Jun 20, 2017

QK Round 3: Delicious Vicious Cycles vs Life as a Dumpster Fire

Entry Nickname: Delicious Vicious Cycles
Word Count: 74K
Genre: YA Contemporary (#ownvoices)


When a car accident paralyzes Vera’s older brother and kills her parents, she's suddenly in charge of the medical bills, the mortgage, and her own anger and helplessness. Vera's always been good at getting back at people who hurt her, but she can’t exactly get revenge on the curve in the road where her father lost control of the car.

Meager insurance payouts leave Vera desperate for money, so she starts a business: when the traditional justice system fails her clients, Vera wrecks wrongdoers’ careers and cars, relationships and reputations. She revels in taking down racists and sexual assaulters, but her crush--her brother’s best friend--thinks her style of vengeance is morally wrong.

Then, while helping a client get payback for a leaked nude picture, Vera finds new evidence about her family’s “accident.” Turns out there is someone for Vera to blame, but the perpetrator had her own very good reason to seek vengeance.

Now Vera must decide whether getting even is worth getting blood on her hands.

First 250:

This creeper keeps staring at me with this little half smile, like he thinks I want his eyes undressing me. His face, all chin and cheekbones, reeks of always getting what he wants—women, money, free drinks in first class en route to Ibiza. I want to walk away, but his wife is shopping for an evening gown, and I need the commission to pay the energy bill.

I focus on her, and hold up a green dress to hide my body. “This would look great with your eyes.”

Her eyes are blue, but the green dress sells well, and if she buys it, I’ll hit the monthly quota for a higher commission percentage. I can only work so much after school, and I have to make the hours count.

She turns to Creeper. “What do you think?”

“I’d like to see more.” His eyes flicker down to my calves and back up to my chest. For all his wife can tell, he’s checking out the dress, but his gaze burns my skin.

I hold the dress higher to cover my chest and look at my boss for rescue. He mouths work it. If I didn’t need this job so badly…I force myself to smile.

Creeper’s gold smartwatch buzzes, and he glances away from me. Those watches cost three grand. Three grand would keep the lights on and pay for a month of the mortgage. Three grand could keep Levi and me from losing the house our parents raised us in.


Entry Nickname: Life as a Dumpster Fire
Word Count: 103K
Genre: Speculative Noir (#ownvoices)


Jeb knows there are only two kinds of family: the ones who leave you or the ones who own you. Each time he tries to escape the crime family who raised him is a strike against his life. The smartwatch implanted in his arm keeps count—three strikes and he's dead. Jeb already has two. When he gets his last, unexpected strike, he knows it’s over. Therefore, a federal agent offering him a way out of Felicity Harbour looks too good to be true. All he has to do is hand over the access codes to his boss’s technology empire. Except Jeb’s best friend, Booker, has the codes.

It isn’t just a matter of stealing information. Both orphans raised in the mob, Jeb and Booker have known each other since they were kids. But their relationship is complicated. Especially when they’re both more than a little in love with one another. Jeb has never told Booker that he loves him. Or, worse, how desperately he wants to leave Felicity Harbour.

Betraying Booker is unthinkable—until Booker betrays Jeb first.  Jeb is left with a choice between two futures: a swift end in a shallow grave, or becoming as brutal as the city he’s trying to leave behind.

First 250:

ERROR. Unable to open phone application. Please restart your device.

Jeb stabbed at the screen and the notification disappeared from view. He yanked open the taxi door and got out. His first step sank ankle-deep in a pothole pretending to be a puddle. Cold, dirty water flooded into his shoe and soaked the hem of his jeans.

“Damn it.” He sighed and shook his foot. The distant waves breaking against the waterfront laughed at him.

Jeb didn’t even have to be at the docks. Except Booker had asked for his company, and life was better when Booker was around.

A second notification appeared, this time scrolled across the screen embedded in Jeb’s contact lens. There is a problem with the system. Please restart your device. A cold wind grabbed Jeb’s nose as it passed—it smelled like misery and fear, and the corpse of Jeb’s childhood. He scrubbed a hand over his face. Then he restarted his device—the edges of the implanted screen burned hot against his wrist—and retried the phone call.

THIRD STRIKE PROTOCOL INITIATED flashed across the screen as the call went through.

Panic sent Jeb's stomach tumbling. He took a step back, already trying to calm himself down. He was still well within the territory borders. The system must have glitched.


If it hadn't glitched, there was no way to know how he'd made Valin angry or how long Jeb would be punished before he was put down like a dog.

Booker picked up. “I'm getting old, man. Where the hell are you?”


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

    1. Delicious Vicious Cycles
      Strong query and 250. I still think it's slightly contradictory to state that perpetrator had good reason for seeking vengeance, but then the hook rests on whether or not Vera is willing to commit murder (put another way, if those are the stakes, it seems more logical to me if Vera has to decide whether the perpetrator actually *deserves* to die).

      Life as a Dumpster Fire
      Also a strong entry. I do think we need to know what these "strikes" are in order to fully understand the situation.

      Another difficult decision, but I do think one has a slightly stronger narrative voice, so it's going to be victory to Delicious Vicious Cycles!

    2. Uggh! These are both too, too good.

      Delicious Vicious Cycles: Great job on the revisions. I love a good anti-heroine, and your query makes me want to root for Vera. I'm torn as to whether you need her crush in the query. If he is part of her decision making/stakes and conflict, it needs to be clearer.

      Life as a Dumpster Fire: I agree that it would be helpful to know what the strikes are. I think a little more world building could help as well. Otherwise, awesome job!

      That said, I think right now one is a little more polished than the other. VICTORY TO DELICIOUS VICIOUS CYCLES

    3. From CatAttack


      Wonderful opening paragraph for the query, introducing us to Vera and her world. Since it's YA, I did want to know Vera's age. Perhaps insert here: '#-year-old Vera's always been good at...' Great set-up and stakes. The opening 250 does a good job showing us Vera's circumstances and what she's like. The 'energy bill' hits an off-note -- suggest being specific here (i.e., gas, heat, electricity).


      Wow. Intriguing opening line for the query. Makes me want to know more about Jeb and his circumstances. Suggest: '...escape the crime family who raised him (is), it's a strike against his life.' The 'Therefore' didn't seem to fit with the rest of the paragraph. Perhaps: 'The timing (therefore,) of a federal agent...(looks) seems too good to be true.' Great stakes. The first 250 really dropped me into Jeb's world. Picky point - I think you can cut 'into' here: '...water flooded (into) his shoes...' Also, while I get what you mean, the 'grabbed Jeb's nose' seemed awkward. Perhaps simplify and bring the surroundings closer to the reader? '(A)The cold wind (grabbed Jeb's nose as it passed -- it) smelled like...' The details you include do a wonderful job showing us Jeb's world.

      I really like the set-up and stakes for both these stories, but since I can only choose one...


    4. Moonstone DragonJune 21, 2017 at 1:16 AM


      I love the stakes and the premise in the query and the twist near the end! Great voice, too! Two things tripped me up, though:

      1. I never got a true sense of Vera's age and you never specify it. I'm assuming she's an older teen, but... how old? Sixteen can be a lot different from eighteen or even seventeen. The magnitude of her sudden responsibilities also made me wonder if she's perhaps even nineteen.

      2. I think I could stand a bit of a better description of what Vera actually does (HOW does she wreck the evil-doers' cars/lives/etc? What makes her capable/able to do this (i.e., what special skill or skill set does she have? Is she a hacker, maybe?)

      I like the narrative voice in your first 250. It shows us who the character is and introduces us to her situation right away. I wouldn't change a thing.


      Ooh... Super intriguing concept and clear, high stakes! I really like the tone of the query, and how you've managed to make it read noir-ish from the get-go (I could almost hear the voice over inside my head). No real feedback to offer you here: I'd read your book based on this.

      As for your first 250, I LOVE the way you've managed to meld speculative and noir in just a few little words! I also like the hint about Jeb's feelings for Booker. Once again, I'm feeling really useless here, because I can't think of anything I personally would change.

      Very hard choice yet again. Two very different and strong entries and I honestly think both work in their own way. But since I must pick only one...

      Victory to LIFE AS A DUMPSTER FIRE!

    5. Replying as Chief Doodler!

      I can't vote in this because I know one of the contestants, but these are both so great!! :)

    6. I love these both - snappy voices, unique concepts, excellent writing, super-clear queries. As with another match, I'm giving the edge to the one that gets the conflict across immediately in the 250. Victory to DELICIOUS!

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    8. I love both of these so much! But one stood out more.

      Query: Very strong query, just a few notes for you. I’m still wondering why it is that Vera is in charge of all this if she’s still in HS. I guess if she’s 18? Second paragraph, “morally wrong” comes off a little flat and without any oomph. And without coming back to it, I’m wondering whether his opinion means all that much to Vera? Does the crush have a significant role in the book? In the last paragraph, I’m really not a fan of “the perpetrator had her own…”. I’m not sure that’s important to know at this point and I think the sentence stands stronger without it. I’d also love a little bit more on the stakes. After everything Vera’s done and how she feels about vengeance, what would be deterring her from seeking it on the person who killed her parents?

      250: I think this is a really strong opening. My only quibble is that I’d love a stronger opening sentence. As-is it almost feels like I’m starting in the middle of the chapter rather than the beginning. Good job!


      Query: I feel like there’s a really great story in here, but to be honest I’m a bit confused. The opening line is incredibly strong and drew me right in. The next three sentences I think you can combine and streamline. “Therefore” reads as a bit jarring, consider swapping it out for a different transition word. Some questions I have: Why does he keep trying to escape? What’s going on that’s so bad he wants to leave at the risk of losing his life? Is there a particular reason they want him to stay? Is he valuable to them in some way? I’m assuming the crime family is in charge of this technology empire? Why does the federal agent want the codes? What will they give him access to? The stakes also seem a bit vague to me as well. Why would Jeb need to become brutal? Overall, I’d just love some more details in this query to give me a better idea of what’s going on.

      250: This is an intriguing opening. Love the pothole/puddle sentence. I’m a little unsure of the technology here. It seems like he’s using the screen on his wrist and getting notification on a lens in his eye? When you say “phone application” I’m guessing you mean the application that accesses his phone? Just a few more details about the tech here could help give us a better understanding. Fifth paragraph, should be “scrolling” rather than “scrolled.” Other than that this reads really well, good job!


    10. Vanellope von SchweetzJune 22, 2017 at 6:19 AM

      Love the query! It would be great though if you can mention Vera's age. That way, it'll be clear that it's YA. I love the first 250 too! But I do hope you can fix the first line a bit. Maybe it's just me, but I always find it a bit awkward when there are two instances of a word in a sentence. In this case, "me." I feel it'll flow better with only just one "me" in it.

      This sounds like an interesting premise, but I got a bit confused. It might be better if the stakes here are clearer. What exactly does Jeb want? Like, what is his goal? Is it finding a family, or is it freedom? It would be great if we have a few more details on this, so the stakes Jeb face would matter more. For the first 250, I LOVE THIS. Your world-building is subtle, but very effective. I get enough sense of what the world is like even with just a few words. Great job!

      This is a hard one, but I'll have give VICTORY TO DELICIOUS VICIOUS CYCLES!

    11. I remember both of these! Much improved queries, both of you! However, in DUMPSTER FIRE, we still don't know what the app OR the three strikes are.

      I love both entries, and I'd vote for both if I could. Since I can't, and Vicious Cycles is giving me some serious Veronica Mars vibes (for which I have s soft spot), VICTORY TO DELICIOUS VICIOUS CYCLES!

    12. DELICIOUS VICIOUS CYCLES: I remember this from the first round and I didn't think it was possible to make the query or 250 stronger than they were! Nicely done. Some of the other judges have pointed out a few points for possible editing consideration, so no need to repeat them here. Your voice and pacing as well as the "pull" into the story are great.



      I have not had the pleasure of reading your 250 or query yet!

      Query: I'm afraid I'm in the camp with a few other judges--I am just NOT seeing your conflict/stakes. WHY is Jeb trying to escape from the mob? I mean, here's a guy who has been raised by them, right? What is the tipping point that made Jeb hold up his hands and say, "I'm outta here." For argument's sake, the rationale of "well, it's the mob and mobs are bad" doesn't hold up because, again, he's been raised by them. Several of the judges had great feedback points, but this one stuck out to me the most.

      First 250: Good description! Love your opening line and being able to feel Jeb's frustration. And adding to his already craptastic situation, he's up to his ankles in a gross puddle. Nicely done! What surprised me though is that in the query, we're told it's a 3-Strikes society. And all of a sudden, right in the 250 we're told he's hit strike 3. This is the downside to the first 250 because we don't see the rest of the chapter to know where this is going. And while I had the "gasp factor" where I was like, "Uh-oh...Houston we have a problem!" I have to ask if it's too soon. Is that better for an end of the chapter cliff hanger? Maybe, maybe not. Again, this is the downside to only 250 words. But, I will encourage you to think about that and if you're giving us all the good stuff too soon.

      While I love the premise of both stories, I had to choose the one that had a clearer query. VICTORY TO DELICIOUS VICIOUS CYCLES.

    13. Critique: Delicious Vicious Cycles
      It pleases me to no end to see this author’s progress. As the weaker query in the first round, I am so happy about this progress. The “Then, while…” in the top of the 3rd paragraph is a bit jarring. I know I told the author they had TOO MUCH plot last time, but here I want to know a bit more about what the love interest’s involvement is. Other than that, good to go, and high marks for improvement. However, it’s not perfect yet.
      First 250 words:
      I didn’t notice much of a change, if there were any. Again, I like that I know Vera, but I am not wild about how thin this is on plot. I’d rather see her getting paid from a client or something like that.

      Critique: Life as a Dumpster Fire
      I liked this in round 1, and it’s improved a lot. That being said, you’ve still got room to improve:
      I said it before, and I’ll say it again, I really wish I understood this strike system. Clearly 3 strikes doesn’t immediately kill you, so, I’m just a bit confused by this. Maybe just indicate that he’s run out of 2nd chances and cut the strike thing altogether? I like that the strike brings in the tech, but if you can’t explain it easily, don’t bring it up.
      I think you mean “raised by the mob?” not in?
      Clearly Jeb is going to choose the latter (he’s not going to die) so I think you need to explain a bit what it means to “become as brutal…”
      First 250 words:
      Still good, though I think you might benefit a bit from cutting the setting the scene so much. Ask yourself how much detail is necessary to set the scene and what is essentially gilding the lily here.
      Verdict: For once, this is hard, because both of the queries need a bit of work still. For me though, Life as a Dumpster Fire, is the novel I’d keep reading, so that is the winner for me.
      WINNER GOES TO: Life as a Dumpster Fire

    14. Delicious Vicious Cycles--

      I love this so much! Everything about it. Your query is very strong. In the 250, I'd change the second 'this' in the first line to 'a'. The repetition of 'this' threw me. Also, a few paragraphs down when she mentions looking at her boss, that comes out of left field because from what you set up, it seems like only her, the Creeper, and the woman are around. So I initially thought that her boss was the woman she was shopping for--like the MC was this woman's personal assistant or something. But overall, this entry really shines! Great job!

      Life as a Dumpster Fire--
      Query: You've done some good revisions on this since the last time I read it. I especially like the final paragraph. But I still think the end of the first paragraph could use some work. It's still not immediately clear why Booker having the codes is a bad thing. At that point, all we know is that Jeb and Booker are friends. Wouldn't Booker want to help Jeb and be willing to just give him the codes? Then maybe they can cut a deal where they both escape together.

      So, to avoid the misunderstanding that this might be an option, maybe say something like, "all he has to do is steal the access codes from the poor sap tasked with guarding them and hand them over to the feds. But that poor sap turns out to be Jeb's best friend, Booker." Something along those lines would show that whoever Jeb has to get the codes from will catch heat for giving them up. Then when we learn that person is his best friend, the dilemma is obvious.

      Your 250 is still good and I enjoyed it.

      Tough choice, but I'm awarding Victory to Delicious Vicious Cycles!

    15. I can feel the conflict more in the query for Life as a Dumpster Fire but I like the writing in Delicious Vicious Cycles a bit better. Dumpster's writing feels a bit uneven or jerky to me. This is a hard one. I went back and reread them and I think I'd rather read more of...


    16. Congratulations to these two writers for making round 3!

      I love the way you've laid the story out here. However, you present two sources of conflict that aren't fully developed: the crush, and the one responsible for her family's accident. For my part, if she's in the revenge business there's no question that she's going after the person who killed her parents and paralyzed her brother, so I almost want a different dilemma for her.

      Your entry nickname might be my favorite yet. I love the opening line. My problem with the central conflict as presented here is that you have two people in love who (1) haven't told one another, and (2) plan to betray one another. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I almost feel like the love connection should be the surprise twist ending to the query synopsis. That being said, the last line gives us a hint at a truly powerful dilemma, and I'd like to see the query developed more around that.

      Minor note: Felicity Harbour sounds like a person, which is a little confusing.
      Minor note: I would recommend fitting your work to an actual genre. Speculative noir is not a thing. Noir sci-fi might be more appropriate given the watch.

      Both Kombatants have used the #ownvoices tag, which to my understanding means a member of a marginalized group is writing characters from that group. In the DELICIOUS case, I don't know what group this is. In the DUMPSTER case, I sure hope it's not the mob.


  2. Delicious Vicious Cycles


    Wow what a first sentence. When we're faced with things like mounting bills, others forget there are emotions there, too, especially after losing someone. Powerful. 'blood on her hands' in the last sentence throw me, though, because it implies physical violence but I didn't get the impression that was an option for Vera.

    1st 250

    Some people don't like to feel uncomfortable this soon in a story, but I'm in. Yank me out of my comfort zone and I'll keep reading. Great voice, too. I feel her contempt. Dig it.

    Life as a Dumpster Fire


    Telling us Jeb has a smart watch in his arm is a great way to setup the setting. That and the crime family thing give me a quasi-cyberpunk vibe, and I love me some cyberpunk. The word 'therefore' feels awkward to me. I suggest looking for a smoother transition between the unexpected 3rd strike and introing the federal agent.

    1st 250

    Much clearer than the last time I read this, but not much different. You've made a couple of tweaks that tell me the app is for the phone, and added more emotion from Jeb. I feel his frustration and mounting panic, along with his need for his friend. Nicely done.

    Good luck to you both!

  3. Fellow Kombatant ....

    Vera With A Vengeance

    I loved this story idea the first time I read it, and I still do. In the last paragraph of the query, I don't think you need to start with the word "Then." I think it flows better if you start with "While." Just my 2 cents. I love your 250. The creeper gives me the creeps big time. Poor Vera!

    Life As A Fire Dumpster

    I have to admit, I have no idea what "Speculative Noir" is, so I've stayed away from this one, but now that I've read your query, I'm a fan! The query is clear and sounds exciting. Your 250 is well-written and gets right into heart racing action.

    I don't have much in the way of advice. These are both great. Nice job to both of you - good luck!!

  4. VICIOUS - Query is pithy, but not too long, so I think you've got room to add some of the details others are asking for. 250 is a situation every girl and women can relate to, which is crucial for a morally questionable lead. Good work!

    DUMPSTER FIRE - Excellent work on revising the 250! Jeb's reaction feels much more in line with what the query tells us.

    I'm looking forward to one day seeing both of these on shelves! Good luck!

  5. Delicious Vicious: The query could benefit from a little more clarity as to Vera's age and how she actually punishes wrongdoers.

    Life as a Dumpster: The opening line of the query automatically pulls me in and makes me want to read more.

    Vote: Life As A Dumpster Fire

  6. Sorry...it's just me, another Kontestant.

    VERA: I've already given you feedback in a previous round, and I still think your premise is just as unique and interesting as I did then. The only thing that still trips me up is why she's so into getting revenge on people. It almost makes her sound like a villain, but maybe that's what you're going for??? Is it just anger because of her parents' death and her life situation? If not, just completely disregard my comments! This might just be one of those, "you have to read the book to know," things! Your first 250 is still good. I see you changed the price of the watch. Good luck!


    Interesting premise. When I hear "noir," I think "film noir," which I'm familiar with since I'm an old movie fanatic. I'm not sure if this type of book fits into that mold, but if so, I'm sure it'll be good! Your first 250 has great voice. Is this book YA? How old are the main characters? For some reason, I imagined this as YA as I read the query - maybe it's because the words "family" and "orphans" were in there, and that must make me think of younger protagonists. Sounds like a good book!

    Good luck to both of you!