Jun 21, 2016

QK Round 3: Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy vs. Meet Me at Lake NevaeH

Title: Under the Surface
Entry Nickname: Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy
Word Count: 64K
Genre: YA Speculative Fiction


Seventeen-year-old Lauren is a professional mother-disappointer… but losing her sister in an eerie underwater town sets a whole new standard.

When Lauren hears the legend, she’s intrigued; exploring the lost town under Lake Modoc is the perfect adventure to take her mind off of her mounting stack of detention letters. Together with her two best friends, she hops on a boat (somewhat illegally) and sets out to discover the Atlantis of Owego County.

One problem: Lauren must bring her eight-year-old tattletale sister, Roxie, along for the ride. In the split second Lauren and her friends find the creepy, algae-covered church steeple under the lake, Roxie disappears from the boat. Silently, impossibly, Roxie is gone.

With her sister missing, Lauren is wracked with grief and uncertainty. She becomes obsessed with uncovering the secrets behind Roxie’s increasingly mysterious disappearance. But when the police can’t see the steeple Lauren leads them to—the place where Roxie vanished—she takes matters into her own hands, scuba diving into the deep.

Lauren finds out too late that the town under the lake was abandoned there for a reason. By opening its doors, she unleashes its dark, magical ability to lure away children—and if she doesn’t find her sister soon, she might have more than one lost kid to answer for.

With Roxie’s life hanging in the balance, Lauren must piece together the secrets of the town under Lake Modoc—or live under the weight of Roxie’s death forever.

First 250:

Whenever I stand on the shores of Lake Modoc, I scour the horizon like I’ll find something out of the ordinary. Today I do the same, letting my eyes skip over the dark blanket of water as the wind plays with the ends of my hair. On the edge of my vision something bobs some twenty feet away, but the moment I squint harder to see its shape, it disappears.

“Ugh, damn it! These test tubes are impossible,” Carly shouts beside me, breaking my reverie.

“Jesus. You ruined my yoga vibe.”

“Yeah, ‘cause I can totally see you doing downward-facing whatever. Can you help for two seconds?” Carly pushes her red curls out of her face, bent over the water’s edge.

As I step toward her, movement flashes in the water again. My stomach drops out, leaving a vague sense of dread in its place. Whatever’s out there avoids my glance, so I force myself to take up my time-honored duty: talking Carly down from insanity.

“Hey,” I say. “It’s a simple assignment. We’d be fine using tap water.”

“Tap water is too easy. I want a challenge.” The glass tubes she’s struggling with tumble into the lake, causing her to swear under her breath.

“Well, consider yourself challenged.”

Carly has been my best friend since that time we had the misfortune of being dressed in the same hideous sweater on picture day in the second grade, but at times like these I reconsider our actual compatibility as human beings.


Title: Lost Inside Her
Entry Nickname: Meet Me at Lake Nevaeh
Word Count: 71K
Genre: YA Thriller


For as long as seventeen-year-old Violet can remember, she’s had a voice in her head she calls Gabby. Gabby’s not just her best friend, she feels real. To doctors, the voice is a mental aberration they’ve treated with meds and therapy. But nothing’s worked.

Gabby hasn’t been her playful self lately. She begs Violet for help, but can’t clearly communicate what’s wrong. All Violet knows is the fear reaches so deep, it makes her dizzy and nauseous. Things grow even more confusing when Violet notices weird bruises on her arms. Worried they’ll put her away for good, she keeps the new symptoms to herself. When she meets Neil, her new classmate from Red Lake Indian Reservation, his down-to-earth, gentle nature draws her so close, she trusts him with her secret. And he’s the first to believe her.

When Gabby’s visits land Violet in the hospital, they discover the bruises and plan her transfer to inpatient treatment. Now Violet’s had enough. Hungry for real answers, she runs away with Neil to his reservation, where his grandfather performs a shamanic ritual. Swept into a trance, Violet learns Gabby is a real live, flesh-and-blood person, their bodies linked by a rare anomaly in their cells. Finally, Violet understands the bruises. They’re Gabby’s. And someone’s hurting her. Violet must save her best friend to save her own life…and to have any chance of being with the first guy who ever believed in her.

First 250:

Three days since I’d secretly quit taking my meds. Or was it four? This might have ranked as the stupidest thing I’d ever done. Huddled in the back seat of Dad’s swaying SUV, I forced my eyes open. Swirling gray clouds dumped more rain onto the street, already flooded from a week of late-September storms.

That spot where Gabby’s voice filled my head was empty. For now, anyway. After all her drama, insisting I “stop the drugs,” she hadn’t even popped in since I’d quit. Maybe it was better that way. Because just thinking about how weird she’d been acting lately made me sweat all over. Staring out the window, tears filled my eyes, blurring the falling rain. I didn’t even know my best friend anymore. I almost wished she’d never visit me again.

A gust whipped fat drops against the windshield, forcing Dad to slow down and lean forward. We crawled through the downpour and turned into the mini mart’s lot. While Dad ran in for drinks, Mom flipped down the visor’s mirror and applied that bright-red lipstick I hated. She saw me looking at her. “You still mad at me?”

“I was tired. I didn’t mean to yell.” I’d swear she was more concerned about being yelled at than why I was so upset when she woke me for church. I’d barely slept all night, and I really wanted to tell her why. Tell Dad. Tell someone.

Gabby’s mantra echoed: Keep it inside, where it’s safe with me and you.


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

    1. Ahhh, these are really getting impossible to judge!

      Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy:

      I think I said this last time, but I love this query! Gives me chills and makes me feel for Lauren and Roxie even in such a short amount of time. Really well done, and the concept continues to amaze.

      My only concern with the first 250 is the very first paragraph... nothing really seems to be happening here, except for a general "I had a gut feeling something was about to happen" vibe. The writing and voice is strong, but I wonder if there's not a better, stronger hook to start the story with?


      Meet Me at Lake Nevaeh:

      Love this concept TOO! (so hard to choose!) I think the query has really been polished well. The way you introduce Neil feels much more natural now. Two nitpicky things: I'd include some kind of "But..." or "There's just one problem..." etc, before "Gabby hasn't been her playful self lately." I'd also replace "they" in the first sentence of the third paragraph with "Violet's parents" or "Violet's family," etc.

      First 250 are amazing... I don't have a single suggestion. Love your voice.


      Incredibly tough choice, but... VICTORY TO: MEET ME AT LAKE NEVAEH!

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

      Particularly with speculative fiction, it's hard sometimes to know when to take hyperboles like "professional mother-disappointer" literally or not. Otherwise, though, this query sounds great. The stakes are clear, the mystery is compelling, and I'd definitely want to read something like this.

      First 250:
      The "yoga vibe" line seems like it might be trying a bit too hard, and you've got "tumble" instead of "tumbles" toward the end, but otherwise the writing is clear and the characters interesting.

      Interesting concept. The query is clear and compelling. I think I'd like to know a little more about Violet besides just her connection with Gabby, though, to give her more dimension.

      First 250:
      No suggestions. It's a bit of a quiet start, but I think that's okay, since we still get a feel for something not being quite right and the tension between Violet and her parents.

      Victory to: ATLANTIS

    3. Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy


      I know I said I liked the hook before, but this is a lot better. I think this is over all pretty solid. I’d still get rid of the adverbs, but you’ve given me enough at this point to make a request.

      First 250:

      You grounded us by letting the reader know they are on the shore line. Nice. There’s still a lot of ‘I’s that can be taken out, but you tightened it up from the last bit. Keep working on getting rid of the overuse of the pronoun and this will be a pretty solid opening.


      Meet Me At Lake Nevaeh

      Wow, you’ve shaped his up a lot. I think you did a great job streamlining it. I would definitely make a request based on the query now. Awesome job.

      First 250:

      Like I said before, strong 250. It engages, and lets me in Violet’s life. I know something has just happened that doesn’t bode well for her. I still don’t have anything to add.


    4. Like Atlantis


      Your hook, while intriguing, totally threw me off the main plot of your story. My suggestion would be to start right with the meat of your query, "Lake Modoc is the perfect adventure..." and then lead into her detention backstory, setting up character right away.

      First 250:

      Great tension at the beginning with the lake mystery. Be careful not to over describe things like her friend's hair color or how they became friends. This type of info needs to be weaved seamlessly into the story without alerting the reader that you're actually feeding them information.

      Lake Nevaeh


      This is a cool and very interesting concept. While I think the first line works, I'd consider streamlining your info for maximum affect. For example, I don't think you need to explain that Gabby is her best friend. I'd cut the line and go right into it being a voice in her head. This sets the conflict right away.

      Second, I'd reconsider how much overall backstory you include. The info about the bruises feels superfluous. I think you can elude to the danger Gabby is in and still have very clear stakes.

      One last thought, how does Gabby and Violet's connection relate to Violet's overall stakes? I would recommend making it clear as to what will happen to Violet if she does not help Gabby.

      First 250:

      Good, solid voice in the opening. I'd recommend staying away from describing the weather too much and focus more on what's troubling Violet and how it influences her relationship with her parents.

      Victory to...LIKE ATLANTIS

      Such a creepy idea! I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of underwater cities, and this is just fantastic.
      MEET ME
      You’ve greatly improved your query since I first read it. You’ve made Gabby’s nature a lot clearer, and the first page also reads better as well. I liked this idea when I first read it, but now it really piques my interest.

      However, I feel like ATLANTIS is just a teeny bit more polished. Victory to LIKE ATLANTIS.

    6. ATLANTIS: I've seen this entry since Round One, and you've done some amazing work. The query and 250 read so well. I think this will really catch an agent's eye. Congrats.

      NEVAEH: This is the first I've seen your work, and I have to say, when I got to the paragraph in your query where it says what's actually happening I got chills! What an amazing concept. So very cool.

      It's getting so hard to judge these!! I really love them both, and can see them each getting attention and success.

      Victory to MEET ME AT NEVAEH.


      LIKE ATLANTIS has a clunky opening that seems a bit sleepy even. I didn’t get a creepy mood from the first page at all, but I think a small tweak to the opening could really help set the tone and mood. The first line tells me she scours the horizon whenever she’s on the shore. The 2nd sentence tells me she’s scouring the horizon because she’s standing on the shore. I think changing the 2nd sentence to something that follows the thought in the 1st would make it flow a little better and even add some voice. Maybe something like: Like a signal or something. Some indication the rumors are true. On the edge of my …
      Now that I’m looking at the first line again, I’m thinking maybe changing the structure might liven it up: Standing on the shores of Lake Modoc, I scour the horizon like I’ll find something out of the ordinary. Like a signal or something.

      MEET ME has a great opening, which sets the mood and tells me so, so much about the MC in just that first sentence. I like the way this page unfolds.

      LIKE ATLANTIS has this great voice in the query, but that voice didn’t come through for me in the first page. I love the opening hook here! I love the synopsis and the irony in the end hook. This is a great query, and I could totally see it as a back cover blurb. The MEET ME query … maybe I’m remembering wrong, but I thought there had been a better opening hook. The synopsis is good. I like the hook at the end and the romantic subplot.

      For me it always comes down to the story. The blurb will get me to open the book, but the first 2 paragraphs of the novel are what determine whether I buy the thing or replace it on the shelf.

      Victory to MEET ME AT LAKE NEVAEH


      Query: I actually liked the older version of this query better. You start out talking about Lauren being a mother-disappointer, but that relationship isn’t explored elsewhere in the query, though it may be in the book. I would focus on the relationship with Roxie instead. Also, the first line of the second paragraph is pretty vague: “When Lauren hears the legend…” WHAT legend? This is brand-new information, and it’s not totally explained. The rest I liked.

      Opening: I liked this before, and I still like it.


      Query: I feel like you could streamline this a bit. It feels a bit choppy over the first few sentences. In the second paragraph, it could be clearer that the fear Violet is feeling is not her own. You haven’t mentioned fear yet, and then talk as if it’s a known thing already. A lot happens in the third paragraph, which is a bit off-pace from the first two, but it definitely pulled me in.

      Opening: I’m not sure what tense this is. Past, mostly, but you have a lot of “I’d” and “hadn’t” sort of language that adds another layer and makes it almost confusing. I would be really interested to see how you handle the mental health aspect of this story, as well as the Native American traditions.


    9. Atlantis: LOVE how you've revised this query. It's sharp, clear, compelling, and has great voice and great stakes. Great job! I don't find the first page quite as strong, though. Are you implying that she sees something from the underwater city in the lake, but it disappears?

      This part: As I step toward her, movement flashes in the water again. My stomach drops out, leaving a vague sense of dread in its place. (WHY WOULD SOMETHING IN THE WATER GIVE HER A SENSE OF DREAD? IT DOESN'T QUITE MAKE SENSE TO ME. CAN YOU ELABORATE OR SHOW WHAT SHE'S THINKING IT MIGHT BE?)
      Whatever’s out there avoids my glance, (THIS MAKES IT SOUND LIKE THERE'S SOMETHING ALIVE THAT'S AVOIDING HER. IS AVOID THE RIGHT WORD?) I'm still not gung ho on the whole test tube thing, and if I didn't know the premise of the story, I'm not sure the first page would compel me to read on.

      Lake Nevaeh:

      Great query. A tiny bit too wordy, but your stakes are fantastic and your premise is unique and memorable. I like the feeling of the first 250, that she's gone off her meds. Right from your first sentence, we know something interesting is about to happen. And then when she says she wishes she could tell Dad, tell anybody, my heart goes out to her and I can't wait to turn the page to find out what's going on. Excellent first page!

      This is a brutal decision. I like the query of Atlantis better, but the first page of Nevaeh better. And they are both brilliant story ideas. And both authors have done tremendous revisions!


      Victory to ATLANTIS

  2. Congrats to you both on making it this far!

    Meet Me: Nice revisions! The query is much clearer and focused on the relationships and conflict. I like where the 250 starts, but I've heard agents say that starting a manuscript with a driving scene is a little cliche, for what it's worth. Just an FYI.

    Atlantis: This is the first time I'm seeing this and I think it's great. Fabulous hook at the beginning of the query! I do think the query could be streamlined into 3 paragraphs. I don't think we need all the details of Lauren's search for her sister in the query itself. Just set up the characters, conflict, and stakes and trim the rest.

    The 250 is strong. I like the voice and the foreshadowing.

    This is a tough match up because I'd read either in a heart beat.


  3. MEET ME: Your revisions are amazing. I know I was harsh in the first round and you've clarified so much here, fantastic work. I'm now struggling with the sheer weight of the story. I'm interested in the voices, but seems like something that would leave me in a funk--purely subjective I know.

    ATLANTIS: The revisions here are also excellent. I would cut the first sentence, I found it unnecessary, but otherwise it's solid. I'm enjoying the use of the Atlantis legend, which is familiar but not overdone, and I like the sister aspect.

    Victory to ATLANTIS solely for market--I've seen agents and readers asking for sibling stories.

  4. Atlantis: Wow! I read this one before (can't remember if I commented on an earlier version) and you've done a fabulous job clarifying and intensifying those stakes. I feel tense and stressed out from the query alone! Great descriptions in the 250.

    Meet Me: your first paragraph in your query really grabbed me. great concept and I want to read more! My only complaint with the query is that instead of ending with the stakes about Gabby, it ends with romantic stakes. Is the romance between Violet and Neil the main focus of the story? If not, I'd cut that, because what's going on with Gabby is much more powerful and compelling in my opinion. Great voice in your 250!

  5. Like Atlantis:
    I remember this one from R1. WAY better now, so much improved! I think the query voice is great, setting is established well and the stakes are described.

    Also much improved from previous rounds. 250 voice is great and the query reads well.

    I’d have a tough time picking a winner from these two!

  6. Atlantis:
    Whoa, the hook at the beginning of the query is awesome. I read this query in the first round, and you have done some serious work. Well done! My only note is that I had to re-read the first few sentences because we hear about the disappearance, and then go back in time to before the disappearance.

    Lake Nevaeh:
    The concept is really interesting, and your query is really clear. I did have one concern, though, and this might simply reflect the fact that I'm Canadian and our culture is a little bit different. I'm not sure if you have Native American heritage, but if not, you may want to consider asking someone to do a sensitivity read of your manuscript. It might help ensure that there are no stereotypes being reinforced.

  7. Congrats to you both! So much improvement all around!

    Atlantis: I LOVE the new opening sentence. So much snappier and it is brimming with voice. I also appreciated the other new details: the police not being able to see the town and her scuba-adventure. So much clearer!

    Nevaeh: This is also much clearer! Congrats! I feel like this revision answers all of the questions I had the last time I read this, which is fantastic. And I still love this first page. The voice in the 250 is great. So creepy, so quickly!

  8. SCOWLING DISCONTENTED JUDGEJune 23, 2016 at 6:38 PM

    This will be brief, as I got drafted by the #QKOverlords to vote and I'm doing this on my phone!


    I believe I voted against this one previously because I wasn't completely sold on the 250. It's much better now, although I worry that whole manuscript will need the same level of cleaning up. (If you find yourself getting requests but no offers this may be the issue.) But, no matter. This is not #MSKombat.


    An interesting premise! To be honest, I'm wary of Native Americans performing a shamanistic ritual. That's not a hard no, by any means, but I'm wary. I agree with the previous judge that you'll want to get a sensitivity reader for that storyline.

    That said, it's effectively creepy, and I'm interested. I think both of these queries are essentially ready to go. At this point it just comes down to tiny preferences.

    And for now, I think I like Atlantis just a bit more.