Sunday, June 24, 2018

QK Round 4 Match 3: Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom vs. GG: Found Family

Entry Nickname: Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom
Word Count: 89K
Genre: Adult Thriller


To her family and friends, Marybeth Delay is the embodiment of the word "wholesome": she's a teacher, wife, and loving mother of two young children living in small-town Minnesota. But they don’t know that she was once, in a different lifetime, Valentina “Babyface” Nacosto, the New Jersey mob’s most prolific and mysterious killer. They don’t know that she had a child seventeen years ago, who died in a hit meant for her. They don’t know that the serenity of her new life is repressed denial of her old one. 

Marybeth thinks the past is forever behind her until the morning she turns on the news — and discovers that her son is alive. Alive, and the focus of a furious FBI manhunt, along with Valentina’s ex-husband, fugitive mob boss Vincent "Nine Lives" Nacosto.   

Valentina couldn't save her son from violence seventeen years ago. But she can now. And she will. She’ll get to him before the FBI does. She’ll be his way out—and she will risk her new family, her new life, her new peace to do it. 

BABYFACE is told in both past and present timelines as Marybeth/Valentina comes to terms with who she was, who she is, and who she needs to be for both her families. Complete at 89,000 words, BABYFACE evokes a female John Wick crossed with the emotional conflict of A History of Violence. It will appeal to fans of Alafair Burke’s The Wife, Riley Sager’s Final Girls, and Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive

First 250

I have the Minnesota winter to blame for what I did today, and for everything I know I will do tomorrow. 

The kids and I got home at 3:30 from pickup. My fingers were numb. The heater in the minivan doesn’t work well, not in this kind of cold, and I forgot my gloves. It’s month two of my maternity leave and I guess I don’t have it together yet. Caroline was nagging me for Doc McStuffins the entire ride and Jacob was screaming his little head off. I knew he was hungry. I knew because my breasts felt like overfilled water balloons about to burst. But Jacob doesn’t latch; I have to pump. My stomach sank when I realized he was twenty minutes away from his meal. 

Five tortured miles later, we made it home. I dragged the car seat into the living room. “Give mommy a second," I begged. No luck. He screamed louder as Caroline tugged on my hand. Doc McStuffins. Right. Maybe it would entertain Jacob, too. I jabbed at the remote, my fingers blue and slow from cold. The TV jumped to life and I pressed the numbers. 3-1-3, Disney Junior. Jacob was still screaming when I headed to the foyer to retrieve the pacifier and pump, wincing as my fingers came back to life in potent little stabs. If he hadn’t been crying, if I hadn’t been in pain, I would have noticed. I would have seen. I would have understood that I had the wrong channel. 

I would have changed it. 


Title: EXP
Entry Nickname: GG: Found Family
Word count: 52,000
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary (#OwnVoices)

Fourteen-year-old Sai is one of the highest-ranked gamers on the Shadows of Shinobi circuit…but he can't go out in public without having a meltdown.

As a teenager with Autism, Sai battles crippling anxiety and underdeveloped social skills. But when Team Komodo asks him to become the reserve player on their semi-professional eSports team, those social skills are put to the test as he turns online acquaintances into real-life friends.

Thankfully, each member of Team Komodo is just as much of a fringe-dweller as Sai. They include a transgender jack-of-all-trades, a dating sim addict, a hyperactive community college dropout, a fake psychic and a thorny military reject. To earn his keep, Sai begins analyzing the team’s competition to increase their chances of winning. And as the team climbs to higher divisions, they’ll have to face stronger opponents.

Every member of the team knows that they can't afford to let their internal struggles get in the way of victory as they brave a grueling series of tournaments. If they win, Sai and his teammates inch closer to breaking into the pro scene. If they lose, it’s back to social isolation and working dead-end jobs. In order to keep the family together, they’ll have to beat not only the competition, but the fiercest opponents of all: themselves.

EXP is a contemporary YA novel complete at 52,000 words. This “found family story in an eSports setting” features neurodiverse characters, LGBTQ+ characters, as well as characters of color and is #OwnVoices for all three categories.

First 250:

A dim candle wavered in the summer heat, illuminating all Psy needed to know about his new employer. The low-level crime lord in his dirty brown robe gave an almost toothless yellow grin that looked orange in the light. The wood on the sliding doors rotted with mildew. Psy could smell the high definition of the effect. In this new expansion, Meiji truly outdid itself with adding in more sensory details to gameplay. It was hard to believe that this alternate version of Tokugawa Japan was constructed from ones and zeroes.

Psy fingered the sickle and chain holstered at his hip that his real self had tied to hot keys. In this world, he was a competent ninja and master poison maker. For a few hours, he could forget about the cold oatmeal and empty friends list he had waiting for him in the real world.

Through the near-total darkness, Psy could see his randomized teammates, the ones who would be completing this NPC slimeball’s mission for him. In addition to a Sumo and Assassin, there was a master and apprentice Monk duo. Psy narrowed his eyes as he thought of all of the times the master could legally switch out with the apprentice in order to train her. Did they have to keep summoning and sealing the same spirit over and over? He turned up his nose as the greenest envy washed over him when he imagined the apprentice learning everything her master knew while he was all alone.


  1. Judges, please vote here. Good luck.

    1. Two entries I haven't read yet!! I love when that happens!

      Don't Mess With an Assassin Mom: Fist bumps and high fives for a story set in MN! Your query had me saying, "ohhhh!" and nodding a lot. Absolutely hooked from the start and if this book were on the shelves today, I would one click so fast I'd probably sprain my finger.

      As far as your 250 is concerned, you jumped RIGHT into the action which is great! You hit the nail on the head with driving around in the MN winter without heat in your car--frozen fingers, praying you just get home before turning into a human popsicle. Well done.

      GG: Found family: First thing that came to mind when I read this? It sort of sounds like the show SCORPION on CBS--a group of people who aren't at all alike who come together for a common purpose (granted, their purpose is crime fighting, but you get the idea). I love the idea of this story and who is represented!

      First 250 pulled me right in. There are a lot of color descriptors in the second sentence (brown, yellow, orange). I love the line about cold oatmeal and an empty friends list--it gives us a small taste of what's waiting for Psy outside of the game.

      Another great match up. Congrats to both of you for making it this far!

      VICTORY: My vote goes to Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom

    2. In Don't Mess with An Assassin Mom, I enjoyed the query--the plot and stakes were great. In EXT, what an interesting query with a great cast of characters! I would like to know more about Sai's personal stakes...Is money important to him and his family right now?

      Tough choice, but Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom for the win!

    3. Two great entries! Congrats!

      Victory to FOUND FAMILY!!

    4. Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom
      Query: I haven’t seen your query/excerpt before, but wow, that second line. I wonder if you’d have even greater impact if you incorporated it into your first line hook. Otherwise, I believe you could increase your stakes if you could hint at how she plans to save her son, rather than telling us she can and will. But, if I was an agent, I’d definitely jump to your pages after this query.
      First 250: I enjoyed the set up on page one. Great hook at the end.

      GG: Found Family
      Query: I think you could insert “those LACK OF social skills” in your second paragraph. You have a solid query, but you lose Sai a bit when the focus switches to the team. Consider tweaking to show the stakes from Sai’s pov.
      First 250: I’m confused by the switch from Sai in the query to Psy in the first 250. Is your story told in multi pov? Otherwise, this is strong. Your descriptions are fantastic and pulled me into the scene.

      Voting time! This is always the hardest part of judging in QueryKombat, because the entries are excellent.


    5. Oh Wow. I'm glad to see these two still in the Combat, but it's so hard to choose! Both have great voice, I would read both of these! I am concerned about the work count in found family, as I think it's a little low for the genre. It's a tough call, but one of the first pages was just a bit more polished.

      Victory to ASSASSIN MOM!

    6. Both you have improved your queries since I saw them in the first round, both feel more streamlined.

      ASSASSIN MOM, I still think the first line of your last paragraph is redundant, as we already get a sense of MaryBeth's internal stakes from the rest of your query.

      FOUND FAMILY, I like that you took out some characters and focus more on Psy in the 250, but it still feels a little rushed. Especially in the first paragraph, I'd like to sink into the moment and feel some tension, like there's an equal chance the crime lord might kill him or hire him.

      Victory to ASSASSIN MOM!

    7. Haven't seen either of these before - great!

      ASSASSIN MOM: Love this, I get some TAKEN vibes from this idea, too. Which is awesome. Be careful on the framing language in your first 250 ("I knew" twice in a row, try to edit that out I think) Otherwise, very cool. I can see the scene unraveling very vividly.

      FOUND FAMILY: Getting some WARCROSS vibes here, which was a book I really liked. Love the idea of the drama outside of the game also impacting how they play the game. I would wonder why the wordcount is on the lower side with the sci-fi, though. Also, one option to consider: you can ground us in the virtual world a bit first without breaking the illusion of it being virtual. I like the real/virtual being side-by-side, but that might help the reader immersive and invest more in the virtual world. (Or, vice-versa, ground us in the real world first and then introduce the virtual one.) It is a little hard to learn bits of both right away (at least for me).

      Both are super intriguing and well-written. I just have to go with the one I think it a bit closer:


    8. No one of consequenceJune 25, 2018 at 12:08 PM

      This is the type of matchup we get late in this contest that I's so hard to compare across widely different genres. Bottom line, I really like Assassin Mom, and I love me some John Wick, so that's how I'm voting. And when this gets an agent and is on sale, you should definitely hit me up, because I want to read it.


    9. ASSASSIN MOM has a bit of a Blacklist meets John Wick kind of feel that I find super engaging. Babyface is going to have a ton of challenges and struggles in this book as her old identity comes caving in on her new one. She's an interesting character, and one I haven't seen before. I wondered about the timeline as I read this. The line about her being one of the most prolific and mysterious killers made me think she'd been in that career for a while, and we also know seventeen years has passed since her retirement--so the prolific bit doesn't really fit the bill for me, more like rising star?

      FOUND FAMILY is a new kind of sports novel, featuring a team of societal cast outs coming together to try and forge a pro eSports team. This one is bound to appeal to gamers and anyone who ever dreamed of achieving the highest level of competition. For me, Sai's struggles in this query seemed more general than specific however--focused on his social anxiety without providing too many plot specific examples of how it comes into play. I really would've liked to see one or two areas in which he was challenged in more specific detail.


      Great query! I'd tell the genre in the query; I'm guessing it's either thriller or suspense. And you might want to reduce your number of comps. But the voice is great, and I can feel the tension. If I saw a blurb like this on the back of a book in the library, it would definitely get my attention, in a good way.

      Your first page has improved. I'd still tighten it a little more and watch out for filtering. However, I like the imagery.

      I don't even know if I have anything to suggest, because I love your query so much now. It's a huge improvement from before. The part about the teammates' fiercest opponents being themselves is awesome.

      Your first page is also great. I like the imagery. I find it ironic that the character himself is admiring the sensory detail of the game, and sensory detail is also what makes this a good first page.


    11. So happy to see you both still here! I love both of these queries.

      ASSASSIN MOM: my only lingering concern about your query is the sentence where you lay out the stakes. By saying she WILL risk her new family, you make her immediately less likeable, as if she'd just throw her family by the wayside. Now, if you frame it like she may have to make the choice to risk her family to save her son, that ramps the tension right up.

      FOUND FAMILY: I like what you've done tightening this up. I love the idea of this rag tag group of people coming together and forming a family around their passion. I do wonder, though, if you'll have a tough time selling a 14yo MC in today's YA market. It's become an older market the past few years, and younger MCs haven't been selling.

      Another super tough decision, but the victory goes to ASSASSIN MOM

  2. These have both become much tighter and clearer. Great job, writers!

    ASSASSIN MOM: One small thing, I'd make the last line of the query more of a tease about her choice. I.e. Now she must decide if she will risk her new family etc.

    FOUND FAMILY: Some great imagery in terms of comparing his world on the outside vs in the game. I think you can even go further and put us in the moment, i.e. show don't tell how he pushed aside the cold oatmeal congealing in the bowl. Go deeper and make us feel for him.

    Congrats again, writers, but VICTORY TO ASSASSIN MOM