Jun 15, 2014

QK Round 2: WEEL VS A Few Quick Hellos

Entry Nickname: WEEL
Title: Who's Eating Eric Lynch?
Word count: 119K
Genre: Adult Horror Comedy


Misdiagnosed as schizophrenic, Eric Lynch’s hallucinations are actually precognition. Enter a demon who absorbs supernatural powers, and Eric’s about to become demon chow—unless he can convince a group of rogue angels that his deadbeat ass is worth protecting.

Being a college drop-out, working for minimum wage at a retail store, trying his best not to end up back in the asylum for a third time…it’s not like Eric is next in line for winning the Nobel Prize. So why are demons always so drawn to him, particularly this one nasty manticore who’s been hiding in his closet since he was thirteen?

Well, okay. Maybe it’s because not only can Eric see the future, but he can manipulate time too. Prophet is what the angels call him. And apparently there hasn’t been a Prophet on earth for over a century.

The precognition, the time manipulation—that’s exactly what makes Eric so appetizing. The only reason the manticore hasn’t eaten Eric yet is because it’s waiting for Eric’s powers to ripen. And let’s face it, a demon able to manipulate time means a bad time for everyone. Better find someone who can kill it—and quick.

After tracking a group of angels to their hideout, it doesn’t take much convincing to get them on Eric’s side. Maybe too much on his side, especially after he finds out that once the manticore is dealt with, these angels are likely to lock Eric up so they can use his Prophetic powers to fulfill their own demon-hunting agenda.

Angelic weapon or prime rib? Either way, Eric might be screwed.

First 250:

They say the human brain can survive for three seconds after decapitation. I’m talking full-blown cognizant thought, where you can move your mouth and blink your eyes. It makes you wonder what kind of expletives might shoot through your head, especially when you see your body lying on the floor beside you. And hopefully it’s not one of those embarrassing situations where your head goes rolling across the carpet, because then your final moments are nothing but dizziness, trying to puke from a stomach no longer attached to your mouth.

This subject came up a few months ago when one of my psychiatrists asked me what I think about when I have nothing else on my mind, most notably while trying to fall asleep or taking a shower. According to her, low brain activity is a subconscious beehive ready to burst. She believed my inner musings might be to blame for my tipping sanity—at the very least my insomnia—and it was only a matter of time before I was stung by another violent impulse.

“Maybe now we’ll get to the bottom of all your…issues, Eric,” she said at the end of our last meeting while patting me on the knee, laughing.

She was such a bi—…nice lady.

That night they found her bloody corpse sprawled across her living room floor. The reports said her body looked like it was mauled by a giant cat, head ripped off and missing. A week after the investigation, her husband found her stolen head inside their microwave.


Entry Nickname: A Few Quick Hellos
Title: Under the Fresh Turned Earth
Word Count: 56,000
Genre: YA Magical Realism


Nel has friends who are alive, but she spends most of her time with the dead in the Drutherton Cemetery. Her idea of a perfect afternoon is lying in the dirt of the fresh dug graves and absorbing the stories of those buried beneath. An odd habit for a fifteen-year-old girl.

To strengthen her connection with the deceased, Nel follows along with her friends to loot from the homes of the dead. The most recent, a seventy-two-year-old widow, Harriet Murphy, leaves behind a diary that changes Nel’s life.

Within the pages is a secret the whole town of Drutherton has waited to hear for more than fifty years. Harriet reveals she had possessed the Carte Dorare, a magical Book of Wishes.

Nel feels certain Harriet held onto the book and that its hiding place is spelled out somewhere in the diary. All she has to do is keep reading.

The Carte Dorare has the power to grant the holder one wish. Nel's wish would be the one thing she’s wanted since she was six, to have more memories of her parents while they were alive.

Once Nel makes her wish, she’ll have to pass the book on to a worthy stranger. In a town full of Optimists only looking out to gain power for themselves, this may prove to be Nel’s biggest challenge yet.

First 250:

Peering between the branches of the pear tree in her back yard, Nel watched caretakers erect a tent over a grave in the Drutherton Cemetery.

“It's a small one. Only two chairs,” she called down to her Grandma Dahlia, who sat at a card table on the back patio, working a jigsaw puzzle. She scrambled down the tree to join her.

“Poor thing,” Nel’s Grandma shook her head and forced a piece into the puzzle.

“Not there, you can’t force them.” Nel took the piece out and placed it to the side. “Who do you think it is?”

“Can’t say. No one I know has been sick.”

“Could be anyone.” Nel held a puzzle piece up to her mouth and fought the urge to nibble it. She stared out at the headstones just past her fence. “Maybe I . . .”

“Go on then.”

“Thanks. I won't be long. Just a few quick hellos.” Nel crossed the yard. Climbing back up and over the tree, she landed on the green grass of the cemetery.

Walking along the first line of markers, she stopped near the headstone of Mr. and Mrs. Gruver. It read, 'Together in Life and Forever After'. They had died at the age of sixty-three on the same day.

“Hey, Lovebirds. There’s a new grave a few rows over.” Nel spoke to the headstone as if the dead beneath were listening. “I’m going to the service. I’ll introduce you after I meet your new neighbor.”


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

      The query is already strong, with lots of voice. I think you could tweak it a few places -- drop the extraneous "that"s, for example. (I have been instructed by some CP's and editors on this point -- "that" is rarely needed. Trust me, I had to do a LOT of deleting in my revisions!) Maybe tighten up the second paragraph -- Consider something like: "It's not like Eric's next in line for the Nobel Prize. As a college drop-out working for minimum wage at a retail store, Eric's simply trying his best not to end up in the asylum for a third time. So why are demons always drawn to him, particularly one nasty manticore skulking in his closet since he was thirteen?" Same premise, but a few extra words cut. (Of course, use your own words, but I think it can be tightened up). Also, in this sentence -- "And let’s face it, a demon able to manipulate time means a bad time for everyone" I believe you should find another word for the second "time" -- "trouble" perhaps?
      First 250 words:
      I think this is very strong. Really great voice and I am immediately pulled into the story. I don't have any suggestions to change this.
      This query feels a bit too much like a synopsis to me. You are giving me an interesting concept and plot, but I am not getting very much voice or any real connection or evocation of your MC. I think the bones are there -- some suggestions --
      First paragraph -- personally I think this needs to introduce the diary and its powers/dangers as well as Nel's interest in the dead. Maybe use some wording indicating Nel's personality too. (Not long descriptions, just a well-chosen descriptor).
      I'd suggest condensing the second, third, and fourth paragraphs somehow.. We actually don't need to know where Nel finds the diary (or how) in the query, and even the widow's name. We do need to know more about the Optimists -- that threw me. Up until this point, I thought we were in an ordinary town, but that mention made me wonder if this is set in a fantasy town. Who are these Optimists and why do they want to gain power? (Those two concepts don't naturally go together). Also -- the stakes seem a little low. I'm not getting a sense of possible danger to Nel or the town or whatever from the ending of the query.
      First 250 words:
      This is definitely stronger than the query. I get a sense of Nel's personality and you quickly introduce your main concept. This passage is intriguing enough to make me want to read more.
      Really great concepts and writing in both of these entries. By a slim margin, mainly due to a stronger query, I give --

    2. WEEL

      Query: I remember this from the first round and still think it’s great. However, I do think it’s a bit on the long side and there are things you should trim. For example, the first paragraph isn’t necessary. IMO the pitch still makes sense and flows better without it. (Just keep your voicey demon chow line and move it somewhere else.) Just a thought – if you haven’t read Christopher Moore’s A DIRTY JOB, I would highly suggest it. The voice reminds me of your story, and this may be a good comp title for you. (If you’re looking for one.)

      250: Still with a great voice. It seems like you’ve done a better job of connecting the first paragraph to the MC, which makes it work a lot better. Just the addition of that “the subject came up” makes a big difference to me. Nicely done!


      Query: It starts off really strong, but things got muddy for me in the middle. I had to reread a few times to figure out what’s going on. I think you could cut the line about the whole town waiting to hear the secret. It doesn’t feel necessary to the story, and it makes things confusing. I also think we need a little more about what the Optimists are – especially since not knowing makes the stakes unclear.

      250: I like that you start with her looking at the cemetery. And I like the way her voice comes out as she talks to the “lovebirds.” However, I think you have too much dialogue in your opening page. It makes it hard for a new reader to fall into the story world when all we have are lines between the characters. My suggestion would be to not introduce grandma quite yet – especially she just leaves her grandma to go the cemetery anyway. Instead, bring grandma in a bit later and use these 250 words to paint us a picture of your MC and the cemetery. If she needs someone to talk to, it can always be Mr. and Mrs. Gruver.

      Another tough one, but I think I’m going to have to say victory goes to WEEL.

    3. Eep! I'll have to recuse myself on this one--horror books scare the jeepers out of me, so I've never read one in my life. I don't feel like I'm qualified to judge WEEL (although from the few lines I was brave enough to read, it sounds like it has a ton of voice. Creepy, creepy voice). I will give some feedback to the other entry, though.

      A Few Quick Hellos:
      Query: I don't think you need the line "An odd habit for a 15-year-old girl." The rest of the paragraph has already shown us that her habits are odd, and tacking this line on at the end feels like telling. You can always slip in her age somewhere else in the query. Also, I'm a little confused by the conflict and the stakes. From your query, it seems like the big conflict is just choosing the next inheritor of the book after she makes her own wish. I think this stalls your query and makes it a little anticlimactic--you've basically told us that she accomplishes the very cool/mysterious goal of finding the book and choosing/making her own wish, and now we're left with the much less interesting goal of picking a person to pass the book to next. It's not much of a hook. Also, why is "Optimists" capitalized? Are they some sort of gang or evil force?

      First 250: This is subjective, but I think you may be trying to cram too much description into your first line. I had to read it twice to make sure I got everything that was going on and where it was all situated. The scene changes really quickly, and your first few paragraphs about the grandma and the puzzle pieces really didn't grab me. In my opinion, starting with her already talking to gravestones would be a much more powerful opener.

    4. Weel

      This is my favorite so far. LOVE the voice. I would read this in a second.

      A Few Quick Hellos

      This seems very interesting right off the bat, but I'm still unsure if Nel really talks to the dead? If not, how does she know their stories?
      I also don't like this line: "She follows along with her friends" It almost doesn't make sense. What is she following? Her friends? Something else? Just simplify that to something like "She goes with her friends." Nothing wrong with that. Though, her friends do seem a bit unneeded. If you just say she goes to loot the house, there would be nothing missing there.
      The word "possessed" is confusing there because I thought you meant she had literally possessed someone, like with her spirit. For all I know Carte Dorare could be a person.
      A little clarity can go a long way.

      Honestly it would have been near impossible to compete with this one for me. Victory to WEEL

    5. Allusion AssassinJune 17, 2014 at 11:34 AM

      I agree with the other judges that this is both good and two long. Also, questions in a query don't work in my opinion. Your 250 is still awesome.

      This was a great rework, especially of the beginning. It's much clearer. However, I still don't know why the town has been waiting to hear the secret? You need to address that or take it out. In fact, I think the last four paragraphs still need to be rewritten. In the query, we don't need the background that Harriet held on to the book or that the town is waiting to hear the secret etc. We only need to know that the diary will lead to the book of wishes. And we need to know the stakes and conflict. I'm left confused about the main conflict of the story - is it her finding the book or having to pass the book on? And stakes - what bad things happen if Nel doesn't solve her problem. It's your queries number one job to give us those and this isn't there yet.

      I still love your opening.

      All that said, WEEL seems clearly safe in this round and I have to admit that A FEW QUICK HELLOs is one of my favorite premises in the contest and the opening is well executed. It's a book I would buy.

      On that alone, victory to A FEW QUICK HELLOs

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

      Ahh! The first sentence is definitely gripping. Slightly horrifying, but gripping.

      Love that he has multiple psychiatrists.

      Totally random, nitpicky thing, but a guy loses his wife and it takes him a whole week to use the microwave? You'd think he'd be living off of microwave dinners, leftovers, and warmed-up casseroles, wouldn't he?

      This opening left me totally creeped out, but also very intrigued. I'd keep reading.

      I'm sorry you had to be paired up against WEEL, b/c any other time, I'm sure a kid spying on a burial would be really intriguing, but literal rolling heads are a hard act to follow.

      "working a jigsaw puzzle" - I'd have said "working ON a jigsaw puzzle" but maybe it's a regional thing?

      By the end of this section, I was definitely intrigued by Nel's interest in the graves and her "relationship" with the people buried there. I'd read on.

      Victory to WEEL

    7. WEEL

      QUERY: Does Eric know his hallucinations are precognition or is the demon coming after him a complete shock? Oh, you explain this in the next paragraphs. This is an interesting concept, but I found the query to be a bit confusing. Is the demon a manticore? And how and where do the angels come in? I do like the voice, but this created more questions than answers for me.

      The first 250, ROFL. Awesome. I couldn’t tell by the query, but this is my kind of book. I loved the humor in this. The only issue I had was how it took the husband a week to find her head?


      QUERY: The query was easy to understand, but at times it felt like you’re writing out a To-Do list. It would be nice if you could add more of Nel’s voice to the query.

      My only other suggestion is that this sentence isn’t needed: Nel feels certain Harriet held onto the book and that its hiding place is spelled out somewhere in the diary. All she has to do is keep reading.

      The first 250 seem solid. I have no suggestions.

      This was a hard choice, but I really enjoyed the first 250 in WEEL.


    8. DivaDeconstructedJune 17, 2014 at 7:29 PM


      Query: So this query is a bit long, and it certainly doesn't need to be. That said, I hate to tell someone to cut jokes! I love the voice of this query (as well as the first 250 words) but I would encourage you to condense. For example, you talk about convincing the angels, and then how it's easy. I think the thing that makes your query and first 250 words so strong is Eric's an instantly likeable character. It's harder to see that in your query, because you're having to explain a lot about demons and angels and manticores. So I'd encourage you to explain less and let Eric shine through. You don't have to tell the agent everything in the query, and it feels like that's what you are trying to do here.

      First 250 words: WOW! I'm totally hooked. I'm really not interested in Demons vs. Angels stories, so I'm impressed. Honestly, I don't have much to offer in terms of critique here, but would encourage you to look back over your query. Read it aloud, and try looking for stuff you can cut.



      Query: This is pretty straight forward query. My only question was about "Her idea of a perfect afternoon is lying in the dirt of the fresh dug graves and absorbing the stories of those buried beneath." I couldn't tell if this was supposed to be literal or not. Since wish books exist in this world, does Nel have some sort of odd power allowing her to absorb stories through the dirt? I know that might sound like an insane question if the answer is "No." But I have to ask, because I'm just not sure. This query could be paired down a bit. For example instead of saying "Harriet reveals she had possessed the Carte Dorare, a magical Book of Wishes." and then later "The Carte Dorare has the power to grant the holder one wish." You could just say "Harriet reveals she had possessed the Carte Dorare, a book with the power to grant the holder one wish."

      First 250 words: I'd say your strongest portion is the last 2 paragraphs. The rest of it could be condensed. This would get you to the action faster, as it is now, I don't have a lot to go on. That said, you do a good job of letting us know that Nel is an interesting girl with an odd connection to the dead!


      VERDICT: To my surprise, I'm naming WEEL the victor. The personality/voice of the query and first 250 words are great. That said, I think the query needs to be cut down some. I felt like I needed more to go on with "A FEW QUICK HELLOS." It's a nice first page, but I wish we were closer to the action/inciting incident.

  2. WEEL
    This sounds like a fun read. Angel-demon stories really aren't my thing, but with the precog twist . . . I'm intrigued. LOVE the voice, clear in the query & the 250. Oh, and the hint at "another violent impulse" -nice touch!

    A Few Quick Hellos
    I absolutely adore that opening image in the query of her lying in the dirt absorbing stories. I'm torn with the 250, because I like the sweet scene of her looking out the window and the conversations with the grandmother, but it's so short it seems almost a waste to introduce a character only to leave them on the first page.

    Two very different stories, both extremely appealing in different ways. I'd read both of these tomorrow. Good luck to both of you!

  3. WEEL: I love love love the voice in your query. It's fun and really draws me in.

    A FEW QUICK HELLOS: This is they type of book I'd buy. The premise is great. I love how well you portray the relationship between Nell and her grandma in just the first 250.

    Good luck to both of you! These are both great entries and I'd read both!

  4. WEEL: OMG, I hadn't seen this entry before, and it is awesome! So funny and dry and surprising. Love it. Don't really have any suggestions, except I hope you're querying. :)

    A Few Quick Hellos: You've done some great work on this query! It reads so well. Congrats on the strong changes. Your 250 are also really clean! One nitpick is that after "Poor thing" you need to have a period, rather than a comma. Great job, and good luck!

  5. WEEL: This is my first time reading your entry, and I loved it! Your query has strong voice and it's carried into the 250. Others have posted about the length of your query, and I agree. It is a bit long, but the voice is so great, the length wasn't a turn off for me. I think your 250 is great (but I was distracted by the microwave bit as well. Who doesn't use their microwave for a whole week?) I would read this in a second, and horror usually isn't my thing.

    A Few Quick Hellos: I read this first round, and loved it. Still do. I think your 250 are stronger than your query. Your query has a lot of things that are confusing or unnecessary, like following her friends to loot things, and 'odd habit.' You could lose both of those things and your query would be stronger for it. Someone above posted that your final conflict in the query seems anticlimatic. I can see where they're coming from. You need to play up how finding the next person to get the diary is more important than the other challenges she's already overcome.

    Good luck to both of you. I would read both of these, and hope both of you get some good agent exposure so that you get published. I need these books in my life!

  6. WEEL

    I gave feedback on yours last time and I love the changes you've made. I especially like how you've explained more about the stakes and what the angels might use Eric for if he turns to them. Really feels like the character is jammed in a tight spot. I agree with some of the others that the query runs a little long. It didn't bother me, but you might want to see if you can trim anywhere.

    I have no points about your 250. I absolutely love it. I don't like horror and I'd read this in a heartbeat. Can't wait until it's published. This by far is my favorite "voice" out of all the entries.

    A Few Quick Hellos

    Loved the first line of your query, but I feel it would pack an even stronger punch if you cut off the end and moved it to the next line: "Nel has friends who are alive, but spends most of her time with the dead. In Drutherton Cemetery...". I think you could drop the line "an odd habit for a fifteen-year-old girl" since it's kind of implied. Most fifteen-year-olds don't do this in real life, so I don't feel this line is necessary. You could move the "fifteen-year-old" right at the beginning of the query if you're concerned about getting the age in there (which is important for YA).

    Again, I don't have much to point out about the 250. It's very well done, paints the scene with minimal description and gives me a good sense of the character. To achieve so much in such a short span is masterful, in my opinion.