Jun 15, 2014

QK Round 2: Have Swords, Will Travel VS Making Boys Cry

Entry Nickname: Have Sword, Will Travel
Word count: 115,700
Genre: Urban Fantasy


Professional demon-hunter Lazarus loves his job. He loves the adrenaline rush, the clarity of combat, and the chance to be more than a broken thug. Most of all, he loves his angelic handler, Rebecca, who scraped him out of the gutter and gave him a purpose. For her, Laz would punch out the Sun.

Which is fortunate, because his current target is almost as formidable: a nigh-invulnerable necromancer who's easily dispatched every other demon-hunter who dared face him. A more rational man would be worried, but Laz sees this mission as an opportunity. Killing this guy is sure to impress Rebecca. Maybe she'll even reconsider her "no fraternization with humans" policy.

But the shameful truth is that Laz's battle prowess isn't entirely his own. Five years ago, Laz made a bargain with a charismatic demon that granted him immunity to demonic magic—and promptly skipped town without paying. Now, while Laz is hip-deep in the toughest mission of his life, his demon finally tracks him down... and it won't let him escape again.

CHAINBREAKER is a NA urban fantasy novel of 115,700 words. It is the first part of an apocalyptic trilogy that will appeal to fans of Jim Butcher's DEATH MASKS and Chuck Wendig's THE BLUE BLAZES.

First 250:

Wide awake at 3 AM, Laz decided that the worst thing about prison was the other prisoners. He couldn't sleep near so many potential threats. Not after the past five years of increasingly close pursuit by Hell's demons and America's cops.

The enforced idleness of imprisonment didn't help. Laz's internal engine ran hot at the best of times; with no work on which to vent his energy, he felt close to boiling over.

His eyes refused to shut. He covered his face with his hands, calloused palms pressed against battle scars and broken nose, and tried to force himself to relax. No good. He bit back a frustrated oath and rolled over onto his side, as if that would help.

Metal scraped against concrete as the computerized lock on his cell door slid open, instantly vindicating Laz's paranoia. He was on his feet and ready to fight before the sound died away.

The door swung outward in obedience to the ventilation system's constant draft. A stripe of washed-out light shone through the opening. There was no one on the other side.

Laz crept to the entrance and looked up and down the dim corridor. Everyone's door was open, not just his. Most inmates were asleep, but here and there one stood half-crouched in the entrance, suspicious but curious, like him.

Someone must have paid a lot of money to arrange this mass unlocking. Laz could only think of one reason to give all prisoners unsupervised access to each other, and it wasn't to swap recipes for pruno.

Entry Nickname: Making Boys Cry
Title: Virtual Rebel
Word count: 90,000
Genre: Science Fiction


The warrior. It's a title 18-year-old Kali Ling earned bringing men to their knees -- inside video games. 

In 2054, fully-immersive virtual reality plugs a player directly inside a game, turning digital battle tournaments into a national sport. As an athletic avatar, Kali's living the high life: ultimate fame, zero consequences, and an endless supply of drugs, win or lose. Because really, nothing is worse than losing. 

But when her teammate Nathan overdoses and Kali is named the new team captain, she's confronted with a concept called, ugh, being an adult. She finds guidance through her Chinese heritage, immersing herself in Asian philosophy and martial arts training with her team's latest recruit (whom she can't help picturing in nothing but a strategically placed controller). But just as she attains inner peace, the Virtual Gaming League erases Nathan from its database and whitewashes the truth behind his demise for the sake of ratings. 

For ratings? Oh, it's on like Donkey Kong.

Furious, Kali swaps fame for fighting in his memory in the VGL's championship tournament. But the industry threatens to strip away everything she's become if she doesn't back down. As team captain, it's not just her future on the line. But if Kali can convince others to join her, together they could stand against an industry that cares more about its popularity than its athletes. This time it's game over. Permanently.

First 250 words:

This wouldn't be the first time I died. Sure as hell wouldn't be the last either. But while most watched this virtual world from the safe haven of reality, there was nowhere else I'd rather spend my Saturday night. 

Crouched high on the tower's parapet, I overlooked a sea of wheat fields. The scent of lavender and the taste wheatgrass wove together in the air, drifting alongside the breeze that swept through my hair. I took a deep breath and smiled at the irony, as thick as the mountain air filling my lungs. Lavender. Wheat fields. Tranquility.

Peace, in a place anything but peaceful.

Movement in the fields caught my eye, down and right. A zigzag carved its way through the ten-foot tall stocks, heading straight for the tower. My smile widened. Maybe this sucker had the balls to take on Kali Ling.

The warrior.

I stilled inside. Even breaths. No fear. At the field's edge, the stocks trembled violently. The air filled with the rainstick rustling of brush and dry grass. Yes. Someone would emerge. I gripped the sword sheathed across my back and waited, muscles tight, mouth watering. Come on. Give me something. A brute. Six -- no -- seven feet tall, wielding a mace. Or an axe.

Give me anything.

A rabbit scurried out from the field. Nothing followed. The grass fluttered in the breeze. Birds chirped, nestled in the nearby sycamore trees. It was the rabbit, and only the rabbit.

For now.

I punched the parapet's brick wall, but instead of frustration, irony reverberated through me again.


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

    1. Two more great entries. It's enough to give a judge an ulcer... But, here we go!
      Query --
      Well, this is pretty near perfect. The only section I stumbled over is: "But the shameful truth is that Laz's battle prowess isn't entirely his own. Five years ago, Laz made a bargain with a charismatic demon that granted him immunity to demonic magic—and promptly skipped town without paying." I think you could tweak this a bit -- maybe something like "A bargain made with a charismatic demon grants Laz immunity from demonic magic. Too bad Laz skipped town before paying for this gift." Or something along those lines. The 5 years is really irrelevant in the query, in my opinion, and just tangles up the forward motion of the query.
      First 250 Words:
      Really love how you weave in the details of Laz's appearance and the setting without belaboring them. You do need to spell out "3" as "three", and you could drop the "that" in the first sentence. Otherwise, I have nothing to add. Great job.
      Query --
      Another strong query. Love the opening sentence. The second paragraph starts off a little too much like a synopsis for me. Maybe stay more in Kali's head, rather than giving us background info. I think you could actually cut the first sentence in the 2nd paragraph and just say -- "As an athletic avatar in 2054's fully-immersive virtual reality, Kali's living the high life: ultimate fame, zero consequences, and an endless supply of drugs." I actually don't think you need the following phrase or the final sentence in that paragraph, either. Maybe continue with your next sentence -- "But when her teammate Nathan overdoses and Kali is named the new team captain, she's confronted with a concept called, ugh, being an adult." End of paragraph 2. Start paragraph 3 with "She finds guidance..."
      First 250 Words:
      Very strong start. You create a great image very quickly, and without excessive description. There is something odd about this sentence: ". The scent of lavender and the taste wheatgrass wove together in the air, drifting alongside the breeze that swept through my hair." I think you need to add an "of" before "wheatgrass" for this to work. I was a bit confused by a description of mountain air as "thick", since it is usually rather brisk or thin. (I think of the air in low lying areas, like a swamp, being "thick".)
      Also, I was thrown by the use of the word "stocks" -- was this to describe the fields? Because if they are wheat, there aren't any stocks -- wheat moves like a grass in the wind. Stocks, to me, indicates something like field corn. Just an observation.
      Great queries and first 250 words from both entries, and I've no doubt they'll garner agent interest. However, since I must vote, I have to go with the entry I feel is most polished at this point and so --

    2. Have Sword, Will Travel
      Query: Nice work! The only line I tripped over was the one where Lazarus skips town--the wording is a tad confusing, and for a second I thought you meant it was the demon who'd skipped town. Also, I wish the last line was a tad clearer. "It won't let him escape again" is vaguely threatening, but I feel like your stakes could be more specific (without being confusing, which can be a fine line to walk in fantasy/paranormal queries).
      First 250: I can really feel the tough, gritty voice here--great job. Nothing really trips me up, and I smiled at the last line about pruno.

      Making Boys Cry
      Query: The first paragraph is good, but I'm not sure it packs as much power as it could--it only tells me about the character's backstory and gives me a hint of the premise, but I get nothing about the stakes or the conflict in the plot itself. Because of that, it doesn't feel immediately hook-y. The bit about a strategically placed controller made me laugh! This line was a little unclear to me: "Kali swaps fame for fighting in his memory in the VGL's championship tournament." What exactly do you mean here--how does she give up her fame? And what exactly does "fighting in his memory" entail--giving a speech about him? Staging some sort of protest? I feel like you could be a little clearer here, as this sounds like a big part of your story's conflict.
      First 250: You're missing an "of" after "taste" in the line "The scent of lavender and the taste wheatgrass wove together in the air..." And in the lines about stocks, do you means stalks (of wheat)? All in all, this doesn't feel as polished as it could be.

      My decision: Both of these entries have a great tough voice, but Have Sword, Will Travel's voice sounds much tighter and more polished, and it also has a clearer query. VICTORY TO HAVE SWORD, WILL TRAVEL!


      Query: Well done! You guys are killing it on these queries. Only one tiny suggestion: In the third paragraph, you could find a way to be clearer about who skipped town, Laz or the demon. After a second read, it became clear to me that you meant Laz, but the rest of the query flowed so well that I was flying through it – until I stumbled here. (I’m not considering this at all in the voting part, but I think you might have better luck simply querying this as simply urban fantasy rather than NA urban fantasy.)

      250: This starts off a bit shaky, and the first two paragraphs feel a little clunky to me. I wonder if you could cut them completely or at least trim them down. A lot of it is repetitive (for example, telling us he is wide awake and saying his eyes refused to shut), and could be cut to make room for more interesting descriptions. That being said, it really picked up when I got to the third paragraph. You have some great voice and sensory details in here. And you end it on a brilliant, suspenseful note that will really make people want to turn the page.


      Query: Great hook! You do a good job of setting up the story right off the bat. However, I was a bit confused by the last line of the second paragraph – I don’t see its connection to the rest of the paragraph and think you could do without it. I’m not a fan of the “ugh, being an adult” line. IMO, it doesn’t fit with the voice in the query. I also get a little lost in your last paragraph. I don’t understand what it means to “swap fame for fighting in his memory” and while the “This time it’s game over. Permanently.” Is full of voice, it feels tacked on. Maybe reword? “Either way, it’s game over for either Kali or VGL. Permanently.” Would work better for me. But all this being said, you’ve done a great job. This sounds like a really great story.

      250: I loved this. Really. Great voice and good use of sensory details to set the tone. A good mix of description and internal dialogue that keeps the story moving. I think the short, clipped sentences also work really well in this scene to up the tension. My only suggestion is to find a new first line. While this one is interesting and does what you want in a first line, I’ve seen a variation of it several other stories. You’re a fantastic writer. I’m sure you’ll find something unique that works even better.

      Victory to MAKING BOYS CRY.

    4. Have Sword, Will Travel.

      I found it hard to relate to your character because he seemed to be obsessed with his "angelic" savior (is she really an angel? Hard to tell) who other than apparently saving him in this past, there isn't really anything here to make me like her. I don't think I do, honestly. Even if, in the story, weren't not supposed to like her, we need to understand why Laz does. Maybe if you started (your query) with him being saved by her, in a way that we can experience it with him (doesn't need to be long, just something quick to help the reader feel that emotion) I think that would help. Instead you start out with him already save and head over heels happy and in love with her.

      Making Boys Cry
      I have a similar problem with yous. I found it a little hard to sympathize with your character at the end because she's fighting against something she herself did. You make the industry into the big bad guy but your character isn't exactly innocent. I think i personally would have made your character *mostly* free of the drugs throughout and be shocked when her friend ODs. BUT you don't need to do that, all you really need is to show us the moment she realizes what she's doing. That she's regretting her choices etc. but that the industry just wants it swept under the rug. THEN they're on opposite sides. Character on the good, Industry on the bad. One of the things that stops me from buying her transformation, I think, is her comment about being an adult now that he's gone. Like that's her only worry now that her friend ODed. I'd consider cutting that line.

      Over all one concept took me a bit more. So Victory to: Making Boys Cry

    5. DivaDeconstructedJune 17, 2014 at 10:20 AM



      Your query does a good job of explaining the two issues. 1) Lazarus has to fight a really powerful demon and 2) this is going to be even more difficult due to his ditching the debt he owed to the other demon. That being said, I feel like the debt he owes the demon is the bigger issue (I could be wrong) but it's almost thrown in at the end as subplot. I feel like the demon coming back to collect his debt it the most interesting part of the query. The first 2 paragraphs feel like they are a little long. I wish we had a better feel for the voice and tone of the novel in the query.

      First 250 words:

      So you've got a good intrigue, why are the cell doors magically open? To create that intrigue you have to set it up, which is done here, but it feels a little mechanical. I'm not getting a good feel for who Lazarus is. I imagine most prisoners find isolation and idleness of prison maddening, but there is always something specific that they miss more than anyone else. Something personal. I wish we had more of that, and less description of the prison. There is no dialogue here, so we need Lazarus to give us something that clues us into who he is.



      Query: For the most part I love this query. My biggest point of concern was "Furious, Kali swaps fame for fighting in his memory in the VGL's championship tournament" This sentence made me think Kali had switched gender. I had to read it twice to realize "his" was referring to Nathan. One thing that isn't entirely clear in the query and the first 250 words is whether Kali only interacts with these people in the virtual world.

      I would also consider revising "As team captain, it's not just her future on the line. But if Kali can convince others to join her, together they could stand against an industry that cares more about its popularity than its athletes. " I wasn't sure who else's future was on the line. Her other teammates? And is she convincing her team or others beyond them? A little fine tuning could fix these slightly confusing spots.

      First 250 words

      So I am kind of a sucker for video game books. Your second sentence was a bit confusing to me. So people watch it on TV instead of playing in the game?

      I think the joke here is cute, that she's getting all amped up for a fight and ends up her foe is a bunny. I do find it a little odd that she refers to herself by her full name and her nick name. Without the query, this would have confused me. You have a lot of lush detail, which is interesting as it shows how sharp the virtual world is, but I do think you could cut some of it down. I prefer details about setting to also tell us about the character, and I'd like to see that here.

      My biggest concern is...this is the start to a novel. And the action is built up and deflated. If the next sentence puts her back into trouble, then it's not a big deal, but I worry that there might be even more set up there.


      Both stories feature a rich world, but I got a better feel for the tone/voice in MAKING BOYS CRY than I did from HAVE SWORD, WILL TRAVEL.

      Victory to MAKING BOYS CRY.

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

      The opening sentences have a lot of telling - You could SHOW him tossing and turning, not being able to relax, and then work in why.

      It may just be personal/stylistic, but the query gave me high hopes for a dark, gritty voice, and the sample doesn't really show that.

      I do like the "it wasn't to swap recipes" line ;)

      The opening lines are attention-grabbing, and immediately throw the reader into the story.

      I really like the MC's gusto and tough attitude.

      "irony reverberated through me again." - Say what? I don't really get this line.

      Victory to MAKING BOYS CRY

    7. Allusion AssassinJune 17, 2014 at 4:24 PM

      Wow, lots of activity on this one and still close.

      I reviewed both of these entries the first time around. It's always fun to watch the entries evolve.

      I think the changes you've made, while subtle, helped deal with some of the questions the query raised before. Laz doesn't seem like such a selfish clod here. But it's still hard to sympathize with his self inflicted wound, especially with no redeeming qualities shown about him. The 250 is still solid. I agree with the judges who said you're wasting the first couple of paragraphs on generic, voiceless and repetitive he couldn't sleep images. Connect Laz to it more or cut it and start with the prison doors opening.

      This is a vast improvement in the query. The connection to the drug use is much clearer now.

      Still, the question around erasing Nathan remains - I don't get why this would be big enough to draw to bring Kali back to an addiction trigger and I really don't understand what the conflict/ stakes are - how does her fighting deal with whatever happened to Nathan's record and what bad thing happens if Kali doesn't win? So she has to get another job. From the sounds of it, that might be best for her.

      While I love the world you've built and Kali is fabulous, I'm just not following your plot.


  2. Have Sword, Will Travel: I really liked this before, and it hasn't changed much apart from getting to the exciting part a little quicker on the opening page which is great, so nice work. Oh one thing I think I forgot to mention before - I don't know why 'sun' in the query is capitalised.

    Making Boys Cry: Same with this one, I also liked it before. The query is a little slicker now, and I like that on the first page we now know we're in a game straight away, and that the cliched line about not being like other girls has gone. Again something am not sure if I mentioned before - but I don't know why irony is reverberating through her, although I'm guessing this is maybe explained in the following sentence. All the same it's a slightly clumsy phrasing imo.

    These are both really good, but the first one has better stakes in the query, and I'm more gripped by the opening page (I'm still dying to know why the doors have opened) so VICTORY TO HAVE SWORDS, WILL TRAVEL.

  3. Have Sword, Will Travel

    Awesome query. You have a great voice. The stakes are clearly outlined. I don’t really have anything to suggest. I’d read this in a heartbeat.
    I’m writing notes on the 250 as I read. Nice start to the story. I don’t really have any suggestions. I’m intrigued.

    Making Boys Cry
    Another great query. I was with you until this section. “Kali's living the high life: ultimate fame, zero consequences, and an endless supply of drugs, win or lose. Because really, nothing is worse than losing.” This first sentence doesn’t seem to flow with the last sentence. It feels out of place. Love the “strategically placed controller” line.

    I loved the details in the 250. I felt like I was in the virtual world. You did a wonderful job of creating suspense. This is another book I’d love to get my hands on. It’s hard to choose, but I’ll go with the story I'm WANT RIGHT NOW!

    Victory to Making Boys Cry

  4. Have Sword, Will Travel


    This is great. It’s strong, full of voice, clear about the conflict and the internal and external motivation. My only concern is that it’s Urban Fantasy involving angels and demons, which might be a hard sell. But if great writing trumps all, you’re in good shape.


    The opening is also terrific. I would only suggest a couple of tweaks. When you mention him sleeping near so many potential threats, I picture one big room full of beds. Obviously, that isn’t true, and you make it clear later, but just a line to the effect that even the cell walls between them didn’t help would clear things up. Also, I’d like it confirmed this is an ordinary human prison, not something demon-y.

    This sentence—“The door swung outward in obedience to the ventilation system's constant draft.”—felt clunky. Simpler to say that the air from the ventilation system pushed the door open.

    But nitpicks aside, this is a strong opening, full of character and tension. Well done.

    Making Boys Cry


    I have some concerns. First, this sentence—“fully-immersive virtual reality plugs a player directly inside a game, turning digital battle tournaments into a national sport”—implies that the first thing leads to the second. But I don’t see why making the games more immerse for the player would lead to them becoming popular with non-players. You can fix it just by rephrasing to eliminate the word “turning.”

    I’m also not crazy about the flippant “ugh” in the same sentence as the death of her teammate. It comes across as callous. And then she’s motivated to revenge not by his death but by the league erasing his statistics, which also seems shallow. I don’t know if that’s a problem with the character or just the query.


    You give a lot of description in the second paragraph, but I don’t have a clear picture. A tower in a field? What kind of tower: castle, watchtower, cell tower?

    I don’t quite buy that a rabbit would make a visible ripple in the stalks (not stocks). They’re close together at the top where the ripe grain is, but there’s space at the bottom and a rabbit would fit between them without touching. How about a dog or something else a little taller?

    Or maybe drop that part altogether. I’m not sure it adds much, and I’m left feeling like nothing actually happens in the first page. Overall, the writing is strong, but I think the opening could be tightened.

  5. Have Sword: What a fun, fun entry! I would definitely read your book. Your writing is smooth and interesting, and both the query and 250 are full of tension, making me want to read more! The only small thing I noticed was that the sentence starting "Five years ago" was a little confusing...I had to read it a few times to realize the last part was about Laz and not the demon. Make sense? Otherwise, this is fantastic! Great luck to you.

    Making Boys Cry: Oh, yay! What fun. Makes me think of Ready Player One but from a GIRL'S perspective, which is far too rare in the whole gaming industry. Awesome! I love the query, definitely makes me want to read the book. One small question -- when she is doing her martial arts training is this in the real world or the virtual world? Your first 250 give a fun description of her world. Just a few nit-picks: I think there should be a comma in your second sentence, before "either." In the second paragraph you're missing an "of" in "the taste OF wheatgrass," and I'm not sure irony can be a feeling, can it? That just was something that stood out to me. But overall awesome! Can't wait to read the book. :)