Jun 14, 2013

QK Round 3: Kicking Ash vs. Minna Gray

Nickname: Kicking Ash
Title: Earth to Earth
Word Count: 62,000
Genre: NA Urban Fantasy


Getting over the death of your boyfriend is tough, especially when you swear you just saw him outside of your new apartment.

Five years after Hailey loses her boyfriend, Ash, in a horrific car accident that almost claims her life, she is still struggling to put herself back together. At her breaking point, she moves from her small hometown to the big city, hoping to get lost in the crowd and start fresh. But things get complicated when she sees Ash. Or thinks she sees Ash. Swears she sees Ash.

After an exhausting search, she finally discovers the truth. The truth about Ash’s death, miraculous resurrection, and breathtaking wings that she’d never noticed before. As a guardian angel, Ash’s mission was to help Hailey in her time of death, but when he broke the rules and fell for her, all bets were off. Now, the Angel of Death is out for revenge, setting her eyes on Hailey once again. Hailey doesn’t want to trust Ash, or even really like him again, but when she’s staring Death in her pretty, pale face, a rebellious Guardian Angel isn’t a bad thing to have around.

First 250 Words:

It’s impossible to know when your life is about to change forever. There’s no alarm or warning. No note from Mom reminding you to keep an eye out for the worst possible thing. And in those few seconds before it hits, you find yourself so blissfully ignorant that you can’t possibly imagine something will go wrong. Like now.

I’m riding with my boyfriend down a curvy country road, taking in the warm breeze and the smell of the wildflowers nestled along the trees. The simplicity of summer surrounds us, promising nearly three whole months of freedom until we leave for college. Everything is perfect. Then, just like that, it isn’t.

I don’t see whatever makes him jerk the wheel violently to the left. The smell of burnt rubber assaults my nose and my body slams hard against the restraint of the seat belt. The car spins, rocketing towards the guardrail separating us from the trees.

I gaze over to the driver’s side, expecting to hear my boyfriend scream. A cry. Something. There is nothing but silence as he stares back at me, sporting a perfectly calm expression. No panic, no fear. Like he’s trying to tell me something in the midst of the chaos.

My head snaps forward as we hit the ground and roll. Once. Twice. The third time the windshield fractures.
This exact moment, the one when glass shatters, is actually quite beautiful. The way the center splinters and spiders out before bursting into little white stars, glimmering against the sun.


Entry Nickname: Minna Gray
Title: The Awakening of Minna Gray
Word count: 89,000
Genre: YA Futuristic Fantasy


Sixteen-year-old Minna Gray’s life in SilCorp’s Emerald District is shattered when the two boys she’s babysitting are kidnapped. But guilt turns to panic when she discovers no one is looking for the boys. No one even remembers them.

It’s as if they’ve been erased.

Fortunately, Minna’s not the only one who remembers. Corrin, a boy whose path always seems to cross hers, knows about the disappearances. He tells her they aren’t isolated events: every day more people are erased.

Corrin says Minna has a magical ancestry and that her inherited power over the elements could put an end to the ghants – the gray men who perform the kidnappings. To harness these powers, she must travel to the Outlands – the pest-infected waste beyond the city walls. But no one survives the Outlands, and Minna’s not sure she’s ready to trade life in Emerald for a slow suicide. She’s not even sure she can trust Corrin.

But soon she’ll have to decide. She must race to stop the ghants before all hope for the missing boys is lost, and before anyone else she loves is erased.

First 250 words:

She’d seen one once before - years ago, with Cameron, by the seaside. Its little round body flitted between palm fronds like a tiny jeweled fairy. They were supposed to turn it in. But they hadn’t. They’d watched it all afternoon, until finally it leapt into the sky and flew away, back over the Outer Wall. Their secret.

This one seemed even more out of place, amidst the asphalt and the early evening glow of the podcar lines. For a second, she thought she was imagining it. But then Ethan saw it too.

“What is it?” he asked, gaze transfixed on the emerald blot making its way across the dull bronze shine of the hood.

“A beetle.”

His brown eyes widened. “A real one?”

Minna nodded. “Don’t touch it.” But she was mesmerized too.

He frowned, waving his PestDetector wand over it. “It doesn’t beep.”

“Maybe it’s not infected.” Yet.

They watched its twiggy, spindle-legged progression from latch to windshield. “I don’t want anyone to kill it,” Ethan whispered as he backed away.

Technically it was a vector. Technically they were supposed to destroy it. But it was so small and round and innocent. Suddenly, it lifted off. Humming, it vanished into the protective green and white flurry of the nearby jasmine. Minna exhaled.

“Probably escaped from a DomeZoo.” Ethan said, glancing at her with a shaky laugh.

“Probably, but you still need to disinfect.” Minna puffed her emergency spray into the air, enveloping them in shivering white mist. Silently they counted out the seconds ... eight, nine, ten. Safe.


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

    1. Victory to KICKING ASH
      The writing in both these entries is EXCELLENT and it pains me to have to make a choice, but I love the juxtaposition of beauty and violence in KICKING ASH.

    2. Victory to KICKING ASH

      I'm choosing this one because it's the one I'd want to read, of the two. HOWEVER, I do not like the structural changes made to the first 250. I though opening with the glass breaking line was brilliant, and should have gone from there. I like the changes in your query though, making things a bit clearer.

      MINNA GRAY, love it. Love it, love it, love it. I wish I could choose both, your writing is beautiful as well, and your query is tight, this one came down to personal preference for me. Good luck!

    3. Victory to MINNA GRAY!

      Kicking Ash: Your query and first page are quite a bit tighter. You describe the car accident beautifully. However, the repeat of Ash's name in the query bugged me. Seems like some of them could have been replaced with a pronoun.

      Minna Gray: I love the contrast to our world. How here they marvel over an insect! This story is just to my taste. I hope to read it someday.


      Another tough choice. I wish I could pick both. I love everything about both of these entries. Kicking Ash, you kick ash with your first 250. It gets me every time I read it. Such a heartbreaking scene.

      In the end, it came down to world-building. Which world would I want to spend time in at this very moment. Right now, I'm curious about why the Ghants are stealing people. I want to see the world outside of Emerald. And I still love how a beetle can be described so beautifully.

    5. Victory to MINNA GRAY

      In this instance, it was the writing in the first 250 that swayed me. I just love how something so ordinary in our world is treated as so mystical in theirs and the opening handles the world-building beautifully. I also thought the dialogue was very natural, though be careful about modifying nearly every line of it.

      Kicking Ash, I'm not sure I love the reworking of the first 250. Your page before really captured my attention with the cracked windshield imagery, but this time I was thrown about how she was able to comment on an event as if she was looking back on it in the first paragraph, and then everything switched to the action occurring in present tense. If it's all happening in present time, how does she recognize the moment that will change her life is up ahead, around the curve?

    6. Victory to Minna Gray!

      MG- Your first 250 were fabulous and captured my attention so well. Great job!

      Kicking Ash- I liked how your query cleared up the Ash angle and introduced that this is an Angel book. But I felt like the stakes at the end weren't as strong as your original query. Just my opinion though. Good luck to you!

    7. Victory to MINNA GRAY

      Both are wonderful premises and the pitches are so much cleaner and tighter. It was a hard decision. It came down to taste here and which excerpt pulled me in more. Great job you guys!

    8. Victory to KICKING ASH.

      I must say, I agree with LittleMynx. I loved the first lines for the original 250 more. That was haunting and beautiful. The main reason you won is because I loved the tone and mood of this story, but Minna's entry was FANTASTIC as well. I love MG's 250 more, but the query and premises are what it came down to.

      Really tough.

  2. Kicking Ash
    I like the rework but I don’t know that I would use repetition in the query (Swears she sees Ash.) “Even really like him again” seems very dismissive of their relationship and deflates it a bit for me. Obviously he risked all for her.

    As before, I love your description of the crash but I feel like this is a prologue. I wondered if you would change the first chapter to her sighting of her dead boyfriend. I’d have to read farther to see if I like a flashback as a setup. But having read the revised query, I do wonder if the boyfriend is an angel BEFORE the crash.

    Minna Gray
    There was tension galore when I saw our hosts paging you on Twitter. I was so hopeful to see your entry.

    I love the query rewrite. Much clearer and with suitable stakes.
    In the 250, I still question who is Ethan and who is Cameron. You mention both but don’t clarify. I assume all the animals, bugs included, are rarely seen but it immediately makes me question how Jasmine can exist without pollination. You do deflate the tension in the first paragraph because you let us know they let it escape. I think it would be stronger if you didn’t tell us that right away.

    Overall, both are improved and compelling. Good luck to you both!

  3. Victory to MINNA GRAY

    Both voices in the 250 were excellent, but I'm not sure the structural changes to Kicking Ash's were necessary. For me, this kombat came down to the queries.

    KA: I liked the bit of mystery in the original query. With this version, you seemed to just want to sort of spill it all out there, but it came out in a bit of a jumble. For me, the events and revelations aren't clear. I'm not sure why the Angel of Death has waited 5 years to take revenge or who Death is more perturbed about - the MC or Ash. I'm not clear why the MC has fallen out of love with her bf cum guardian angel and seems put out with him even though he (I think) saved her life. I think the query needs one more pass to smooth it out.

    MG: Your query rewrite is much tighter - always a good thing. I don't think the bits where Corinn "tells her" and "says," though, are working for you. Maybe rephrase those bits?

  4. Kicking Ash: What an awesome first line to the query! As others have said, I think repeating Ash less would make it a smoother read. The concept is great, though! Who wouldn't want a guardian angel--especially if it's someone they'd loved and recently lost? My only concern is whether or not the stakes are high enough. Is there any reason for Hailey to *not* trust Ash? If there was something in their past that made her distrust him enough I think it'd be a good idea to put that in there so we understand her inner conflict better.

    Minna Gray: I loved this one when I read in in round 2! I think your query and first 250 are so much better (even though I thought they were great in the earlier rounds). I love how you make something as simple as seeing a beetle seem so mesmerizing. SO GOOD!

    Awesome job and best of luck to both of you!

  5. Kicking Ash: Interesting query. I’m not sure the whole Guardian Angel and Death angle were in the last version (could be just me and I forgot), but I like it! I’m a little confused toward the end. Clearly Death wants revenge, but on who? On Ash for breaking the rules or Hailey for not dying when she was supposed to (was she supposed to die in that crash but didn’t because of Ash, since he fell in love with her)? As you can see, I’m a little confused with aspects of the plot. Regarding the first 250, I think you can make the third paragraph a bit choppier with shorter sentences to really bring the terrifying action to life. Also, I commented on this in the last round, but I still can’t get over her gazing over to her boyfriend, “expecting to see a reaction.” She wouldn’t be thinking about that in this terrifying moment. She might look over to shoot him a horrified look or to see how he’s trying to resurrect the out-of-control car (since it seems you need her to see his calm expression for plot reasons). But I don’t want to beat that horse to death.

    Minna Gray: Awesome query! It’s a personal preference thing, but I love this story. In the 250, I’d consider changing or tweaking that first sentence, as it’s really not all that interesting, and you really want a good first sentence to grab the reader’s attention. Maybe actually spell out that it’s a beetle in the first sentence? That way, the average reader will think, “But beetles are so commonplace,” and will be intrigued by this world where they’re never seen? Just a thought. Again, beating an old horse, but in the last round I said that stating the girl is mesmerized is telling. Maybe just say “But she also couldn’t keep her gaze off the beetle.” Shows that she’s mesmerized rather than blatantly telling the reader. But I really, really like this story and would read it in a heartbeat!

    Both are great and impressive entries, though!

  6. Kicking Ash: I agree about not liking the 250 changes :-( I'm a little sad you got rid of the breaking glass line as the beginning. I LOVED that. Wanted to be sure I threw in my vote to bring it back to the beginning.

    Minna- this is great. Query is very tight now, great job!

  7. Kicking Ash: I loved the glass at the beginning as well. That said, I still think the 250 is gripping. It flows well. I like the concept you present in the query, but it makes the MC seem a bit passive.

    Minna Gray: I admire how well you've boiled a complicated world and plot down into this query. In the 250, I agree that you've made such a simple, small thing seem so important and lovely. I also agree with the other poster who wished there was a tiny bit of a description/classification of who Cameron and Ethan are, especially since the details of the worldbuilding are so dense.

    Best of luck to you both!

  8. Kicking Ash-- The first line in your query was great, very attention grabbing. A few small things I think could help tighten the query-- stop using Ash so much and switch some to pronouns. Repeating 'the truth' at the end of one sentence and beginning of another. 'All bets are off' feels like a cliche saying. And doesn't want to like him again feels a little weak. But I love that the Angel of Death is a woman and the concept is really cute!

    Minna Gray-- Love this idea of people who disappear and are erased. I think your query does a good job of setting up what's happening with us. For me the last paragraph was definitely the weakest. Soon she'll have to decide leading into the next sentence was a little jarring for me.

    Good work both of you! And good luck!