Jun 21, 2016

QK Round 3: The Ghost and Ms. Clair vs. And I Feel Fine

Title: Donn’s Hill
Entry Nickname: The Ghost and Ms. Clair
Word Count: 83K
Genre: Paranormal Mystery


Mackenzie Clair knew her life would change when her father died, but she wasn’t expecting grief to awaken her lost ability to talk to the dead, or to end up chasing a murderer through the most haunted town in America.

Mac never really figured out what to do with herself, and relies on her dad and their shared love of books and music to get by. When she loses her father to cancer and her boyfriend to infidelity all in the same week, she embarks on a mission to reclaim some joy. She abandons the city life and relocates to her favorite childhood vacation spot: Donn’s Hill, a small town in Middle America that’s best known for an abundance of paranormal activity, especially the séances at its annual Afterlife Festival.

Mac doesn’t get much time to acclimate to small-town living before an angry poltergeist begins to stalk her. She joins forces with the ghost-hunting crew of the nationally televised show Soul Searchers in an attempt to come to terms with her newly re-discovered psychic powers—powers she didn’t understand as a child and barely understands now. When Mac stumbles across a dead body while helping the team film an episode, she recognizes the dead man as the ghost haunting her apartment. It isn’t long before a second body follows the first, and Mac realizes that not only is someone killing off the town’s residents, but at least one of the victims is determined to force Mac to user her powers to bring the killer to justice.

Death has followed Mac to Donn’s Hill, and now she has to make a choice. Run away from this confrontation like she has every other her entire life, or embrace her psychic gift and use it to hunt down a murderer. If she leaves, the poltergeist will surely follow her…but if she stays, she risks joining the ranks of the spirits who wander the town.

First 250:

Someone was sitting on my bed.

I’d awoken to the thin mattress shifting beneath me when his weight pressed down near my right side. My body wanted to roll toward that lower point, but I held myself in place, not wanting to touch him. He—and I was sure it was a “he,” though I couldn’t say why—smelled foul, like rotting garbage, but hadn’t harmed me. Yet. Too frightened to scream and risk propelling my intruder into motion, I held my breath and strained my ears to hear his breathing.

I heard nothing but the hum of a car passing on the highway.

Questions pinged around inside my skull and crashed into each other. What’s going on? Is he holding his breath too? Are we locked in some kind of silent contest, the loser being the one who passes out? How did he get past the locks?

And the most pressing questions of all, the ones I’d need to move to answer: Who is he? What does he want from me?

It couldn’t be anything good. People who want to do good things usually knock.

Taking a chance, I opened one into a narrow slit. The motel room was pitch-black, thanks to the ancient heavy curtains and my having unplugged the digital alarm clock. Keeping my arm under the covers, I crept my left hand toward the nightstand.

Slowly, I told myself. Don’t make a sound.
Faster! my lungs screamed at me.


Title: Starborn
Entry Nickname: And I Feel Fine
Word Count: 85K
Genre: Adult Science Fiction


Numbed and heartless, 24-year-old Sherman Logan has saved every life but his own. He's damn good at pelting in from between galaxies and rescuing as many people off their dying planets as possible for the Enders Agency, an interstellar first-responders team. Over. And. Over.

When Sherman’s last real friend and comrade goes starborn – or dies on the job – to save a suicidal man and his brave and beautiful daughter named Bennett, Sherman falls for her hard.  She wakes him from apathy - but waking means feeling the horror of every victim he didn't save. Soon, he discovers, the carnage won't end at his faraway deployments: Armageddon is about to hit right at home.

On Sherman's resident planet, a poltergeist ruler struggles to retake the podium from beyond the grave. It murders current officials and speaks through intercoms by eerily weaving together clips of its old speeches. Just when Sherman and his comrades realize they may be the only ones able to halt the phantom's violent course to resurrection, Ender agents begin to disappear. With Bennett's help, Sherman must confront the dictator-poltergeist and the root of these vanishings before they come for him too and destroy the Enders for good. On top of the incomprehensible death that haunts his everyday life, he'll have to venture deeper into his crashing universe – and himself – than he could have ever imagined.

But hey, apocalypse doesn't faze him. It’s his job.

First 250:

The vehicle jumps and knocks my hand off the wheel.

I slam it back. Sarge says keep on the wheel. Don’t let go of the wheel.

Fuck that. Sarge ain’t here. The grey leather jerks in my grip and I keep my foot hard against the pedal. My eyes are dead ahead as the blizzard pushes us aside before I can jolt the wheel steady. But the bridge is falling apart beneath us; concrete crumbling from our tires into the steel colored ocean below. Hail flashes like daggers off the headlights.

I glance into the overhead mirror at the huddled children in the backseat. Siblings. They always give those to me for some reason.

“Sherm!” The mic attached to my shoulder buzzes.

Instinctively, I look out the driver’s window, expecting to see someone cruising next to me. Unc’s two lanes over, looking asleep again. His wrinkly old hand holds the wheel and his eyes droop, but nothing stirs, no emotion when his car jostles past a pothole at ninety miles per hour. More concrete railing sinks into the sea far below.

Wasn’t Unc. Of course. I know the voice.

I scrunch up my shoulder and speak into the mic, keeping my eyes on the road as we finally peak at the bridge’s arch and head for the descent. “Talk, Grant.”

Fuzz. Heavy breathing as Grant messes with his shoulder sleeve to speak.

“What’re we gonna do if this thing blows?”

“I’m gonna die. What’re you going to do?”

Always freaks him out.


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

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

      The "she wasn't expecting" is a commonly overused phrase in queries, so you might want to find a way to change that up. Double-check for typos -- "never really figured out" is past tense, you've got "user" instead of "use," and the final paragraph seems to be missing a word in the second sentence. Also, maybe it's just me, but "Middle America" seems to be a bit outdated phrase (or maybe just one that isn't used by people actually living there?) "Midwest" or "Heartland" is a lot more common.

      First 250:
      I'm having trouble believing this scenario. She's at a hotel and feels someone sit on her bed and DOESN'T jump up screaming and swinging the heaviest object she can lay her hands on? If she knows it's a ghost, that's one thing, but nowhere in this opening does it indicate that's the case.

      You've got a lot of fascinating worldbuilding in here, and it might be worth your while to simplify a bit where you can -- for instance, you could easily just say that his friend died on the job, rather than introducing the term "going starborn." Also, is the "incomprehensble death that haunts him" his friend who went starborn earlier? That seemed to come out of nowhere.

      First 250:
      Strong opening. We get a feel for the main character and his voice immediately, and we're thrown into a tense situation which makes me want to read on.

      Victory to: AND I FEEL FINE


      The query has improved so much! I love the specifics you've added, but maybe because of the additions, it feels a little long-winded now. For example, you say that Mac lost her father twice, once in the second paragraph and once in the first. I think this query could still do with some condensing.

      The first 250, on the other hand, work really well for me... great voice, immediate suspense that sets the tone for things to come!



      This is a fascinating premise... I'm curious as to whether the poltergeist is actually a poltergeist (in which case, is this science fantasy?) or some kind of AI that's gone rogue with old videos? I assume that'll be answered it the book, though, so it's not really a problem to have it unclear in the query.

      The first 250 here feel a little like I'm being dropped into the action when I don't really care about the characters and situations yet. I get from the query that you WANT Sherman to be immune to the horrors of his job, but without that emotional connection, I'm finding it a little hard to care about the action that's going on. There are some signs of great voice here, though, and I'd probably read a little further to see if character was developed later on in the first chapter.


      Two very different stories and voices here... both great, but I'm going with VICTORY TO: THE GHOST AND MS. CLAIR!

    3. The Ghost and Ms. Clair


      This is a great premise and I'm intrigued by your MC's ability to talk to the dead. While I like the set-up, I feel like this query is overwritten, including too many elements that are not necessary. I think it'd be best to think about the three main things that drive your story: character, conflict, and cost and only include those elements.

      First 250:

      Your opening line feels too on the nose. You're basically telling the reader what is happening. Perhaps think about starting with what the character feels in response to someone sitting on her bed.

      And I Feel Fine


      One of the biggest challenges of writing a Sci-Fi query is having the right blend of world building and characterization. While I think you have an interesting premise, there are too many details going on for me to get a true understanding of the stakes. I'd recommend focusing on a single plot thread and following it through whether it be the realization of the poltergeist's plot, the change in your MC's abilities, or the Enders disappearances.

      First 250:

      I like starting with action but it feels distracting when I don't have an understanding of the character experiencing it. I'd recommend grounding us in the world first, and giving us a hint of your MC's voice, before moving us straight into the action.

      Victory to...The Ghost and Ms. Clair

    4. THE GHOST
      Who doesn’t love a great ghost story? This is a sweet idea, and your query really shows it. “Death has followed Mac to Donn’s Hill, and now she has to make a choice” is a killer line, and a great way to present the stakes.

      I think your query has greatly improved since the first round. I don’t feel the same confusion that I did before. I also like how you made the poltergeist ruler’s role a lot clearer.

      Overall, I feel like THE GHOST has a better query, but the first page of AND I FEEL FINE captures my interest more. This is a really tough decision, but…

      Victory to AND I FEEL FINE.

    5. GHOST: My first time reading this! I am confused by the first paragraph and beginning of the second--it feels clumsy. I think you can tighten and clarify at the same time. The 250 shines more than the query and I think set the reader up for a scary ride right away.

      I FEEL FINE:

      I still enjoy this one from the first round. I think your voice, in both the query and the 250, and I'm so glad you clarified the relationships named in the query.

      If I'm being honest, neither of these is truly my taste as a reader, so I'm trying to think about universal appeal and it feels like scary/intense versus funny/intense.

      Victory to I FEEL FINE

    6. I hadn’t seen either of these entries before this round. What fun!

      THE GHOST AND MRS. CLAIR: What a fun idea! Makes me think of Supernatural, of course, which I love! Query: The first paragraph needs a little subject change, as it looks like grief is the one chasing a murderer through town. It’s also a little confusing going from the 1st paragraph where her father is dead to the very next sentence having him be alive. I had to read that a couple of times to understand what was going on. The 2nd paragraph, however, is very good by itself, as is the rest of the query. You give us Mac’s conflicts and the plot in an interesting and well thought-out manner. I would certainly read the book! 250: Really fun and good! I laughed at the idea that it was a game where the loser passes out. ☺ I could see the atmosphere and feel her anxiety. I’m sure you’ve realized by now that you’re missing a word in this sentence: “Taking a chance, I opened one EYE into a narrow slit.” Great stuff! Very fun Congrats.

      AND I FEEL FINE: Very fun and interesting entry! I especially love the first sentence. Gives a good feel of what’s to come. The first sentence of the 2nd paragraph needs a subject change – it looks like he is falling in love with his friend who went starborn, but I think you really mean he is falling in love with Bennett? I like the idea of the poltergeist dictator – very cool. 250: Intense and intriguing! And funny – the last few sentences made me laugh. ☺ The first few were a little distracting for me – the car itself can’t really knock his hand off, and it sounds like he is wanting to argue with Sarge’s words, but he is doing exactly what Sarge said to do…so I’m not sure exactly what I’m supposed to think here. Make sense? Intense and full of good action. Congrats and best of luck!

      Victory to THE GHOST AND MRS. CLAIR

    7. I read and enjoyed both these entries earlier.

      Ghost & Ms. Clair -
      Wow! Love how you've tightened up the query and made the stakes more clear. The first 250 is also strong.

      I Feel Fine
      Strong opening 250, but I feel the query could be streamlined further for greater clarity.

      Victory: Ghost & Ms. Clair

    8. I think these are both very strong queries and pages! As I've read them before, I'm going to cast my vote subjectively--which is tough, because these are two different genres and styles.

      By the slightest edge, victory to: THE GHOST AND MS. CLAIR!


      In THE GHOST’s first page, I found a couple of reasons to close this book and move on. The first thing that caught my attention was the cliché opening of a waking up scene and the past perfect tense. I’m already playing catch up, and I’m wondering if this wouldn’t work better if “I’d awoken to” was cut.

      The second thing to catch my attention was the rhetorical question in paragraph 3. Followed by another. And another and then two more in paragraph 4. For me, it didn’t work to convey the confusion the MC had, and it broke up any sort of suspense that might be building. I felt like at least most of the rhetorical questions might work better if reworked as a narrative. Also, why is the MC trying to hear him breathe? That seems like a story-telling glitch. Maybe she’s terrified into silence and in that silence all sounds are amplified. Except for his. He’s making no sounds. Not even breathing sounds.

      I can’t imagine her thinking in that moment of terror that she wants to hear how his breathing sounds. Also, this sentence: Taking a chance, I opened one into a narrow slit. <-- this has an antecedent glitch. The last noun mentioned was “people”. Maybe change “one” to ‘an eye’. Also, maybe choose a stronger verb here since it’s your 1st page and since she’s probably having to really pry an eyelid open against the weight of her fear. “Open” feels too easy here.
      I DO love this snippet: Keeping my arm under the covers, I crept my left hand toward the nightstand.

      Slowly, I told myself. Don’t make a sound.
      Faster! my lungs screamed at me. <-- I think the suspense finally found a foothold with me right here.

      AND I FEEL FINE has a give-a-crap voice that I love. I still don’t get the 2nd paragraph. Maybe add the word always: Sarge always says keep on the wheel. Otherwise, to me, it sounds like Sarge is there. But then Sarge isn’t there, and that makes me grumpy.

      The other thing that bothers me is that his mic is buzzing. Why is his mic acting like a speaker? A microphone doesn’t amplify sound. It collects sound. It’s what he uses to convert his own voice into electrical energy which is then transmitted. His radio or his earbud would buzz as the speaker that amplifies sound. I know I’m a gigantic geek. This is just a detail that bothers me.

      Overall though, I love the voice and the humor and the tension.

      In THE GHOST, feel like this could be cut: Death has followed Mac to Donn’s Hill, and now she has to make a choice. Run away from this confrontation like she has every other her entire life, or embrace her psychic gift and use it to hunt down a murderer.
      Otherwise, it does the job very well.

      Even though I’m not a huge scifi fan, I’d read AND I FEEL FINE just for the main character. And what? A poltergeist ruler? Lol! THIS I want to see. I like the query.

      I really felt like the first page of THE GHOST needs some work—not a ton, but a few tweaks.

      Victory to AND I FEEL FINE

    10. The Ghost:
      Query: This is a good, layered concept. I haven’t read this entry before.
      I would remove the first sentence of the second paragraph. It interrupts the flow, and somehow makes this paragraph seem more repetitive with the hook, because there’s an interruption in the ideas of her father having passed away and her moving to the most haunted town in America, if that makes sense. There’s a typo – “user” instead of “use”, I’m sure this is pointed out in the comments above.
      It’s a good opening line, but it’s followed up with a too-complicated image for me, along with some awkward tense usage. I’d tighten, open with something simpler like, “I awoke when my mattress sagged. Someone—an unknown someone, who smelled like garbage—was sitting on my bed.” You can probably do better than that…
      The rest of it works pretty well for me. Good entry!
      And I feel fine
      “When Sherman’s last real friend and comrade goes starborn – or dies on the job – to save a suicidal man and his brave and beautiful daughter named Bennett, Sherman falls for her hard.” That line is confusing for me. I’d tighten. “…or dies on the job—Sherman falls hard for his brave and beautiful daughter, Bennett.” We don’t need to know in the query why the unnamed friend dies.
      Oh man, poltergeist ruler using clips of old speeches…this is gold. Great concept.
      This paragraph confuses me a little:
      “Fuck that. Sarge ain’t here. The grey leather jerks in my grip and I keep my foot hard against the pedal. My eyes are dead ahead as the blizzard pushes us aside before I can jolt the wheel steady. But the bridge is falling apart beneath us; concrete crumbling from our tires into the steel colored ocean below. Hail flashes like daggers off the headlights.”
      Why fuck Sarge? He IS keeping his hand on the wheel, right? And I think the crumbling bridge should be mentioned at the start of the paragraph, so I’m grounded with that image. Or un-grounded…because, you know, the ground falling out…never mind.
      “Instinctively, I look out the driver’s window, expecting to see someone cruising next to me.” I’d remove that sentence. You don’t need it. You show us the image, and we immediately know your MC is seeing it.
      This is a hard choice. I’m giving VICTORY TO AND I FEEL FINE

    11. Wow! This is a tough match!

      For The Ghost and Ms. Clair, I love the changes that were made since the first round. I still think the concept here is incredible and I am dying to read this (no pun intended). On the query, I would recommend addressing the tense issue pointed by Cookie Monster. I think the 250 are just great.

      On And I Feel Fine, I feel the query is really strong at this point. I'm intrigued and want to read this book! The 250, for me, was a tad on the confusing side. What's really working is the voice which creates a very compelling narrator. What wasn't working as well for me were the transitions between the paragraphs. And it seems like there are a lot of characters mentioned/introduced for such a small selection of text.

      So on that note, I give victory to The Ghost and Ms. Clair!

    12. The Ghost and Ms. Clair
      “Mac never really figured out what to do with herself”—This is really vague. What does she need to figure out? Life in general? A vocation? Maybe be more specific.
      Third paragraph typo—Mac to (user) her powers to bring the killer to justice.
      First 250
      Taking a chance, I opened one (eyelid) into a narrow slit.
      Loved this 250!

      And I Feel Fine
      “starborn – (delete-or) dies on the job – “ Unless the person either goes starborn or dies. I’m assuming that starborn means the person dies.
      Loved this 250 as well.
      Wow, this is a hard choice. I love ghost stories. I’m intrigued by both of these entries. They are both really well written. I guess my vote is for the query that seems more polished.
      Victory to And I Feel Fine.

    13. I'm going to make this short and sweet, with apologies to the authors for my brevity:

      Victory to AND I FEEL FINE! Here's why:

      While I think the writing of the query and the sample page both in THE GHOST AND MS.CLAIR are strong, compared to the snappy, tone-heavy writing of the AND I FEEL FINE query, which is also faster-moving and easier-to-read, I find I'd be more likely to read the second query carefully. I'm not in love with the slight suggestion of Sherman's special lady being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl kind of character motivator, but there's a confidence and style of writing in the query that's predictive/representative of the sample page itself. In that sense, it reads like the more crafted package.

  2. Tough match-up.

    There's a lot of great stuff in here.

    GHOST: This is just the type of book that I love. I do think you can trim the query a lot. I.e. one nice mention of the dad is fine. Keep it to three solid paragraphs, the hook, character, conflict, and stakes. Otherwise, it's good and clear. In terms of the 250, I think you can surprise us more. This could be the start of many books about ghost sightings. What makes yours special and unique? Where wouldn't you expect a ghost to be?

    And I Feel Fine: The 250 is really strong. I get a fabulous sense of who Sherman is down to his sense of humor, the danger he is in, etc. It's a great start to a book. I do think the query, while it has great voice, is still a little hard to follow. I wonder if you need Bennett in it at all. I'm not sure she's adding anything. Just a thought.


    1. The Ghost and Ms. Clair


      The hook needs some work…the way I’m reading it is that her grief is chasing a murderer, not Mackenzie. I like the premise, but I feel like run away or stay is a bit overdone in regards to stakes. Is the poltergeist following her the only problem? What about the actual killer? What happens if she doesn’t bring him to justice? Will he keep going on? Why is this ghost hunt for a killer different than other ghost hunts for a killer? Not enough details for me to know.

      First 250:

      It’s a good place to start with something creepy happening and an unknown person or entity sitting on the bed. However, there’s a lot of ‘I’ going on that can be avoided, and too many redundant questions and thoughts going on. I’d like to feel her panic as opposed to read questions. Is her heart thumping in her chest? Is she struggling to keep her breathing steady? Taking out the telling and questions and showing the reader what’s going on with her will draw the audience in closer.


      And I Feel Fine


      I think the query gives us more information this time around. I like that we get into the meat of things, but the last line of the third paragraph throws me. Incomprehensible death? Where did that come from? I still feel like the stakes are missing. I’m getting the vibe you don’t want to give up the last line. It’s great voice, but the voice is for the novel. Make me want to read it first.

      First 250:

      First 250 is still pretty solid in my opinion. It’s got the voice, the intrigue, and starts in a good place. I don’t have much to add from the last time I judged this one.


  3. The Ghost

    Great hook in the first paragraph. In the second paragraph, I’m a little confused by “…didn’t know what to do with herself.” I feel like it needs to be more specific. In the 3rd paragraph, there’s a typo “force Mac to use”. The first 250 gets me wondering right away what’s going on with a great first line. There’s a lot of her sensing going on (feeling, hearing, smelling), but I wonder why she’s not describing what she sees. Until we get to the 7th paragraph, when she “opened one eye” (I think “eye” is missing). We find out that she’s in a motel room kind of late, and I would have liked to know that sooner. The end really draws me into the story and makes me want to keep reading to find out what’s going on.

    And I Feel Fine

    Your query is packed with so much detail, on one hand it does give us a great sense of the story, but I wonder if there are areas where you can simplify a little. It’s a lot to digest, and I had to read it through a few times. I love the voice in the first 250. And the action pulls me in right away. I can literally feel myself there, and the teases are just enough to make me wonder what the heck’s going on. I’d definitely keep reading to find out.

  4. Ghost:
    Query has improved a lot since the last time I read it. I think it could still be improved by condensing it a bit, since some of it seems to be restated, but all the elements are there and the voice is great. Solid premise and great character with Mac. I praised the 250 last time and I’ll do it again. Love the creepiness factor with her on the bed.

    I Feel Fine:
    The 250 drops me right where I want to be. And with the children in the backseat, you already get me into it. The voice is good, harsh, and the sense of danger is great. For the query, I love the world you set up, and I’d definitely want to read this book.

  5. THE GHOST AND MS. CLAIR: This is the first time I've seen this. I'm loving the concept! The query is very well written. I like your 250 as well--loved the line, "It couldn’t be anything good. People who want to do good things usually knock." You've got a great entry here!

    AND I FEEL FINE: I still love your 250. Your query is much more clear now, and I love the detail about the poltergeist stitching together its old speeches. Great job!

    You both have excellent entries. Once again I feel glad I'm not a judge. ;) Best of luck in the future to both of you! :)

  6. The Ghost & Mrs Clair: I feel like there's a little too much backstory in your query, which dilutes the tension for me a bit. Your 250 is great. I loved it before and I love it now!

    I Feel Fine: your query packs a punch, but the last line seems to say "no big deal", which I'm not sure is the impression you want to leave us with. Your 250 gives me a real feeling of tension, and the dry humor revealed in the last line makes me want to get to know your MC.

    Excellent job, both of you -- best of luck!