Jun 20, 2017

QK Round 3: Alabama Witch Hunters vs Girl of Your Nightmares

 Match-up closed to voting due to offer of rep. Alabama Witch Hunters is advancing!

Title: Southern Fried Witch Hunters
Entry Nickname: Alabama Witch Hunters
Word Count: 45,000
Genre: MG Horror


Twelve-year-old José Villa wants to be brave like his best friend, Bubba, but he’s more terrified than a fresh bass at a fish fry. So he accepts his role as sidekick in Bubba’s daring, and mostly harebrained, schemes and adventures.
But when José sneaks into a pasture with Bubba in the middle of the night, he encounters a horror he couldn’t have imagined: zombie freaking cows. Oh, and the evil witch Agatha Winters, back from the dead and ready to get revenge on the town that killed her. Not knowing what to do, José and Bubba team up with a young witch expert. Together, the trio works to stop Agatha, encountering a creepy undertaker, an incompetent sheriff, and a horde of demonic squirrels along the way.

When his friends get locked up, it’s up to José to become the hero of the story. He must overcome his fears and stop Agatha before she hoodwinks the whole town into jumping from the same cliff they pushed her off of years ago.

First 250: 

An angry wind echoed through the night as I read the cracked wooden sign nailed to the fence. “Warning: Trespassers will be skinned alive and deep fried.”

A chill rattled my shoulders. It’d be a miracle if I lived to see the seventh grade.

Bubba sniffed the fresh manure in the air and grinned. “It’s tipping time.”

In Trout Bend, Alabama, cow tipping wasn’t just a hobby. It was an art form. All the best tippers came from our town, but the greatest of them all happened to be my best friend, Bubba, better known around these parts as the da Vinci of the Dairy.

Unfortunately, like most great artists, Bubba had started to go a little bit loco. Actually, scratch that. There was nothing little about it. That boy was nuttier than a pack of rabid squirrels on a cashew binge. I mean, why else would he have dragged me out to Buck Miller’s pasture in the middle of the night?

I gulped. “Bubba, are you sure this is a smart idea?”

He laughed as he squeezed his round body between a couple strands of barbed wire. “Course it ain’t no smart idea, José. But it’s like my daddy always says, ‘Ain’t nobody ever have any fun being smart.’”

I wanted to point out that nobody had ever been arrested for being smart either, but Bubba didn’t like talking about that. I took a deep breath and slid my way through the fence.


Title: Lucid
Entry Nickname: Girl of Your Nightmares
Word Count: 93K
Genre: YA Psychological Suspense (ownvoices)


All Marlowe wants is control. Of herself, of her environment, and most importantly, of the people around her. When an attempt to prove the strength of her self-control through sleep deprivation lands Marlowe in the infirmary of The Diana Banesbury School for Exceptional Young Women, she crosses paths with Gwyn, Sloane, and Ellie. Gwyn, who developed major depression after the death of her brother, wants closure she’ll never get. Sloane, recovering from a black eye, wants an adventure to save her from the monotony of her daily life. Ellie, a student volunteer who recently transferred from her small hometown to the exclusive girl’s boarding school, just wants friends to make the adjustment easier.

When Ellie offers lucid dreaming—the ability to control one’s dreams—as an unconventional solution to each of their problems, Marlowe sees a better opportunity. Under the pretext of a club for learning lucid dreaming, Marlowe convinces the girls to move to an abandoned classroom in the woods around the school, aiming to gain control by gaslighting and manipulating them until they’re incapable of differentiating reality from dream. As Gwyn, Sloane, and Ellie question their identities, realities, and the lies Marlowe has bound them with, they must find a way to wake themselves from her influence before they reach the end of a path leading to psychological destruction and death.

First 250:

People didn’t tend to believe that insects had free will, but Marlowe never doubted. If something had free will, she could control it. The fly was no exception.

Marlowe was halfway through the second day of her vigil when the fly landed on the bulb of the green shaded lamp on her bedside table. The rest of the girls in the dormitory were asleep, which left Marlowe alone with the dark, the quiet, and the long wooden room with its vaulted ceilings and double rows of beds. She was wearing her favorite silk pajamas and doing fairly well considering it’d been nearly three days since she last slept.

She watched the fly intently, the way its filmy wings shuddered, how it threaded its spindly, segmented arms back and forth through its proboscis whenever it took a break from its paces along the surface of the hot glass. Once they’d been properly acquainted, Marlowe devoted her thin morning hours to mentally coaxing it in one direction or the other, “Come here,” “Go there,” over and over again.

Most of the time, it wouldn’t. But on the rare occasion that its movements aligned with her mental command, she became re-energized by the illusion that her will had been so strong that the insect had been unable to resist, that the sheer force of her own thoughts had pushed it back onto the glass bulb when it wandered off. She indulged in the fantasy that this small, fragile thing would burn itself alive if she wanted it.


  1. Judges, please leave your comments and votes as a reply to this comment. Thanks!

    1. Alabama Witch Hunters
      The query is almost there. Remaining questions for me are: 1) what is it exactly José is afraid of (zombie cows are a given for anyone, but what else)? 2) why do they take it upon themselves to rid the town of the witch? Great voice in the 250.

      Girl of Your Nightmares
      While I think the 250 reads very well, I find the query still a little muddled. There are a lot of people to keep track of in a short span of time, and I'm not clear on the motivations (that is, it comes across as someone being evil simply for the sake of being evil, which doesn't make for compelling characters; *why* does Marlowe want control of everyone?).

      Victory to Alabama Witch Hunters!


      Still love this entry, and I like how you’ve tightened the query since I saw it last. I think you’re missing just a few touches to round out Jose’s character – “wants to be brave,” “more terrified than…,” “must overcome his fears…” What exactly is holding Jose back? If you can pinpoint his internal fear, I think you’ll be golden.


      Oooooooh, dark and creepy! The query leaves me puzzled over who is the protagonist (or is it multi-POV?). It reads like Marlowe is until the very last line, which implies we’re rooting for the other girls to defeat her. If it’s multi- POV, try setting up the query to reflect the different perspectives; if the story is told only from Marlowe’s POV, give less details about the other girls in the query and change the last line to reflect what Marlowe must do to reach her goal.

      I’m also unsure why Marlowe seeks control and what drives her to manipulate these girls who seem rather nice. What’s the deeper story hiding here?


    3. From CatAttack

      I like the small changes you've made to your query --- all done without sacrificing voice. Picky point: Perhaps change 'locked up' to 'locked away' or? to avoid '...locked up, it's up...' Loved the voice, word choices and humor in the first 250. I also thought the closing line had a lot of punch.

      This looks like a fun take on horror.

      Great opening two lines in the query. I do suggest reworking the 3rd sentence -- perhaps trim some of the information and place in a separate sentence. The friends' mini-bios work -- giving us enough information to create a believable buy-in, but I did want a sense of why Marlowe wants to control the others. In the first 250, suggest rephrasing -- or moving to a separate sentence -- the 'double rows of beds' from 'the rest of the girls' line, since it follows Marlowe being 'alone with the dark, the quiet...' Since I'm assuming those beds are occupied, the 'alone' hit an off note. Picky point -- suggest changing out 'that' for 'when' here: 'But on the rare occasion (that) when its movements...' Also suggest looking at 'that' and cutting where possible to avoid overuse (e.g., 'that' is used 4x in the 2nd sentence of the 4th paragraph).

      This sounds like a wonderfully eerie story.

      Two terrific entries -- wish I could vote for both.



      Still love this and I think you've tightened the query since I last saw it. I have no feedback for the first 250--they're tight, engaging and show voice and who the MC is right away. My only suggestion is for the query: I'd say "freaking zombie cows," instead of "zombie freaking cows." If the concern is that it sounds like the cows are freaking [out], consider playing with punctuation: "Freaking. Zombie. Cows." Just a thought.


      I think this is awesome and intriguing and creepy and the first 250 set up tone and give us a sense of the MC right away. Great setting up the stage for a psychological horror or suspense read! That being said, I would tweak the query to show a bit of Marlowe's motivations--it would create a greater connection between reader and MC to show what drives her (even if it's not what would drive most normal people). I think finding this connection is especially important when an MC is set up to be potentially unlikeable.

      This is a super tough choice for me: I love both entries and would read them both!


    5. Though I think the improvements to NIGHTMARES are tremendous, and I still really enjoy the concept, I am utterly blown away by the voice in ALABAMA, but the query and 250. Good work both of you!

      Victory to ALABAMA!


      You have really tightened the query since I saw it last! Great job there. The voice is still intact, too. I am curious what fears he must overcome. If you can clear that up without giving too much away, that would be awesome. And I still love the First 250!


      Ohhh, this gave me a chill. But I do feel the query was a bit confusing only because I don't know Marlowe's true motivation. Yes she wants control, but why? What happened to her which would cause her to want to manipulate others to do her will or keep her friends in a dream state? The First 250, I really enjoyed it. The voice is great and I like the last sentence. Creepy!!
      I thought the first round was hard, these were both well done. So…


    7. Alabama Witch Hunters

      Query: Overall, this is a really strong query. But to be honest with you, I feel like you’re missing some of the great voice from when I saw it in the first round—specifically in this second paragraph. Here are some smaller nitpicks: In the first line, “he’s more terrified” makes me wonder what it is he has to be afraid of. Brave is very general and it works, but it’s unlikely you’d meet someone who’s perpetually terrified without a specific reason. Second line, should it be as “a” sidekick? Second paragraph, I’d swap zombie and freaking so it’s “freaking zombie cows.” The only other thing I’d really like to know here is what Jose is so afraid of? What personal stakes does he need to overcome to become the hero?

      250: This is great. Love the voice here and it definitely feels like you’re starting in the right place. Great job!

      Girl of Your Nightmares

      Query: While this sounds like a truly gripping and creepy story, I must admit this query has me a bit confused. My biggest question is who’s telling this story? If it’s Marlowe, then I think we have too much information about the other girls. If it’s multiple POV, depending on how many there are, it would be important to convey that through the way you write your query. My second question is why Marlowe wants to control people at all? What’s her motivation? Your third sentence tripped me up a little—so she’s proving she’s in control by refusing to sleep? The way you mention the school, the name of it specifically, made me originally think it’s a new school but on a second read I don’t think it is. When you mention “exceptional” women, is this a reference to a fantasy/paranormal type twist, or is it just a regular old school? I like the little recaps for each girl to give us a sense of who they are, but without really knowing your story I’m not sure if that information is necessary. The last paragraph is definitely clearer, though I’m still wondering why Marlowe is doing this, but there’s also a shift in the POV so that it seems like the girls will be taking center stage. This definitely seems like a story I’d like to read, but I’d like to see a bit information and clarity in the query.

      250: Love the opening paragraph here. But the last paragraph then made me question what was going on, since there it almost implies that she’s not actually controlling it but that it’s a happy coincidence. And the closing line is so utterly creepy it’s fabulous. Only other comment is to weed out the word “that.” There’s a bit of them and most can just be deleted. Awesome job with this 250.

      I really love both of these entries. There’s great voice throughout and I’d likely read both of these. With that being said, VICTORY TO GIRL OF YOUR NIGHTMARES!

  2. Alabama Witch Hunters


    Ah, you've tightened it up. Shorter, to the point quicker. Lost a hint of voice, but there's still plenty there to drag me in. Well done.

    1st 250

    I can't recognize any changes right off from when I last read this, which is a good thing. Liked it before, like it now. Great voice, not info-dump-y, and intros your MC as a sidekick. It's all there.

    Girl of Your Nightmares


    If you changed this from round 2, I can't see it from memory. That's OK because I think it's strong and direct, with few wasted words. Intro-ing 4 characters is unconventional, but since it's multi-POV and you don't drown me in details, I think I'm good with it.

    1st 250

    Voice is tight, which I like in 3rd person. Marlowe is intriguing, and the up-for-three-days thing tells me she's at last a little nuts. I'm curious how that will play out in your setting. I'm picturing Girl Interrupted with some Hitchcock tension, which sounds awesome.

    Good luck to you both!


  3. I love these both. It's the first time I've seen Girl of Your Nightmares and I would absolutely read it. However, it's hard to hook the reader on a query that focuses on four characters. I'd look at some other multi-POV books to get a sense of how that is done successfully. One that comes to mind is Jodi Picoult. Read some of the descriptions of her books to get an idea of how you can hook with just one thru line.

    Alabama Witch hunters:
    Love the revision! It's much tighter and I get a real sense of how old Jose is now, and his arc is super clear. Great job! I do think there's a lot there. I wonder if you need a separate line about zombie chickens for instance.


  4. Replying as Chief Doodler!!

    Alabama Witch Hunters:

    LOVE the query. It has a great voice and I thoroughly enjoyed the 250 words, too. I was chuckling by the time I got to "deep fried".

    I had a hard time making sense of the query. I think you'd benefit from pruning unnecessary words. The second line in particular is hard to get through. Aim for short, punchier sentences that are not only clear, but evocative, too.

    Is Marlowe the main character, but something of an anti-hero?? I think making that clear in the query would help, too!

    I enjoyed the 250 words last time, too. But want more. Something that grounds the reader on where we are. Is Marlowe a student somewhere? How old is she?

    Winner goes to Alabama Witch Hunters!!

  5. Alabama Witch Hunters

    My favorite thing about your query is that I actually see the boys and zombie cows in a dark pasture. Your query brings the setting to life like a novel does. I love the humor and creepy southern atmosphere.

    Girl of Your Nightmares

    Oh, this sounds deliciously eerie. I imagine the multi POV between all the girls is a wild and mind-bending ride. I'm curious if Marlowe is a character I'd love to hate or maybe I'd love her despite her twisted control. Great concept!

  6. Alabama Witch Hunters: Love the voice in your query and 250. Being from the south, I can totally put myself in this situation and it feels one hundred percent authentic. I can't wait to see what the boys get up to next.

    Girl of your Nightmares: This concept is intriguing and definitely something I'd read. I'm still unclear if all the girls all get POV chapters or not. If so, you might want to express that. Seems like Marlowe is your MC and we're getting a villain story here. Which is cool, but if that's not what it is, I'd try to make it more obvious. LOved your opening scene too. I love the imagery of the fly and the voice tells us a lot about her control issues. Well done!

    Not much to say, having commented on this one last round. Your voice and descriptions are colorful and fun and really pop. I think this is quite well done.
    I don't notice any changes to last round (maybe you didn't make any?). Still a good setup to the action and full of fun and quirky voice.

    I still love this premise, and think it has so much potential. The only concern I can see is that the query focuses more on Marlowe as the antagonist than any of the protagonists. Given that she's by far the most interesting aspect of the story, I'm not sure I'd change that though.
    What can I say that I haven't before? Wonderfully chilling voice that grabs you right away. Marlowe is someone I dread, and yet, someone I don't want to escape. Really well done.