Feb 2, 2017

Award Nominee: Tag You're Dead

J.C. Lane’s TAG, YOU’RE DEAD, the 2014 Query Kombat Grand Prize Runner-Up and YA Champion, has been nominated for the Agatha Award for Best Children’s/YA mystery! The Agatha Award is presented by the annual Malice Domestic conference, which celebrates mysteries. This is the second Agatha nomination for J.C. Lane, who also writes mysteries for adults as Judy Clemens and was nominated for the Agatha for Best First Novel for TILL THE COWS COME HOME in 2004.

Tag, You're Dead Cover

Six young people play a dangerous Game of Tag in public, chasing through the crowds, streets, and buildings of Chicago. This secret, one-of-a-kind, wildly expensive Game offers a macabre twist to the childhood version…if you get Tagged, you get Dead.

Three "Its" have their reasons for buying a place in the Game. Surgically enhanced Brandy is obsessed with destroying a naturally beautiful girl. Untalented Robert covets his target's position as superstar of the basketball team. Brainiac Charles craves a battle against an intellectual equal. Given their elite social status, they reject any possible downside to the contest. Each expects the satisfaction of killing their prey, then walking away.

Hand-picked innocents play as “Runners,” under threat to their loved ones should they refuse to participate: lovely, small-town Laura; celebrated athlete Tyrese; and Amanda, gamer extraordinaire. Alone, hunted by their adversary, each feels a single hope…to survive. 

Technological wizardry controls the Game. As soon as Runners receive the “Go” signal on smartwatches locked to their wrists, the Game rockets them through the city, from the El to Michigan Avenue to the Lincoln Park Zoo. There is no time to rest. Every thirty minutes the Runner’s location is transmitted to the It, which steadily diminishes the Runner’s chance of ever reaching Home Base alive.

The Game will not end until someone is Tagged, so the Runners must choose how to play. Will they accept death? Murder their Its? Or find a way to use individual strengths to stop the Game before anyone dies?

Order your copy of TAG, YOU'RE DEAD from Amazon or wherever books are sold.

J.C. Lane is the author of Tag, You're Dead, a thriller for YA and adults. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two children, where she spends her time shuttling her kids to events, baking and cooking, and binge-watching Netflix. She is a past president of Sisters in Crime and also writes mysteries under the name Judy Clemens. Those books include the Anthony and Agatha-nominated Stella Crown mysteries, the Grim Reaper series, and the stand-alone LOST SONS. She loves collecting Santa Claus figurines, Van Briggle pottery, and fun bookmarks. Connect with her at www.Jclanebooks.com.

Jan 16, 2017

NoQS Success - Valerie Bodden

Success Success Success! It's something we're all searching for, and though it's tough to find it in this industry, it's not impossible. With every success story we publish, we inspire hundreds more to try to beat the odds. I hope Valerie's journey to success will invigorate and inspire you. Who knows, maybe your story will be the next one we post!

You know how there are always things you want to do someday? For me, that was writing a novel. I got my start in publishing in 2006 when I landed my dream job as an editor for a school and library publisher. The next year, my first child was born, and I transitioned to a freelance role as an author for the school and library market. For the past decade or so, my day job (ha! try the job I squeeze in during naptime, bedtime, sports practice time) has been as an author of children’s nonfiction.

And though I love nonfiction, I knew something was missing. I’d started out writing stories in fourth grade (for the record, my first book was called “Enemies Are Friends,” and I still have it—thanks, mom, for keeping everything!), and I wanted to get back to that. But between raising four children and writing 200+ books, I was a little short on time.

I figured I’d get back to fiction someday—someday when I had more time (still waiting for that one), someday when my youngest was in school full time (she isn’t yet), someday when the stars aligned and the words came pouring out of me with no effort (that’s how it’s supposed to happen, isn’t it?). Fortunately, someday came out of nowhere and smacked me on the head.

I don’t even know how or why it happened, really, but one day in 2013, when my youngest was only a year old, the stories in my head and in my heart couldn’t wait a moment longer. So I started writing them down. I didn’t really think much about it at first, just opened a file and started throwing words onto the page. Though my first story ultimately stalled out and so did the next couple, they were a start, and I couldn’t go back to waiting for someday.

So when in 2014, I heard of this little thing called NaNoWriMo, I thought, I can do that. 50,000 words in a month is totally doable. No sweat. I may have been slightly delusional. Turns out it was a lot of sweat, but I did it. And when the month ended, I kept working on that story and revising it until in early 2016, I felt ready to query. I sent out a small batch of queries and then promptly got swallowed by nonfiction deadlines. By the time I emerged in the summer of 2016, I realized the novel needed another revision, so I set to it.

In the fall, I was ready to query again. I entered a few contests with agent rounds but didn’t get chosen. I debated entering Nightmare on Query Street because I felt a little contested-out, but I decided I didn’t have anything to lose by going for it. If I wasn’t chosen, I could still cold query, and if I was, I’d have the best of both worlds: a chance to be mentored by an experienced author and a chance to get in front of agents.

So I sent in my entry and didn’t forget about it, exactly, but the mentees were announced on my son’s birthday, so by the time I got done wishing him happy birthday and shipping the kids off to school, the results had already been up for a couple of hours. After going through the first two lists, I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I hadn’t made it into the contest. Then I flipped to the list for Mike’s Monsters. I had to read it three times—but every time, my manuscript, DROWNING IN AIR, appeared there. There was no one home to celebrate with. Except the dog. Fortunately, she’s a party animal.

I was paired with C.B. Catalano as my mentor. Guys, she was awesome. She really pushed me to laser-focus the stakes in my query and to end my 250 in a way that would make agents cry for more. Finally, we were both happy with my entry, and I submitted it, then settled in to wait for the agent round. This time, I didn’t forget. There may have been a lot of refreshing of my browser involved. Ultimately, I ended up with one NoQS request. But I also knew I had ended up with a much stronger query and a team of cheerleaders behind me. With Cassandra’s encouragement, I began to send out more cold queries. Then things got real.

My NoQS-perfected query led to several full requests. One that came in very quickly was from Jane Dystel of Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret. I sent the full manuscript off and settled in for the long wait. But within a few days, I received another email—Jane’s partner had loved it, and Jane was reading it. When I received an email from Jane two days later, I thought, That can’t be a good sign. She must have given up on it. But it turns out she had flown through the manuscript and wanted to call to discuss representation.

We spoke on the phone the next day, and she was so enthusiastic about representing the book and my career. The next few days were a flurry of emailing agents who still had queries and fielding more full requests and agent responses. A week later, I called Jane to accept her offer. It still hardly seems real, and I can’t wait for the next stages.

So, I guess the moral of the story is, if you’re passionate about writing (or any other pursuit), don’t wait until someday. Make today your someday.

Oh, and moral number two: the writing community is the best place in the world to be. Do you know how many people out there are pulling for you? Writers like NoQS hosts Michelle Hauck, Laura Heffernan, and Michael Anthony, along with C.B. and all the mentors, have their own lives and their own deadlines, but they freely give their time because they want to see other writers succeed—that means you. So my huge thanks to them, and my encouragement to you: if you’re considering entering a contest like this, do it!


Valerie Bodden is a YA writer and the author of more than 200 children’s nonfiction books. Her books have received critical acclaim from Booklist, Children’s Literature, Foreword Magazine, Horn Book Guide, VOYA, and School Library Journal. Valerie lives in Wisconsin with her husband, four children, one dog, two cats, a growing collection of fish, and miscellaneous bugs that her children have “rescued” from the outdoors. She spends most of her time writing or wrangling children and animals. Valerie is represented by Jane Dystel of Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret.

Find her online: www.valeriebodden.com
Twitter: @ValBodden (enter to win a query and 10-page critique)

Instagram: @ValBoddenBooks

Dec 19, 2016

A Query Kombat Success Story - Sarah Janian

Success stories are always awesome to share. For those starting off, it's a testament of what happens when you persevere. For those in the trenches, it give you a sense of hope that your blood, sweat, and tear will pay off.

Well, it will pay off. Sometimes is just takes a little time, and small victories, as Sarah can attest.


Many authors frame their origin story in childhood.  They describe epic novels scrawled in notebooks, or a sense of knowing they were predestined for the glorious (cough) work of authoring.

Not so for me.  I was an avid reader, but I avoided creative writing at all costs, until I became an elementary school teacher and had to teach it.  At first, I felt like a fool and a charlatan, but eventually, this work of helping children find their own voices helped me to find my own.

A science fiction premise came to me one day, one I thought had a strong enough hook to be worth the toil of turning it into a novel.  So I sat down to write it six years ago, thinking I would have it agented and sold in a year.

In a turn of events that will shock no one, I struggled with the logistics of an 80ish k novel, since the longest thing I had written post-grad school was a short story for my class.  So after a couple years of writing and rewriting, I decided to hold off on the SF and try my hand at a middle grade fantasy.

That manuscript wrote itself in a few months, and I enthusiastically pitched it at several SCBWI conferences over the next couple of years.  In each case, agents gave me the same feedback: “There’s a lot to love here, but this book isn’t publishable.”

I was devastated.

I complained, I cried, and I sulked, but then I tried again, this time writing a contemporary MG about a girl struggling with her parents’ bitter divorce.  Although the subject matter is realistically dark, I infused it with humor and lighter moments too.  I was really excited about it.

Then I got pregnant, and I became very, very sick for almost a year.

Then I had a colicky baby and became very, very sleep-deprived for another year.

Writing went out the window during these years.  One day I realized that the vague depression and gnawing angst I was feeling, in part, was because I hadn’t made it a priority.  Armed with the MG partial-manuscript, I started setting my alarm to 4:30 (am) and writing in the mornings.  It was liberating!  It was intoxicating!  Sometimes it was excruciating.

But I did it.  I finished the manuscript when my daughter was about a year-and-a-half, even though my husband was working long hours and we didn’t have any babysitting help at the time.

Just as I finished the book, now tentatively titled THE SIXTH GRADER’S GUIDE TO DIVORCE, I happened upon an announcement about a contest called Query Kombat.  It looked brutal—each query is pitted against another and judged publicly—but it seemed like a great opportunity if I could make a team.

I should admit something here.  In hindsight, I probably wasn’t ready to enter. Unbeknownst to me, my manuscript had some issues, because back then I didn’t know about critique partners or beta readers.  It was just me and my screaming toddler and my computer.

And coffee.  Lots and lots of coffee.

I wrote a query right before the deadline, sent it to Michelle, and stalked Twitter.  Oh yes, I also joined Twitter.  Even though I’m a borderline Millenial, I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable with social media, but QK convinced me to take the plunge.

I remember reading over the team announcements with my husband, not even breathing.

Making Laura Heffernan’s team was the first real writing victory I experienced in almost six years.  It was amazing.

The contest proved even more brutal than I had realized. I pored over the blogs as the votes rolled in for and against me.  In the end, I advanced through the first round to the agent round, but I was crushed in the second round. The good news: during the agent round I got a bunch of agent requests, another first for me!  I also used the feedback from the QK judges to strengthen my query.

Then s**t got real.

I frantically revised while new QK friends beta read my manuscript.  I also made the very savvy decision to hire Laura outside of QK to do a developmental read of my MS and give me her feedback.

After sending out the full and partials to the QK agents, I began sending small batches to other agents as well.  I sent out a query to Andrea Somberg very early in my querying because her longtime client, Sarah Beth Durst, is one of my favorite authors, and I had remembered Sara mentioning her in various interviews.

Then I waited.

Andrea responded within a few days. (She is a master of her inbox, which is not always the case with agents.)  She said she enjoyed my pasted pages and asked for a full.

My hands literally shook as they read the message on my phone.

At the same time, Laura got back to me with her thoughts, and another agent approached me with some revision ideas.  Just as I sat down to rework, Andrea finished reading the manuscript and loved it.


I had been reading the blogs enough to know that this is often, but not always, a signal that AN AGENT WILL OFFER.

Guys, she did.

It was one of the most wonderful and surreal conversations in my life.  Andrea convinced me that she loved my manuscript as much as I did, her editing vision gelled with mine, and her submission plan sounded fantastic.  I also got to speak with Sarah Beth Durst by phone, who proved lovely and gracious and very tolerant of my fangirling.

After that came an insane week of notifying the other agents with my partials and fulls that I had been offered rep.  Not much is written about this because it’s all very hush hush, which is too bad, because you learn a lot about how agents handle things like deadlines and communication.  In the end I had multiple offers and had to make a difficult choice, however one that I have not regretted for a second since signing with Andrea.

Although I did not get my agent through the QK agent requests, I am SO grateful to QK and to the hosts Michelle Hauck, Laura Heffernan, and Michael Anthony.  Because of their generous work making the competition happen, I improved my query, built up the confidence to try again after “failure,” and made some wonderful writing friends.  I want to thank Laura, in particular, for being a wise, funny, and inspiring friend and mentor.   Words cannot express my gratitude to her for her many, many kindnesses.


Sarah Janian is a teacher-turned-sahm who earned her B.S. from Swarthmore ('05) and her M.Ed. from Bank Street ('09). Currently she lives in Philadelphia with her family.  Follow her on Twitter @see_sahm_write to win one of her query and MS critique giveaways. Sarah is represented by Andrea Somberg at the Harvey Klinger Agency.

Nov 2, 2016

NoQS 2016 Wrap Up

HUGE thanks to the agents, mentors, entrants who helped make Nightmare on Query Street such an awesome and successful contest. We had a fantastic number of requests this year. With 36 requests for the Monsters, 32 for the Legions, and 36 for the Minions.

For those who want stats, here's a blog breakdown:


Screams: 8
Shrieks: 21
Shivers 7

Total: 36 requests


Screams: 7
Shrieks: 23
Shivers: 6

Total: 36


Screams: 9
Shrieks: 17
Shivers: 6

Total: 32

Once again, thanks for such an awesome year. If you're working on a new project, don't forget about Query Kombat in June 2017 and Nightmare on Query Street next year! Hope you had a safe and happy Halloween!

Oct 27, 2016

Nightmare on Query Street Agent Round

Following this post is the Monster Class of 2016


For the next four days, you can...

SCREAM for a full request.
SHRIEK for a 50 page request.
SHIVER for a 10 page request.

You can make as many requests as you'd like. Go wild! We have some awesome talent for you to peruse.

We’ve split the entries into three competing teams, and they can be found in groups of fifteen on each host’s blog.
Laura's Legions

If you have any questions, tweet us @RavenousRushing, @Michelle4Laughs, or @LH_Writes

**IMPORTANT NOTE: Opera and Safari Browsers may NOT allow you to comment. Using another browser is HIGHLY recommended.** 


No commenting, cheerleading, etc. Only agents will be able to comment.

But CHEER OVER ON TWITTER! We're going to be under the hashtag #NoQS and we will be having FUN. So vent, be nervous, cheer each other on, and hold hands over Twitter. One of the best parts of contests is seeing how the writer's community gathers and supports each other.

I'll be looking for all my Monsters there. I expect you to be roaring louder than the Minions and Legions. We're MONSTERS. That's what we do!

GOOD LUCK EVERYONE!! Hope you all get a ton of frighteningly amazing requests!

My team is so amazing...

NoQS Agent Round: DON'T - YA Romantic Thriller

Name: Kyra Palmer

Twitter Handle: @kp_shadow1287
Title: DON’T
Genre: YA Romantic Thriller
Word Count: 73,000

My Main Character's Most Stressful Relationship is:

My MC's most stressful relationship is with her brother. They’re twins who don’t fit any of the conventional twin norms. Their opposite personalities cause friction between them and they are constantly trying to protect one another much to each other’s chagrin. He is dating one of her best friends, which is awkward for her. The brother also believes he is the arch nemesis of the antagonist/love interest which sinks his deception of his sister even further for the sake of defending her but the lies only backfire and pull his twin and the enemy closer together.


Last week, high school senior Charlotte “Char” Matthews ran in front of a semi to save a puppy. Then a choice at school backfires, and the same rash, stupid bravery ensnares her in a lab partnership with the boy who terrorized her childhood. Except now, Jasper Calvary is all grown up and armed with a rap sheet instead of super glue—proof this bad boy’s heart isn’t secretly golden. With their grades tied together, her GPA is in jeopardy, which makes it impossible for her to resist stooping to his level.

Char’s patience evaporates the first day and she embarrasses Jasper in public, triggering an unspoken challenge. Soon their tension-rigged classroom banter escalates into psychological warfare: dares, trespassing, and high speeds stunts. The harder Char and Jasper push against each other, the more they’re drawn together. As their game ricochets out of control, all the rules are broken, rubber burns, and sparks ignite. The line between predator and prey fades, and with their hearts vulnerable, both let go of all caution, fanning their attraction into a blaze.

The fragile flame between them is smothered though, when their playing results in Jasper’s arrest and he blames Char. Burned by betrayal, Jasper lures Char into a trap for revenge, however, it’s more dangerous than he ever intended. Stranded in the middle of nowhere and locked in a fight for their lives, suddenly love and grades aren’t the only things at risk. No help is coming—no friends, no teachers, no witnesses. Survival means spilling blood, but losing means being the one who goes home in a body bag.

First 250:

I wish people came with a warning label—be polite and give others a chance to avoid possible negative side effects of association like bad grades, missed curfews, or lying to parental units. Or perhaps more helpful would be hazard signs to warn of personality defects. My best friend’s would read: Personal Bubble Infiltrator. My brother’s would be: Borderline Narcissistic Major, Minoring in Manipulation. His girlfriend: Heart-breaker for Sport. Except such a courtesy would be asinine and ruin a desirable first impression, wrecking friendships before they began. Honesty is an absurd policy; I’d rather befriend the lie.

Guilty of procrastination, I’ve been sentenced to the high school equivalent of a CIA black site with busywork, also known as freshman science. An electric chair would be cozier than these unforgivable metal chairs with uneven legs. Test-out options nonexistent, and with graduation on the line, I had no choice but to suffer through this class.

The room stunk of formaldehyde and juveniles. No amount of slumping in my chair spared me the humiliation. And it wasn’t the anonymous, solitary variety either.

Nope, the torture included one hundred deplorable percent of him.

Jasper Calvary. His warning label: Don’t.

A strong, angular jaw and well-defined cheekbones replaced the boyish face that haunted my childhood. The brown hair, almost dark enough to be black, and striking blue eyes were as I remembered. A shot of concentrated Caribbean I wished I could bottle and keep with me. In a non-creepy way, like on a key chain or a necklace.

NoQS Agent Round: THE DOLL TRAIN - YA Contemporary

Name: Kasey Dallman

Twitter Handle: @kaseydallman
Genre: Contemporary YA
Word Count: 60,000

My Main Character's Most Stressful Relationship is:

My MC, Marc, struggles to accept himself. When he is blamed in the death of his best friend it suddenly becomes very clear that his skin color is fueling the charges. From early on he has recognized that his skin sets him apart from his community. Marc's not ashamed of his color, nor should he be. But he does want to turn his skin color off, or better yet, shed it like a snake and build a new one that fits his town better.


When high school junior Marc Amazi witnesses his best friend overdosing, he knows a war has started. It isn’t just anyone who died. It is 17-year-old Anna Mason. The most stunning girl in the universe. Captain of the varsity basketball team. A blonde hair, blue eyed staple of every suburban community. And he has skin too dark and a haunted past that turns everyone away.

When Anna’s death is ruled an overdose and pills are planted in Marc’s toilet, he is charged with delivering the narcotics that killed her. As the justice system brands Marc by the color of his skin, the town doesn’t label him a friend in mourning. They label him a murderer.

After he is released on bail, Marc is trapped in a sea of online threats and harassment. A social media group is created to attack Marc. It doesn’t take long for it to manifest into physical acts of violence. As Marc prepares for his trial, he finds himself not only fighting for his life, but the lives of millions of people that look like him and face the same prejudices.

First 250:

Oct. 17

The night Anna died

Time doesn’t stop when the world is ending. It sticks together, every moment exaggerated, ticking by so dreadfully slow.

I watch the seconds unfold. The pavement slices my knee. Crimson drops stain the gravel. Still, Anna remains limp. A pretty little doll someone forgot to put back on the shelf.

It’s not possible to give one person every beat of your heart, every drop of your blood, every ounce of energy. To attempt something so foolish is suicide. Yet, for Anna, I’d do anything. Come back to me, I silently plead. Come back.

Her body is stretched out on the pavement. I attempt to pull her up from the ground. Shake her until she wakes up. But all 5 feet and 9 inches of her is dead weight. She slips back to the ground, her arms and legs nothing but gelatin.

Only seconds ago she was seizing. Her body possessed, dancing in shapes I never knew existed. My head collapses onto her chest, searching desperately for a heartbeat.

Then I hear it. A panicked roar pulses through my ear. But she is still. So very still. This horrendous symphony is only comprised of my pulse. Hers is…

Gone? It shouldn’t be a surprise. This is what happens to everyone I love.

Anna, please.

NoQS Agent Round: A FEARFUL THING - Adult Suspense/Thriller

Name: Angie Romines

Twitter Handle: @Angelaface
Genre: Adult Suspense/Thriller
Word Count: 80,000

My Main Character's Most Stressful Relationship is:

Mia’s most stressful relationship is with her deceased brother’s best friend, Julian. The two bicker constantly as they both work toward the common goal of solving the mystery of Michael’s death at the monastery where he was studying the history of the occult in the Roman Catholic Church. Julian has never taken anything seriously in his life (probably why he got booted out of seminary), whereas Mia is forever pushing aside a social life to prioritize her theological studies.


Studious Mia Landry isn’t a risk taker, that is, until her brother, Michael, dies suspiciously at his Romanian monastery. After discovering Michael’s death was anything but accidental, Mia, an agnostic theology student who never quite fit in with her Catholic family, becomes obsessed with finding out who took her only brother’s life. Reaching out to his former seminary roommate, Julian, she hopes together they can decipher the secrets Michael embedded in his occult research, secrets that most likely led to his demise.

With peril lurking in bone-filled ossuaries and isolated monasteries, Julian and Mia chase Michael’s leads and find themselves running from not only the police but also an ancient order of priests, The Order of the Holy Blood, who will stop at nothing to keep their secret safe. Despite the enemies that pursue them, Mia is also in danger of being distracted by Julian, a trust fund kid who’s as reckless as Mia is cautious. When it comes to Julian, Mia is unsure in any given moment whether she wants to slap him or rip his clothes off…or perhaps a bit of both. Unfortunately, neither will happen if Mia and Julian aren’t able to outwit The Order and escape Michael’s fate.

First 250:

The young man tore through the Hoia-Baciu forest, his cassock catching on branches as he ran. Leaves and twigs crunched beneath his bare feet. He winced when he hit stone but did not slow down. He felt his heart thumping blood through his body, and he heard the rushing sound it made in his head. His lungs began to burn and contract, struggling to keep up.

He had made mistakes. God, so many mistakes. The man turned to see if he had evaded his captors, and this was his final mistake. His robes tangled his stride and he hit the forest floor hard. They were on him almost instantly, weathered but strong hands that grabbed his legs, arms, and the back of his neck. He writhed and screamed, trying to use what little energy he had left to break free, to call for help. But who was there to hear the young priest in the middle of the dense Transylvanian woods, home of so many horrors, real and imagined?

The men, much older than the priest, dragged the clergyman—now weeping openly—to an old, strong tree with low, thick branches. These were the type of trees drawing logging companies deep into the forest, threatening the wild, untamed beauty of the Carpathian Mountains. But the man did not take in the beauty of his surroundings. To him, the woods were savage, unforgiving, and the last piece of God’s earth he would ever live to see.

NoQS Agent Round: THE BROKEN BABY - YA Gothic Horror

Name: Heather Askwith

Twitter Handle: @misswbooks
Genre: YA Gothic Horror
Word Count: 88,000

My Main Character’s Most Stressful Relationship is:

You might think that Mal’s most stressful relationship would be with Verne, the doctor emotionally blackmailing him into becoming a body snatcher. But worse than that is the relationship he has with his little brother, Clay, who’s always exasperated the pragmatic Mal. When Clay disappears, Mal can’t help but think of him often. In a time where it was possible for people to vanish into thin air, Clay has managed to do just that – and Mal knows that if he isn’t dead, then he’s somewhere, causing trouble, exacting revenge on the man who betrayed their mother.


Malcolm Moody’s sister is born a broken baby. Her twisted limbs and fragile bones become the unravelling of their mother, hauled to the asylum hours after Edie’s birth, leaving Mal and his siblings to fend for themselves. Hungry, poor and with nowhere to go, Mal is desperate to make his apprenticeship at one of Edinburgh’s notorious coffin parlours a success.

Not only is Mal’s new boss the town’s mortician, but he also illegally provides medical professor Verne with cadavers for his students. Before long, the doctor’s curious eyes begin to wander to little Edie; a girl so sickly her murder could easily be dismissed as an accident. In a city where reputation is everything, Mal finds himself forced to bend to Verne’s will. In a desperate bid to save his sister, Mal agrees to find Verne the cadavers he needs – even if that means digging up the bodies of recently buried customers.

Everything changes the night Mal snatches the body of a chimney sweep. Whispers and warnings haunt his thoughts and the cadavers mysteriously blacken and spoil instantly. The dead are not happy being disturbed, and as long as Malcolm works for Verne, their spirits refuse to rest.

Edie’s time is running out, and the only way for Mal to stop the clock is to keep the university in supply of fresh corpses. But the bloodier his hands get, the darker his thoughts become, until there’s no one left to save him from himself.

First 250:

Mal had never seen a dead body before. Standing outside the front of the funeral parlour, he hesitated just for a moment. He needed this apprenticeship, and dead bodies were the trade.

The shop front of Ignacious Skidd’s coffin parlour was set slightly back from the rest of the street, where it brooded. The menacing black vacant eyes of the shop front glared at Mal as he approached. The worst thing is the windows – you’re meant to be able to see inside, he thought. What’s in there that we’re not allowed to look at?

The lithe and towering Ignacious Skidd was made of the same pale limestone as his building. He stood in the doorway. Mal had always been intimidated by men from the New Town. Something about their dapper clothing and the grotesque curling of their top lips made him feel like a mouse meeting a vicious feline.

Ignacious led him through to the ice-cold room where someone lay beneath a sheet on a slab. Mal’s new boss pulled back the sheet, revealing a waxy face.

“The first thing you need to do,” Ignacious purred, “Is add blush to the cheeks. You want him to look fresh."

Mal swallowed, his tongue thick at the back of his throat. He didn’t want to blush the cheeks of a dead man, but his mother’s words rang in his head. Keep your head down. Follow instructions. Ignacious was testing him, and if he couldn’t manage these simple tasks, Mal wouldn’t be getting the apprenticeship he desperately needed.

NoQS Agent Round: REDEMPTION BAY - Adult Upmarket Suspense

Name: Tom Navratil

Twitter Handle: @TomNavratilism
Genre: Adult Upmarket Suspense
Word Count: 81,000

My Main Character's Most Stressful Relationship is:
…with his own remorse. Vincent Lucius is groping for a way forward despite being responsible for the demise of his younger child. His instincts are to seek closure and do what is in his power to help others. He does not seek relief from his own pain; only a miracle could accomplish that.

In REDEMPTION BAY, an African-American diplomat searching for the remains of his son in chaotic post-Castro Cuba learns the child may still be alive.

Vincent Lucius gets recalled to Washington after losing his seven-year-old in a windsurfing accident off Cuba's north coast. Numb with grief and guilt, with his marriage fraying and his older son refusing to believe his little brother is dead, Vincent finagles a solo assignment back to strife-torn Cuba. His day job is attempting to prevent the outbreak of civil war. At night he haunts the morgues.

In trying to protect and help the people of the Cuban hinterlands, Vincent starts coming back to life. When a real estate mogul bulldozes a shantytown to make way for a golf course, Vincent organizes a coalition of rebels and soldiers to rebuild it. But the U.S. ambassador banishes him for disregarding embassy priorities. Disgraced and defeated, Vincent is about to board the flight home when he hears of a boy resembling his son who drifted alive onto a remote barrier island.

At the risk of snapping the last bonds with his wife and getting bounced from the foreign service, Vincent sets off to pursue this murky hope across Cuba's dangerous terrain. The real estate mogul, tipped off by an informant, seeks leverage and revenge by dispatching his goons to snatch the boy. Whether he is Vincent’s son or not, the child’s fate hinges on who finds him first.

First 250:

Vincent Lucius juked and weaved his way through the stragglers in the vaulted archway of the stadium’s main entrance. The U.S. embassy in Havana placed various restrictions on its staff, on top of those imposed by the Castro government. But nowhere did it say you couldn’t catch a ballgame on a Friday afternoon in June. Especially at El Gran, Cuba’s premier baseball cathedral. Inside, Vincent sprinted up the cement steps to the stands.

Bursting into the sunshine, he took in the emerald green of the outfield, the alignment of the opposing players, the music and chanting of the fans, the smoky smell of chicharrónes. He would have chuckled at the notion that a door was closing behind him, that his backside would never again warm the government-issue swivel chair from which his navy blue blazer hung like funeral bunting.

In the row directly behind the first base dugout, Vincent located his companions, a pair of officials from the Cuban foreign ministry. He nodded a greeting as he sank deep into the adjacent seat, aware that his height and athleticism, on top of his skin color, could make some men uncomfortable. He extended his right leg into the aisle and returned his attention to the field. On the mound, the pitcher fingered the ball behind his back. At the plate, Havana’s shortstop loosened and tightened his grip on the bat.

Vincent tilted to his left and said, “He’s swinging.”

The home fans intensified their rhythmic stomping, shaking the concrete decks of El Gran.

NoQS Agent Round: DROWNING IN AIR - YA Contemporary

Name: Valerie Bodden

Twitter Handle: @ValBodden
Genre: YA Contemporary
Word Count: 82,000

My Main Character’s Most Stressful Relationship is:

Calli wants to take care of her dying mom—of course she does, it’s her mom, after all, and what else would a future doctor do? But when caring for her mom steals time from critical schoolwork, putting Calli’s position as valedictorian in jeopardy, Calli is ashamed to find herself resenting her role as caretaker. And when her mom lets her dad—the man who once destroyed her—back into their lives, Calli can’t stand to see this strong woman suddenly playing damsel in distress. After all, she’s the one who taught Calli not to need anyone, ever.


The first time seventeen-year-old lifeguard Calli tries to save Noah, he’s poised to jump from a way-too-high roof into a way-too-far-away pool. When he jumps anyway, she walks away. She has enough problems of her own. Like caring for her dying mom while trying to cinch the valedictorian spot and win a swimming championship.

New in town, Noah knows he has to do something big to keep from earning a reputation as a loser—or the sick kid. He doesn’t need some lifeguard with a hero complex telling him “no” like she’s his mother. Not to mention he could outswim Calli any day. Besides, he’s invincible. Surviving the heart transplant that killed his twin brother proved that.

Hard as they try to stay away from each other, Noah and Calli are drawn together by a mutual love of the water. But as their personal lives spiral out of control, they push each other away. Overwhelmed by her new responsibilities, Calli turns to Adderall to keep her grades up. And Noah performs ever more daring feats to prove his survival wasn’t some cosmic mistake. With their lives closing in on a devastating end, these two lost souls have to figure out how to take the biggest risk of all—opening up—or risk losing each other—and themselves.

First 250:

I bury my face in the sticky-sweet grass and tune out the shrieks and splashes coming from the pool on the other side of the yard. The sun sears my limbs, making them heavy and light, solid and liquid, at the same time. I never want to move again.

A sharp fingernail pokes my side.

I crack one eye open, even though I already know it’s my best friend Sashi. I swat her hand away, but she pokes me again.

“What?” I grumble.

“Check this guy out.”

I groan. Of course it’s about a guy. The faint bite of chlorine penetrates through the smell of burgers as I push myself onto an elbow.

“First you drag me to this party. And then, when I finally manage to relax, you...” My words evaporate as I follow her gaze over the pool to Tom Brant’s mansion, site of this annual end-of-summer soiree.

It takes a second for my brain to catch up with what I’m seeing.

Then I spring into full-on lifeguard mode, launching myself toward the pool deck. My feet sizzle when they hit the concrete, but I keep running.

Idiot. He’s going to kill himself.

A guy in a blue Superman t-shirt balances at the edge of the second-story porch roof, bouncing on his toes like he’s about to dive.

Around me, people chant, “Jump!”

I shove past them, dodging elbows. Why can’t I make my feet pump as fast as my heart? By the time I get there, he’ll be splattered on the concrete.

NoQS Agent Round: THE CURIOSITY - Adult Gothic Horror

Name: Melanie Cossey

Twitter Handle: @jagjava
Genre: Adult Gothic Horror
Word Count: 99,000

My Main Character's Most Stressful Relationship is:

My main character’s most stressful relationship is with his university superiors. If they were not breathing down the back of his cardigan sweater, insisting he live up to the expectations of an anthropology professor then perhaps he could relax, solve that nasty mouse problem and maybe even show his daughter how much he truly loves her. Instead, he must search musty old diaries written by an eccentric curiosity collector and tear up the English countryside for clues to the whereabouts of that cursed 19th century Haitian voodoo Zonbi boy, Henri. He feels more contempt for them, then for his ex-wife.


Anthropology professor Duncan Clarke must get a handle on his anxiety disorder by the end of Christmas break, or lose the position that grants him refuge from his mental storms.

Desperate to redeem himself as an indispensable asset to the university, Clarke intercepts a box of curiosities intended for the anthropology department. Hidden inside the box is a travel journal from 1865, containing the frantic scribblings of eccentric Victorian, Edward Walker.

From the moment he spies the ghastly drawing of an emaciated child, gagged and bound to a chair, Clarke is obsessed with discovering what happened in the dark basement of the 19th century curiosity dealer—a man determined to cure a Haitian Voodoo zonbi of his desire for live food.

Clarke’s obsession with the past leads him to break the law and risk the lives of those he loves. His family and his career could slip away if he cannot resist the one thing that now feeds his soul—The Curiosity.

First 250:

England 1990

I needed it, so I took it. Chloroform. Excellent rodent killer. For the first time in my career, I had stolen from the anthropology lab. After receiving the damnable news, I had pocketed it on my way out. Funny how humiliation breeds contempt.

I rotated the vial in my trouser pocket as I rang the bell for the third time. Mrs. Walker was expecting me, so what the hell was keeping her?

I tried to calm myself, as I had done many times before—deep breath in through the nose, exhale slowly through the mouth. Frozen breath cascaded from my lips and dissipated in the sharp December air, vaporizing just like my career. For months I had felt the gravel loose under my feet, felt myself sliding into the abyss of complacency, edged with the blade of anxiety. At last, Human Resources had noticed… all those rescheduled lectures, the countless times I had dismissed the students early, bounding from the podium to compose myself in a bathroom stall. Was I all right? All concerned faces, the pity softening their features. Yes, yes, I was fine—my stomach so knotted it would make a Boy Scout envious.

“All the same, we feel it best if you take some time over the holiday to rest up.” I was smacked by the shift, by the now trotted out glances of guilt, lowered voices and throat clearings of candour.

NoQS Agent Round: FIRST5 - YA Epic Fantasy

Name: Candace Davenport

Twitter Handle: @Candace_OLBooks
Title: FIRST5
Genre: YA Epic Fantasy
Word Count: 96,000

My Main Character's Most Stressful Relationship is:

My MC is Inhikiod, one of the winged race on the planet Aardee. Hikala’s most stressful relationship occurs when her Inhikiod family banishes her to the surface, her wings locked. There, she has to befriend and live with the non-winged Dawk, the indigenous race enslaved by the Inhikiod. Hikala has to mature from a self-centered, sixteen-year-old with centuries of ingrained racism against the Dawk to realizing the Dawk are individuals with hopes and dreams – all while dealing with the Dawk's hate and anger against her for being Inhikiod.


Sixteen-year-old Hikala is an Inhikiod, one of the winged race who live high in their mountain cavern hives, never bothering to look down. Her life is flying the skies and competing in the Inhikiod flying competitions. But after her reckless challenge results in injures to a higher-ranking Inhikiod, she’s banished to the planet’s surface for a year, forbidden to fly.

Never having set foot on the surface, Hikala struggles to enmesh herself with the indigenous, non-winged Dawk—a race enslaved by the Inhikiod millennia ago. Only knowing the Dawk as servants in her hive, Hikala fights their hatred with the help of Tid, a Dawk who sees her as more than just an Inhikiod. He teaches Hikala how to fight against the surface’s vicious predators and navigate the planet’s bi-annual flooding.

Yet, as their friendship grows, so do the rumblings of a revolution. The Dawk want Hikala to become a linchpin in their fight to free themselves from their Inhikiod masters. But if Hikala stays to help the Dawk, she must give up flying forever, ripping out her soul. If she returns home, she’ll break Tid’s heart and abandon her new friends to the vengeance of the Inhikiod.

First 250:

Cradled by wind and sunlight, Hikala spun through the sky, a mirror to Sarwa’s flight. With a final flip, their colorful wings merged and they ended their sky dance with a flourish. Reluctant to release all that joy and freedom, Hikala floated on her back and screamed her elation to the sky, blue wings cupping the air beneath her. Sarwa only laughed in response, a wide lopsided grin spread across his face. He rarely expressed his joy as unabashedly as she did.

Hikala sighed, thinking the same thought she always did after every perfect sky dance. I want to forget the world and keep flying with Sarwa forever. But they had finished their doubles routine and needed to return inside for their score. Sarwa offered his hand which Hikala reluctantly took as they flew together to the King’s landing pad, the staging platform for this year’s Inhikiod Games. As they landed on the entrance platform to the huge cavern, raucous cheers erupted, surrounding them like a blanket. Hand in hand, Hikala and Sarwa strode across the stone floor while observers trailed behind them. Others touched them as they passed, awe and amazement reflected in their eyes.

From the silence of their dance and the whisper of their wings, the inside noise buffeted Hikala, heightening her sense of elation. With her wings tight to her back and twitching with excitement, she walked to the awards area to wait for the announcement of the winners.

NoQS Agent Round: THE FIRST TODAY - Adult Spec. Thriller

Name: Rachel Berros

Twitter Handle: @Berrosrachel
Genre: Adult Speculative Thriller 
Word Count: 90,000

My Main Character's Most Stressful Relationship is

The most stressful relationship for my MC, Alice, is with fate. It started when her mother died the morning after Alice first used her ability to change events. Her fear of further retaliation has shaped her life and guided her every choice since. It's because of fate that she has more motivation to become a better physician, but also a heavier mantle of guilt.


As an emergency physician Alice Whithers must constantly choose between accepting her patients’ deaths or reliving the day to try again—and risking fate’s wrath at the intrusion.

Alice can turn back time, but she hasn’t used her ability in seventeen years, not since interfering with fate led to her mother’s death. As painful as it is to watch her patients suffer or die, the risk of intervening has always outweighed the possible benefit. That is, until Alice causes a lethal car accident. Overcome with guilt and remorse, she decides to relive the day, praying that not only will she save lives, but she may finally gain the redemption she’s sought for nearly two decades.

Tonight, she'll choose. Tomorrow she’ll face fate’s response.

First 250:

This patient is dying and there’s nothing more I can do. Not even repeating today would save this woman from her stroke during the night. No, this time at least, I get to suffer my patient’s loss like a normal physician. And providing things like a comfortable passing, without feeling guilt, is almost a blessing.

I glance at the pajama-clad granddaughter crying beside the bed. Monitors beep around us like orchestral crickets and bleach flavors the air.

This isn’t what they need. They need peace and respect, and I can at least provide them those. So, I mute the machines and readjust her pillow. Chanel No. 5 tickles my nose and despite everything, my lips tug up at one corner. If this patient also loved bacon, she could’ve been Granny’s twin.  

At the thought, something tightens deep in my chest, but I push it aside. This isn’t my Granny. It’s Ms. Avery’s.

I’ve advised her of the prognosis, there’s nothing left to say, yet I still don’t leave. Instead, I place a hand on the young woman’s shoulder. “I’m sorry I can’t do more. But I will keep her comfortable.”

She raises red, swollen eyes to my burning ones, and nods. “Then…then I guess that’s enough.”

Her breaking voice echoes my heart. One day I’ll stare at my Granny like that, at my only family, my best friend.

Nothing will be enough on that day. 

With a deep breath, I squeeze her shoulder gently and then leave her to her grief.  

NoQS Agent Round: THE CONSPIRATORS' CLUB - MG Adventure

Name: Elena Jagar

Twitter Handle: @Calcifer123
Genre: MG Adventure
Word Count: 50,000

My Main Character's Most Stressful Relationship is:

Peter’s most stressful relationship is with his best friend who is always trying to run away from his adoptive parents. Peter thinks of Jason as a brother and relies on him to make the months at their boarding school bearable. He also knows Jason will probably succeed in his venture one day, and it is difficult being friends with someone who you know is a flight risk.


For thirteen-year-old Peter Holm, life at Horston Island Academy is as fun as a freezing shower in winter − until his new friend, Samantha, asks him to help her start a Conspirators’ Club. Her goal: to improve life for all Academy students. Her plan: to challenge Horston’s unfair rules with covert acts of rebellion.

The last thing Peter wants is trouble with the headmaster. But who can pass up on cool missions like stealing back confiscated desserts, or dismantling the annoying school siren? Soon, Peter doesn’t think twice about detentions to keep the club going.

But what starts out as a series of exciting adventures turns grave when Peter uncovers the headmaster’s dangerous past. And when a club member goes missing, he is sure the headmaster is behind it. To rescue their friend, the club members must venture into the treacherous caves beneath the school and come face-to-face with a ruthless criminal determined to stop at nothing to protect his secrets. If their wits and resourcefulness aren’t enough to carry them through, this mission will be their last.

First 250:

Sailing back on the ferry for my third year at Horston Island Academy, I had a major problem. Jason, my best friend in the world, was a no-show.

I glanced around the cafeteria, feeling desperate. It was packed with sixth-graders and parents, about the last place Jason would want to be. But I’d already searched every other corner on this tub, and the cafeteria was literally the last place left. I scanned the crowded room one more time.

Face it. He’s not here.

I turned around and burst through the swinging doors out on deck and—

—knocked into a girl carrying a full cup of soda. Without a lid!

A huge brown stain spread across her white shirt. I stared in horror, wracking my brain for a cool one-liner to drag me from this sink hole of embarrassment.

“Sorry! Er…you okay?”

Good one, Pete.

The girl looked up from gaping at her front. The expression in those eyes felt like a punch to the nose. She stalked past me, holding the rest of her soda at arm’s length. I wondered who she was, since I’d never seen her at Horston before.

“Nice going, squirt.”

I cringed inside. Great. Can always count on my big brother to catch me making a fool of myself.

I turned to face Mark who stood leaning against the railing, his back to Horston Island in the distance. He surveyed my wet shirt with a smirk. I sighed.

“I was looking for Jason, okay?”

“Where? In her soda?”

NoQS Agent Round: TRADNG STITCHES - YA Horror

Name: Timothy Collins

Twitter Handle: @DarkNovelistTim
Genre: YA Horror
Word Count: 85,000

My Main Character's Most Stressful Relationship is:

Marc, the main character, struggles to understand his alcoholic father. Since his mother’s death, Marc seeks acceptance and approval but finds only riddles and anger in his father’s words. Good grades, responsibility, and kindness come natural to Marc but adds nothing to life according to his dad because the family is cursed. After his father’s suicide, Marc becomes obsessed with making sense of his father’s words while still striving to make his father proud. Questionable decisions place he and his friends in harm’s way, but Marc will stop at nothing, not even death, to make his father proud.


With every near-death incident, the men in fifteen-year-old Marc Cheeks’ family are rewarded with increasing superhuman strength, but whatever fatal darkness lies inside grows as well.

Alcoholism consumes his father. Insanity institutionalizes his uncle. Cancer stole his grandfather. Following a near-fatal stabbing, Marc fears what awaits him.

After his dad commits suicide to escape a deep pit of depression, Marc enlists the help of friends and his crazy uncle Lester to decipher his father’s last words, “It doesn’t have to be a curse.” A cryptic family journal offers Marc his only lead: a person defined as a curse-ending soulmate. Uncle Lester has his own theories on a cure, but he’s not willing to share with Marc and defers to the written pages.

The journal teaches Marc methods to cheat death and grow stronger, but pieces of himself slip away into violence and apathy. He’s becoming the worst parts of his father and his uncle, and the collateral damage includes a body count. Forced to make a desperate plea to Lester, Marc discovers his uncle believes he can ultimately cure his own insanity by killing Marc.

To save himself and his friends, Marc must defeat an uncle more dangerous than crazy and find his soulmate before the family curse claims another victim.

First 250:

I slouched low in the cracked leather passenger’s seat seeking refuge from judgmental eyes.

“Did I really need to starch this shirt?” I yanked the collar’s scratchy fibers away from my neck.

“I don’t know, Marc.” Dad fluttered his whiskey chapped lips. “That’s a question for your mom.”

He only mentioned Mom when he didn’t want to answer a question.

Wasn’t there some rule people didn’t use a kid’s dead mother against them?

Dad didn’t get the memo.

The Nissan’s balding tires skidded into the school’s gravel parking lot. The rickety fender clung to the truck by a single rusty screw, a painful daily reminder of the past four years. It begged to be fixed, but Dad ignored it.

 He sought refuge in denial.

The truck jerked to a stop and Dad leaned back pinching the bridge of his crooked nose. “Do other dudes hear you talk like this? It’s gonna get you beat up.”

“How’s that different from any other day?”

“Guys pestering you?” His stare followed a cheerleader’s skirt.
“It’s called bullying.” The broken handle jiggled in my palm as I struggled to open the door. “Like you care.”

“Wait a minute!” He slammed the faded dashboard. I didn’t flinch. I was used to it by now. “I do care. Besides, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Right?”

I rolled my eyes. “No one believes that, Dad.”

“I do. Your grandfather did,” he said. “One day you will, too.”

Dead grandfather card for the win.

NoQS Agent Round: PULLING ME BACK IN - Women's Fiction

Name: Yaymed D. Arocho (Writing as Delise Torres)

Twitter Handle: @torresdelise
Genre: Adult Women’s Fiction
Word Count: 87,000

My Main Character’s Most Stressful Relationship is:

Although Jeff causes Gwen a lot of turmoil and pain, when they are together, things are great. But her relationship with her mother is a different story. Gwen’s rebellious teenage years started the rift, but even as Gwen grew up and became contrite, her mother’s disapproval continued. The fact that Gwen’s older sister is the perfect daughter, a clone of their mother, doesn’t help matters much. Her mother always has to make a comment about Gwen’s provocative wardrobe or her dating life, or point out whenever she’s late, which is all the time. Gwen especially hates it when she’s right.


Gwen Prescott had her life figured out by the age of eight: she would work as a museum curator and marry her best friend, Jeff Crawford. There was nothing Gwen wouldn’t do for Jeff. She lost her virginity to him, defied her parents when they tried to keep them apart, put up with Jeff sleeping around, and almost gave up her dream college to run away with him. And in return, Jeff refused to take her with him and left her behind, never contacting her again.

Now twenty-four, Gwen is a gallery curator in NYC, convinced her love for Jeff was only an illusion; an unhealthy fixation fueled by hormones and adolescent fantasies. And yet, she’s still unable to let go. When a photo of Jeff in the New York Times stirs past feelings, Gwen begins to question whether she can be happy with anyone else.

After a chance encounter puts Jeff in her path, the pull she always felt for him—that need she could never fight or quite define—takes over. As Gwen rekindles her relationship with Jeff, she reverts to the naïve submissive girl she used to be. But in order to have the happy ending she always dreamed of, Gwen will have to learn to stand up to Jeff and ask for what she wants—even if it means losing him—or keep living for his needs and desires at the expense of her own.

First 250:

Gwen felt the pull the instant she saw him.

Jeff’s smiling face stared at her from a photo in The New York Times. Ever since their first kiss at five years old, he’d had that same effect on her: he drew her to him and she never wanted him to let go.

She dropped her fork and it clanged against the plate, the pancake forgotten as she brought the newspaper closer to her face. Six years had passed since she last saw him. He looked the same, but older, even more handsome. She brushed her thumb across the photo, as if she were caressing him. His thick brown hair. The green eyes that could still disarm her. And that smile—the same one that always made her melt.

A need for him she hadn’t felt for years overcame her—a need she thought extinguished when she fell in love with Brian.

Brian. What the hell was wrong with her? She loved Brian. How could she react like this to someone else, someone who caused her so much pain? And yet, she could not look away.

“What are you reading?” Brian asked, right beside her.

Gwen jumped on the stool and shut the newspaper, dropping it back onto the breakfast bar. How did he get so close without her noticing? It was a studio apartment, after all. “Nothing.”

“Really? You were very engrossed. You didn’t even hear me talking to you.”

Did he know? Had he seen her stroking the photo?

NoQS Agent Round: ALL THOSE WHO WANDER - YA Sci-fi

Name: Yu(Angela) Wang

Twitter Handle: @AngieWang99
Genre: YA Sci-fi
Word Count: 87,000

My Main Character's Most Stressful Relationship is:

Bree’s most stressful relationship is with herself—or, rather, her past self. Ever since she discovers that her memories and identity are fake, she finds it impossible to reconcile the person she used to be with the person she’s become. The old Bree was confident, fearless, and spontaneous—everything the new Bree isn’t. And when she meets up with former friends who barely recognize her new self, the divide between her past and present only gets worse. Bree wants nothing more than to return to who she used to be, but that girl’s long gone—wiped away forever.


The timestream is broken, and eighteen-year-old Bree Cross is pretty sure that's a mess even duct tape can't fix. She never thought she’d be the one to fix it, though—not until her best friend Kasey recruits her to the Chronological Maintenance Department.

It turns out Bree can spot time travelers—a gift the Department desperately needs in order to capture the techies: genetically-enhanced criminals they’ve chased all the way from the future. It’s the adventure Bree’s spent a lifetime dreaming of, and there’s no way she’s going to pass up her chance to save the world.

But all those dreams of heroism shatter once she actually lays eyes on the techies.

Visions plague her—memories of Bree herself growing up alongside the same criminals she’s supposed to hunt. The more she remembers, the more Bree doubts the Department's true motivations, and the role she’s so obediently played. And when Kasey’s captured and the Department refuses to help, Bree’s the only one who can free her best friend from the techies’ city outside of time.

But buried among the city’s gleaming towers is more than Bree bargained for—truths about her past, and what the Department’s truly doing.

Bree was hired to fix the world, but she might have broken it beyond repair.

First 250:

There’s something beautiful about order. The precise row of footsteps I leave behind in the snow makes me wonder if this is how other peoples’ memories are—one after another in a perfect sequence, a past they can walk through over and over again.

If only my life could be that certain.

I shiver, turning away and drawing up my coat’s collar. The gentle, drifting snowflakes of just a few moments ago now swirl in violent flurries, catching on my eyelashes and nesting in my hair. The corner store lies ahead, muffled under a white blanket, parking lot empty but for a single, dark car, driver’s door left open.

Strange, considering the imminent blizzard. And the closer I get, the stranger that car seems. It’s small and lithe and rounded in an unfamiliar way, roof covered in transparent—transparent?—solar panels. The dashboard glows ominously blue, and an almost… faded quality clings to it, as if someone’s washed it far too many times.

I reach out, thinking to close the car’s door—and jerk back, stomach flipping, nausea rising in my throat. An ache pushes at my temples, filling my head with jagged, senseless whispers, a yearning I can’t quite explain.

It’s the car, I’m certain of it. The car and its thrumming.

But that’s crazy. It’s just some car.

I shake my head, backing away. It’s probably the shrimp I had for lunch. That’ll teach me to eat suspiciously gooey seafood.

It’s a plausible explanation, but I don’t quite believe it. Not even then.

NoQS Agent Round: HER FINAL WATCH - Adult Mystery

Name: Marguerite Kuhnke

Twitter Handle: @msashton_writer
Genre: Adult Mystery
Word Count: 83,000

My Main Character's Most Stressful Relationship is:

My MC’s most stressful relationship is with her mom. As if the family secrets weren’t enough, it’s hard to heal when her controlling mother’s lies keep surfacing. It’s like dodging semi-trucks on the Madison Beltline. Everyone keeps reminding my MC that it is important to forgive and keep the family together. If only she had someone who would tell her mother that making a decision about whether or not to give up your child for adoption wasn’t any easier.   


Lily Blanchette, Fort Atkinson’s first black lead detective, will stop at nothing to solve a murder. Her current case involves the killing of an undercover cop working to bring down the mob for prostitution and drugs. But Lily’s usual laser-like focus on the case has been disrupted. Two weeks earlier, she learned she was pregnant by her murderous husband whom she’d killed in self-defense. Unsure whether to keep her baby or place the child of this cruel man up for adoption, Lily keeps the pregnancy a secret from her colleagues.

Under mounting pressure to solve the case, Lily arranges a sit-down with a local mob boss only to find out her suspect is also wanted by them. But before Lily can warn her team, she and her new partner, Jeremiah, are shot at, and another body is found. When she discovers Jeremiah has a connection with the underworld, she is pulled into a conflict that swirls around the boss’s son who’s hell-bent on revenge. As she gets closer to finding the killer, she unravels ugly secrets that point to the assistant district attorney and Jeremiah—placing Lily’s life and her unborn child in danger.

First 250:

Detective Ariel Weeks stabbed at the small block of ice until it split into several pieces across the counter. She tossed the jagged cubes into the glass and made her client a drink.

In less than twenty-four hours, Ariel would no longer have to use the name Jasmine and keep men company to protect her cover. All she needed to do was make it through this last night, and she’d be allowed to be who she was; a mom just doing her job.

After gathering evidence and recording all the data she had, it would be hard to detach. Towards the end, she’d learned things she’d wished weren’t true, leaving her stomach in tattered knots.

Back at home, there were two reasons Ariel would never take on another undercover assignment.


Ariel ground her teeth as the door to Cabin D opened and closed. She could feel Mikey Surace, the mob boss’s son, staring at the backless white dress she wore at his request.

The man who smiled at the sight of blood was standing behind her, breathing heavily.

She turned and handed Mikey his drink. “Your gin and grapefruit.”

Mikey took the drink and pulled Ariel down on the bed next to him. His hand, smooth like velvet, traced over her dark brown skin, along the length of her arm and rested on her thigh. “I had a shitty day.” He loosened his tie, removed his gun and put it on the ottoman.

NoQS Agent Round: CATTYWAMPUS - Upper MG Fantasy

Name: Ashley Van Otterloo

Twitter Handle: @AshVanOtterloo
Genre: Upper MG Fantasy
Word Count: 52,000

My Main Character's Most Stressful Relationship is:

My main character’s most stressful relationship is with Katybird Hearn. Every time Delpha has a logical plan all ironed out, Katybird is trotting right behind her, trailing jelly beans and undoing all Delpha’s hard work. And crying. Always crying. Or trying to spare the feelings of inanimate objects, like Delpha’s outhouse. Delpha suspects Katybird is a few screwdrivers short of a full toolbox, if you know what I mean.

Somethin’ ain’t quite right with that girl.


Howler’s Hollow has been a magical dead spot for a century—a fact that has kept Delpha O’Leary’s witching family safe from persecution and magical conflict for several generations. Conjure is strictly off-limits. Trouble is, if there’s anything that makes Delpha’s skin crawl it’s accepting limitations. When she finds her grandmother’s secret book of hexes, her deep ambition gets the better of her and she can’t wait to test the boundaries of her own magic. She hopes to prove herself powerful—the kind of powerful that doesn’t feel helpless after her father’s abandonment.

But when Katybird Hearn, the descendant of a rival witch family, demands Delpha share the secret of her skills, tempers flare. The fledgling witches' quarrel unleashes a hex that resurrects a graveyard full of their magical ancestors … along with an age-old blood feud.

Delpha and Katybird, along with the help of Tyler, a young Appalachian werewolf, must find a way to reverse the spell before the magic-wielding zombies wreak dangerous havoc in their small mountain community.

But each of the teens has their own personal demon to overcome. Katybird must conquer the fear that her intersex body will cause her family’s matriarchal magic to reject her. Tyler … well, Tyler just needs to stop fainting every five minutes. And as estranged family members surface and rattle her independent nature, Delpha needs to learn that sometimes the strongest magic happens when you’re in cahoots with another conjure-woman. If they don’t succeed, the cycle of witch-hunting and feud violence their kin fought hard to end will begin spinning once more.

First 250:

Poised on a wooded hill far from town, Delpha’s knobbly legs knocked as an early April wind traced a cold finger down her backbone. Her keen eyes skimmed the newly budded trees and blankets of white bloodroot flowers, watchful for flickers of movement in the dying light. Satisfied she was alone, she carefully closed her carving knife then ran the freshly-hewn green flesh of a hickory stick across her lips. Smooth as silk.

It was her first wand. A secret wand, carved by her own hands. Her Mamaw would tan her hide if she found out. Her mama, too. She was breaking the rules, but that didn’t sway her conviction one iota. Sometimes rules oughta  be shattered. There was nothing for it.

Delpha’s dark eyebrows formed a hard line and she settled on the cool pine needles. She sucked in a breath before raising the wand over the cracked binding of the leather book in her lap, then cleared her throat.

“Awake the powers dark and deep

That here betwixt these bosoms sleep.”

Delpha blushed a bit and secured the top button of her flannel shirt, then opened the book to squint at a yellowed page, eager to get on with it.

“Let young’un join the ring of grannies,

To kick my foes right in their fannies.”

Bunching her lips, she threw a handful of feathers in the air, then spat into a circle drawn in the loamy forest floor. Delpha’s watchful eyes narrowed, muscles tense.

She waited a few moments, just in case it was the sort of magic that needed to brew for a bit. But the end of her wand remained dull as dirt.

Oct 20, 2016

NoQS: Mike's Monsters 2016

There were so SO many great entries to choose from this year across all genres. So many, in fact, we couldn't choose just 13! To find out if you made the all-star Monster team, check the list below for your title.

To those who didn't make it this time around, don't get discouraged. I definitely could have chosen at least 20 of you if there were mentors to go around. Good luck and happy writing!

The Monster of Nightmare on Query Street!

Her Final Watch
All Those Who Wander
Pulling Me Back In
Trading Stitches
The Conspirators' Club
The First Today
The Curiosity
Drowning in Air
Redemption Bay
The Broken Baby
A Fearful Thing
The Doll Train

Keep an eye on your inbox. Mentors will be contacting you through the email you used to enter the contest. If that's not your actual email because a friend mailed yours in, you'd better let us know quickly. Each entry will get one mentor assigned to them. 

Please return your revised entry using the same format to the contest email by midnight on October 25th. We need that time to swat down unruly formatting and create the posts before the agent round. Please do not be late. We will go live without you.

Come back on October 28th to see the agents Shriek, Scream and Shiver!