Friday, June 1, 2018

QK1 Match 8: Hungry Ocean Gods vs. Farmer Jack is Trapped in a Carrot

Title: Tidepool
Entry Nickname: Hungry Ocean Gods
Word count: 77K
Genre: Adult Dark Fantasy

In 1913, Sorrow Hamilton is searching for her vanished brother Henry. Defying her father’s orders to remain home, she travels to the last place Henry is known to have visited – Tidepool.

After corpses wash up on the shore looking as if they’ve been torn apart by something not quite human, Sorrow is ready to run back to Baltimore and let her father send in the professional detectives. But then she encounters Mrs. Ada Oliver, a widow quite unlike the other Tidepool residents. 

A visit to Mrs. Oliver’s home and a terrifying encounter with the daughter Mrs. Oliver keeps in her basement lead to Sorrow’s discovery of a dark secret: the sacrifices Mrs. Oliver makes protect Tidepool from the horrifying creatures living in the ocean. If the Lords Below don’t get their tributes, they will rise.  

Sorrow wants to get justice for her brother, but doing so could doom all the town’s residents. And the denizens of Tidepool—human and otherwise—are hell bent on making sure Sorrow never leaves. 

First 250:

Tidepool looked like the kind of place where people went to die, not to live. 

After less than a day there, Henry Hamilton had already seen enough. His father had settled on the little oceanside town as a possible location for a beach resort. Henry’s colleague and friend Charlie Sherman returned from the place completely high on the idea, but as Henry strolled around Tidepool’s dirt streets he couldn’t understand their enthusiasm. 

The only thing about Tidepool that Henry found impressive was the brick mansion that sat atop a high hill overlooking the town and the Atlantic. The enormous, elaborate house looked like someone had dropped it in from another, wealthier place.

The rest of Tidepool was all rusted metal signs and fading paint on wooden buildings that had long since warped in the town’s pervasive dampness. The ramshackle stores lining the main street looked like they might collapse into splinters and planks if Henry gave them a good swift kick. 

He was starting to want to. 

The vast, sprawling cemetery that Henry passed did little to improve his opinion of the place. Rows of mossy headstones stretched back as far as he could see, and the graveyard appeared larger than the town itself. 

Well, that’s a swell sight to greet visitors, he thought. 

The pervasive odors of salt water and fish wafted off the nearby ocean but another smell lurked underneath those, something even less pleasant. Henry couldn’t identify it, but it reminded him somewhat of the stench of a dead animal rotting in the woods.


Title: Chang and the Transdimensional Carrot
Entry Nickname: Farmer Jack is Trapped in a Carrot
Word count: 115K
Genre: Adult Portal Fantasy


Jack Avens is having a bad day. His back aches, his dog is missing, and his neighbour has trapped him in a carrot.

After thirty years of vegetable farming, Jack is ready to retire alongside his wife, Fern, and his dog, Chang. After a wretched day in the fields, culminating in the disappearance of his beloved dog, he discovers what appears to be an ordinary carrot. He picks it up, intending to toss it into the compost pile, but is transported to another realm instead.

Jack learns his loathsome neighbour and farming rival, Hal Stormthord, is responsible for pulling him into this strange dimension. Hal has secretly been in love with Fern for decades. Feeling bitter and wronged, he has decided to trap both Jack and Chang in his carrot-world. He hopes their loss will drive Fern into his arms. 

But Jack has his skeletons, too. In addition to stealing the woman Hal loves, he’s guilty of sabotaging Hal’s farm and driving him to alcoholism. 

Meanwhile, Fern has discovered the carrot back in the real world and plans on eating it for dinner. If she consumes it, Jack and Chang will be lost forever. Jack must now confront his dark past in order to escape with Chang before Fern finishes her dinner and dooms them both to eternity in the carrot.

First 250:

Something was wrong with Jack. Or rather, something was wrong with his perception of reality today.

Grimacing, he held a hand up to his nose. Although he had been starving, the decrepit smell of the chicken coop baking in the afternoon sun was enough to turn his stomach. He usually gathered the eggs after breakfast, but there had been an emergency this morning. The farm’s temperamental potato digger was refusing to cooperate. Jack was the only one on the farm capable of fixing it. Before he knew it, the entire morning passed by and he had missed lunch.

It wasn’t just time that seemed to be slipping away, he reflected as he collected the eggs. It was as if the entire world was as well. He had a terrible, underlying impression a great dimensional shift had occurred, and his farm was at the hub of it. The feeling had taken hold like an invasive weed, its roots spreading deep as the morning progressed.

During breakfast, his wife joked that he must have woken up on the wrong side of the bed. Jack had merely rolled his eyes at this. With his arthritic knees, lower back pain, and hip replacement, he had been waking up on the wrong side of the bed for the past decade. 

Jack Avens did not feel like he had woken up on the wrong side of the bed; rather, he felt he had woken up in the wrong bed, period.


  1. Hi HUNGRY OCEAN GODS! I really enjoyed your voice and the premise hooked me right away. I'd read it now if I could! But the query and pages aren't the same MC which confused me a bit. Perhaps it was a prologue? I am not sure how quickly Henry disappears, but I'd say anything he showed the reader probably could have been through Swallow's POV. However, since I am not sure the set up for the story, I'll just give your kudos for drawing me in (the query as well as the opening--I was just sad to really like Henry since he was the character I imprinted on, and then knew he wasn't going to stick around). Best wishes!

  2. Hungry Ocean Gods
    Since you give a year, I assume this story happens in the real world. I’d add a few more details to Tidepool. Is it a dangerous place, etc? Is it not normal to have bodies wash up there? I can’t tell. I have a bit of an issue with the “looking like they’ve been torn apart by something not quite human.” It’s a bit of a leap to make, and I’m not sure who makes it. Sorrow herself? Did she find the bodies? The police? Why would they share that information? The following clause confuses things, because at first I thought it meant “send in professional detectives to investigate the bodies on the shore,” but logically, that doesn’t make sense. The police should come on their own, not need to be sent. Unless Sorrow found the bodies in a secluded place and didn’t tell anyone. Then I thought you meant, “send in professional detectives to find her brother,” which makes more sense, but if that’s the case it shouldn’t be connected to the bit about the bodies. In the end, I had no idea which one you actually meant.
    In the second paragraph, I wouldn’t say “Mrs. Oliver” twice in one sentence, and the sentence itself has too many ideas. I don’t know what the daughter in the basement has to do with the rest of the story. I’d split this up so the sequence of events is clearer, and take out the extra information. The “sacrifices” needs more fleshing out—was Mrs. Oliver responsible for the bodies on the shore, or did horrifying ocean creatures do that? If it was the creature, the sacrifices aren’t working. If she did do it, then she’s not really protecting anyone, she’s killing them. I wasn’t convinced by the stakes at the end. I don’t see what her missing brother had to do with anything, and I don’t know why getting justice for him endanger the town. Was he one of the sacrifices? I’m also not sure why people from the town or the creatures care if she leaves. If people know they’re in danger from sea creatures, why don’t they all just leave? How would her leaving effect the creatures themselves? In 1913, if a girl ran through the streets of Baltimore raving about the Lords Below, they’d probably institutionalize her, not listen to her. The idea behind this query is intriguing, but it’s too scant on details that inform the plot. I’d go back and flesh out each plot point to show how one thing effects the other and make stakes much, much clearer.
    Are the first 250 a prologue? They read like a prologue, since they come from the POV of the missing brother. My biggest issue is they give away any sense of mystery by letting the reader know he was, in fact, in Tidepool and probably disappeared there, and it had something to do with the water. The query suggests the pages will begin with a missing person mystery. The query and pages should, more or less, start in the same place. “He was starting to want to,” is too wordy. He can just want to—doesn’t need to start. I do like the description of the town, and it’s clear the town is important, but I think the story would be better suited starting with Sorrow. Since Henry goes missing, I assume this is the only time we hear from him, so even if this doesn’t say prologue, it is a prologue.

  3. Farmer Jack is Trapped in a Carrot
    Lol. I love the way your query begins. It made me laugh, and it made me keep reading. A carrot as the portal to another world is great. At four, you may have one too many named characters, though. You actually don’t need to name the wife, rival farmer, or dog—you could get away with pronouns. Too many names can confuse things. I wasn’t as keen on the fourth paragraph. You can’t really “steal” a person. Presumably, his wife is a capable woman with her own mind, who chose the man she wanted. To say someone “stole” her, outside of kidnapping her, isn’t really fair. That’s the sort of language I would expect if the query came from the rival’s POV. In the same way, saying he “drove his neighbor to alcoholism” isn’t really right either. Again, it sounds like something the rival would say, not the POV character. I think you can make paragraph four more specific and say what Jack actually did, rather than stating the effects of his actions. The last paragraph his more great humor and real stakes, though I’d like more details about the world where they end up. How, in this place, can he confront his past? I love the humorous voice in this query, but I’d do a bit to tighten up the plot and the world.

    For the pages, if I’m being picky, you can get rid of “up” in “hand up to his nose,” since the direction is implied by the action. I’d replace “had been starving,” with “was starving,” or take it a step further and describe how his stomach feels, rather than tell. And is “decrepit” the right word? That implies it’s old and in really poor repair, which seems odd, if it’s still in use, which the next sentence says it is. The third paragraph needs some work. “He had a terrible, underlying impression a great dimensional shift had occurred, and his farm was at the hub of it,” is sort of a strange sentence. Not sure how you get that impression, or what it would feel like. I like the line that follows it, though, so I’d make the impression he gets more relatable. I like the way the rest of the story reads, and you get a good sense of Jack’s voice by the end.

  4. HUNGRY OCEAN GODS: This is a really good query. It gives the readers the stakes and also incorporates a bit of the creepy atmosphere I'm assuming permeates the book. Well done. I would suggest a little more detail about how Sorrow plans to get justice for her brother and how doing so will doom the residents of Tidepool. Those details are a little vague, and you've got enough word space to flesh them out. On the first 250, the first two paragraphs are very tell-y. If you're going to start with Henry (I assume this is a prologue, and we get to Sorrow's perspective in Ch. 1?), then you really need to draw us into the story. I'd suggest starting with a revised third paragraph, because this drew me into the story much more than the first two. Well done!

    FARMER JACK IS TRAPPED IN A CARROT: Well, this sounds weird and funny and like nothing else I've read. I would like a little more in the query about how Jack plans to escape from the carrot, since I'm having a hard time picturing it. Other than that, this query totally drew me in. The first 250 has style and voice and puts us right into the setting. I would keep reading, for sure.

    Two strong entries, and I went back and forth. Based purely on personal taste, I'm awarding VICTORY to FARMER JACK!

  5. Tidepool
    I liked, liked, liked the query! I could follow the story, I remembered Sorrow with her great name and quest, and Ada Oliver creeps me out. Hands down, best query yet for me personally. I couldn't figure out how Sorrow will get justice without causing the town's destruction and it smacks of a pretty exciting finish to me.

    But the first 250 made me sad! I wanted Sorrow! The writing is good, the setting great, but I don't get my MC and man, after that query, I wanted to meet her. I hardly suggest a backlash to set up a previous event, but I might here, just to get your MC on stage sooner.

  6. Farmer Jack and the Carrot

    Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater just won't be the same. The premise is so zany, I have been pondering how to approach the query. Reading it, I can't be sure how to take it. The whole trapped in the carrot thing feels a little like a joke, but the character content feels serious. I am just not certain what the tone of this novel will be. The only quibbles I have with the query are pointing out Farmer Jack's flaws as regards his neighbor. At this point I am looking for someone to root for, and hearing he's kind of no good himself kind of made me pull back. The other part that bothered me was that the wife is about to eat the carrot he was going to throw on the compost heap.

    Given that the story appears to take place in a day? I wonder if the plot can carry over the length of the novel.

    The first 250 are delightful. The voice is there, the writing is delicious and I now expect carrot cake with plenty of icing. Good job!

  7. Disclaimer right up front: I don't read fantasy, so keep that in mind as you read my thoughts.

    Hungry Ocean: I loved the query, but the first 250 seemed to almost come from a different place. Still Tidepool, of course, but what happened to Sorrow? Obviously the story can still work, and maybe a full first chapter would solve things better. There are limitations necessary to a contest like this, but as it stands it's a little odd to have a MC appear in the query and something completely different start the story.

    Couple specifics:
    - I wonder if "inhuman" would work better than "not quite human?"
    - I love the quandary you set up in the query. Forcing the choice between bad and worse. Great job.
    - I'd eliminate "somewhat" in the 250. Make it confident instead of wishy-washy.

    Farmer Jack
    Well, this is certainly unique. As I said, I don't read fantasy so I don't know how far out there this subject is, but I'm surprised that you don't mention this being comical or a farce or a comedy. If it is. Maybe it's not because your words don't come across that way; only the subject matter.

    Great job pulling me into the story. You bet I'd read more because I have to see where this is going. That said, here are a couple things to consider:
    - If Jack stole Hal's wife and also sabotaged Hal's farm, then isn't he as loathsome as you say Hal is? Hard to cheer for a guy like that unless he had some reason to do all that to Hal, but you don't have any of that on the page so I'm left to assume he didn't have justification. In which case, who am I cheering for here? Granted, he's trapped with his dog so that helps, but still!

    Also, be careful of using words like "he reflected" when you're in close third. We know he reflected, so you don't need to waste the words telling us. Makes your storytelling tighter when you eliminate words like that.

    Great job, both entries. Good luck!

  8. Tidepool
    Immediately I am drawn in. And to make your query stronger, don't say 'looking like torn apart.' Just say 'torn apart' that way we are directly there seeing it. I also think queries are stronger as three paragraphs. So I would somehow morph the first two, then the last two together. And then put the comps and a generic info in the last. Your first 250 starts slow. To die and not to live is the same thing, and I think it is redundant to start that way. But then I read further and get into Henry's mind and I'm enjoying it. Maybe start with Henry doing something, holding something, smelling something...and then explain that it is a place to die. But this is my opinion, your work is still super solid!

    Chang and the Transdimensional Carrot

    The beginning of the query is pretty generic for me. I would just start with Jack is in a carrot. And boom! I want to read more. Also for you, the query is split in four paragraphs when I think it would be stronger, and agents would like more, if it is only three. Also the query reads more like a timeline, I think you could get rid of a few things to really get closer to the action. Like loathsome neighbor and rival is too much for a query, just make it is neighbor rival and we can fit pieces together later. For your 250, I like the first sentence, not the second. The second is confusing. Get rid of 'today.' Also get rid of 'decrepit' for the chicken coop is redundant, we know it smells back by him grimacing and the baking sun. But then it picks up and I like it. Solid writing.

    Overall both are good and I would see having a hard time picking!!! Good luck!!!

  9. Hungry Ocean Gods: The query is good, but it leaves me with a few questions. Why would Sorrow go in the first place if private detectives were going to be sent in. Where are the police, does the town have a police force and if not are there Sheriff’s Deputies? I need more than to be told there is dark secrets. I know that you are trying to be mysterious and to some extent that is what you need to do, but dark secrets is too generic and is often used as a crutch. In the first 250, I don’t think you need the second to in the first line. TIDEPOOL LOOKED LIKE THE KIND OF PLACE WHERE PEOPLE WENT TO DIE, NOT LIVE. I think you are starting with a prologue even though it doesn’t say prologue because it’s the old bait and switch where you talk about Sorrow in the Query, I think the story is about Sorrow finding Henry and then BAM, the first 250 words are about Henry. I would prefer if you maybe started with Sorrow’s reaction to finding out her brother is missing and maybe add the information in the first 250 sprinkled throughout the manuscript as Sorrow searches for her brother.

    Farmer Jack is Trapped in a Carrot: Query, I don’t know what to think about this entry. If you told me there was a middle grade portal fantasy about a boy being trapped in a carrot, I would say Hell yeah. But to here it’s an adult portal fantasy that’s 115K words long, really makes me scratch my head. I’m not to sure the stakes are strong enough, escape or get trapped in a carrot, but how would he remain trapped in the carrot if Fern eats it, wouldn’t Jack and Chang die? Perhaps end up for eternity in the outhouse? In the first 250. Your writing is strong and your story telling ability is obviously well honed.

    These are two completely different stories which makes it a little harder when choosing one over the other. VICTORY TO HUNGRY OCEAN GODS

  10. Hungry Ocean Gods


    Your query is a little vague. It leaves me with these questions (and I think answering them will make the query stronger):
    What about the widow makes Sorrow want to stay?
    How is she different from the other residents of Tidepool?
    What makes the encounter with the widow’s daughter so terrifying?
    What does she have to do to get justice for her brother? The query doesn’t mention what happened to him.
    Maybe mention in the query that the novel has more than one POV, since your 250 starts with Henry.

    250 words:

    Good first sentence, but you jump right into backstory in the next. I would wait with this.
    Love this sentence: “He was starting to want to.”
    Maybe give us some more action after this, instead of going into more description? If not, remove the “did nothing to improve his opinion of the place”. This is telling and should rather be showed.

    Hope some of this help!
    Good luck!

    Farmer Jack is Trapped in a Carrot

    Love the first sentence in the query, but wonder about this being adult.
    A bit much detail in the paragraph following. You don’t need to tell us what he intends to do with the carrot.
    This is an interesting premise, and I love the stakes!

    250 words:

    I like your first sentence. I don’t like the second as much. I think I would like them better together if you put the “today” at the end of the first instead.
    The following paragraph is a little wordy. You don’t need to tell us he had been starving. Bad smell can turn your stomach anyway. Also you don’t have to say there had been an emergency, just tell us about it.
    In the next paragraph, watch out for filtering like “he reflected”.
    I love the “During breakfast” paragraph.
    In the last sentence, I would lose the “rather” and also the “period.”
    Hope some of this help!
    Good luck!

  11. Hungry Ocean Gods

    This definitely has a Lovecraftian feel, so if you were going for that, well done. I’d like some more details, though. You have 100 more words to work with, so you have room to expand and do away with vagueness. What makes Mrs Oliver different from the other residents? The ending feels weak, partially because we don’t know how she can get justice. I understand wanting to keep the mystery mysterious, but you don’t want your query to be vague.

    First 250, I’m fine with it starting with her brother. I’m guessing this is a prologue or something, and considering its relation to the plot as given in the query, that’s perfectly fine and the way prologues should work. The brother has a clear personality and his voice gives the town a personality too. The page works for me.


    Farmer Jack is Trapped in a Carrot

    Wow, what a wild concept. Probably safe to say there is nothing like this anywhere. I’m actually not really sure what to say about this one, because the story is so different and bizarre, the typical query rules might not apply. I’d normally say to stick to one character, but the different angles on this one tie together so well. That said, I’m not sure we need as much information about Hal’s obsession with Fern. I’m more curious how this farmer became a portal wizard. The zaniness sort of makes me think of Christopher Moore’s books, if you need comps.

    First 250, the opening feels a little too on the nose for a portal fantasy, but the humor and the absurdity works. You make a good feel of farm work. The “dimensional shift” line is the one that made me feel it was too on the nose, so many consider cutting that one, but otherwise, I like this.

  12. HUNGRY OCEAN GODS has an eldritch feel to it that invokes an updated HP Lovecraft tale. This is right in my wheelhouse as a reader. I love the name of the town (Tidepool) though I'd like to see the state initials included after it in the query to show that we're not in a second world right off the bat.

    The thing I'm wrestling with in this query is the lack of specifics. It references "getting justice for Henry" but it remains unclear what it is necessary to get justice for. Was one of the mutilated corpses that washed ashore Henry's? I couldn't help but feel like you were withholding a little too much in this query.

    The other thing I would've really liked to have seen is more of who Sorrow is as a person. I didn't get a good feel for her from the query or the first 250 (since it's from Henry's POV), and left without knowing much about her aside from her rather unfortunate name (her parents had quite the mean streak, naming one child Henry and the other Sorrow--a death during child birth, perhaps?).

    The setting has me hooked! Now I'm craving more from the characters.


    FARMER JACK IS TRAPPED IN A CARROT evokes the bizarre, while also strangely taking me back to the "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" of my childhood. I can say without a doubt that I've never read a story quite like this.

    You've successfully taken this unusual concept and made me able to follow both the plot arc and character arc through the query. I get enough of both here to make me see what Farmer Jack is going to be dealing with inside of carrot dimension.

    An area for improvement to me on this is Jack's voice. You really nail this in several sections (when he's talking about waking up in the wrong bed, invasive weed), but then there are these sections about perceptions of reality and great dimensional shifts that feel like an external narrator is hopping in to explain things.

    Also, if this is a portal fantasy, what is carrot world like? At 115,000 words, we're going to be spending a lot of time there, and I leave this story with no clue what it's like inside the magic carrot.


    If these are both on a bookshelf, I'm buying VICTORY TO HUNGRY OCEAN GODS because this is exactly the kind of story I'm into. But this is QueryKombat, and on which query was more effective to me...



  13. In 1913, Sorrow Hamilton is searching for her vanished brother Henry. Defying her father’s orders to remain home, she travels to the last place Henry is known to have visited – Tidepool.

    After corpses wash up on the shore looking as if they’ve been torn apart by something not quite human, Sorrow is ready to run back to Baltimore and let her father send in the professional detectives. But then she encounters Mrs. Ada Oliver, a widow quite unlike the other Tidepool residents.

    A visit to Mrs. Oliver’s home and a terrifying encounter with the daughter Mrs. Oliver keeps in her basement lead to Sorrow’s discovery of a dark secret: the sacrifices Mrs. Oliver makes protect Tidepool from the horrifying creatures living in the ocean. If the Lords Below don’t get their tributes, they will rise.

    BY REVEALING MRS OLIVER'S SECRET SORROW WILL GET JUSTICE FOR HER BROTHER, BUT AT THE EXPENSE OF TIDEPOOL'S RESIDENTS. And the denizens of Tidepool—human and otherwise—are hell bent on making sure Sorrow never leaves.

    HUNGRY OCEAN GODS – Your query is pretty damn perfect. I've added only one thing.

    Your 250 are great, too, but I'm going to play Devil's Advocate. Are you sure you want to start with Henry? Does he play a lead role throughout or is Sorrow our title character? This feels a little bit like a prologue, but I can't be sure without reading the whole MS. Just make sure you don't give up too much of the mystery at the beginning. I realize it's a fantasy and not a who-dunnit, but there's do let the mystery of Henry's disappearance lead the reader along, at least for a little while. All in all, nicely done.

    Jack Avens is having a bad day. His back aches, his dog is missing, and his neighbour has trapped him in a carrot.

    After thirty years of vegetable farming, Jack is ready to retire alongside his wife, Fern, and his dog, Chang. After a wretched day in the fields, culminating in the disappearance of his beloved dog, he discovers what appears to be an ordinary carrot. He picks it up, intending to toss it into the compost pile, but is transported to another realm instead.

    Jack learns his loathsome neighbour and farming rival, Hal Stormthord, is responsible for pulling him into this strange dimension. Hal has secretly been in love with Fern for decades. Feeling bitter and wronged, he has decided to trap both Jack and Chang in his carrot-world, HOPING their loss will drive Fern into his arms.

    But Jack has his skeletons, too. In addition to stealing the woman Hal loves, he’s guilty of sabotaging Hal’s farm and driving him to alcoholism.

    Meanwhile, Fern has discovered the carrot back in the real world and plans on eating it for dinner. If she consumes it, Jack and Chang will be lost forever. Jack must now confront his dark past in order to escape with Chang before Fern finishes her dinner and dooms them both to eternity in the carrot.

    FARMER JACK – Great query. The voice is strong in this one – it made me smile. The first paragraph is a great hook, your stakes are VERY clear, and I feel like I'm familiar with your characters from the beginning. I changed only one thing.

    Your 250 are good. I'm worried about the MS length. There must be a lot going on in this carrot portal world. Does the story hold up throughout? Be careful. Make sure you ask a few Adult SF/F CPS to give it a good, hard, red-ink read. Even so, I'm intrigued. You've definitely got something humorous and fresh, and that works in your favor. …I hope Fern doesn't make carrot stew before it's too late.
    This is another tough one to decide. You both are really solid writers, and I wish I could send you both on, but I'm going to have to give the VICTORY TO HUNGRY OCEAN GODS.

  14. FARMER JACK and OCEAN GODS, I wanted to add: for both of you, after the contest, if you want more hands-on advice, hit me up. I'll make time.

    Very, very interesting and slightly creepy! I know of a few folks who would love this kind of story!! Few things: This query does a nice job of giving us what Sorrow is up against and what she’s trying to do to fix it. I am curious why she went looking when her father was going to send in detectives? Might be worth laying that out for us. Also “doom all the town’s residents” doesn’t seem to fit. Is there a better word to describe what will happen to them?

    First 250:
    While this was a really well written opening—I’m curious why we’re in Henry’s head? Is this a prologue? If it is, I’m going to be in the unpopular opinion camp and tell you to cut it because 99.99999% of the time the prologue is just (a) a rehash of the book blurb or (b) a big ol’ spoiler alert. If you want us to understand what Henry experienced before he died, there are ways to do that in the story….people who saw Henry last, letters home to his folks, etc.

    Okay. This title cracked me up. And even more so….I’m not even sure how to give you feedback because this is the wackiest story I’ve seen so far (and I mean that in a good way). For the mechanics of the query, you’ve done well with setting up who Jack is, what happened but the one thing I’d like to see is how Jack FEELS about being with the woman Hal loves and driving him to drink to excess. Does he feel guilty? Does he want to right his wrongs? Does he want to find compromise? In this kind of story we want to know that Jack is wrestling with the idea of needing to make changes not only to get back but so he doesn’t end up in a carrot again!

    First 250
    I love what you’re trying to set up for us—that something is just…off…in Jack’s world. But the paragraphs and set up aren’t transitioning well from one to the other. He’s having an off day (which happens to the best of us) but we go from having an off day to, “He had a terrible, underlying impression a great dimensional shift had occurred, and his farm was at the hub of it.” And then we’re at breakfast—even though he just said he’d missed lunch. So, not only is it confusing on how he came to this cosmic conclusion that the world has tipped over on it’s axis, but I’m not sure what tie of day it is.

    My vote goes to HUNGRY OCEAN GODS

  16. Hungry Ocean Gods

    Another descriptor for Tidepool would help clear up what exactly it is––town, island, etc. (Is it also supposed to be in Maryland?). I would cut the first line of the third paragraph and go straight to Mrs. Oliver’s sacrifices, though it’s unclear to me what she’s sacrificing. I’m assuming humans, and that Henry was one of them, but that’s not clearly stated here. You do a great job establishing the atmosphere of the story!

    I was surprised this opens with Henry (since he’s missing in the story) and it feels more like prologue. I know this character is about to disappear, and it doesn’t do anything to make me feel an emotional connection to him. I would consider starting the story from Sorrow’s POV if possible. Love the little descriptors of the town though––house on the hill, sprawling graveyard, ramshackle town. This will be a creepy place to explore, and I would enjoy reading.

    Farmer Jack is Trapped in a Carrot

    I keep re-reading the first line and laughing, so well done there.  The query flows well, though I’m curious how confronting his past will help him escape carrot-world.

    I like that it’s dry and understated, but I was expecting more humor from such a bizarre premise. You say twice that Jack can tell something is off, but there’s no concrete evidence shown of what’s tipping him off. It’s all seems to be in his gut, more telling than showing. I do love that last line though!

    This one was really tough, but I’m going to go with the premise that intrigues me more…


    Hungry Ocean Gods

    Query:I’m a little unclear on the final statement of stakes here. Does Sorrow never want to leave (the denizens are hell bent are avoiding this?)or does she just want to avenger her brother? Or stop the sacrifices? I’m a bit confused here.

    First 250: This story is really about Sorrow, so starting with Henry is a bit of a shift. I feel like this isn’t a good idea to open the story, it could be a flashback later, but generally you’d want to start with Sorrow, though it does seem you ARE starting at the inciting incident.
    Farmer Jack is Trapped in a Carrot
    Query: An incredibly quirky tale. I wish we got one sentence of what the carrot world felt/seemed like, but this is an excellent query for an oddball story. My main concern is the word count. It seems very high for a story like this.

    First 250: This is nice, but you are sort of hammering the same concept to death. Accept that the audience gets that your protagonist is a grump and move forward.

    Victory to: Farmer Jack is Trapped in a Carrot. While odd I have a stronger idea of the story!

  18. Hungry Ocean Gods
    Query: What an interesting and creepy premise! I love it. I don’t really have suggestions for improvement.
    First 250: Well done. I really love the first line, and I was drawn into the story from there. My only concern is that the query is from Sorrow’s perspective, yet you start the story with Henry. I assume this is a prologue? Consider whether you really need to start here, or if you’d do better starting with Sorrow and building the suspense by creating questions about what happened to Henry.

    Farmer Jack is Trapped in a Carrot
    Query: This is a cute and imaginative idea, but I’m not 100% sure of the marketability for adults. However, I like the twist on Jack in the Beanstalk (I assume? I’m not quite sure). I can't tell how much of your story takes place inside the carrot vs in his real world, so the stakes fall a bit flat for me. They’re basically: get out of the carrot or be cooked for dinner. But I’m left wondering how much story you have if it all takes place inside the carrot.
    First 250: Laugh out loud funny. Very well done. I really enjoyed this.

    What a dilemma! But, we’re expected to choose. So, trusting my gut, I’m awarding…

    Victory to HUNGRY OCEAN GODS!

  19. Hungry Ocean Gods: This dark premise is interesting! Your query is short, leaving room to work on making it more specific and massage out an intriguing stakes paragraph. I think it’s really important to give an age for Sorrow, immediately helping the editor/agent place your book in the market as they read. Twice, I wonder why you mention her father at all? Maybe he did tell her not to go, and maybe he has enough money to send detectives, but this information isn’t crucial to the storyline. Or at least, it doesn’t seem that way with this query. The sentence “After corpses wash up on the shore looking as if they’ve been torn apart by something not quite human,” is really long and awkward, and gives you an opportunity to add details and voice with some of Sorrow’s syntax. How is Ada Oliver different from the other Tidepool residents? Again, you need to make the stakes so torn, so visceral, that we’re not sure what Sorrow will decide, or at least we’ll root for her to pick what we think is the best option. Give us details on what justice for her brother looks like (Kill Ada? Go after the ocean gods? Find a weapon to destroy the entire town?) Give us details on what the “denizens of Tidepool” specifically want to do to Sorrow for what purpose (ultimate sacrifice of a virgin? Make her go away because she knows and can do something about it with land gods? Be fed to Ada’s brood?) The words are intriguing, but I almost want more voice. You do a great job of balancing vivid description with Henry’s feelings about them. I’d remove “not to live” from the first line because its redundant. The last line is a great cliffhanger. Overall, a great entry!

    Farmer Jack Is Trapped in a Carrot: A really fun premise! I kept having to look up at the category again because for some reason, it sounded like middle grade. I’m curious if this is a humorous portal fantasy? I hoped so, but the opening didn’t read that way. The query leaves a lot of questions you may want to visit in a rewrite such as: HOW did Vern trap his rival in a carrot? Does this world have a magic system in it? To make your stakes line stronger, I’d encourage you to elaborate slightly on HOW Jack must confront his dark past. The first 250 words have some really great voice, which is probably what made the hosts choose it! I’d encourage you to write OUT the repeated phrases to make it stronger, such as “Something was wrong” and “wrong side of the bed.” I absolutely love this metaphor: “The feeling had taken hold like an invasive weed, its roots spreading deep as the morning progressed.” The lines about the potato digger made me think that either it is a very small farm, or he doesn’t have the right help. Haha. Also, I noticed a handful of passive verbs, so changing the words to make it more active will infuse more voice and make the reading more interesting. I really love the foreshadowing you worked into the first scene. Great job!

    ~Red Ink Slinger

  20. Tidepool -- The query and page were both really atmospheric. I got a sense of the feel of the place right away. And the query sets up the MC and stakes pretty well (although I was confused as to what justice for Henry might entail). I was confused as to why we started with Henry's POV though -- I was assuming we'd be with the MC, and I was thrown off a bit. Lots of voice in the prose, though -- I got both a sense of dread, and a sense of humor, which is a tricky balance.

    Farmer Jack -- Reading the query, the premise seems... a little silly? Right from the get-go, I was assuming there was going to be humor, since this doesn't feel like the setup for your usual adult portal fantasy. But then the rest of the query seemed pretty dark, so I was confused. In the pages, I felt like there was too much "tell" instead of "show" in terms of the farmer's growing sense of something being wrong. The details were so earthy and grounding, but then words like "dimentional shift" seemed to pull the reader out of the moment. I'm fascinated by where this story might go!


    Very professional query and writing.

    I don’t really have anything to add, or anything that I’d change. The only thing I’d say is that this sort of sacrifice-to-the-eldritch-gods trope is fairly pervasive. Not that that is bad in itself. If your story has some sort of unexpected twist, something to recommend it other than obviously being extremely well-written, I’d hint at that.

    OH WOW THIS IS WACKY AND COOL. It reminds me a little of Douglas Adams. I don't really have anything to add here, either. The query and writing are great.

    In the end, I chose the one with what seemed like a fresher concept to me.


  22. Posting this in two posts because I'm apparently too long-winded and blogger doesn't like the word count on my comments...

    Nice job setting the mood and the tone. I like that it’s set back in 1913. I am left wondering, though, how far she’s travelled. I got the sense that this was an overseas trip, like to somewhere in England, but realized when I finished reading that I didn’t actually know where Tidepool was. Is this a made-up place or a real place? Either way, some hint of where this is located geographically I think would be beneficial.
    Also, make sure you give a hint at what Sorrow’s ultimate goal is once she discovers the truth, and what’s she’s going to have to do to accomplish that goal. Obviously there are going to be some hard choices she has to make, but to what end, exactly? Is she trying to stop Mrs. Oliver? Is she trying to get revenge for her brother? Is she just trying to escape Tidepool with her life? Once this is clarified better and we really understand what she’s trying to do, I feel this will be a really strong query.
    I really enjoyed this opening—especially the first line. The details you include about the peeling paint and the state of the town really grounded me in the setting. The voice is good, as well.
    The main problem I see is that the query makes it seem like this story will be told from Sorrow’s perspective and that Henry does not have a big role in the book since he dies right away, but this 250 is very clearly her brother Henry’s POV. Is this a dual POV book? Obviously it’s written in third person, but even in third person, usually you’d stick with one mc (unless you’re doing dual POV, of course). If Henry is going to die soon and not have a role in the rest of the book, I’d start right off in Sorrow’s POV. You can set this same scene from her perspective when she goes looking for her brother, trying to figure out what happened to him. Then it becomes a mystery for Sorrow, and the reader as well, to figure out what happened to him. I’m assuming this 250 goes on to show something happening to Henry and then cuts to Sorrow trying to avenge him. If that’s true, then this opening section would be more of an unnecessary prologue that gives away something you could save as a mystery and use to increase tension later in your story.
    Also, the word ‘swell’ doesn’t really fit with the time period. Find a different word to use in that spot.
    All that said, this 250 is really well written—I fell right into it and immediately connected with the voice, so great job on that.

  23. Post 2 of 2...

    LOVE your opening line. Perfect delivery, with listing the two mundane things and then the third thing that totally makes the reader stop and say ‘did I just read that right?’ Sooo well done! The query sets up the stakes nicely, especially when you add in that ticking time bomb of Fern getting ready to eat the carrot for dinner. That is great.
    I do have to say this—and you probably don’t want to hear it so I’m sorry about that—this plot really feels more like a middle grade novel than an adult one. And it would be a truly awesome middle grade novel plot. Even the tone of the query feels like middle grade. If you’re set on keeping it as an adult book, think about why it needs to be an adult book and make sure the reader gets a sense of that in the query. When you’re looking at audience for a novel, you have to think about the psychology, really, of people. How is a middle schooler going to see the world differently from an adult? A plot involving farmers getting stuck in a portal in a carrot feels like something from the mind of a middle schooler, not an adult, and I worry that adults will read the plot and immediately feel the book is not right for them.
    This opener is really well written, but it’s mostly introspection and so the pacing feels quite slow. Rather than starting with Jack working in the field, thinking about how hungry he is and how off he feels, why not start with the moment he enters a new dimension, trying to figure out what the heck just happened? I realize this is only the first 250 and maybe you get to that moment soon. If so—good. If not, consider moving that moment up so it happens sooner.
    If you need to start with Jack in the field in order to set the stage, consider adding something else into that scene so it’s not just him thinking. Maybe his wife is calling to him from the house and he calls back but she has a hard time understanding what he’s saying, or he starts talking to a nearby rabbit and then thinks he must really be losing it, or maybe he sees his neighbor in his field and gets all fake-nice. Or maybe he has chickens and they’re pecking at his heels while he’s working. Just something to break up the introspection so that’s not all that is going on.
    I’m also going to mention here that 115K words may be off-putting to some agents. That’s pretty long. Paired with the introspection in the first page, it makes me wonder if there are other sections of introspection that could be trimmed down throughout the ms.

    This is a tough matchup for me to decide on. I feel both need some work, but both also have fantastic potential. Please keep going on these, even if you don’t make it to the next round.

    Victory to HUNGRY OCEAN GODS.

  24. Hungry Ocean Gods_ I love this concept, and definitely get the creepy atmosphere of Tidepool. You did a wonderful job with this. Sorrow is a great name,I'm wondering why she was named Sorrow. I would look forward to finding out when I read the story. I would have liked more clarity though on what has happened to Henry and what or who Ada Oliver is sacrificing.I assume people,Henry being one of them? I also would have liked more clarity on how she will get justice for Henry. It did throw me a bit to be introduced to Henry rather than Sorrow in the 250. The first line is great and the description and atmosphere work very well..mysterious and creepy, but I still somehow felt as if I wasn't connecting with the MC. The first few paragraphs read more like an outline to me.But I liked Henry.And love Sorrow.I would definitely read this story. Great writing. Good luck!!

    Farmer Jack_ What a great idea! Trapped in a carrot sounds like a very bad day, indeed.And oh no! Fern is planning to unknowingly eat Jack! This query and 250 has great voice and writing. That first query line might hit even harder if it starts straightaway with "Jack is in trapped in a carrot" rather than saying he's having a bad day? Also, despite his love for Fern, I was a little confused as to why Hal feels bitter and wronged, until I read that Jack has been sabotaging his farm. For me it would have worked better to have the information about Jack sabotaging the farm, before being told that Hal feels bitter and wronged.

    250_ This line.. "He had a terrible, underlying impression a great dimensional shift had occurred, and his farm was at the hub of it" feels like telling to me. I love the description of how the feeling is taking hold like a pervasive weed. Could you maybe work his terrible feeling of some kind of shift occurring into that sentence somehow instead? This story intrigues me. I want to know more!Great voice. Best of luck!

  25. No one of consequenceJune 4, 2018 at 12:55 PM

    Love the query for HUNGRY OCEAN GODS. It's my kind of story, and the query makes me want to read it. A lot. The first 250, though, left me a bit flat. It's not the MC from the query, which confuses me, and it's a lot of telling. You're giving me the backstory of Tidepool instead of setting me into the scene and letting me discover it for myself.

    CARROT - Another premise that I love. I'm a huge Douglas Adams fan, and the query promises something like that. For the first 250, take a hard look at how many times you use the word 'was.' See if you can find a way to eliminate some of those in favor of some stronger verbs. It will help your writing a lot for a very small investment.

    So it's a battle of two great stories that both could use a little bit of work on the first page. It's a close call.

    I'm going to say Victory to HUNGRY OCEAN GODS, with the advice that you make the query and the first page match a little better before the second round.

  26. To the author of FARMER JACK: I apologize for using the incorrect villian name in my critique: "HOW did Hal trap his rival in a carrot?" My sincerest apologies!