Jun 20, 2017

QK Round 3: Bounty and the Beast vs Switchers

Title: Dangerous Beasts
Entry Nickname: Bounty and the Beast
Word Count: 85,000
Genre: Adult Fantasy Romance

Query:

Exiled beast charmer Leena Edenfrell is in deep shit. Empty pockets force her to sell her beloved magical beasts on the black market—an offense punishable by death—and the Charmers Council hires a lethal assassin to exact punishment. With the realm’s most talented murderer-for-hire nipping at her heels, Leena makes him an offer he can’t refuse: a promise to procure a handful of mythical creatures in exchange for her life.

For assassin Noc, murder comes easy and pays well. But only fools pass up the chance to own rare and powerful magical beasts, even if that means lying to one enchanting charmer. Agreeing to Leena’s terms, Noc plans to keep the bounty live on her head until the creatures are his. Two paychecks, one job, no sleep lost.

To hunt for creatures, Noc and Leena embark on a quest across the countryside of Lendria. But traps capture more than beasts, and ensnared hearts are hard to untangle. Banished by the people she loved, Leena has no desire to take her heart out of exile, yet Noc is nothing like the monsters on the Council—or so she thinks. Bound by the magic of the assassin’s oath, Noc can’t renege on the contract for Leena’s head unless he’s willing to sacrifice his own. But neither can tame their growing feelings, and the ever-watchful Council demands blood. With Noc’s hands and heart tied, and Leena dodging enemies at every turn, no manner of beasts or money can protect their hides.

First 250:

By the time evening fell, three things were certain: the gelatinous chunks of lamb were absolute shit, my beady-eyed client was hankering for more than the beasts in my pocket, and I was being watched.

Two out of the three were normal for my after-hours dealings.

Sliding my meat to the side, I propped my elbows against the heavy plank table. My client lasted two seconds before his gaze roved to the book-shaped locket dangling in my cleavage. Wedging his thick fingers between his shirt collar and neck, he tugged gently on the fabric.

“You have what I came for?” Nasally and high-pitched, his voice grated along my skin. A businessman. A rare visitor in Midnight Jester, my preferred black market bar. My pocket hummed with the possibility of money, and I fingered the copper key hidden in my pants.

“Maybe.” I nudged the metal dinner plate farther away, and the gray meat jiggled. “How did you find me?” Dez, the bartender, sourced most of my clients, but a businessman? Neckties and Midnight Jester didn’t mingle. Shady with a side of grime, the regulars were as dirty as the floors. I shifted in the booth crammed against the shiplap wall, and the cracking black cushions creaked.

The unseen pair of eyes lingering in a dark recess of the bar burrowed further into the back of my head. Faint movement from the shadows flickered into my awareness. Movement that should have gone unnoticed, but I’d learned to be prepared for such things.



Versus



Title: The Switcher Chronicles
Entry Nickname: Switcher
Word Count: 96,000
Genre: Adult Urban Fantasy

Query:

Cade Hightower is a professional body switcher, paid to step into a client’s body and take his place in the dentist’s chair or at the in-laws’ dinner table. It’s a rare, well-paid skill—and the only one Cade has—so he’s willing take some risks to get the job done, including the ever-present danger of not getting his own body back. Cade takes all the precautions he can to keep his skin safe, no matter who’s wearing it, but there are no guarantees.

Cade and his older sister Daphne have drifted apart in the last ten years, but after a death in the family, she wants to repair the estrangement. Unfortunately, Cade still resents Daphne for putting ambition ahead of family. When he was thirteen, their mother got sick, their father ran off, and Daphne left him with his no-good uncle while she pursued her career in injectable magic. Now she claims she’s worried about his dangerous job, but where was she when he was a lonely, scared teenager who needed his big sister?

When a new client makes an unusual request—find out who’s swindling rich old people out of their fortunes and their lives—Cade goes undercover the way only a body switcher can. As he gets closer to the truth, Daphne worries Cade could get killed while Cade faces the danger he’s tried so hard to avoid—permanent body theft. Cade suspects the thief is someone Daphne loved and Cade hated, someone they both thought was dead. Convincing his sister he’s right could shatter their fragile relationship, and he doesn’t know if finding the truth—and finishing the job—are worth driving her away for good.

First 250:

I had been back in my body for twenty-four hours, and the mosquito bite between my shoulder blades itched like a rhino’s hide in a drought. The next time a client took my body camping while I did trust falls at a corporate retreat in his, I was going to add a bug-spray requirement to the contract.

But ignoring annoyances was part of my professional skill set, so I focused on getting the bus washed and ready for my next job, whatever that turned out to be. When the phone rang, I was balanced on an over-sized tire, squeegeeing the giant windshield. I jumped to the asphalt to take the call. The screen said, "Private Name Private Number." I got that a lot.

“Cade Hightower,” I said.

Harlan Ambrose’s voice on the line was deep and quick. “Cade, bro, what’re you doing?”

“Washing the bus, sir.”

“Hey, do me a favor and go inside. Got a job for you.”

I looked at the cracked asphalt under my feet. A high school parking lot on a Sunday was as private as the surface of the moon, but arguing with clients was bad for business. With a mental shrug, I climbed the three steps into the school bus I’d converted into my home. I settled in the swivel recliner anchored to the floor and put the phone back to my ear.

“I’m inside, sir. What’s this job?” My foot rattled against the floor. Ambrose was a good client, but talking to him on the phone gave me hives.

17 comments :

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

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bounty and the Beast
      Solid entry. In the query, I would suggest mentioning the magical nature of the contract up front, since otherwise it implies he can back out of it if he chooses.

      Switchers
      I really like the concept here. Great entry overall. My one point of confusion is that she's the one who left and has come back, but he's the one who seems worried about driving her away. If she's the one seeking to repair the relationship, wouldn't it be the reverse?

      Another close call. Based on what I consider to be a marginally clearer query and a slightly stronger voice in the 250, I'm going with victory to Bounty and the Beast!

      Delete
    2. BOUNTY AND THE BEAST

      Excellent work clarifying some points since the last time I saw this query (especially that last paragraph). Your 250 was already strong, so well done all around!


      SWITCHER

      Very intriguing premise. Is there a reason Cade can’t walk away from the final job when it gets really dangerous and he worries about upsetting his sister? Is he contractually obligated, or does he need the money, need to protect someone…?


      VICTORY TO BOUNTY AND THE BEAST

      Delete
    3. Both very strong entries. Congrats to you both! I wish there were host saves in this round because you both deserve to make it to the next round.

      BOUNTY AND THE BEAST: Fabulous job on the revisions. It's much clearer and stronger. Your 250 was already fantastic.

      SWITCHER: I love the premise and the juxtaposition of family drama with these special skills. I'd like to see you get rid of the questions and tighten the query just a little and clarify the stakes a little.

      VICTORY TO BOUNTY AND THE BEAST

      Delete
    4. From CatAttack

      BOUNTY AND THE BEAST

      Great job setting up the dual POV in the query and establishing the two main characters' differing goals. The stakes set out in the third paragraph are clear and urgent. Love the revised opening paragraph for the first 250; I have a clear sense of the setting. Engaging prose and great descriptions.

      SWITCHER

      I like the set-up and stakes and the whole 'switcher' idea. The 'repair the estrangement' phrase hit an odd note -- since it's not the estrangement she wants to fix. Perhaps 'relationship'? The line with 'Daphne worries' stopped me for two reasons. It made me wonder if this story's told in dual POV. If not, perhaps rephrase? The second thing that slowed me was I didn't know the two had in fact reconciled -- or were at least in regular contact. Perhaps fold in a little more detail in the 2nd paragraph so this is clear? The first 250 opens with fresh prose -- really engaging. Great job juxtaposing Cade's internal dialogue showing his real self, with the persona he shows to his customers.

      These are wonderful entries and I wish you both the best!

      VICTORY TO BOUNTY AND THE BEAST

      Delete
    5. These two are both such great concepts.
      SWITCHER: the 250 was great and so is your concept. However, the query is a little confusing. I know others already pointed it out, but it seemed from the beginning of the query that Cade didn't really care if he and his sister were back on good terms, but then at the end he didn't want to risk pushing her away. I think if you clear that up, you'll have an excellent entry.

      Bounty: there's nothing I can say to make this better. Well done.

      Victory to Bounty!

      Delete
    6. Replying as Chief Doodler!

      Bounty and the Beast:
      But why isn't this book sitting ON MY SHELF!?!?! What a wonderful concept. The query is fantastic and I have zero gripes there. Great tension, great into of the love interest. Well done! The 250 samples hooked me, and I adored the voice.

      Switcher:
      Oh, gosh. This entry is so much stronger. Great job. The query reads super clear, and I think the new details work super well. It's a great concept. The 250 words has a strong voice, but I wanted a bit more tension. Something that draws me in, it's almost there. I think we might need to hear a hint of the job—is it dangerous, something that Cade would hate to do??

      What a freaking tough decision....!!!

      WINNER GOES TO BOUNTY AND THE BEAST!

      Delete
    7. BOUNTY AND THE BEAST

      Wow, I love the changes you did. And the 250 are fantastic! I love Leena's voice. Fantastic job!

      SWITCHERS

      What a cool concept, body switcher! The only part in the query that stood out to me is his sister abandoned him and she wants a relationship. Yet, it he resents her but doesn't want to drive her away. I'd try to clear this up if you see it as an issue. The 250 read well and very intriguing!

      VICTORY TO BOUNTY AND THE BEAST

      Delete
    8. I agree with everything that's been said so far. I can't really find fault in either of these entries. So, my vote goes to the story that I think is more unique - I think we need more brother/sister stories - victory to SWITCHER!

      Delete
    9. BOUNTY AND THE BEAST

      Query: Really, really love the changes you’ve made to this since I’ve seen it. A few nitpicks: “the Charmers Council hires…” I think you should specify they hired someone to kill her specifically. I’d still like to know why the beasts are special, what people want and use them for. What is their purpose? Also, when you’re talking about charmers, I’m wondering if her powers only apply to beasts? Other than that, this is really great!

      250: This is a really great opening and I only have a few suggestions. You mention “beasts in my pocket” and since this is a fantasy world I’m not really sure if this is just a phrase or if there are really beasts in her pocket. Right in the same spot, you say 2 out of 3 are normal, but since these all seem like things that would frequently happen to her, I’m not sure which one you’re saying is out of place? In the fourth and fifth paragraphs you mention a businessman is out of place in the Midnight Jester which is a bit repetitive. I’d pick one place to keep it and cut the other. And that’s all I’ve got for you!

      SWITCHER

      Query: I really like the premise of this story, especially since it seems his clients could be capable of running away with his body during the switch. The second paragraph here seems really out of place, giving us all this background info is a bit much. I’m also wondering if you can pack more of a punch in the last paragraph. Stealing money from rich, old people isn’t anything all that new so I’m wondering if there’s a spin here? Also, after just reconnecting with his sister I’m not sure the stakes seem all that high, if they’re just driving her away for good. It seems to me that stealing his body, especially if the person asking him to investigate is also interested in stealing his body, is the bigger issue here.

      250: Interesting. Love the fact that he lives in a bus, and starting out with the bug bite that his body got when it was on loan to a client was great. I’m a little unsure about Harlan. You say he’s a client, but the way he addresses him as “sir” makes him sound like he’s Cade’s boss. I wonder if he’s this guy with such a special talent if he wouldn’t be more take-charge?

      VICTORY TO BOUNTY AND THE BEAST!

      Delete
    10. DANGEROUS BEASTS

      I think you’ve done a great job of tweaking your query. It’s a lot clearer and does a better job of spelling out the stakes, while also giving us a bit more world-building. I’m very impressed with the improvement.

      I also really like the tweaks you’ve made to your first 250. Like the query, it’s a lot clearer. The only thing I’d maybe change or flesh our a little more is your very last sentence, because “to prepare for such things” is trite language and you’ve already shown us that you can do a lot better than that!

      THE SWITCHER CHRONICLES

      Very cool premise and a strong opening paragraph for your query! The pacing is not bad, but I did find your second paragraph started to lag a little. I'm not sure how important it is to mention Daphne's career, since it doesn't come back in the query again. I'd pare it down a bit to the meat of the situation: she left him to pursue her career, now she wants to make nice and even worries about his dangerous job. By the same token, I found the third paragraph could also use a little tightening. I think you could cut the sentence about Daphne worrying, b/c we already know she worries. Then go straight to body theft--> Cade's suspicion's about the thief's identity --> how this all could effectively destroy his relationship with his sister.

      Similar to your query, your first 250 start very strongly, tightly-written and fast-paced. I'm immediately drawn and intrigued by your first paragraph. But (like with your query), I found the pacing started to lag a little for me after the first paragraph. I would get rid of the tell-y bits about the annoyances of his line of work, and jump straight to what he's doing and where he is. Also, minor quibble: when he called the person calling him "sir," I assumed it was his boss. Oh, and the surface of the moon simile totally made me smile! :)

      Two very intriguing premises and hook-y queries!

      Victory to BOUNTY AND THE BEAST!

      Delete
    11. Critique: Bounty and the Beast
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      Query:
      ----
      This query is fine. It’s plot heavy and could do more with giving us more character and a little less plot. My main issue is that it sounds generic and a bit predictable and boring. This reads exactly like what I assume most queries in an agent’s/publisher’s slush pile do. You need to really make this story you are pitching stand out in a big way. Why is this story special? I get very little from this.
      ----
      First 250 words:
      ----
      When you say they were $h!t what do you mean? Like they were just bad? Or is it literal? Cursing in a first sentence is fine, but here is seems forced or simply lazy. Leena can be established to be tough in many ways, but this just feels like it’s taking a shortcut.

      The rest of it is very exposition heavy. I am so guilty of “stage directing” everything when I write, so I get that you are wanting to draw a strong mental picture. However, when doing so becomes burdensome on the reader you have to learn to let go and trust your reader. This feels overworked. I recommend rewriting from scratch, to see what comes of it.
      ===================================
      Critique: Switcher
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      Query:
      ----
      Much improved from round 1. First paragraph is pretty great, but the 2nd paragraph and 3rd a bit boring and could use a trim. The 2nd paragraph repeats itself (we get it, they are estranged, etc.) too much, and the 3rd paragraph is very vague. You need to give strong, unique details, and lay out the stakes. You establish Cade well, but despite the repetition, what we know of Daphne isn’t super interesting.
      Ultimately the stakes, as presented, seems a bit low.
      ---
      First 250 words:
      ---
      Much improved. If the query was cleaner/better I’d be willing to read more. As it is now, I’m on the fence, which isn’t where you want an agent/publisher to be.

      ===================================
      Verdict: Shocking no one, Switcher (which I did not vote for in round 1) is my winner here. I know I’m in the minority (Bounty and the beast seems to be killing this round), but for me, this query and first 250 words is utterly boring. In this business a competent query is not nearly enough, it needs to be much more than that. Clearly I am not the intended reader for Bounty and the Beast. For me both the query and first 250 words are in desperate need of some real work. But…they also appear to be winning, so maybe I’m just wrong.
      ===================================
      WINNER GOES TO: Switcher

      Delete
  2. BOUNTY AND THE BEAST
    Query:
    Your query looks tight, with the first two paragraphs nicely summarizing who Leena and Noc are and what they want, and the last paragraph outlines the stakes and obstacles well. I really don't have an criticisms, and I think it looks like a great story.
    250:
    Nice voice and descriptions here. I can feel the tension of the scene, and it definitely draws you in.

    SWITCHER
    Query:
    You have an interesting concept in the first paragraph, and I'd definitely like to know more about how body switching works. In the second paragraph, though, seems like a lot of exposition that reads like an info dump. While the third paragraph does rely a bit on knowledge of Cade and Daphne's relationship, I think there's probably a better way to weave the details of their relationship into the third paragraph and cut the second one entirely.
    250:
    Nice opening line. I like your voice here, but while we get some insight into his personality and living situation, we don't see a whole lot in the way of conflict. Maybe add some tension with his client? I also have to wonder how body switching works. Would Cade be able to handle a corporate retreat without the inside knowledge the client has? Do they really entrust him to handle sensitive situations like this without any expertise in their specific field, or does he inherit their knowledge and skills along with their body?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really like both stories. I want to read them both like yesterday! Therefore, my vote is admittedly a subjective one. I am a sucker for all thinks Beauty and the Beast related (or loosely related).

    Bounty and the Beast gets my vote!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Just another Kombatant here.

    BEASTS:

    This is the first time I've looked at this entry. It's not a genre I usually read, but it definitely sounds very detailed with great world development. Adding romance into a plot can always pull me in! Your first 250 are very well-written. Sets the scene nicely for what's to come. Good job.

    SWITCHER:

    I'll take a look at the new query you have on the forum in just a minute. : )

    As for your 250, the only thing I can see is that you have the word "was" in there a lot. You might try to rework some of those to replace them with stronger verbs.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Fellow Kombatant .. This is the first time I'm reading both of these and I love them!! Both queries set up the story and stakes very well. Bounty and the Beast your descriptions in your 250 are so well done. I feel like I'm in the booth with them (and yet - glad I'm not lol!) And The Switcher Chronicles, your 250 has me curious about Cade's next assignment. I would definitely read on. Sorry I don't have a lot to say with feedback, but these both pulled me in. Great job and congratulations!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Jess GulbrandsenJune 22, 2017 at 3:18 PM

    BEASTS:
    Great query. Strong concept and voice.
    Your 250 are strong. I did get pulled out by the line, "Neckties and Midnight Jester didn’t mingle." I would add a "the" before "Midnight."

    Switcher:
    Query: No suggestions it is really tight.
    First 250: I love the juxtaposition of a body switcher washing a bus in a parking lot.

    ReplyDelete