Jun 21, 2016

QK Round 3: Escape the Fate vs. Cement Gargling 101

Title: Prophecy Punk
Entry Nickname: Escape the Fate
Word Count: 65K
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy


Cassandra of Troy High School has the gift of divine prophecy, is compelled to recite what she sees, and is cursed--no one can ever remember what she says.

Knowing the future sucks the life out of everything (and has left her in need of a serious attitude adjustment) but Cass has discovered an almost as good consolation prize: money. When her prophecies are ready to become reality, she presses record and uploads the video to her website. All Cass cares about are how those thousands of ‘press play’ clicks turn into cash.

While ProphecyPunked.com is a much-needed money-maker, Cass’ prophecies aren’t all viral video worthy. Buried beneath the funny accidents, incredible feats, and curious glimpses of her future girlfriend, she also foresees a deadly rivalry brewing. A foreboding vortex of violence has begun to swirl around her beautiful, and beloved sister, Helen. With the sinister threat of a school shooting looming, Cass must turn to her morally bankrupt ex-boyfriend, Apollo, for help. She swore to never speak to him again after their prophecy-fueled blackmail business ended badly. Unfortunately, he’s the only who can help her (because that dirtbag can remember her prophecies).

Together, they vow to do anything (including lie, cheat, steal, commit felonies…) if it will prevent Helen’s death. Cass knows the future is impossible to change, but for the first time in her life, she’s ready to fight fate.

First 250:

Cass had warned him this would happen.

A dangerous patch of early morning ice had formed up ahead, right in front of the door to the fast food place where he worked. He pulled on his coat while talking to someone not visible through the glass door.

“Why are you stalking Kiernan? I thought you didn’t like him?” Diana asked. Foggy plumes of breath formed with each impatient huff. “Anyway, we’re going to be late so let’s go.”

Cass lounged against the Java Joint's brick wall. She winked at Diana, lips curling into a mischievous smile--the kind that made a person want in on whatever was about to go down.

“Shut up before you mess up my video.” She pressed the camera icon on her phone and held it up toward the spot she had seen in her prophecy.

“Ooh!” Diana rushed to her side, peeking over Cass’ shoulder to watch the screen. “What are we recording?”

It had always been we, not you.

“In about ten seconds, Kiernan is going to come running out of the building, slip and almost fall for about seven seconds of pure hilarity in a stunning show of balance and luck. It’s going to be great. I’m thinking about calling it Lights, Camera, Traction.”

Diana’s eyes glazed over with an opaque sheen. Her face slackened while the memory of Cass’ prophecy erased itself from her mind. When she blinked, her eyes returned to their normal dark brown.

“Did you just say something?” she asked.


Title: The Siren Episode
Entry Nickname: Cement Gargling 101
Word Count: 82K
Genre: YA Fantasy


Arlen’s parents kill monsters—sirens, gorgons, and even leprechauns—then broadcast the murders on their TV show, Myth Slayers. And killing is a family business.

Ever since mythological creatures destroyed San Francisco twelve years ago, Myth Slayers has been number one in the ratings. Now the show’s stars want to retire and force the reins upon their son. But at seventeen, Arlen doesn’t want to slaughter monsters on primetime TV—he just wants to survive high school, where a quirk in his Myth Slayer blood makes life unbearable.

Arlen’s blood gives him power, but repels members of the opposite sex. He can’t even approach girls without making them physically ill. So when he finds a girl who’s not getting sick, he finally sees a chance at a normal life. Problem is, Lenora’s a siren. Worse, she’s a murderer. And Lenora hides a secret: the location of a safe filled with evidence that Arlen’s parents destroyed San Francisco, not the monsters. If opened, the safe’s contents could ruin his family, leaving humans unprotected against nightmarish creatures. Arlen’s parents want the siren dead, and Arlen faces an impossible choice: kill Lenora to bury the secret, or trust the siren and expose the truth.

First 250:

Arlen Boggs hopped his neighbor’s fence and slipped past the protestors. They’d camped in front of his house again, picket signs raised. He tried to keep his footsteps light, but the rain puddles didn’t help his cause.

Two blocks, he thought. You can do two blocks without getting recognized.

The morning air chilled his neck, and he buttoned his father’s trench coat, too big for his lanky frame. Arlen wore the coat, baseball cap, and sunglasses to keep himself hidden. He hoped it would work this time.

Head down, he hurried along the narrow sidewalk. Trees rustled on either side of the street, and he glanced up at the sycamores. Nothing but windblown leaves.

A woman’s voice came from behind him: “There he is.”

Arlen turned to look at the protestors, five houses back. “Great,” he muttered.

Two of their poster boards read, “GO AWAY, MYTH SLAYERS!” and “MYTHS HAVE RIGHTS, TOO!” Despite the wet September morning, the crazy zealots surged onto the road and shouted at him.

A few months shy of his eighteenth birthday, Arlen still didn't have his driver's license. His parents never had time to teach him, always out filming their TV show. Otherwise, he would have driven himself to school and avoided the daily hate-fest.

Another tree rustled and a branch snapped.

Could be a monster.

The protestors sped up, chasing after him with their hand-painted signs.

Arlen broke into a jog. Monsters in the trees, protestors on his tail. Why were mornings so complicated?


  1. Judges, please leave votes and comments as a REPLY to this comment.

    1. Escape the Fate:

      I've commented on this one before, so short and sweet! Still love the concept, the voice in the query is amazing. I think this last round of revisions has really resulted in a great query!

      First 250... I actually think the last version was better. Starting with this mysterious "he" before we find out it's Kiernan leaves me kind of floundering to figure out what's going on in those first two paragraphs... and right at the beginning of your story isn't the best place for confusion!


      Cement Gargling 101:

      Also commented on this before.... and still love this concept too! I'm glad you worked Lenore's name into the query. That flows much better now.

      Funny, I kind of have the same issue with the first 250 here... vague pronoun in the very first paragraph! Can you just say "the protestors" instead of "they" at the beginning?


      Truly impossible matchup... I voted FOR both of these last time, and I hate to choose... but...


    2. Escape The Fate:

      Love your opening hook. Your use of Greek characters in a high school setting is very intriguing. While I like the query, the main points of your story are getting lost in too much backstory (her focus on money, the details of all the things she uploads, even the overly descriptive information about Apollo - I think morally bankrupt says it all).

      I think the query would benefit from a paragraph break right after the line about the "vortex of violence" swirling around her sister, setting up the true conflict which is the looming school shooting.

      Your sinker hits the right mark and would definitely have me wanting to read more.

      First 250:

      Great voice and I love the set-up for the video. The reference to the word "him" in the opening threw me, especially since we don't know who Cass is talking about until the third paragraph. It might help ground the reader by using Kiernan's name here.

      Great description of how the memory is wiped from Diana's mind.

      Cement Gargling


      This is a fun concept and I like how you've included so many mythological creatures into the storyline. Your opening sets the scene and lets the reader know right away what is at stake. My one critique is that I would hold back on revealing what Leonora's secret means to Arlen's parents. I think you can hide this info and still have a compelling query. Right now it reads like you are revealing a major mystery of the book that perhaps should stay hidden.

      First 250:

      I think this sets the scene right away, but a lot of it feels like telling. I'd like to get a little more inside Arlen's head and know what he really thinks and feels about the protestors. I'd be more invested in him if I knew how all the craziness of his parent's TV show affected his life.

      The strong entries made this decision very difficult. Two amazing concepts and great writing.

      Victory goes to...ESCAPE THE FATE

    3. Escape the Fate: Really original, and really intriguing! I also love the diversity and the retelling angle. Great voice in the sample as well. The only thing that confused me was the perspective in the sample. The query is all about Cass, and then the sample reads like it’s from a male POV. This threw me for a second.

      Cement Gargling 101: This is great! The first line in the query totally grabbed me and held my attention the whole way through. This is SUCH a strong premise, but I feel like the sample could use some revision. It feels like a bit too much telling at the moment.

      Ahh this one is so hard! Both of these are so strong, and have such great, original premises. But based on the sample pages, I am going to vote for ESCAPE THE FATE.

      This sounds great...it's the first time I've read it. There's a lot to love here! The only thing that tripped me up was when you said that Cass knows that the future is impossible to change. Right there I was like, "Then why would I want to read this book if it's all for nothing?" You might consider rewording to show that there is a possibility of changing the future, if that is so.

      You almost lost me in the query until you wrote that Arlen's parents were suspect of destroying San Francisco. And I think your opening 250 is a tad more compelling than the other entry so...


    5. (note: fresh judge who hasn't read earlier versions of these entries!)

      The "hook" doesn't flow smoothly; it seems like you're trying to shove too much information in there. You want to make it short and snappy, memorable, not muddled. Similarly, I'm not sure that the viral video money-making scheme is really necessary to include, either. Plus, it's confusing. If no one can remember anything she says, how are her videos going viral? If the main problem is that she foresees Helen's death, then you ought to focus on that. Also, check your commas! "beautiful and beloved sister" doesn't need one!

      First 250:
      Your opening paragraphs would be clearer if you named "he/him" right away, rather than having the reader puzzle out who Cass is talking about for themselves. You also seem to step out of the close third point of view for a bit in the fourth paragraph with the phrase "the kind that made a person want in on whatever was about to go down" - how would Cass know that her smile has that effect? Also, why does she even bother explaining what's going to happen if she knows Diana's going to forget in two seconds anyway?

      Interesting hook, though the "killing is a family business" line seems rather cliche. Make sure you're being consistent with italicizing (or not) the TV show's title. It's also not clear why he would choose to go along with Lenora -- why that option would be appealing.

      First 250:
      Nice job throwing us right into the conflict. The paragraph beginning "A few months shy" seems somewhat heavy on telling, and the main character seems a bit distant; I'd like to hear more of his personality come through in the narrative.

      Victory to: ESCAPE THE FATE

    6. Escape The Fates


      This is much improved since the last time I saw it. I’m glad you took out the summary of it being a retelling. This is much clearer. I’d get rid of the parenthesis though. They aren’t needed and take away from the query. Over all though, I really like the changes. Great job.

      First 250:

      I feel like the ‘we not you’ line is out of place without some context. I also still think you’re coming out of Cass’s POV without the explanation of how Cass knows the prophecy is being wiped. Otherwise, I love the voice and interaction.


      Cement Gargling 101


      Great job on the query. Love the voice. The stakes are clear, and it based on that alone, I’d definitely request.

      First 250:

      Love the first 250. It draws me in and makes me feel for Arlen right away. Kids got it rough. It’s fun and puts us right in the action. Good job.


    7. FIRST PAGE:

      I had to read the opening of PROPHESY PUNK 4 times to understand who was in the scene and where. At first I thought some guy was talking to Cass through the glass door. Maybe it’s just too early for me, but I wasn’t getting the scene. Cass told him this would happen <-- that led me to believe we were heading for some dialogue between Cass and “him”. The opening might not’ve worked for me, but I do love the Lights Camera Traction. That made me giggle.

      CEMENT GARGLING felt a little sleepy to me this time. For a chase scene, I wasn’t feeling the adrenaline. I think it’s because I sort of got the punchline before the joke a couple times. For example, the last sentence seemed predictable, but maybe it would’ve had more punch if I didn’t already know that he was thinking monsters. I see this a lot—authors forget to cut out some of what their MC is thinking so that the reader has a question in their mind. And that question is what builds the suspense.

      Both did the job very well. I love the irony in both, but the teenager whose blood both gives him his powers AND repels women is just laugh-out-loud hilarity.

      Victory to CEMENT GARGLING

    8. FATE:

      My first time reading this one. I think you've named too many people in the query and thus it is too complicated. Pare down to the meat and you'll hook the read better. I like the 250, the voice is really fun, and I would definitely read more--though there are a lot of sentences between Cass warning him and then saying what the warning was for. Maybe speed that up a bit?


      I was a fan of this the first time around and the changes made to the query are wonderful. The stuff I had questions about before has been clarified. I think the 250 is spot on and the tension begins immediately.

      Victory to CEMENT!

      First of all, I love the Greek mythology theme you’re going for here. This is an excellent, refreshing idea, and just from reading the first 250, I can tell that this is a story that will hold my interest. The one detail I have a slight problem with in your query is where you write that the future cannot be changed. If she can’t change the future and prevent what is going to happen, there isn’t really a decision to be made or high stakes. It’s just a hopeless endeavor.

      Your query has improved since round one. You maintain the intrigue through the query and it carries into your first page. I liked how you cleared some things up and made the entire passage run smoothly.
      While both entries are excellent, I feel like CEMENT GARGLING has a more intriguing concept, and the query is more polished.


    10. Congratulations to both of you on really fun entries. You each have an interesting and unique premise, and I would love to read both books!

      FATE: I've been a fan from the first time I read this. You've gotten some good information in the query that wasn't there before, but I'm sad to see some of the quirkiness has gone away. I know it's hard with so many people commenting. Perhaps once QK is over and you have some time to think you will find what feels to you to be the best query. One suggestion would be to have someone you know who is good at punctuation to take a look -- there are several comma and hyphen issues and it would be good to get those taken care of. But really, great stuff.

      CEMENT: First time I've seen this entry, and I really enjoy it! The query is clear and informative, and your 250 are fun, and I can just see this happening. I do wonder about the sentence "And killing is a family business." in the query. It caught me -- it just feels a bit too abrupt, or just a bit off. But it could be just me! Congrats on a fun premise.

      Victory to CEMENT GARGLING

  2. Escape

    I’m intrigued by the first line which is a great hook. But I get confused in the 2nd paragraph. I’ll admit, I had to read through this query a few times to get it. There is a lot going on and maybe there still more simplifying/streamlining possible. But I love the twist of her boyfriend being the only one to remember, and I think this story sounds amazing. I’m a little confused when I start reading the first 250. Several characters are introduced all at once, and the connection between them is not yet clear. It’s disorienting to me. In the 5th paragraph, I’d insert a name instead of “she”. I wonder if your first 250 might start with the ice looming, then him slipping, then get into some of the other detail? Still, this is a great concept, and the dialogue is well done. Good luck!


    I really like your query’s first line. But I have questions as I read your second paragraph. Are Myth Slayers number one in the ratings because they killed the mythological creatures? What is the quirk in his blood, and what does it have to do with high school? Your third paragraph is awesome, and maybe you can restructure/streamline things to get more of the stakes and tension in that paragraph to stand out more/earlier. I love how you put the reader right into an action scene in the first 250. When you insert the backstory about his driver’s license, it seems to break the flow of your story. There might be a way to tweak that to make it more like his thoughts, than a fact you’re telling us. Good luck!

  3. Both of these entries have improved so much since round one!

    ESCAPE THE FATE: I have a much better idea of where your story is going to go with this version of your query. Well done with your revisions! Love the voice.

    CEMENT GARGLING 101: I really feel like it's a tough choice presented at the end of the query now. Overall, your query reads much better now. :) You've made some great revisions. Pages are still great.

    Both of you have done a great job. Best of luck! :)

  4. Ack! These are two of my favorite YAs! And they have both improved so much.

    Escape the Fate: Your query is SO much clearer this round! Congrats on tightening and clearing up the stakes! Love the voice in the 250.

    Cement Gargling 101: Your stakes have jumped way up in since Round 2. Lenora's a murderer?! He's might have to kill her? Needless to say, I love these changes.

    Best of luck to you both!

  5. Prophecy:
    I really love the concept, but I had to read your query through a number of times before I really understood it. There's a lot of information here, and I think some of the punctuation and grammar threw me off. I don't think I really need to know about the prophecy blackmail business, and the descriptions of the website could be streamlined and shortened.

    Wow, what a great concept. The query was really clear, and the stakes really drew me in. The 250 is great, but the paragraph that starts with 'A few months shy' felt out of voice to me. But that's really my only comment, because the rest is awesome.

  6. Escape the Fate

    I think this premise is really clever! I love the idea. The line "She swore to never speak to him again after their prophecy-fueled blackmail business ended badly" really threw me for a loop, though. I couldn't tell if this business is the Prophecy Punked website, or a different one. If you're referring to something else, I'd leave it out of the query altogether; the sentence before it is good enough for showing us that she doesn't want to talk to her ex (who would?).

    I'm also a little thrown by the fact that her ex can remember her prophecies, even though you've already said that no one can ever remember them. Also, I'd remove the comma after "beautiful".

    I really like the set-up here. You've said a lot about your story in these first paragraphs. My only hesitation was the dialogue in the paragraph beginning with "In about ten seconds." It felt very stiff, like someone someone would read instead of say.

    Cement Gargling 101

    What an interesting query! A very unique premise. I'm hesitating with the phrase "mythological creatures destroyed San Francisco" because wouldn't they no longer be "mythological" creatures if they actually exist?

    I like the first 250. It really makes me interested in this world you've created.


    QUERY: I still love the concept for this story. Having the Greek characters in high school is a terrific idea. The Query is so much improved from the first round (I’m really glad you took out the one parenthetical about the Trojan Horse). I think everything is right where it needs to be for the query.

    250: I’m instantly wonder who “him” is, and normally I would say, don’t do this, but I think it actually works here. It gives me the impression that Kiernan is on Cass’s mind so much that he is a him to her. This seems to be reinforced by Diana’s stalking comment. Great job!!!


    QUERY: First of all, I still think this wins all contests based on nickname alone. The concept is awesome too – a reality show about killing monsters. Awesome. This query has everything, and if I were an agent, I’d request right away.

    250: I think the 250 is great in terms of voice, and I thought it was really good that he walked right past the protesters, but then when you started talking about the protesters, I got disappointed. It’s nothing that would’ve kept me from reading more, but I really think it would be stronger if you left the protesters alone after mentioning them. Then I would be wondering – in a good way – why protesters were at his house. It would give me a reason to keep going.