Jun 14, 2013

Qk Round 3: Elementary Girl vs. Broken Jar

Entry Nickname: Elementary Girl
Title: However Improbable
Word count: 72,000
Genre: YA Alt History Mystery


“People see, but they do not observe.” And to Marigny Sheridan, that is elementary. The Saturday night Sherlock Holmes radio broadcast is a staple in the Sheridan household for one simple reason: deciphering people provides all the entertainment she’ll ever need. That is until the Queen’s 50th Jubilee Contest twists the knickers of every eligible teenager in the Empire, and Marigny is unexpectedly selected to become the Colonies' new Saturday night entertainment.

Marigny has no interest in some cockamamie contest. After all, there’s no need for celebration when the British Empire is still going strong well into the 21st century. All she cares about is that her fellow contestants are easy to read. Especially the bitchtastically annoying girl from Australia and the street-smart player from Hong Kong. But as soon as she settles in, her Sherlock senses start to tingle. Something doesn’t smell right. And it’s not the smog over London.

The contest wouldn’t be so ridiculous if she could win riches to support her family. But no, the prize is marriage and Marigny isn’t quite ready for that yet. Even if it is to an heir to the throne.

The only boy she bothers to trifle with is Simon Whitaker, a cocky Islander with a dashing smile and slick charm. In the midst of lock picking the contest host's hotel room and butting heads with constables, they discover someone is pulling the contest strings. But when Marigny unearths an Empire secret, she must either bury her inner Sherlock to avoid exile or follow her hunch and lose Simon forever. As far as Marigny's concerned, winning is just as bad as losing.

First 250 words:

Given the time I’d had to consider it, I would much rather be sentenced to death. Poison or hanging, I had no preference. Yes, it’d be slow and agonizing, but really, that would be merciful compared to what they had in store for me. I wish I hadn’t ever won the damn Sweepstakes for the Colonies. Really, I wish I had listened to my gut and stayed in Maryland.

"Marigny Sheridan,” the brown haired man said, catching my attention. Mostly because he butchered my name. Mare-ig-nee? He said it like I was some horse and iguana hybrid. I wanted to say, “The ‘g’ is silent, idiot,” but I doubted that would have helped my case. I swear he even smelled holier-than-thou, like some volatile mix of expensive perfumes and the dirty stench money leaves on your hand.

With a sharp breath, the man said, “Before we proceed, do you have anything to say for yourself?” If I spoke, it would undoubtedly seal the likelihood of my exile.

Gazing down at the sloppy clothes I’d thrown on that morning, only one thought came to mind: “I wish I could go out in something a bit more flattering.” But then again, I was all out of wishes at that point.


Entry Nickname: Broken Jar
Title: In Pieces
Word count: 52,000
Genre: YA contemporary


Seventeen-year-old Clare Donovan has no idea what she wants do after high school, but she knows who she wants to be with. At least until her boyfriend Jesse Talcott hits her.

Part of Clare wants to hide in her bed forever and never speak to Jesse again. Part of her is just plain pissed. But part of her still sees the old Jesse, her best friend of five years and boyfriend for
almost two. Jesse’s the guy she planned to go to college with. The guy who blew off house parties to take her for walks. The guy who held her hand in the ER when she broke her tailbone and didn’t even snicker
when the doc discussed bowel movements. He’s not this new guy who keeps secrets, fails tests, and skips classes.

Clare knows the boy she loves is still in there because Jesse wants to step up and tell everyone exactly why she dumped him. But she can’t let him do that. If this gets out, it’ll ruin his life—and hers. No
one wants to be the girl whose boyfriend hit her.

There has to be a reason he snapped, and Clare’s going to find out what it is. Even if Jesse doesn’t want her to. And even if it means learning the scariest thing of all: she can’t fix him, and she doesn’t
know who she is without him.

First 250 words:

It's 6:17 pm on January 21st when Jesse Talcott hits me. I know, because I just glanced at my watch. The one he gave me for Christmas barely a month ago. It’s Michael Kors—my favorite designer—and silver,
with crystals instead of numbers.

I opened it the night before Christmas on the snowy porch of his parents' house because I thought Dad would freak if a boy came to bring me a gift on Christmas morning, and honestly, it was kind of a
what-the-hell moment. I mean, who wears a watch? That's what cell phones are for.

It’s the one time in the five years I'd known him that Jesse wasn't concerned about practicality.

So for him, I wear the watch. Our friends ooh and aah over it. Jesse’s asked about three hundred times if it's ok. If it's too much, too heavy, too silver. If I'd rather have something else. Maybe my shaking
hands as I opened it or the stuttered thank you made it obvious that I didn't know what to think of it. Tell the truth, I still don't know
what to think.

Especially now, with my face stinging in a way that I would've never in a million years seen coming. I can't look at him. I can't even think of him. All I can think of is the watch, the hands frozen. In my
mind, maybe it will perpetually be 6:17.


  1. This comment is reserved for judges' votes only.

    1. Victory to ELEMENTARY GIRL
      Marigny is a character I would like to get to know better. I really enjoyed the strong, humorous voice. Well done!

    2. Victory to ELEMENTARY GIRL

      Both of these are beautiful entries. Brilliantly written and excellently executed. It came down to preference for me. Good luck to you both!

    3. Victory to ELEMENTARY GIRL!

      This was a personal preference because both are excellent.

      EG: I love the humor. I identify with a girl who doesn't like this whole rigmarole involved with being suddenly in the spotlight.

      Borken Jar: Your new query makes me see there is much more to the story than the slap. I can see now why she would be willing to overlook it, if she could get to bottom of his troubles.

    4. Victory to ELEMENTARY GIRL

      THIS WAS REALLY HARD! I'm bummed that I have to vote between these two. Both are excellent queries. Every time I read Broken Jar's 250, I get chills.

      It came down to world-building. I want to immerse myself in this alternate universe and learn what it's like to be a 21st Century Colonial.

      Good luck to you both. You're both fantastic.

    5. Victory to BROKEN JAR

      These are both excellent entries and the queries are great in both cases. I did feel that the query for Broken Jar was super smooth and that gave it the slight edge in my mind. I also had a hard time getting past the similarities behind the premise of Elementary Girl and The Selection and was looking for more reasons why this was something so different from that story. I think maybe a bit more about the mystery would have helped distinguish it for me. Since the contest is just to find a spouse for the royal, I didn't really care as much as I'd need to that it was being rigged. I suspect the stakes might be higher, but it wasn't clear to me from the last paragraph of the query.

    6. Victory to ELEMENTARY GIRL.

      Gah, this was so hard! It really came down to what story I connected with best and I would want to read at this time. The concept of Elementary Girl just really grasps me. Both queries and great and both first 250's have stellar voice. Good job!

    7. Victory to BROKEN JAR

      I agree this was a very difficult pairing to choose from. I think it's probably important to note that individual judges have tended to consistently choose either humor OR drama when it's close. That's not a negative comment, just pointing out the subjectivity inherent when grammar, craft and voice are all well-honed and something has to be used as a tie-breaker. When it's that close, there really is no right or wrong.

      EG: Your query and 250 are both strong. It came down to personal preference on this one, and I wasn't sure how much time I wanted to spend with someone who seemed to me a bit petty and judgmental over the pronounciation of her unusual name. I recognize you're helping readers to get it right, but if they got it wrong, the dissing by the MC would by implication extend to them. That might alienate them right off the bat.

      BJ: Yours is a premise I'd still be willing to go along with, provided the payoff at the end didn't excuse the bf's behavior in any way. One tweak to the query: wouldn't it be "And even *when* it means learning the scariest..."?

    8. Victory to BROKEN JAR

      Both are well written and stories I'd love to read. It came down to which character I connected with in the first 250-words.



      Victory to ELEMENTARY GIRL.

      Although I'd MUCH rather read BROKEN JAR (YA Alt Historical is just not my genre, and I love dark YA), the query of EG was tighter and voicy-er. But I loved (woah, I was about to make an acronym out of 'Broken Jar' and stopped myself just in time) Broken's 250--the voice, the softness, the beautiful writing.

      I love how Broken's query is almost thriller-like, but in the end, it came down to how concise and tight the query was. Yes, I know! Nitpicks!

  2. Elementary Girl
    The query is much better—clearer and concise. My only question now is the international nature of it. I had originally thought it was an Esther story, of how to win the crown. But apparently other countries are involved. And it is not clear who she has to marry—not Simon, apparently.

    I love the tone and voice in the 250 but it does make me wonder where we are in the story. Apparently after the contest and the winner? Or maybe not. I would keep reading though.

    Broken Jar
    The query is so, so much better. It is clear, concise, and motivated. Since you called it YA contemporary, I am still unclear on what “answer” we are looking for, concerning the abuse. Drugs. Father beats him. Temper issues. Nothing compelling really comes forward. But you obviously have a solid grasp on the story and I trust that I am in good hands.

    I always loved the watch section and I feel like you could take us on an introspective ride. The slightest hint towards a satisfying conclusion would help me (but it might just be me.)

    Good job and good luck to you both!

  3. Elementary Girl: This is my first time reading this query and 250 and I loved it! The snark runs deep throughout the query and it really did match the voice quite well in the first 250. I think the query could be trimmed a bit and still work just as well. Perhaps condensing it so the focus is more on the contest and prize (whom she has to marry) and the stakes of losing Simon if she follows her nose (which you set up very well).

    Broken Jar: I remember this one from round two! Like I said before, the issues you bring up are heavy and would make for a compelling story. I could totally see this being a cathartic read for someone who had experienced something like any of the MCs will go through. My only suggestion would to be to put more emphasis on Clare's journey to discover why Jesse snapped. Everything before 'There has to be a reason he snapped, and Clare’s going to find out what it is' was good, but that line really revved the whole query up. Maybe moving that toward the beginning would help.

    Awesome job to both of you and best of luck!

  4. Elementary Girl: In the query, it’s hard for me to fully understand the stakes, because they don’t connect enough with what’s spelled out in the query (I’m referring in particular to the part where she risks losing Simon forever part; how and why?). Also, it seems off when it’s mentioned the MC smells something odd about the contest, because then that’s not mentioned again until the end of the query when she unearths somebody pulling contest strings/the government secret. So the first mention of things feeling off feels unconnected/stuck there in the middle of the query. In the 250, it’s “damned,” not “damn.” Also, maybe I’m missing something, but where are the characters? And who is the MC talking to? Neither are established as far as I can tell, so they seem like they’re just floating there, ungrounded. Great voice, though. A very distinct character I’d love to follow for a book and/or series.

    Broken Jar: In the query, I’m a little unsure of the stakes. It looks like the MC’s story quest is to unearth what made her ex-boyfriend snap, which is great and interesting. But that makes me wonder, what will happen if she fails or if her ex-boyfriend finds out about this quest he’d clearly not be keen about? If you can spell out the consequences there, I think the query would be stronger.

    Good luck to both entries!

  5. As Dragonfire said, when entries are this much improved, the voting can come down to a matter of taste. I'd vote for ELEMENTARY just because I can't even envision how BROKEN JAR is going to keep the boyfriend a sympathetic character after he hit his girlfriend.

    A whole lot of the reading public will not care what the reason is -- unless it's a supernatural explanation and another entity invaded his body.

    I think Broken Jar needs something(?) in the query to make a literary agent care enough about Clare's pursuit of a reason her boyfriend 'snapped'. What makes Clare think the hit was an anomaly and not the start of an abusive relationship?

    Good luck to you both.