MC being part of a necromantic cult! I haven't seen it done. I also like the idea that she doesn't feel valued and tries to bolt. However, I actually feel the same way about this one being intended for a younger audience. The voice reads a bit young to me and the journey she goes on seems to reflect that of a middle grade character growth. I love the voice in the first 250, but again her attitude about her upcoming ritual seems younger that YA.

      Obviously, this is all subjective! Victory in this battle goes to MY BABYSITTER IS A SKELATON purely because I think the query is in tighter shape. Both of these reads were so much fun to get into!

    6. Capes and Clorox

      There is a lot going on in this query. You have some very intriguing ideas and clever turns of phrases, but I’m afraid the main conflict and stakes are getting lost in the jumble of information presented here. There are some details I feel you could cut, like Henry being a genius rocket scientist, and Dee’s duties at CAPE before she gets her powers. Although they are interesting, they aren’t the main focus of the story, and presenting that much info right off the bat gives your reader a lot to process before you even get to the main hook. From what I read here, I’m gathering that your main hook is: former house cleaner turned superhero.
      To this end, make sure it’s clear that at the beginning, Dee is a normal human who just has a weird job and that she doesn’t get superpowers until the experiment goes wrong. After reading your first paragraph the first time through, I thought she was a “special” already and that’s how she got her job. Since she doesn’t already have superpowers, how did she land this job? Is CAPE something that everyone knows about or is it classified info?
      The second paragraph is a little confusing also. Is the telepathic megalomaniac you’re referring to Dr. Wisdom? Is he Dee’s boss? Or the superhero’s boss? Or is he a bigger boss over everything else? It’s just not quite clear from that paragraph.
      Paragraphs 3 and 4 are good—that’s where your story really kicks into action and that’s where the query got less confusing for me. I would find a way to combine your first and second paragraphs and simplify them so you can get to the info in paragraphs 3 and 4 faster. One tiny note here, though—consider changing the word “lovable” when describing Henry to “lovable but out of reach” or something like that to make it clear that she’s secretly crushing on him and that it’s unrequited. I really thought after he found her after she got changed that they were a thing.
      In your fifth paragraph, things get confusing again. What exactly do you mean by “might is right”? I really like the twist, though, that Dee’s powers might be exactly what’s needed to set things right.
      Okay, that sounds like a lot. I really do like this concept, though, and you have a sharp wit, so I’m confident you can get this query up to snuff. Shoot for three streamlined paragraphs. One to set the scene and endear us to the character, one to introduce the conflict and stakes, and a third to throw in a twist or hint at something that’s going to raise the stakes even further.

      I really love the first paragraph. Like, really love it. But it’s in present tense, and then you switch to past tense in the second paragraph, which is a big no-no. Just re-word so it’s in past tense like the rest of the first page: “Most people didn’t realize there was a right way to clean…”
      Oh, so Henry is engaged!! Good to know. He’s definitely out of reach and off the market, then. Make sure that’s crystal clear when he’s mentioned in the query—that he’s unquestionably unavailable. I love, love, love the way she’s thinking about him and interpreting the different faces he makes. Very effective way of showing how much she likes him and how much he’s not an option.

      My Babysitter is a Skeleton

      I loved this in the last round and I love it again. Really great job with this—I’m pulled right in and want to read this book, now! One tiny nitpick: in your last paragraph, make sure that little dash right before the words “Ash’s kingdom” is a full em-dash. If you use two of the little ones (-), one right after the other and connected to a letter on either side, Word will turn them into this: —.

      I’ve already given comments on this, and I have nothing else to add. Breaking it into three paragraphs was a good move. I think this 250 is in great shape!

      These both sound like interesting books and I’d love to read them both. But I felt one query was clearer than the other so …


    7. CAPES AND CLOROX is a fun superhero story about what would happen if the Justice League’s maid developed superpowers that just so happened to be kryptonite to everyone else. I was immediately drawn in by this stories use of a voice, and the first 250 match the query in tone and voice.
      One thing that confused me in the query was why the newly minted Prism had to forget about Henry? The reference to Titan immediately afterward cracked me up, but I couldn’t understand why she had to set all of the people in her old life aside.
      I don’t really have a lot else to say, I think this query is super clean (no pun intended), other than I wasn’t sure what Prism needed to “free herself” from in the last paragraph.
      MY BABYSITTER IS A SKELETON is a fun story about a necromancer learning to find a place where she belongs and acceptance of her power—all the while running from her past. I fell in love with this group of misfits you describe and their training lessons out in the desert. This story is also oozing with voice. I get a really clear sense of Patella and Ash’s journey, and I’m already cheering them on before the query ends.
      The first 250 strikes a slightly heavier note than the query, but what an interesting place to start: A man grinning away on his sacrificial altar, and our heroine lamenting that her parents are too young to sacrifice. The whole thing feels silly enough that you just kind of nervous laugh along with it.
      This is extremely tough because these were two of my favorite queries from this round. This really could’ve gone either way for me, but by the narrowest of margins…

  2. Capes and Clorox
    Query: This is such a great concept! I love the humor too. My only concern is that this may give too much away. I feel like I know everything that’s going to happen already. Leave us hanging, just a bit, at the end.

    First 250: This was very entertaining and well-written. One minor thing that would make this come to life for me would be knowing HOW Dee noticed Henry at the doorway. We know he spoke to her, but did she turn and see him? Did she look up? Was she already facing the door and he just appeared? Like I said, it’s minor, but it helps paint the picture better.

    My Babysitter is a Skeleton
    Query: I’m just a little confused. Patella wants to prove she’s useful and get a job, but then she wants to be queen of the same place she left? The rest of the query is very strong, but that kind of threw me off a bit.

    First 250: The opening line is a little confusing since the sea of black hoods is surrounding Patella, but their attention is on three men. Maybe consider rewording it to show she’s in the crowd with the black hoods. Surrounding makes me think their attention is on her. I do like how you got in Patella’s head and her humor, though.

  3. Hi, Fellow kombatant here. (A Boy Named Pez)

    I absolutely adore this premise and the humorous writing! I would read it in an instant. Both the query and 250 have great humor. I mean, "Might is right" and starting with a toilet--hilarious! For the query, I was wondering about having so many names/characters. I don't see how you could remove them though without it getting confusing. So, this led me to wondering if there's actually too much plot happening. Seems like there's almost 2 stories. 1) the experiment and becoming a superhero and 2) The might is right movement (which I love!) Of course, this is only based on the query so it could be totally off. For the 250, love the humor and dialogue is great. It may just be helpful to have where this toilet is located, ie the setting, with a brief description. A couple of more descriptions of the characters as well as their actions could flesh it out too. But definitely keep your minimalist style! I'm a fan of this for sure!

    This is a really cool story! And your writing for both the 250 and query is really effective and enjoyable. I really like how there's so much voice and humor even within a dark story. I will say that I was really wondering about setting. At first, I thought maybe the cult was in a contemporary setting, so the monster attack threw me off. The 250 was a tad confusing to me as well. At first, I thought there were 3 men. I figured it out, but it's important. Also it sounds like from her reaction that this is her brother but she says that her grandparents were already dead. So is it the other grandparents other than this grandfather are dead? Another nit-pick, wondering if "fumed with jealousy" could be improved, perhaps instead show us an action. Maybe it's just me on that one. These are small details, but they did distract me from what is otherwise a fantastic opening scene. You chose a tense moment that will really bring readers in and make it hard to put down. After these quick fixes, you'll be in great shape!

    Overall, really nice work to both of you! I'd read both and glad I'm not a judge on this one!

  4. Capes and Clorox
    LOVE this query, love the voice, love your spunk-a-licious main character. I just don’t see the stakes and I don’t understand what “to free Titan and the rest of the heroes, she’s gotta free herself first” means. It’s a bit too vague for me. Also, I would think she would be thrilled to let go of her old life to be a superhero. So maybe clarify conflict and stakes
    Cool voice, I just think she needs a bit more to do here. It also feels very “tell”-y. I’d personally like it to feel a bit more organic.


    I love the concept and the first line and the hook but couldn’t really follow exactly what was going on here. Also didn’t really get her “goal”: “the destruction of the life mages’ last known refuge - Ash’s kingdom”. I don’t know what that is and how it relates to the rest of the query and what that means for the stakes.
    I really like that you start with action, and I love her petulant streak juxtaposed with what they are about to do. Well done. A bit too much info here for my taste though. It’s really dense, maybe cut that down?

  5. Capes and Clorox

    Query: I love superhero stories, and I think you have a good concept here. The humor and voice is spot on. However, I wasn't sure if the "telepathic megalomaniac" Dr. Wisdom works for is Deity, so maybe you should make that clear. And I'm confused by this line: "Dee’s powers might be the key to the superheroes’ increasingly violent behavior". How is Dee's powers making them violent? Did Dr. Wisdom turn her into a villain? To save everyone, does Dee have to stop being a superhero? I didn't understand what she's trying to do to change things.

    First 250: I love this, and I don't really have anything to critique! I hope after this page you move the story at a faster pace and you're careful not to put in too much introspection from the character. But I think this excerpt is fine.

    My Babysitter is a Skeleton (I loooove the title KING OF SAND, QUEEN OF BONES by the way!)

    Query: This kind of fantasy is right up my alley, with magic, swordplay, adventure, and even a little romance! The only suggestion I have is a minor one. Maybe try rewording 'Chosen One' because agents tend to shy away from that trope since it's been done so often. Maybe say 'she has been selected by their God' or 'picked by their God'? I know it's the same thing, but at least the words 'chosen one' aren't blatant in the query. I don't want an agent not looking at this for something as small as that because I want to see this published!

    First 250: The voice is great here! I saw a comment mention the repetition of the word 'man' in the first sentence, but I love the humor and voice in that line. And the whole lay/lie/laid verbs always confuse me, but I think 'lied' in the second sentence should be 'lay' because 'lied' means that the person didn't tell the truth. I also agree that instead of telling us Patella is jealous, you can show this somehow, but maybe you can get away with a little telling, who knows.

    Good luck to both of you!


    Query: Pretty cool, though I just always figure anything with superheroes is automatically YA. I know that there is a place for superhero stories for adults, and I know a lot of the Marvel and DC stories these days are marketed toward adults, but even though your query definitely appears to have a lot to say with a feminine lens, which is cool, I still have a hard time placing this as adult. Consider it my bias.

    First 250: Love that first line. But the rest does still feel distinctly YA to me. It's the voice. It's a strong one, sure, but it seems like it's geared toward a younger audience. But that's probably just me. Again, the bias.

    My Babysitter is a Skeleton

    Query: There's a lot going on in this query. Maybe a little too much, but it's still entirely clear, and it doesn't really meander. It's just really stuffed with a lot of details, which is fine. Better to have more than less, and again, it's all easy to follow.

    First 250:

    Really great writing, but the line, "Patella fumed with jealousy" is a bit telly. But I love the "black sea of hoods" and the overall mood of this piece. It kind of reminds me of this book I read about this vampire support group. Really well done, the both of you. Good luck!