Friday, June 1, 2018

QK1 Match 10: Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere vs. How to Not Be a Nazi

Title: GREEN CARNATIONS
Entry Nickname: Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere
Word count: 93K
Genre: Adult Historical LGBTQ

Query:

GREEN CARNATIONS is a 93,000-word LGBTQ adult historical fiction appealing to fans of Mackenzi Lee's Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue and Cat Sebastian's M/M historical romances.

Under its glittery surface, Belle Epoch Paris is a brutal place where an illustrious name or a fat bank account are almost the only means of advancement. His illegitimate birth leaves Brit expat FIN TIGHE with neither. So he schemes to find investors for Gustave Eiffel's pet project: a 300-meter tower that will dominate the city's skyline. If Fin raises money, his commission will earn him a fortune, and if he's lucky, some protection. Because his evenings spent in the clandestine gay community might be legal through a loophole in the Napoleonic Code, but they're anything but safe. 

Then a hurricane-force charmer named GILBERT DUHAIS knocks Fin off course. Gilbert is wealthy, connected, and--Christ wept--seductive as hell. Not only does he sweep Fin off his feet, he introduces Fin to every nouveau riche speculator in the city. But Gilbert's capriciousness isn't the only thing keeping Fin up at night because somehow, Gilbert's privy to the secrets Fin ran away from in his native Yorkshire. 

When a dear friend is murdered, clues indicate that Gilbert might have hijacked Fin's life for duplicitous--even deadly--purposes. Fin must untangle what he believes are disparate threads of his past and present before they become his noose. 


First 250:

Paris, 1886

I lifted my glass to hide my unshakable imbecilic smirk in another drop of wine. The terrace wasn’t empty, but I had my choice of seats facing the general direction of the river, towards the Champs du Mars. Not that I could see it over the mansard roofs of my neighborhood’s apartments, but I knew where it was. I wasn’t the most creative man; my talents were concrete; numbers and measurements. Dependable things, unable to be changed on a whim. But when I lifted my gaze up toward the waxing moon, I could almost make out the iron lacework tower that might change my life.

Would change it. 

And Monsieur Eiffel would ensure I'd be well-compensated.

The expanse of butcher paper serving as a tablecloth begged for some scribbles, and I pulled a pencil from the pocket under my green-tinted boutonniere. With a flourish, I wrote out the sum I could have done in my head when I was six, let alone one-and-thirty, but I needed to see the answer in writing. Twenty percent.

 Good Christ. I giggled, and I never giggled. Giggling was for small children and overenthusiastic young girls. Yet, there I sat, in a crowded restaurant, and something I vaguely recognized as joy burbled out.

 "Fin?"

My head whipped up at the unfamiliar male voice. I could count on one hand the people on earth who called me Fin rather than Finley or Tighe, and none of them would hover around a perfectly bourgeois establishment like this tonight—or any night. 

VERSUS

Title: Upstairs at the Café Pequod
Entry Nickname: How to Not Be a Nazi
Word Count: 80k
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction

Query:


Upstairs at the Café Pequod will appeal to fans of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See and Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. The story centers around a little-known piece of French history, a Nazi war atrocity so obscure that I have spoken with European Theatre veterans of the Second World War who have never heard of it.

Kristian Molenaar's childhood has not instilled him with a sense of faith in humanity, and what little he has left as an adult has been all but destroyed by his years stationed in Nazi-occupied France. An unwilling conscript in the German army, he is finally jerked out of months of helpless apathy when he comes to the aid of Virginia Morgan, the proprietress of a tiny village café. The two strike up an unlikely friendship, growing closer as the war drags on. Against the odds, a fledgling romance begins... but Virginia, Kristian soon learns, is much more than a simple café owner, and the dangerous secret she hides could spell certain death for them both- and, quite possibly, for Virginia's entire village. Set against the backdrop of the Nazi massacre of Oradour-Sur-Glane and told from alternating viewpoints, this is the story of a fiercely independent woman who learns that to love and to need someone does not make a person weak, and of a man who learns that the silence of the everyday citizen is truly evil's greatest and most effective accomplice.

When I stumbled across an article about Oradour-sur-Glane, while reading about the French Resistance, I was absolutely dumbfounded. Six hundred and forty-two innocent civilians slaughtered by the Nazis? An entire village wiped off the face of the map for no reason at all? How had I, in my own extensive reading about the Second World War, never heard of this? I knew, immediately, that this was a story that needed to be told. This novel is extensively researched, its supporting cast populated with people who really lived in Oradour before its destruction. The climax is meticulously constructed around the eyewitness testimonies of the tiny handful of people to have survived the massacre that day.


First 250 Words:

Kristian has been coming to this cozy corner café nearly every night for over a week, and with each visit, he notices something new about her.

It begins with her hair, with the way that long, errant strands are continually escaping the knot at the base of her neck, the way bright red tendrils work their way out of her kerchief to brush the sides of her face. She’s forever huffing a breath out of the sides of her mouth, blowing the disobedient curls back and off of her cheek, when her hands are too full of dirty dishes to tuck them behind her ear.
           
Just as noticeable as her hair is her height- or, rather, her lack of it. She is positively tiny, not much taller than the oldest of the children who scamper into her café on their way home from school, digging in their satchels to scrape up enough pocket money to buy a cookie or two, hoping that she’ll take pity on them whenever they come up short (which, from what he has seen, she almost always does).
           
Later, he notices the smaller details: the girlish smattering of freckles dusting her nose, the intense blue of her eyes, her tiny waist under her apron, her slender eyebrows that arch so expressively, both in amusement and in annoyance.
           
He doesn’t yet know her full name. He has only heard the local townsfolk refer to her as “Mademoiselle Morgan,” which intrigues him, because Morgan is not a French name.

24 comments:

  1. Judges, please respond with your feedback and vote here! Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Red CardiganJune 2, 2018 at 3:20 PM

      Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere: Love this premise! Love the Comps! I know I sound really enthusiastic, but honestly this is great. The query itself gave me a real feel for the setting, which is no easy feat. The stakes are clear, and I have a great feel for both heroes. One question, it’s not listed as a romance, but from the query it sounds like a traditional MM historical romance. If that’s the genre it should be marked as such. First page: I love it. I feel I understand Fin already— his talent with numbers and his anxiety about his life. I love the imagery of the tower against the moon. This is so good, I can’t wait to read the book one day.

      How to Not Be a Nazi: I’ll be perfectly honest here— Nazi stories are not for me. I would be very wary of a story which attempts to paint individual Nazi’s in a positive light, especially in today's political climate, and I feel the last paragraph of your query about your research sounded a little patronising. Those who lost loved ones in that massacre would surely know about it, and you mentioning that you hadn’t heard about it comes across as insensitive to those who lost lives. A romance with a Nazi hero should be avoided, but I see that this is not a Romance novel, but rather a hist fic with a romance plot. It could work, but many would not be interested in such a story line. That being said, I though the query was well written and the first page had a great voice. I wish you the best of luck with this!

      Victory to Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere!

      Delete
    2. To The Sword 159June 3, 2018 at 2:55 AM

      Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere:
      In your case, I strongly suggest putting the info paragraph after the blurb instead of before. The first sentence of your blurb is eye-catching. I'd rather dive straight into that and know the technical info later. I love that first blurb sentence. The phrase "under its glittery surface" evokes a vivid feel of the setting. The sentence that starts with "Because" needs improvement. Starting a sentence with "because" is ultra-casual and doesn't match the tone of the rest of the query. The info about Fin's safety being in danger should be stated earlier. I would combine it with the sentence about Fin's illegitimate birth, using “and”. The second paragraph, like the first, starts off strong, but loses momentum. It's phrased more like speech than written language. I don't see how Fin being kept up at night relates to any of the other things. Being kept up at night is a common phrase, but I'd omit it here. I'm puzzled by the capriciousness; is this attractive to Fin, or does make him anxious because he can't be sure of Gilbert's true feelings? The third paragraph is interesting. It makes me wonder if Fin is in love/strong like with Gilbert and feels betrayed that Gilbert is using him, or if Fin was trying to use Gilbert, too, and is just mad that he might have been used in a sinister way. If you hint at that, it’s icing on the cake. The last sentence sounds nice, but it's vague. I'd go with something clearer.
      As for your first page, I love it. It's got great voice. I'm interested to know more about this character who sounds confident and almost arrogant but is not above giggling about money.
      Great premise.

      How Not to Be a Nazi:
      There is too much "I" in this query. I don’t want to know much about your research process. However, in your case, I like the little bit of info at the beginning. It gets my attention. So, you can leave that paragraph unchanged. Your middle paragraph needs more detail. I’m confused because the end of the paragraph makes the story sound like a romance, but the beginning doesn’t. If it is a romance, the problem is that I have no reason to care about Virginia. We don't really get any information about her except the info from Kristian's perspective. Romance queries have a specific structures that gives details about both MCs. If this is not a romance, don't indicate that it's about what Virginia learns AND what Kristian learns. If you aren't sure whether it's a romance, ask yourself if whether these two characters will end up together is the central question. It may just be ONE question but not THE question at the center of the story. The "Set against the backdrop..." part should be in the info paragraph, not the story paragraph.
      This is going to sound drastic, but I'd cut the entire third paragraph of your query. It's just too much about the writer and not the book. This imbalance between story info and other info really takes us out of the story, which is the most important part.
      As for your first page, it’s interesting that it's in 3rd person present. I like that as a storytelling style, but be aware that it gives a certain feel to the story, which may not work well if it's a romance. (Again, I'm not sure if it's a romance.) Either way, if you're doing dual POV, it's also risky, because 3rd person present feels like a camera that is zoomed out from your characters. 3rd person past can be close 3rd, which you almost need in order to establish two different voices, but 3rd person present creates automatic distance. It works for some stories, but I'm not sure about this one. Also, be careful of a first page that's all info and no action. With that said, the prose is really strong.
      Your premise is original, and your query intrigues me.

      Victory to Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere.

      Delete
    3. Love and SqualorJune 3, 2018 at 1:02 PM

      UNNATURALLY DYED BOUTONNIERE: What a great setting and premise. I get a feel for the voice in the query, and it comes through in the first 250. This book is right up my alley, and I would definitely read on. In the query, though the last paragraph is intriguing, it's also a little confusing. How does a friend's murder lead Fin to believe Gilbert has hijacked him life? I'd suggest adding more specific details, since the stakes are a little vague as it stands. The first 250 reads great. The voice is stellar. No real critique here.

      HOW NOT TO BE A NAZI: Another fascinating concept, and I love that this is a relatively unexplored aspect of WWII history. However, the query had too much info about the author's research and not enough about the book itself. I strongly suggest combining the first and third paragraphs and paring them down significantly. As it stands, the last paragraph gives away the ending to the book (the town is decimated), which is a no-no for queries - you want to keep the reader intrigued and guessing what happens. As for the first 250, it's very well written, but I'm on the fence about the use of third-person present tense. It's uncommon, so it reads a little awkward. I'm sure the reader would become accustomed to it throughout the course of the novel, but readers who are only reading the first pages might choose not to continue. This sounds like a story crying out to be told, and I think you're zeroed in on the right characters to tell it. Consider playing around with the tense and seeing if it still works with a more traditional style.

      VICTORY TO UNNATURALLY DYED BOUTONNIERE!

      Delete
    4. Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere Feedback
      QUERY:
      What a super cool concept for a book! Historical aren’t normally my go-to genre, but I’d totally pick up this one! Here are a few things that I found with your query: The names of characters in all caps aren’t necessary, however, that is acceptable for the synopsis. In paragraph two, I’d suggest reworking the beginning of the first sentence as it isn’t the smoothest transition to introduce Gilbert and how it tosses Fin off his axis.

      First 250:
      While Historical aren’t my go-to genre, I do recognize that the language is often much more formal. With that said, I had to look up the word imbecilic. So, while the language is a bit more formal than contemporary novels, I’d encourage choosing words that are formal, yet common.


      HOW NOT TO BE A NAZI FEEDBACK
      QUERY:
      I loved reading about how you came to create your story! I had no idea Oradour-sur-Glane and it led to my own Google search to see what it was all about.

      As far as your query is concerned, I’m worried that because it doesn’t follow a standard query layout for historical fiction it could get passed over. The information you’ve provided about the research is interesting. But for this we want to make sure the summary of your book (as I call it—the blurb that you find on the back of the book) is as clean and polished as possible so the premise jumps off the page.

      You’ve got a good start, though! Here’s my suggestion:

      First paragraph: cut everything after the comp titles.
      Second paragraph: split that into three paragraphs. “Against the odds…” is a great place to start the second paragraph and “Set against the backdrop” is a natural break for the third paragraph.
      The paragraph with the research, cut that—but save it for your website and possibly your official query letter.


      First 250:
      It’s obvious that Kristian thinks Virginia is something special! As a reader, of course we want to know some of those physical characteristics so we can picture the character you’ve created. You’ve got some very lovely lines mixed into Virginia’s description—but it feels like we’re getting a rundown from head to toe rather than getting us into the story. For example, in your query, you stated that he’s apathetic. Show us that apathy as he’s in the cafe….help us feel what he’s feeling and how Virginia is the bright spot in his day.

      VERDICT
      I loved having a historical match up to judge and such amazing concepts that no doubt meant extensive research (kudos to you both!). But when it comes to a stronger entry, my vote is for UNNATURALLY DYED BOUTONNIERE.

      Delete
    5. Under its glittery surface, Belle Epoch Paris is a brutal place where an illustrious name or a fat bank account are almost the only means of advancement. SINCE Brit expat FIN TIGHE HAS neither, he schemes to find investors for Gustave Eiffel's pet project: a 300-meter tower that will dominate the city's skyline.

      If Fin raises ENOUGH money, his commission will earn him a fortune, and if he's lucky, some protection. Because FIN'S evenings spent in the clandestine gay community might be legal through a loophole in the Napoleonic Code, but they're anything but safe.

      Then a hurricane-force charmer named GILBERT DUHAIS knocks Fin off course. Gilbert is wealthy, connected, and seductive as hell. DEFTLY SWEEPING Fin off his feet, GILBERT introduces him to every nouveau riche speculator in the city. AT LAST FIN'S FORTUNES SEEM TO BE CHANGING FOR THE BETTER.

      THEN a dear friend is murdered, AND clues indicate that Gilbert might have hijacked Fin's life for duplicitous--even deadly--purposes. WORSE, Gilbert's privy to the secrets Fin ran away from in his native Yorkshire. SUDDENLY Fin must untangle what he believes are disparate threads of his past and present before they become his noose.

      GREEN CARNATIONS – I'm sticking with your original title because it makes me happy – you do great query work. Can't go wrong with Belle Epoch Paris or a mysterious love interest. I played with it a little, because that's what I do.

      Your 250 are close to perfect. Love the scene setting, and Fin's secret glee. I wouldn't change a thing. I need this in my life at once!

      ***
      Kristian Molenaar's childhood has not instilled him with a sense of faith in humanity, and what little he has left as an adult has been all but destroyed by his years stationed in Nazi-occupied France. An unwilling conscript in the German army, he is finally jerked out of months of helpless apathy when he comes to the aid of Virginia Morgan, the proprietress of a tiny village café.

      KRISTIAN AND VIRGINIA strike up an unlikely friendship, growing closer as the war drags on. Against the odds, a fledgling romance begins... but Virginia is much more than a simple café owner, and the dangerous secret she hides could spell certain death for them both- and, quite possibly, for Virginia's entire village.

      Set against the backdrop of the Nazi massacre of Oradour-Sur-Glane and told from alternating viewpoints, this is the story of a fiercely independent woman who learns that love does not make a person weak, and of a man who learns that the silence of the everyday citizen is evil's most effective accomplice.

      HOW NOT TO BE A NAZI – In a query, let the story speak for itself and leave the background research for marketing blurbs. Your comp paragraph sets up the background premise nicely. You don't need the closing paragraph at all. Otherwise your query is strong. I've trimmed it some and broken it up so it doesn't feel like too much information in one space. Good job.

      Your prose is beautiful, your 250 very well done. I can tell already that Kristian loves her. I suspect the rest of the manuscript is just as beautifully written.

      I saved this one for last, came back to it a few times, because it was my most difficult match-up. You should both be extremely proud of your talent and hard work. I expect to see both novels on a store shelf in the near future. I'm going to have go completely subjective rather than constructive and give my VICTORY VOTE TO UNNATURALLY DYED BOUTONNIERE only because I have a soft spot for both the Eiffel Tower and the history of the Green Carnation.

      If either of you want more eyes-on, hit me up after the contest and I'll make time.



      Delete
    6. Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere
      Query: I love your premise, and I can see from your query that this will be an interesting story. You don’t need to capitalize character names in a query, only in a synopsis (and even then, some don’t). No other suggestions for improvement.
      First 250: Such a well-written entry. Excellent imagery, and I could get a true sense of setting and character. Well done. I’m sold.

      How to Not Be a Nazi:
      Query: Consider writing your query completely from the main character’s perspective, showing us what your story is about, rather than telling us what we should expect to feel/see in the story. Otherwise, this sounds intriguing. I also wasn’t aware of this chapter in history, and I like that you're highlighting something unusual.
      First 250: Excellent voice in your story. I loved your descriptions for Mademoiselle Morgan. Well done.

      Okay, now to choose, and this is another tough match-up. But, I award…

      Victory to UNNATURALLY DYED BOUTONNIERE!

      Delete
    7. UNNATURALLY DYED BOUTONNIERE
      Query:
      I’d put your comp titles at the end. I feel they are more effective after the reader has already read the query, and the context for the comp titles is set. Also, why are the names of your characters capitalized? Just capitalize book titles in queries.
      I really like the concept here, and setting it against the backdrop of the Eifel tower getting funded in Paris. There’s great potential here, and the way you’ve set up the characters and the danger the mc is in if his secrets come out makes for a page-turner of a story.
      250:
      Ooh, I really like this opening page. It’s voice-y and rich in detail. I like that he’s writing out math he could do in his head just for the fun of it, and the paragraph about him giggling is really well-written.
      In the line that begins “I wasn’t the most creative man” see if you can remove one of the semi-colons. Two in one sentence seems like overkill.
      The 250 ends on a fantastic note.

      HOW TO NOT BE A NAZI
      Query:
      Okay, this sounds like a very intriguing story. I suggest re-ordering the paragraphs in this query to more effectively communicate the meat of the query and the research that has gone into it. Start with the second paragraph, and break it into two so the information there is easier to digest. You set things up well for a dual POV book and that second paragraph is very effective at making me want to know and read more. Since this is your story set-up, where the stakes and tension and all that are set-up, you need to lead with this.
      Then, after taking two paragraphs to establish the story, I’d include a final paragraph with your comp titles and your research. I’d start with your current first paragraph, but re-write and condense the second sentence to remove the part where you speak directly to the reader (“I have spoken with…”). Maybe say “…a nazi war atrocity so obscure it could be considered lost from the annals of history,” or something along those lines.
      Then move to your current third paragraph, connecting it with the comp title paragraph. But see if you can trim it down a bit. I would definitely cut the sentence that starts with “how had I…” and maybe a few lines before that as well. But the final two sentences are fantastic, and also offer information an agent would really need to know about the historical accuracy of the story you’ve crafted.

      250:
      This opening is beautifully crafted. It has a quiet strength to it that I really like—and I don’t usually like quiet openings. But in this case, I think it works.
      One tiny thing—when you use an em-dash, include two smaller dashes and word turns them into an em-dash for you. So when you say “Just as noticeable as her hair is her height- or, rather, her lack of it…” that dash after height should be longer. So: “height—or, rather…” instead of “height- or, rather…”

      Oh, man this is another tough matchup to vote on. I really enjoyed both of these entries, and they’re both in pretty good shape. One has a more polished query, though, so that’s what I’m basing my decision on, but both of these books need to be published RIGHT NOW!

      Victory to UNNATURALLY DYED BOUTONNIERE

      Delete
  2. It's so nice to see some adult entries! Very excited about both of them. I like them both a lot, even though my favorite is Green Carnations. Its query had a better flow and a really intriguing premise. Upstairs at the Café Pequod query confused me a bit because I thought it was a non-fiction entry. Maybe it was just me, though.
    The first pages: both flow very nicely and set up a tone and mood for the story. Honestly, I'd read them both. I felt that Upstairs at the Café Pequod is a bit heavy on the description in the first 250 words and not enough action. Because of that I'd vote for Green Carnations. You had me at "unshakable imbecilic smirk." :)

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  3. Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere: For the query, I don't think character's need to be capitalized in queries. That's for the synopsis. The line "His illegitimate birth leaves Brit expat FIN TIGHE with neither" threw me a bit, because for a second I thought the MC's name was going to be "Brit" and "expat" was going to segue into a different thought. Maybe put "British" here instead so it flows better. Also, is there a way to make the first pargraph tie into the last? All the stuff mentioned there is never mentioned again. Other than that, intriguing premise!
    For the 250, I would omit the "unshakable" to make the sentce flow better. Apart from that qualm, I thought this painted a nice scene and you got a good voice of the MC, especially toward the end.

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  4. How to Not Be a Nazi: I would make your first sentence shorter and punchier to draw the reader in. I would go through and split some of the longer sentences into two so it flows better. I also didn't get a good sense of the stakes. What's Virgina's dangerous secret? Right when I thought it was getting juicy, it cut off, and I was like that's... it? The sentence "Set against the backdrop..." could be the start of its own paragraph to make it easier to read. The sentence "this is the story of a fiercely independent woman who learns that to love and to need someone does not make a person weak, and of a man who learns that the silence of the everyday citizen is truly evil's greatest and most effective accomplice" is telling instead of showing. Show me those characters when you were describing them in the query. Flesh them out there.
    The entire last paragraph is also telling instead of show.
    First 250: "with the way that long, errant strands" should be "the way those long..." I would also split up the long sentences. The entire thrid paragraph is only two sentences, and my the end of it my eyes were crossing.

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  5. So "Upstairs at Cafe Pequod:" I usually don't comment on these things and enjoy reading but I feel like, given my background, I'd be remiss if I didn't say anything.

    I think the writing is the first 250 is fine though in both it and the query there are a lot of sentences which are a bit hard to parse, i.e., they are long, complex and the verbs are bit distant from the words they modify. Some of the details in the writing is lovely though.

    As for the query, it is light on plot and what is there is a bit vague. However, as a Jew, I found certain things I found a bit problematic. I debated over and over regarding whether to say anything, especially as we are constantly accused of being overly sensitive about the Holocaust but you seem very well-meaning and I felt I had to say something.

    Look, I don’t think we “own,” WWII or the Holocaust and don’t think non-Jews can’t write about it. The issue is that I started out a little nervous about a German solider protagonist (a lot of us our sensitive to this plot line after the whole Kate Breslin "For Such a Time," debacle-well written book extremely problematic plot), but recognized it could work in some contexts. However what sent-up a major red-flag for me were the following lines in the query:

    “When I stumbled across an article about Oradour-sur-Glane, while reading about the French Resistance, I was absolutely dumbfounded. Six hundred and forty-two innocent civilians slaughtered by the Nazis? An entire village wiped off the face of the map for no reason at all? How had I, in my own extensive reading about the Second World War, never heard of this?”

    Now, I am sure you do not mean to imply this but Oradour-sur-Glane was far from the only village entirely wiped out by the Nazis. There were multiple ones, most famously, Trochenbrod, the subject of both Jonathan Safran Foer’s fictional work, the critically acclaimed "Everything is Illuminated" and Avron Bendavid-Val’s "The Heavens Are Empty,: a work of non-fiction. It was also my Grandmother-in-law’s home.

    I know you did not mean to imply that Trochenbrod didn’t exist and the massacre that killed many of my husband’s relatives didn’t occur, just that you hadn’t heard of Oradour-sur-Glane. Likewise, I don’t think you meant to imply that the people of Trochenbrod weren’t innocent civilians and that there was a reason for their slaughter (or that somehow, the fact that Trochenbrod was an entirely Jewish town made it less shocking than what happened in Oradour-sur-Glane), but that is what I felt reading it.

    I think your book could totally work, but I think you might want to take a critical look at it, including how you discuss that time period, especially since we are currently in a time of rising antisemitism Please don’t feel “called-out” by this, I just had a really visceral reaction to how it was written, which can easily be changed.

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  6. I would choose Green Carnations. It sounds smoother and more intriguing. :)

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  7. Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere
    LGBTQ—Yay! In the query, I’d save the comps for last and begin with the story, and rather than “can appeal,” I’d be definitive and say “will appeal.” “His illegitimate birth” is a really confusing sentence. I think you should name the MC before you use a pronoun. At first, I thought “his” was a name. It would be very easy to being this sentence with Fin Tighe (which shouldn’t be in all caps—that’s the synopsis), and it would drastically improve the flow. I wouldn’t start the last sentence of the second paragraph with “Because.” I like the introduction of the second character in the third paragraph. The murder in the last paragraph sort of came out of nowhere, but it adds an interesting twist to the story. The final sentence seemed a little vague. The stakes could be clearer.

    I love the opening line in your pages. Sets a strong impression of the MC right away. Not a big fan of the double semicolons in the fourth sentence. I’d use such punctuation sparingly. In the last paragraph, the people “on earth,” seems like an odd detail that’s out of place in this story. Overall, strong query and pages. I LOVE queer fiction in all its forms, so I’d probably read this.

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    Replies
    1. OMG--I know we aren't supposed to reply but UGH--how did I miss the double semicolons???? ICK! I agree--horrible. (shakes head in shame)

      Delete
  8. So. We have two Historicals here. And my vote goes to GREEN CARNATIONS. There is a succulence to the language that draws me in immediately. Two Query suggestions: FIN TIGHE's illegitimate birth leaves the Brit expat with neither. And: 'Gilbert is privy...' (Gilbert's privy made think 'Gilbert's bathroom').

    And the 250 excerpt suggestions: 'But when I lifted my gaze toward the waxing moon,...' (the 'up' was redundant). And someone else pointed out the ...;...; debacle.

    As a side note, to write and promote a romance between two gay men trying to live their lives in an unsafe environment is a far different story than one offering a romance between an oppressor, and the oppressed (or, at least, the 'neutral' observer). ESPECIALLY in today's climate, I find it the UPSTAIRS entry tone-deaf.

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  9. Tessa P commenting here. Sorry it doesn't seem to work unless I list it as Anonymous.

    GREEN CARNATION

    I like the seting and the idea of the query. I love the Eiffel angle. I just don’t understand the plot or the stakes. I also completely don’t understand the sentence “Fin must untangle what he believes are disparate threads of his past and present before they become his noose.” As in, I have no idea what this means. Is he accused of murder? You don’t really talk about his past being an issue (e.g. he doesn’t seem to be escaping a past…). Why would Gilbert hijack Fin’s life? Seems like it would be the opposite?

    I liked the atmosphere of the 250 but didn’t feel like much was happening. I also have a pet peeve for double adjectives (unshakable imbecilic). Too wordy, too fast for me. Is this historical fiction or mystery / thriller? Your last line of the query would suggest the latter, the 250 suggests the former.

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  10. Tessa P again:

    HOW NOT TO BE A NAZI

    You need to set up the stakes much more intensely (In my opinion). Is he a Nazi who falls in love with a woman that he is supposed to kill? Is he awakening to a moral code that he didn’t have before? Will be executed on the spot if the Nazis find out about any of this? Make it bold, dramatic, heart-wrenching, life or death (it is WWII so if it’s not life or death I would maybe be concerned…). Plus I hope he joins the resistance. Any Nazi I would ever consider reading about need to join the resistance, please :) .

    As for the query, same concerns as others. Others have mentioned so I wouldn’t belabor EXCEPT to say that if you make a comment like “How had I, in my own extensive reading about the Second World War, never heard of this?” I expect to hear you’re a PhD candidate in WW II history or something along those lines. Otherwise, my response would be..."because you're not a WWII historian!" That’s just my visceral reaction though, so do with it what you will :).

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  11. Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere:
    I love, love, love the concept of this one! And you do a good job of setting out generally what your plot is and what your MC’s goal is. Your first sentence kind of threw me, though. We’re talking the Belle Epoch, and the use of “fat” in that context felt anachronistic. Also, two nits: I think capitalizing character names is more of a synopsis thing than a query thing; and it gets a little vague on the conflict at the end. “Clues indicate” and “threads of his past and present” don’t really give me a sense of what’s happening. You don’t have to give away the whole kit and kaboodle, but maybe consider a little more specificity.

    As for the 250, I think your word choice does a good job of setting the tone. We’re clearly not chilling in the 21st Century, and it’s good to make that clear early on. I do think sometimes you hedge toward wordy, so it slows the pace and bogs down the writing just a little bit. But that’s also very much a stylistic thing, so take it with a grain of salt. We do get a good feel for your MC’s personality, though, and a glimpse of what he’s working toward, so I think it’s a solid 250 overall!


    How to Not Be a Nazi:
    The first sentence was a little wordy, but it gives the reader a sense of who the MC is. I think my biggest overarching note would be to watch out for run-on sentences. You have a few of them (particularly the second sentence of your second paragraph, which seems to have just a bit too much going on), so just something to be aware of. I also think you could spend less time telling us about your research and the background of writing the story, and more time with the story itself. For example, giving some more hints about Victoria’s dangerous secret, and telling us what your MC’s going to do to NOT be a Nazi (because I think it’ll be a tough sell if there’s even a whiff of Nazi-sympathy). Right now, it feels like we rush through the plot and don’t get a ton of information on it.

    The wordiness slips into the first 250 as well. Maybe just try breaking up some of the sentences into smaller bits, see how they read. It does have the set-up of a good romance, though. The kind of background observer, building up the love interest so that the reader understands what makes them appealing. Giving cookies to school children is a definite +1 for any character building. Although, I’d kind of like to get a sense for what he’s doing early on. Where he’s sitting, what he’s doing, whether he’s eating or drinking. It would help the reader visualize, I think.

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  12. Thaddeus SpinsterJune 3, 2018 at 1:02 AM

    Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere: Again, its my pet peeve but I personally like the housekeeping of comps and word count at the bottom so I can jump right into the action. But that might just be me. You don’t need to capitalize the entire name the first time a character is introduced. That is usually done in a synopsis. I love the premise but I think the stakes aren’t spelled out as well as they could be, they seem flimsy. One more Pet Peeve, I hate the generic mention of secrets, I know you need to keep it so it is intriguing but secrets don’t tell me anything. First 250: I tripped up at the phrase “let alone one-and -thirty.” I don’t know exactly what that means. Other than that, I love the first 250 words. It is well writing and I love Fin. I know that I’ll see this one day in a bookstore.
    How to Not be a Nazi: I sound like a broken record but I like comps at the bottom so I can dive into the story. I don’t think agents need to know why you wrote it, or how you researched it, what I understand is they want the best possible story that is authentic (which doesn’t mean it has to own voice but does need to be well researched, however, you don’t need to mention your research, let your manuscript speak to it. You give us just a morsel of the story but go into great detail about how and why you wrote this book. I would say if you move on to the next round, add more of the plot and less of the how. First 250: I feel the first 250 words are wasted, you spent almost ever one of those precious words describing someone, which, if necessary, could be weaved into the story.

    VICTORY TO UNNATURALLY DYED BOUTONNIERE

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  13. Both of these are really strong and I would probably pick them up in a book store. Very tough matchup, judges! A few comments:

    For Boutonniere: The query made me think the Eiffel tower isn't built yet, and our protag is helping to raise money to build it. So how is he gazing up at it in the first pages? Just a point of confusion, timeline-wise. Also, total quibble, but: waxing moon doesn't describe its current shape, just that it's somewhere in the phase between new and full. Crescent, half, gibbous -- these describe the current shape of the moon, which is what an observer would notice. (Your page is so good, this is what I'm reduced to critiquing!). :)

    As for How Not to Be a Nazi, I recently learned about this village in the novel The Alice Network. So people who read historical fiction based in this time period may already be familiar with it also. You need to figure out what your angle is, besides bringing it to light. And I agree with others that the idea of a sympathetic Nazi is a really hard sell. The page is lovely, and I was drawn into the setting immediately.

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  14. Carnations attracts me. Upstairs repels me. Granted, this started with the submission nicknames, because saying "not" something is still invoking that something. Yet this energetic carried through the queries and pages the authors shared; thus, my vote for Carnations. Breaking it down:

    I love historical fiction, though don't know the comps for Carnations. I hope they are strongly historical fiction with only a tinge of romance as that it what I look for in the genre. I suggest the query focus more on the intrigue and suspense--there's a crime to solve--and less on the romance. As others have said, move the metas to the end. The next paragraph pulls me right in and I want more. Strengthen the paragraph by fixing the awkwardness of the "Because" sentence at end. I'd tweak the first sentence to say "...are the means to advancement" since "almost the only" caused a stumble.

    The last paragraph is strong and makes the plot and stakes clear, but needs a revised middle paragraph to precede it. This, because I love the threads and noose metaphor and need clarification about Fin's past. Remove from middle paragraph the over-emphasis on hot Gilbert and give us details rather than alluding to "secrets Fin ran away from." I'd combine 2nd-3rd sentences to "Gilbert is wealthy and introduces Fin to..." Then more about what Gilbert knows of Fin's past. Better yet, condense first sentence "Wealthy charmer Gilbert..." so the 2nd is "Gilbert introduces Fin to..."

    Very strong first page for Carnations--it has everything I need to establish setting, what Fin wants, his character, and a start to the intrigue.

    The Upstairs query reads as if the author knows more than me (and most people), and they will prove it by touting the research. I'm sure that's not their intention, but is the tone yielded. As others have said, lose many of the "I" statements and remove the "why I wrote it" bits. While I love the comps, they give me great pause because the promise of this query and page don't match what I found in the comps--it might with the suggested revisions.

    The first page sets up an unlikeable protagonist: he's going on and on about how the woman looks. That is such a tired opening (and repels my feminist sensibilities), so I wonder if there's not a better place to start this story. Even if this is how the protagonist views the world, the author need not focus the important first page on this personality aspect.

    Carnations promises a story with a fresh twist to a trope set in a period I'd like to read about, while Upstairs may not hold the sensibilities for me to want to read.

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  15. Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere
    Query: The concept here really drew me in. I do agree with other commenters that it might be good to somehow reword the introduction of Fin. Something like, “Fin Tighe, an illegitimate Brit, has neither.” Or something like that. This story makes me think of Moulin Rouge, and I can picture Fin as part of that scene.
    First 250: I don’t have much to add. This excerpt drew me in right away—especially the last sentence. Oooh! Mysterious voice! Tension! Want to read more.

    How to Not Be a Nazi
    Query: The minute I saw the comps I knew this is a story I’d be interested in reading. Having said that, I think the query would be more powerful if you moved this paragraph to the end and put the plot details first. It’s a good for the most part, but I think you would be better off without the last paragraph. It feels unnecessary.
    First 250: I like the in-depth description of Mlle. Morgan, including the image of children digging to pay for cookies. I feel like there should be more of a hook here, and maybe it’s coming shortly but I’m learning from these contests that the beginning few paragraphs need to be more compelling.

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  16. Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere

    Query:

    I love the voice in the query.

    I don’t think names should be in capital letters in a query, and when you change this, you may need to write out British to avoid confusion.

    I might consider replacing the word “schemes” in “So he schemes to find investors” to be sure your MC doesn’t come off as a scammer. Because he does believe in the project, right?

    I would also delete “a hurricane-force charmer named” and just go with: “Then Gilbert Duhais knocks Fin off course.” And maybe give us a sentence showing him to be capricious, as well as charming.

    Also give us a clue as to what Fin ran away from. Most agents want details. Me too

    Other than that: perfect!

    250 words:

    The writing flows very well, and the details paint a perfect picture of where and when we are in the world. The last sentence makes me curious as to who just walked in on Fin.

    Hope some of this help!
    Good luck!

    How not to be a Nazi

    Query:

    This sounds like such an intriguing story, and I don’t mind a German being the MC in a WW2-story. Not all of them were bad people.

    However your query should focus on the story, and not on why you are writing it.
    My first thought after reading was: there were so many massacres during WW2, I’m not surprised you wouldn’t have heard about all of them. The fact that you are, make me question how much you know about the war, instead of thinking this was written by an expert.

    250 words:

    It took a few reads to get used to the third person, present tense, and the writing is a little wordy.

    The second paragraph could be tightened to:
    It begins with her hair. The long, errant strands continually escape the knot at the base of her neck, and her bright red tendrils brush the sides of her face. When her hands are full of dirty dishes, she’s forever blowing the disobedient curls off her cheeks. (or something like that)

    I really like the last sentence.

    Hope some of this help!
    Good luck!

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