Jun 15, 2014

QK Round 2: Beauty and the Crazy Kidnapper VS Burning Down the House

Entry Nickname: Beauty and the Crazy Kidnapper
Title: Stealing Fire
Word count: 75,000
Genre: Paranormal Romance


Ella’s life for her father’s. It’s the easiest decision she ever made.

When Ella traces her missing father to a decaying mansion, she's shocked to find him being held captive by a dangerous but devastatingly handsome man. He offers to let her father go free, but only if Ella stays behind.

Lucian isn't just a crazy kidnapper wrapped in eye candy. He's the head of a group of shape shifters who live as humans by day and hideous monsters by night. Desperate to discover why none of his kind have been born in centuries, Lucian stole Ella's father, a scientist who’d previously worked with Lucian’s species on the fertility crisis before abruptly quitting decades ago. When Ella shows up and is immune to Lucian's powers, he sees a chance to get answers, certain the scientist hid them in Ella’s DNA.

Ella willingly trades places with her father and becomes Lucian’s prisoner. He gives her everything she could possibly want except her freedom. The more time she spends with Lucian, the harder it is to deny he’s a ruthless monster. Even so, with every sideways glance and accidental touch, she becomes more confused and Lucian comes closer to forgetting she’s not his.

But their days together are limited. Lucian has enemies, and they’ll do anything to keep his species from expanding. As they close in, Lucian starts to understand the safest place for Ella is far away from him, and Ella must decide if her old, normal life is really where she belongs. But a true beast would never give up so easily.

First 250:

Ella shoved open the door to the sheriff’s office, slamming it against the wall. So what if all the deputies were staring. Let them know she was angry.

Gus glanced up from his paperwork, a lazy grin planted on his face. “Ella, if you really want to see me, all you have to do is call,” he said with his signature drawl that had all the girls in the small Maine town of Pine Springs drooling.

All the girls except Ella.

“Have you found him?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

Gus stood up from behind his desk, towering over her tiny five-four frame. “We were able to track your father’s car down, but couldn’t find any sign of him. Like we told you before, he’s probably with someone at that conference you mentioned.”

“He wouldn’t run off without telling me, and I haven’t talked to him in over a week. I thought you said he never checked in at the Lexington Hotel.” Gus nodded like he was listening, but she recognized the glazed over look in his eyes. He’d already written her off.

“Normally, that would all be quite alarming, but you can’t exactly call Dr. Murray‘normal’.”

She clenched her fists and took a deep breath. “Why aren’t you taking this seriously?”

Gus moved around the desk and set a hand on her shoulder. “Why don’t you take a walk to collect yourself? I’ll swing by your place after my shift ends and we can discuss this over dinner.”


Entry Nickname
: Burning Down the House
Title: The Farmer’s Wife
Word Count: 60k
Genre: Women’s Fiction


Jody Sinclair’s grandparents, Samuel and Lillian, have spent their entire married life in the farmhouse her grandfather built by hand. When the house goes up in flames, Lillian barely escapes with her life. Samuel is not as lucky. Fire crews attempt to control the blaze, leaving Lillian with nothing to do but watch as she loses everything she’s ever cherished.

Jody arrives at the house just after the first fire truck and offers Lillian both comfort and her spare bedroom. In the days following Samuel’s death, Jody struggles to help her grandmother return to a sense of normalcy. As they sift through what the fire left behind, they unearth more than Jody ever expected. When Jody discovers that Lillian intentionally set the house ablaze, she must decide whether she will seek justice for her recently deceased grandfather, or let the truth die with him.

First 250:

When the phone rings during the opening credits of Doctor Who, I consider letting it go to voicemail. With a silent prayer of gratitude for the ability to pause streaming video, I jump up to grab it on the third ring.


“Jody?” I don’t recognize the voice. I can hear the caller gasp for breath, and worry that this is about to turn into some weird prank.

“Who is this?” I ask, my words sharp, prepared to hang up if the panting continues.

“It’s Gram.” Another deep breath, followed by a sob this time.

“Gram?” I ask, confused. Gram never calls after five or six. She’s usually asleep by eight. I glance at the clock on my stove. It’s nearly eleven. She sobs again, and my heart drops down to my ankles. “Gram, what’s wrong? Where are you?”

“I’m at Bonnie’s. Can you please come pick me up?” Her voice is raw and strained.

“Gram, what’s wrong?” I ask again. Emphasizing each word as I spit it out of my mouth. I hear her take in a sharp breath before she answers.

“It’s the house. It’s burning.”

I sit down. Hard. My breath leaves me in a rush. “Are you okay? Where’s Gramps?”

She takes a few more deep breaths, though I can’t tell whether she’s trying to calm herself down or avoid answering the questions.

“I’m fine.” She answers, sounding anything but.

“And Gramps?” The pause is even longer this time.

“He’s still in the house.”


  1. Judges, reply here with your comment and vote.

    1. Beauty and the Crazy Kidnapper. I like this query a lot. My only real comment is that the jump between your first pitch line and the beginning of the query is a bit weird to me. You never tell us that her father is missing, just that she tracks him. Why? It's pretty important to set up that he's missing even if it's just a few words.

      As for the page, I like it a lot but... its been a long time since I've seen Beauty and The Beast so I can't say for sure, but this feels almost too similar. Both characters in that scene seem almost exactly the same as the Disney movie. Maybe that's on purpose but I'd be careful not to get TOO close to that movie. It's obviously got some twists in there which is good but just something to wary of.

      Burning the House Down.
      Another good query. My biggest problem with it was the names. The protagonist is Jody but you call both her grandparents by their first name throughout, but not in the sample page. I find that odd. Can't you call them Gram and Gramps in the query too? I was actually confused as to who started the fire at the end and had to back track to see who Lilian was.
      As far as the sample page goes, the dialog felt like it went on a little long in the beginning. "Hello." "Jody" "Who is this?" "Gram." 'Gram?" Too much, in my opinion. Maybe cut the "Who is this?" and have her ask "Gram" seems realistic that she'd recognize her voice and that would make it read much smoother, less back and forth (It might be realistic, but smooth dialog is often simpler than real life)

      This is a tough one, and I see this being a close one but I think I'm going to go with...

      Victory to: Beauty and the Kidnapper. That one just has my interest a bit more but that's pure preference. I see both of these doing well. Good luck!


      Query: This sounds like an interesting twist on Beauty and the Beast! I think the query is a little too long and could probably be trimmed in some areas. The structure of your query makes me wonder if the story is told in dual points of view, switching between Lucian and Ella. If so, I would try to make that clear. If not, I would avoid switching to Lucian’s POV in the query. You have some borderline clichés in here that you could swap out with more exciting, voicey options – for example, “devastatingly handsome,” “hideous monsters,” and “sideways glance.”

      250: I was really drawn in to your first page. I liked the back and forth between Gus and Ella, and I get the sense that she’s a feisty MC, which I love. I would like a little more setting in this first page – just to get grounded in the story. Not a ton – just good line or two would probably do it. I did wonder why she didn’t ask where they’d tracked the car to. And I got a little confused in the dialogue as they talked about the conference. I think you could clear it up with a little more internal thoughts/reactions/etc from Ella.


      Query: I’m concerned you’ve buried the lead here. You have such a fantastic premise, but I think you’re taking far too long to get us there. I think there’s a lot you could cut from the first paragraph that would help this problem. And you give us so much of the grandparents in that first paragraph that I start to wonder who the main character truly is.

      250: Nice job. I’m definitely drawn in right away. I think you could give us a little more setting and sensory details to give us the chance to get grounded. So much dialogue right off the back makes it hard to really sink into the story. I was surprised she doesn’t ask her grandmother if she’s called the fire department, since the house is presently burning when she calls.

      This is so tough! I was tempted to flip a coin and let Abraham Lincoln decide my vote. Instead, after going back and forth several times, I say victory to BEAUTY AND THE CRAZY KIDNAPPER.

      I love the premise, and think the query sets up the stakes well. I do believe you could trim the query a bit. Some things seem repeated -- saying "eye candy" after you've already established he is "devastatingly handsome", for example. That second paragraph is very dense -- I know you have a lot of concepts to present, but perhaps there's a way to get the basic idea across without quite as much detail. Also, be careful of using phrases like "begins to" -- for ex.: "Lucian starts to understand..." could simply be "Lucian realizes" or something along those lines.
      First 250 Words:
      Nice opening -- really get a sense of Ella's personality and her relationship with Gus. I would like a touch more description of the setting to ground us (not long descriptions, maybe just something like
      "Gus glanced up from the paperwork littering the pitted surface of his wooden desk..." vs "Gus glanced up from the neat piles of paperwork stacked on the metal surface of his desk..." I mean, use your own words, but just give us a sense of whether we are in a small town police dept. or the big city, etc. Otherwise, I think this is a solid opening.
      This query feels very much like a synopsis -- not a lot of voice or connection to the MC. I wonder if you could put the grandmother burning down the house in the hook, rather than the info. about their marriage. As it reads now, it seems to set up a nice story about an older couple's marriage -- with Lillian as the MC -- rather than the story of Jody discovering the truth of her grandparents' lives. I think you want to try to get that twist and conflict in the hook somehow, because that's the thing that will set your story apart.
      First 250 Words:
      Nice jump into the main action here, and your dialogue sounds natural. I think you could cut a bit of the back and forth between Jody and her grandmother, though, to get to the point about the fire faster. I know people talk this way, but it tends to sound repetitive in books.
      I also would like some more sensory info. -- or perhaps some physical reaction from Jody as well as her words. Or even more of Jody's thoughts -- something to draw us into her world immediately. Otherwise, very good job.
      I'm glad I'm not an agent making decisions like this all the time -- very tough. But I must choose, and so -- based mainly on the better match between query and story, and the intrigue of the premise -- I give

    4. Beauty and the Crazy Kidnapper
      Query: Ooooh, I *adore* Beauty and the Beast themes, and yours sounds awesome! You have great conflict and stakes in here, but one thing is missing: character. I'm presuming Ella is the main character, but from your query, I know way more about Lucian and even Ella's father than I do about the MC herself. What makes her cool and unique, beyond the situation in which she's placed?
      First 250: You're missing a space between 'Murray' and normal. Also, I was wondering why you have Ella refer to herself as a "girl." How old is she? From the query, I'd assumed this was an adult romance--wouldn't she think of herself as a woman? Beyond that, though, I'm not sure you're starting in the right place. This confrontation seems like it only serves to intro your characters and catalyst (the missing father), instead of giving us any immediate forward motion or insight into what makes your plot/character unique. And this is very subjective, but I have to say that to me, Ella feels like more of a stock character--the fiesty beauty who turns down the good-looking jerks all the other girls want--than a unique, well-rounded one.

      Burning Down the House:
      Query: I don't think you need this line: "Fire crews attempt to control the blaze, leaving Lillian with nothing to do but watch as she loses everything she’s ever cherished." We already get all of this info (Samuel dies, the house burns down) from earlier sentences. When I got to the part about Lillian intentionally burning down the house, I said "WHAT?!" out loud--what a plot twist!! However, your query is very short right now, and I feel like you could go into quite a bit more depth on the plot twist and the choice (conflict, stakes) that Jody is going to have to make, and maybe dangle a little hint about WHY Lillian might've burned down her house (was her husband abusive? Is she mentally ill?).
      First 250: You need a comma instead of a period before "Emphasizing each word as I spit it out of my mouth" (it's a continuation of the earlier sentence). I also wish this felt a little more grounded in the MC's personality and surroundings. Other than that, this is a tense opening, and it jumps straight into the catalyst.

      My decision: Another tough one!!! I changed my vote several times on this before I finally made up my mind. I think both of these have a ton of potential, so this really comes down to subjectivity for me. I really like Burning Down the House's plot twist, but I wish I knew more about the conflict and stakes, and the first 250 were good but didn't feel as polished as they could be. I *love* the premise for Beauty and the Crazy Kidnapper and it has a much stronger query, but the character of Ella just feels really flat for me, which is a personal pet peeve. Also, paranormal romance is flooding the market right now so it really needs to stand out and have everything going for it to sell. But in spite of that, Beauty and the Beast themes are my kryptonite, so my vote is: VICTORY TO BEAUTY AND THE CRAZY KIDNAPPER!

    5. Allusion AssassinJune 17, 2014 at 10:51 AM

      This is one I didn't judge in the previous round and I can see why it made it through. It's an interesting twist on a retelling and your query lays out the conflict well. You've received a ton of great feedback already, so I won't repeat similar things I see in detail. Instead, I'll agree with the judges who said your query is really dense and at the end of it, we know more about Lucian and her Dad than Ella. Retellings really have to sell their voice and twist, and so far, Ella isn't standing out. Also, take a close look at the cliche's pointed out.

      Your first two fifty - I agree with the judges who are concerned your MC feels too stock and not unique enough and that maybe this doesn't quite start in the right place. While it's a good introduction, and the writing is good, it needs more forward motion.

      I did judge this in the previous round and I think you've made some good improvement over your last effort. There's still room to take it further though.

      I agree with the judge who said you really are burying the lead and need to get the main conflict into the opening. From what we've seen, the story starts from Jody's pov, so the query should too. This is Jody's story - what is her conflict and what are her stakes. Also, while this version is better in both the query and the opening, we still need more of Jody's voice in both.

      250 - I really liked the new opening. This was a good change from your previous entry. Like I said above and in my last review -- we still need more of Jody's emotion. Her Gram has just called unexpectedly and said their house is burning. With first person pov, I'd think we should get more than her sitting down hard out of breath.

      This was a close pairing to judge. Ultimately, though, the Beauty and the Beast retelling just didn't have enough originality (especially given how crowded the paranormal romance market is right now) for me to want to keep reading and I'm dying to know why this old farm lady burned down her house and killed her husband.


    6. NOTE: Since I focused on queries in round 1, this time I'm focusing on the first 250 words.

      The opening sentences make me want to keep reading.

      I do wonder (and you'd know better than us!) if you're starting in the right place. It seems as though a lot had already happened to get us to this point, and it's hard to really appreciate Ella's concern without getting to know her relationship with her father, or her frustration without knowing her previous interactions with the police.

      Answering the phone during Doctor Who? Is that even a question? Of course you should let it go to voicemail! (Just kidding... sorta...)

      Is this a land line? No caller ID? She really wouldn't recognize her Gram's voice?

      This opening, too, seems to jump right into the conflict without a whole lot of lead-in. She's at her home, I assume? Apartment? Does she live alone? How old is she? What's her relationship with her Gram like? I don't know if it was the phone conversation dialogue, but something about felt choppy.

      Also, the line about him still being in the house I know is *supposed* to be impactful, but it just makes me go "huh?" WHY isn't Gram DOING something about that instead of calling for a ride?



      QUERY: Oh, wow! I’m a sucker for a Beauty and the Beast retelling. This sounds fascinating. This flows really well. I’m intrigued. I think you can tighten this a bit but still keep your voice.

      First 250: This flows well. I think a bit more grounding by adding some descriptions. Not a lot because that could break the tension, but it would help set the scene since we’re thrust into the action. Maybe some interior dialogue to show the turmoil and desperation Ella must be feeling.


      QUERY: Powerful query. Nicely trimmed with just enough information to grab my attention. I’m curious to know why her grandmother set the fire.

      First 250: The transition in the first sentence feels off, like there is a missing thought between her considering not answering the phone and her decision to. Great ending sentence. It’s heartbreaking. I could feel the pain. Maybe flesh out the scene a bit before starting with the dialogue to ground the reader.

      Both seem like amazing books. This was really tough, but I’m really curious about Gram’s motivations.


    8. DivaDeconstructedJune 17, 2014 at 8:06 PM


      Query: Interesting Query, the way it's formatted makes me remember WHY I loved the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast. I'm not entirely sure how Lucian sees that Ella's DNA is they key nor particularly how he plans to get it. I'm also not a shifter expert, so I'm not entirely sure about the rules Lucian is bound by (if any). The rest of it was charming.

      First 250 words: YES! Totally love Ella instantly. You've got a great first page here, and it's got me (and I assume many others) hooked! BRAVO.



      Query: Straightforward. I feel like it's odd to say that Jody offers her grandmother who lost everything her spare bedroom. It seems like that's a no-brainer. Other than that, I felt the query did a great job of being short and to the point.

      First 250 words: Another strong writing sample. I love that we start in this intense moment, and I feel like the detail that Jody is such a die hard Dr. Who fan tells us a lot about her.


      Verdict: I really had to consider these two for a while (I read them both three times) to make this decision. The margin is thin, but for me:
      VICTORY goes to BEAUTY AND THE CRAZY KIDNAPPER. I think BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE is a great story, and will also probably find a home very soon. However, I feel the only thing tipping the balance is my adoration for the original story of (as well as the Disney film/musical) of Beauty and the Beast.


    Query: Love that opener. It tells us so much about Ella.

    It's rare, I think, for a query to be this detailed and long without ever becoming confusing, but you did it. It is like a mini-story, making it enjoyable to read.

    My only issue is the very end. I'm not sure if "a true beast" is referring to Lucien or Ella. I know that sounds dumb but you've just presented both characters as having a choice to make. This makes me unsure who, exactly, would "give up", and what giving up means. I'd like this to be restructured a little, maybe making Ella's choice its own sentence instead of combining it with Lucien's.

    250: Several small grammar issues here.

    The lack of a speech tag in P 6 makes it sound like Gus is doing the speaking. I'd add "Ella said" first so it's clear. I know speech tags are demonized, but "said" is a safe bet, almost invisible.

    "Glazed over" should be "glazed-over" so the meaning is clear. Or just "glazed."

    There should be a space after Murray.

    I also feel slightly unhappy about the body language. It feels a bit pat, like an ingredient list for An Angry Person, instead of sounding like you. You have such a fun voice when you let it shine, I think you can tweak this and make it your own.

    I love Gus' suggestion that she take a walk to calm down. That is such an a****** man thing to say. Like the problem isn't her father's absence, but simply her reaction to it, and if she'd only stop making a fuss everything would be fine. Can you tell I've run afoul of this myself? ;)


    Query: Short and sweet! Very nice.

    I got a little sidetracked near the end, though. If Lillian set the house ablaze on purpose, why would she let Jody sift through the wreckage and find that out? It would work better for me if you change from "as they sift" to "as Jody sifts" just to avoid this question.

    250: Wow, tension! Great final line, too.

    I think you need to work on structuring your paragraphs, though. In dialog specifically. Paragraph breaks are a big part of how readers parse dialogue, and it's important to use them effectively. Sections like this:

    [[“Jody?” I don’t recognize the voice. I can hear the caller gasp for breath, and worry that this is about to turn into some weird prank.

    “Who is this?” I ask, my words sharp, prepared to hang up if the panting continues.]]

    are confusing, because it sounds like Jody is doing the talking in paragraph 1 (since her name follows the quote); then, it breaks to a new paragraph, so I expect to hear from Gram, but it turns out to still be Jody. It would be clearer like this:


    I don’t recognize the voice. I can hear the caller gasp for breath, and worry that this is about to turn into some weird prank. “Who is this?” I ask, my words sharp, prepared to hang up if the panting continues.]]

    Same issue lower down:

    [[“And Gramps?” The pause is even longer this time.

    "He's still in the house."]]

    makes it sound like Jody is the one pausing, not Gram. I understand wanting to keep the suspenseful sentence isolated, though, so instead of attaching the pause to Gram's line, I would suggest putting it alone, in the middle, like it's a divider:

    [[“And Gramps?”

    The pause is even longer this time.

    "He's still in the house."]]

    I think these minor changes will really improve the flow and clarity of the dialog. All in all, really good first page!

    1. Dangit, I forgot something. I also wanted to suggest a different word than "spit" for when Jody is talking to her Gram. People "spit" words when they're angry. Jody wouldn't spit words at her Gram under these circumstances. I mean, unless she's a total jerk, but I don't think she is. Good luck with querying! :)

  3. I love both of these entries!! I can't offer much in the way of feedback Burning down the House, I think your query is a lot stronger than it was. I agree with Melanie about changing the word spit. I see what you're trying to convey, but I think there could be a better word out there for it.

    Beauty, I can definitely say the same about your query. It is so strong! One tiny little thing I'd change is in the sentence about her father working on Lucian's family's DNA before. I'd omit the word "previously" since later in that same sentence you say he quit decades ago. It just struck me as redundant.

    I feel sorry for the judges on this one. I wish I could see both of you guys go through. Good luck!

  4. Beauty and the Crazy Kidnapper
    Oh, I LOVE retellings! I'm a little confused in the query, when you say Ella's immune to his powers. He has additional powers other than being a shapeshifter? The last line: "But a true beast would never give up so easily." Ella's not the beast, so I'd rather have a line dealing with what's at stake for her. Unless this is a dual POV, which would need to be made clear.

    Burning Down the House
    The first paragraph of the query throws me off a little. This is Jody's story, but there's a lot about Lillian. It feels like a lot of setup. We need to know what happened, but I want to get to what all of this has to do with Jody.

    I really like the premise of both stories, but I'm not particularly drawn in to either first page. I don't feel like I know much about either MC from the queries & 250. But I definitely am intrigued by both story ideas. Good luck to you both!