Jun 1, 2018

QK Round 1: Mississippi Amnesia VS Lady CEOs Are Sexy, Too

Title: The Madhouse Gardener
Entry Nickname: Mississippi Amnesia
Word Count: 80,000
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction


When Ligon Smith Forbes arrives at the Mississippi Insane Hospital in the summer of 1938, she has some work to do. Not just the job of publicity director for which she was hired, but the work of piecing her shattered life back together. Dumped by her lover Earlene, grieving the death of her sister, and humiliated by her latest fall from the teetotaling wagon, she does what she’s always done when her personal life is in shambles: ignores it and throws herself into her work.

She discovers an elderly man with amnesia known only as Mr. X, who has been living at the hospital for years, tending flowers in the hospital greenhouse. An unlikely friendship grows between the two, as Mr. X encourages her to reveal more and more of her true self. Ligon seizes upon the idea of helping the man, and she launches a national publicity campaign to help Mr. X recover his identity.

If the campaign succeeds, Ligon might finally win the professional acclaim that’s always been just out of her reach. But as the campaign thrusts them into the spotlight, both Ligon and Mr. X find that there are unintended consequences to being in the public eye.

First 250:

On a hazy summer day in 1938, Mrs. Ligon Smith Forbes stepped off the train from Jackson onto the Whitfield station platform, squared her shoulders, and raised her eyes to survey her new home: the Mississippi Insane Hospital. This wasn’t her first visit, of course, but it felt different knowing this time, she would be staying. From the train station at the bottom of the hill, she could take in the full sweeping grandeur of the sprawling campus of elegant buildings, brick walkways, and green lawns. But all she could focus on at this moment was the glare of the blazing sun as it threatened to bore through her red-rimmed eyes straight into her tender, throbbing brain. She reached up to adjust her wide-brimmed straw hat to better shield herself, shifted her heavy traveling bag from one hand to the other, and began the long climb up the road towards the main gates, and the tree-lined driveway beyond that led to the main administration building.

The hospital looked more like a grand estate or a college campus than a lunatic asylum. The driveway wound between lush green lawns dotted with flower beds, gently sloping upward towards the Mount Vernon style administration headquarters, complete with imposing columns and a white cupola. The serenity of the grounds stood in sharp contrast to the riot of pain and nausea and self-loathing bubbling through Ligon. Her mouth tasted like an ashtray and she felt like she could smell whiskey coming out of her pores.


Title: Swaying Magnolia
Entry Nickname: Lady CEOs Are Sexy, Too
Word Count: 82,000
Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance (#OwnVoices)


Twenty-two year old Maggie Reyne has never felt more like a fish out of water than when she moves away from her small town to start an internship at a San Francisco tech company. Maggie desperately needs to make it to full time to help out her Baptist preacher father with his financial struggles.

On her first day of work, Maggie nearly gets herself fired. She comes face to face with the CEO of the company, Victoria Citron, a twenty-nine year old prodigy and tech industry celebrity, infamous for demanding perfection. Not realizing who she’s talking to, Maggie lets slip a piece of gossip she heard about her. Maggie believes her gaffe is going to be the end of her career, but instead it launches the most unexpected relationship of her life. Victoria is impressed by Maggie’s particular brand of quiet audacity—which goes from accidental to intentional—and falls for her.

Maggie, who has lived her sheltered life with the assumption that she’s straight, is shocked to realize that she is deeply attracted to Victoria. In order to keep up appearances with her Baptist family, Maggie begins to dig herself into deeper and deeper lies, and Victoria’s patience with Maggie’s deceptions only stretches so far. Maggie has to find the courage to dive headfirst into her relationship, even if it means bringing loss and ruin to the world she's always known. And if she doesn’t soon, Victoria might make that decision for her.

First 250:

From where I stood on the elevated train platform, I could see the Bay Bridge, stretching out like an arrow, pointing to towering skyscrapers wrapped in fog. So this was San Francisco in August. Bright sun teased the East Bay and San Francisco’s surrounding areas, but a spell of clouds had been cast over the city. Two hours away in the central valley, summer meant warm evenings lazing by the pool, iced lemonade, bloodshot sunsets. I’d never known anything else. I couldn’t call that home anymore, though. This gloomy place had snatched the title, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Shaking the thought away, I lugged my bags down a set of stairs to the street. I hailed a taxi—I couldn’t bring myself to download and use the Uber app as George had suggested—and we drove off to my new house. Well, George’s house.

The freeway afforded another unobstructed view of the city, its towers looming like jagged teeth. My hand darted to the simple gold cross around my neck. A gift from my parents on my sixteenth birthday, it was the only nice piece of jewelry I owned. I rubbed the smooth metal of the cross until it became warm, and I suddenly became aware of my posture. Had I been sitting bolt upright this whole time? Relax, Maggie. Yes, I longed for the lush fields of infinite almond trees back in Redford, but this was the right thing to do. The right thing to do—my courage-rallying mantra these last few weeks.


  1. Judges, please respond with your feedback and vote here! Good luck!

    1. Wow! Great job. I would absolutely read either/both of these books.

      The query is nice and tight. My one critique is to stay away from generalizations whenever possible. I.e. I would be more specific than "reveal more of herself" and "unintended consequences." What will happen? What are the stakes? Why is it so important? Otherwise, I think the query is in great shape.

      In terms of the 250, I think you could afford to go deeper in terms of setting the scene. I.e. make us feel like we're there. What did that balmy air feel and taste like? How did the heat affect her body? There's a little too much telling vs. showing. It also sometimes helps to look for words like "looked" "felt" and make stronger metaphors, verbs etc. Great start, though!


      I love the set up. We immediately feel the conflict in the query, and as you know, we definitely need more own voices F/F romances in the world :)

      In terms of the query, I would stay away from cliches like "fish out of water." It's a great opportunity to add more voice. I.e. if my character were southern, I'd say "a catfish out of a creek," to get the point across in the way your main character talks. The query is an opportunity to give us a little taste of who your character is and what they sound like. I also would love more specifics. I.e. what was the gossip? "falls for" is a little generic, etc. When at all possible, be as specific as you can to put us into the story. Other than that, you did a great job setting up the conflict and stakes. Congrats!

      For the 250, I love the imagery of San Fran, the nervousness, the physicality of your character. I'd just watch for passive words and streamline a bit. I.e. you don't need "I could see." I'm also not sure that you need to talk about Uber in your first 250 either. They get enough publicity and we want to get to all that good tension sooner.

      This was a VERY tough match up. However, I'm going to have to say VICTORY TO MAGNOLIA

    2. Comments for The Madhouse Gardener:

      This query is tight and succinct, and checks most of the necessary boxes. A few things to consider, though:

      1. Maybe reconsider using the name "Mississippi Insane Hospital" - this has a distracting ring to it. I'm assuming the facility you're modeling after is the East Mississippi State Hospital, which was for a time called both the East Mississippi Insane Hospital and the East Mississippi Insane Asylum. To me, either of the alternate names (State Hospital or Insane Asylum) sound better. Possibly reconsider Earlene as a name as well. Not sure that carries the tone you're going for. These are both very minor points, obviously.

      2. I know you're limited in the query word count, but I don't feel like I have a good feel for what the stakes are based on what is given here. Why is it important that Mr. X recovers his identity? Why is it important that Ligon helps him? And what are the "consequences" if they fail? You can't spell out the entire plot here, but without knowing something about what's driving these characters, I can't really tell what sort of book I'm getting.

      3. Regarding the 250, I really appreciated the visual details provided. I can definitely see both Ligon and the hospital grounds. The last sentence of each of the two paragraphs, though, struck me slightly wrong. The first feels like it might benefit from being broken up, and in the second, "she felt like she could smell whiskey coming out of her pores" seems off. She could actually smell the whiskey, or she could imagine that she can smell the whiskey, maybe?

      Comments for Swaying Magnolia:

      I feel like this query does a solid job of laying out the basic elements of the plot, establishing the characters, and setting up the stakes. Points to consider:

      1. Using "fish out of water" in the first sentence might not be the best. You've got a very short time to impress your reader, and you need to choose every word carefully rather than using easy cliches.

      2. Regarding the plot - a CEO dating an intern would be an enormous scandal in any company. Even if Victoria is in a powerful enough position that she doesn't need to worry about being censured or fired by her board over this, the power differential between the two of them is extremely problematic. You may address these issues in the book, but there's no hint of that here.

      3. Would be interesting to know how a sheltered, small-town daughter of a Baptist preacher wound up working in tech in the Bay Area. Again, I know you're really limited in the amount that can be put into a query, but some hint of how this happened might be helpful for establishing character and plausibility.

      4. Regarding the 250 - as above, great visuals, but who is George? And what is her issue with Uber? Seems odd to throw those details out right away with no explanation.

      5. I really like the detail about the cross. That's a solid piece of characterization.

      Overall, this is a very tough one. I feel like I have a better sense of Magnolia's book, but I like the flow of Gardener's prose a bit more. At the end of the day, maybe Gardener's issues are easier to fix?

      Victory to The Madhouse Gardener.

    3. Earthbound MisfitJune 1, 2018 at 11:16 PM

      Mississippi Amnesia:

      Query: This is already sounding pretty intriguing! The premise is interesting, the pitch has good structure and flow, and the first paragraph in particular draws me in. I think you could extend the specificity in the first paragraph into the second and third by adding a couple more tantalizing details (without revealing too much, of course!).

      1st 250: This wasn’t her first visit, of course, but it felt different knowing this time, she would be staying" is a great line! It really teases the reader about the narrator's familiarity with the Insane Hospital—e.g. was she a patient?—and piques curiosity. I also thought the last 2 sentences were fantastic. My reservation is with how much description happens in between—I think it would be better sprinkled in a little at a time rather than all at once.

      Lady CEOs are Sexy, Too:

      Query: The second two paragraphs really brought me into the story, and have a lot of forward momentum that kept me reading! I do think you could start in a more dynamic way, though, in the very beginning of the pitch. For example, the information in the very first line (that she's a fish out of water, etc.) could be integrated into the second paragraph, leaving you free to start with the immediate tension created by her father's situation.

      1st 250: I think the writing is very polished and consistent in this first 250, with a strong narrative voice. There were nice descriptive details of the contrasting settings, and you establish the narrator's sense of tension quickly. However, I found myself wondering who George is…

      Difficult decision overall here! I think the query was really strong for both, but ultimately I felt more engaged by Swaying Magnolia's writing sample.

      Victory to Lady CEOs are Sexy, Too!

    4. Mississippi Amnesia

      Ligon Smith Forbes! Great southern name, I love it.

      I really like the character arc of ignoring life problems with work, but I’m curious about the unintended consequences. Is it possible to be more specific without giving away a twist? That last paragraph would also be stronger if you give a sense of the final hurdle to complete the arc, i.e. Ligon must do X to do X.

      In the middle paragraph, “reveal more and more of her true self,” could also be more specific. Is Mr. X helping her face/cope with her grief, or stand up to Earlene, or get back on the wagon (or is it something else entirely)? It feels like it’s supposed tie back into her problems in the first paragraph…


      That last line is great. Could you start with that??

      Your description sets the scene nicely, but it doesn’t draw me in as fast. The last line is what actually feels like Ligon. I might start with how cruddy she feels getting off the train (mouth, pores, throbbing head, etc.) and then contrast with the tidy grandeur of her surroundings for more impact.

      Lady CEOs Are Sexy, Too

      I don’t think we need so many details about how Maggie and Victoria meet in the second paragraph, but you could elaborate more in the third paragraph on the stakes and consequences. (Is this a dual POV? The last line of the second paragraph made me wonder since that’s more from V’s perspective.)

      “And if she doesn’t soon, Victoria might make that decision for her…” sounds a little ominous, like Victoria turns on Maggie in some way. Could you be more specific––will Victoria walk away, reveal the truth to Maggie’s family?

      Lovely voice and descriptions! I think the hesitation over “my house/our house” better establishes Maggie’s complicated relationship with George than the Uber app comment, which makes her come off more contrary (Which she might be! But as you’re building a “fish-out-of-water” scene, I the think the house thing is more effective.).

      Well done, both of you! This is tough, but...


    5. Mississippi Amnesia


      The second you said, “Insane Hospital” you had me hooked. Admittedly the way it’s phrased it makes me think the hospital is insane, not the patients. It’s just an awkward name I think. I also think that the first paragraph is kind of long and just backstory. Trim that. Don’t tell me what’s happened to her, tell me what is happening to her. You could basically put it into one sentence to open up the query for more information about her and Mr. X. The reason I don’t think so much backstory is needed is because Earlene and the sister aren’t mentioned in the query again. So we don’t need as much information and I’m honestly not even sure we need Earlene’s name.

      I want to know more about Ligon and Mr. X. I want to know more about the stakes. They are very vague. What unintended consequences? What’s happening after he’s thrust into the campaign? That’s the meat of your query, that’s the stakes. That’s what I want to know about.

      I would probably request this, because I’m intrigued and want to know more, but I’d also be leery because the stakes aren’t clear.

      First 250:

      I think there’s too much description and not enough of anything happening. I like that I’m planted in 1938 right away, but is there a better way to do it? The last line of the first 250 is my favorite. IT’S AMAZING. It’s the kind of line you print out and frame above your computer because you want every other sentence to be just as good. Honestly, that to me is where you should start. Let me feel her nervousness right away. Let me feel someone bumping against her as she tries to move through the crowd and take in her new home. I just feel like you started too soon and right at the end, that’s where the story begins. That’s where the voice comes out.


      Lady CEOs Are Sexy, Too

      I feel like the first two lines don’t really connect. I’m also curious how she went from a small town to an internship in San Francisco? Is she at a university? Also, generally internships don’t pay, so this is just confusing me a bit.

      The themes are strong, but I don’t understand exactly what appearances she has to keep up thousands of miles away? This really needs to come out in the query. Also, there’s more going on here than just a relationship. The CEO of a company dating an intern probably wouldn’t look good. So wouldn’t Victoria have her own reasons for keeping it hush? Are the other interns giving Maggie grief over it? There’s just not enough information for me to see what the actual plot is, and what the consequences are. I think it comes down to the query needing to be stream lined and more specific so I know what the actual stakes are and what the main plot is.

      I’m not sure if I’d request this one or not, just because, while I see bits and pieces, I’m not sure about the plot as a whole.

      First 250:

      I love the mannerism of her touching the necklace, and sitting straight up. The tension can be felt. She’s nervous for sure and there’s a reluctance to be there. It’s strong characterization and great visualization too.

      There’s a lot of information, almost to the point of info dumping. I left home, I won’t use Uber, I’m living with George, here’s a cross, here’s me being homesick. I think, overall it feels rushed. This can be deepened, bring us into the scene with her, instead of moving so quickly that we’re just getting snips of it. Let us get to know the character. Take your time and really let us sink into it.

      Both of these need some work in both the query and 250, but ultimately, I have to go with the one that gave me more information and that made me want to request.


    6. The Red CardiganJune 2, 2018 at 4:25 PM

      Mississippi Amnesia: What a fascinating premise! I love the concept, and the less commonly used time period, and the setting of an asylum sounds so compelling. I was a little confused as to the motivation— how much professional acclaim can a publicist for a hospital hope to get? And why is that acclaim so important? And why does she launch thee campaign to discover Mr. X’s identity? Just because she likes the man? First Page: the POV here is a little distant. While that can be a valid stylistic choice, especially in hist fic, I hope as the story progresses that readers continue to feel engaged. I would also limit the setting description on the first page— first page is to grab the reader, and I felt the description here lagged the story a bit. I would rather a better feel for her impression of it, then a picture-postcard description. The descriptions are very well written though, and I loved some of the metaphors. Well done.

      Lady CEOs Are Sexy, Too: An own voices FF CEO romance? Amazing. We need more of this out there! I think this query could be strengthened by more specificity— what are her father’s financial issues? What’s the gossip that Maggie lets slip? And importantly, what are the lies she’s telling Victoria? I found it hard to root for her without knowing exactly what was going on. First Page: great voice, but as with he entry above, I felt there was a bit too much description on page one. I loved the bit about her rubbing her cross— gave me a great idea of her nervousness about this move and job. Well done.

      Victory to Lady CEOs are Sexy!

    7. Such a good match up here and both entires have so many compelling elements!

      Mississippi Amnesia
      On the query, I think we get a great sense of the character and the conflict. For me, the stakes could be a little more clear. I ended up wondering, what would happen if Ligon doesn't get the professional recognition she deserves? So I'm going to preface this next piece by saying that I am NOT a historical fiction writer. But for me, the query was light on things that point to the historical context of this story. I'm not particularly informed about that period but the query seems to be telling a very modern story - the story of a working woman in an era where most women did not work, who has an out of wedlock lover, etc. If you could do something in terms of voice or small notes to the period, I would do so.

      On the first page, for me personally, things really get going in the second paragraph. For me personally, the first paragraph reads a bit on the "tell" side of "show vs. tell." I can see why some of the details are needed but I think it could be pruned. By the time we get to the end of the second paragraph, I am totally engaged and ready for this awesome story.

      Lady CEOs are Sexy
      I felt the query here pretty much nailed it. For me, the line about "particular brand of quiet audacity" strikes me as a little odd. Like I don't entirely see what you're getting at there BUT I also don't think it's a major problem if you just like that turn of phrase for some reason.

      I really liked the first 250 pages. I think it's probably working as intended - introducing us to the character, dropping a few hints about her backstory and getting us set up for Maggie's meeting with Victoria. I'd keep reading to see what is happening here!

      This is definitely a tough match up. But victory to Lady CEOs are Sexy!

    8. Mrs. Will HerondaleJune 4, 2018 at 9:54 AM

      (I'm having to post this in two comments because it's two many characters. I'll be shorter on the next match up! So see next comment for vote.)

      Mississippi Amnesia

      Query: Great fist paragraph. Gives us a clear set-up for the book and some insight into who Ligon is and what she's going through. Second paragraph: the first sentence starts a little abruptly. At least switch She to Ligon, or give us a transition, like As Ligon gets to work, she discovers... Something like that, but maybe a little better, ha. :)

      Second sentence maybe switch the order- As Mr. X encourages her to reveal..., an unlikely friendship grows between the two. I love the premise of finding out who Mr. X is, but the stakes feel a little vague in paragraph three. Be specific about what the consequence of being in the public eye could be. Does Mr. X have a sordid past that comes to light or something? And what's at risk for Ligon? I have no idea. Is the attention/fame going to affect her job? Does she find out something crazy about her own past? Does she discover a phobia of paparazzi she never knew she had??? Kidding, but you get what I mean. Tell us exactly what it is that's at stake.

      First 250: Overall, great job/well-written. It might be nice to give her a quirky/character-introducing thought instead of telling us this visit is different because she'd be staying this time. Seems like a missed opportunity to give us an insight into who she is right of the bat. Is she cynical, funny, pissed off, etc? This is all nice description, but giving me some more character/voice right up front would make me want to keep reading and make this first 250 stand out from the slush pile.

      The tender, throbbing brain is a weird visual for me. Does she have a headache? I had to stop and think about what that meant. Love the last sentence, although maybe it would streamline it a bit to change "she felt like she could smell" to "she swore she could smell."

    9. Mrs. Will HerondaleJune 4, 2018 at 9:57 AM

      Lady CEOs Are Sexy, Too

      Query: Overall, great job! I think most my feedback is along the lines of be more specific and give more details to make this query stand out. First sentence: could you twist the cliche "fish out of water" to fit your story and give immediate voice? Something about her Baptist background, or the place she's from? I'd love one more tiny detail about her father's financial struggles, as "financial struggles" doesn't give me anything extra or tell me anything about her background/family life. Make every sentence do double duty, if you can. Baptist preacher... with a gambling problem? ...spent his last dollar funding the orphans Christmas dinner? ....in the hole because of his taste for fine caviar? ...in the hole because of her mom's medical bills?

      Second paragraph: Maggie lets slip a piece of gossip she heard about her -- change to "heard about Victoria", just to be more clear. I'm also wondering how gossiping turns into quiet audacity? I'm assuming that's over time, not that Victoria thinks Maggie gossiping is quiet audacity?

      Third paragraph: I'm not gay and I see that this is #ownvoices, so feel free to disregard this comment, but my initial reaction reading this was that it's hard to believe that as an adult, Maggie's never had an inkling that she's gay. Surely by age 22, she's felt some attraction to somebody and that would give her a clue? Maybe her assumption isn't that she's straight, maybe it's that she's ignored those other feelings, or assumed they would go away or change when she met the right man because of what she's been taught?

      Lastly, maybe you could clarify the stakes a little. Loss and ruin to the world she's always known doesn't actually tell me what's at stake. Is her family going to disown her? Will she not be welcome as a Baptist? Will her friends shun her? Be more specific. Also, maybe you could be more specific about Victoria's threat, or at least hint? Also makes me wonder if Victoria is worth it if she's threatening to out Maggie, which is what it sounds like might be happening?

      First 250: I'm wondering why there's nothing she can do about moving to SF? She made the choice, right? Also wondering why she can't bring herself to use Uber? Does she hate technology? She's going to work at a tech company, right? Also wondering who George is. These questions are good because it creates questions in the reader's mind, but that needs to be balanced with enough grounding that it doesn't all feel like questions. Honestly, the third paragraph is where I feel it really gets going. You could almost cut the first two and not lose anything. Her voice really comes out there, and the necklace and telling herself to relax and thinking of Redford tells me more than all the description that comes before.

      Overall, I think these entries are matched pretty evenly, so I'm going to pick the one whose premise grabbed me a little more.

      Victory to Mississippi Amnesia


      The first paragraph of your query is great. Opens on a hook, establishes who Ligon is, and introduces some conflict/upheaval. The bones of the rest of your query are solid as well, but could benefit from a few specifics. What is Ligon's "true self?" What are some of these unintended consequences they face? Specifics, especially for your stakes, will really sell the query.

      There's some good sensory description in your 250's second paragraph that helps to both ground and draw the reader in. By contrast, it feels like there's an overabundance of description in your first paragraph. I'd much rather get a sense for Ligon's mental state than a detailed description of the building, her hat, the sun, etc. Is she nervous? Excited? You say she feels different this time, but different how? Little emotional tidbits like that on your first page will really draw a reader in and keep them flipping the page.


      Your query looks solid. My only suggestion is to be more specific in a few spots. What kind of financial struggles is Maggie's dad facing? What's the general gist of the gossip she lets slip to Victoria? For your stakes, what decision is Victoria going to make for her? Breaking up? Outing her to her dad?

      For your 250, there's a few instances of passive voice and filtering you could easily remove (ex. "I could see the Bay Bridge" vs "the Bay Bridge stretched out like an..."). That'd help keep your writing snappy and tight. Well, snappier and tighter, as this is a strong opening. Great emotion and a nice sense of what's going on inside her head. I wouldn't mind a brief word or two to clarify who George is to her, but other than that, good job! I'd definitely flip the page to read more.

      Victory to LADY CEOS ARE SEXY, TOO!

    11. Congrats on making it into Query Kombat! Just a quick note: I didn’t read the other comments before giving my crits, so you might find some duplicate feedback.

      Mississippi Amnesia


      I think the setup in the initial paragraph works. We get a sense of the place and the issues Ligon is bringing to her current situation. But if she is known for throwing herself into her work, why is a friendship with one of the people she’s in charge of caring for “unlikely”? I’d also like to see how the friendship blossoms — does she bring him his favorite dishes, earn secret smiles he doesn’t give to anyone else, etc. Plus, that would help strengthen her drive to launch a public campaign to recover his identity.

      As for the third graph, I’m a bit thrown by the “win the professional acclaim” bit. I thought she was doing this out of altruism? It’s OK to have dual motives here, but the way it’s presented makes it sound like her main goal is to be in the spotlight. Also, the “unintended consequences” could be detailed out more to establish stronger stakes.

      First 250:

      I think you do a great job of establishing the setting. I get a feel for the campus right away. That said, I was pulled out of the story at the phrase “lunatic asylum.” It seemed a little … harsh? Especially for a working professional in this field. It could just be my lack of knowledge for the terms used (I’m not a huge reader of historical, so ignore me if this is a common phrase/term for a medical campus). Also, I’d try to steer clear of filter words/phrases like, “she/he felt like."

      Lady CEOs Are Sexy, Too


      You probably don’t need to say her name twice in the intro graph. “She desperately needs…” would suffice. Also, twenty-two-year-old since it’s a compound adjective modifying Maggie. (Same thing with twenty-nine-year-old, in this instance.)

      So does Maggie feel like a fish out of water because of the move, or because she’s never been in the tech industry before? I think you can show us a bit more of her discomfort and that will help. Maybe she’s not familiar with the traffic system or the long hours and late-night activities that would never take place in the quiet farmlands (she might not live on a farm, just using as an example) of her home. Make sense?

      The remainder of the query almost reads like a sequence of events. I’d try to do everything possible to show their budding relationship — and Maggie’s consequent distress/confusion/uncertainty — that comes with accepting who she is. What is it that attracts her to Victoria? Is it the way she twirls a pen around her fingers with a determined stare as she pours over reports? Or how she subconsciously dusts invisible lint from her slacks when she’s nervous? This will also help us get a sense of who Victoria is, which is light in this query.

      I can almost believe Maggie not knowing who the famous Victoria Citron is if you really play up her small-town move in the first graph. She might not think to Google her employer, for example, if she’s so caught up in adjusting to new life (though really, if you’re joining a tech company, I would think she’d have some tech-sense, right?). Also, if she needs the job so badly, why is she gossiping about the CEO? To anyone at the company, for that matter? There might need to be a stronger inciting event. Only you can determine that, though.

      First 250:

      You use some wonderful descriptors that not only ground us in the setting, but have a great tone, allowing us to see her new surroundings through her eyes. Nice. I did pause at the Uber app bit, because if she’s joining a tech company, again, I’d imagine this would be something she’d be familiar with. Stay away from filter phrases like, “I could see” and simply state what she’s seeing.


      So this is a tough one. On the one hand, I feel like the query is stronger in Mississippi Amnesia, but the 250 is stronger for Lady CEOs ... I think it comes down to the setup for me.


    12. From Literary Junkie:

      Mississippi Amnesia: I love the premise (you had me at insane asylum) and the MC's mission to help identify Mr. X, but I want to know more about the 'unintended consequences'. What exactly is at stake? Give me more details. Regardless, my interest is piqued, and I want to learn more. There's a lot of description going on in the first 250, but you have some fantastic lines. I'd definitely keep reading!

      Lady CEOs are Sexy Too: I love the query, but perhaps you can remove the 'fish out of water' cliche and come up with something with more zing as an opening line? I'm also curious if the preacher father's financial struggles are personal or with his church. Is her family going to suffer, or the entire church and the people who depend on her father for religious guidance? I'm not a big fan of weather/fog/sun/clouds in openings, but it was quick and succinct and you did a great job showing the vast difference from her life then versus now.

      Both entries were fantastic, and my vote is completely subjective!
      Victory goes to: Lady CEOs are Sexy Too

  2. Mississippi Amnesia:

    The query intrigued me. I like the idea of a story set in an insane asylum. I bet there's a lot of interesting things that happen there and I can't wait to hear about them. The query did leave me asking a few questions. What's at stake for Ligon internally if she finds Mr. X's identify? You tell us she'll get professional acclaim, but will it help her get her shattered life back together? I want to know whether she's going to pul it together or not. I want to root for her to be happy again.

    I thought the pages did a great job of placing us in Ligon's world. The descriptions were nicely detailed and you let me know how Ligon feels at this moment. I especially liked the last line about what she tasted and smelled. It made me want to settle in and learn more about her life and this world she's now in.

    Lady CEOs are Sexy Too:

    I am drawn in by the premise of a small town girl going to the big city and finding herself. I'm sure she'll encounter lots of obstacles along the way and I'll enjoy watching her figure them out. The query started out making me think this was a story about making it in the workplace, but then it turned the corner into romance territory (which from your genre I knew it was, but I didn't see that in the query until the end of para 2. Consider finding a way to move this up, so we know it's a romance right off the bat. Also, I think you lost the storyline about the job. When you refer to the "loss and ruin to the world she's always known" do you mean financial loss? emotional loss? both? Perhaps this is where you could make it clear that if she loses the job her family will suffer financially. Or can she achieve both? financial success and love, but her family disowns her? I would clarify this so I know exactly what's at stake/what she's fighting for.

    The pages do a great job of setting the scene. I sense her trepidation and unease of going to this unknown place that is so different from the home she's always known. Who is George? I bet he's interesting and would like to know more about him and how she knows him. Also, I'm clueless about California so "Central Valley" and "Redford" mean nothing to me. I recommend you explain it for others like me who don't know where this is or what it's like there.

    Great job to both of you and good luck!

  3. First of all, excellent work with setting the scene for both of these. You are both very talented at description. Now some constructive thoughts:

    The Madhouse Gardener: I liked the first 250 words more than the query. I don't know. Something about the year, 1938 and Mr. X just don't work for me. Mr. X makes me think of Professor Xavier. But maybe that's just me. Also, your first 250 words, while good, don't really paint 1938 for me. That's a very specific year, and I don't really get a sense of what it's really like. Maybe you sprinkle more of that in there later, but I'd like to get an immediate sense of what this time is like. Otherwise, good work.

    Swaying Magnolia: Okay, so I like the query to this one more than the 250 words, but I do really like the last few lines of the 250 words (The right thing to do). I can already sense the conflict and a potential theme very on in the story. But again, that query is stellar. I want to read more stories of gay characters discovering they're gay, rather than just being oppressed or ostracized by it. A celebration, if you will.

    My one concern though is that I'm just kind of over opening chapters where the character is traveling somewhere. Again, that may just be me, but I feel they've been a bit overdone.

    Overall, I really like them both for different reasons. Great work.

  4. These are both amazing. I'd love to read either one. One comment for MISSISSIPPI AMNESIA: I agree with someone else who pointed out the name of Earlene as being a little tricky. I'd never heard the name before and when I first read the query it didn't register to me as a woman's name at all. I do like the name though, so maybe you could find a way to make it work.


    Query needs higher stakes in my view. Unintended consequences is way too vague. Does she have a painful secret? A terrible past? Also I definitely was puzzled at the idea of a PR person for an insane asylum. It reads like something from the Onion when I put it like that, but still, that’s what I am struggling with. Did PR people exist in 30s era America, much less for mental hospitals? Is this really a full time job?? Maybe you can add something here to make this less odd to the reader, give it legitimacy and an impetus (e.g., “After disastrous press for cruel living conditions, the hospital hired a publicity director…”).

    Nice, atmospheric, I would like more action faster. She is walking up to a building. I would make it more interesting. Also I would hint at - not shout - the alcoholism angle. Also: most alcoholics, in my limited but perhaps relevant experience w/some, have no idea that they smell so obviously and terribly (and sadly, of course) of alcohol. They don’t get it, it’s very sad. Half the time they have no idea even that they look and act drunk. I could go on and on. So if she has an alcohol problem, I would address it a bit differently (but that is just my opinion, of course).

  6. Lady CEOs
    Query: The query needs higher stakes. I think if it is to work Maggie needs to really fall in love otherwise what is she “giving up” if she walks away from that relationship? Also I would amp up that struggle. For many LGBTQ+ people, sharing their sexual orientation with their family may be difficult, painful and / or traumatic, for so many reasons. Is that the “conflict” you are going for? Then really make it dramatic. Is she deeply in love and has to choose? Are her parents conservative, religious, or otherwise not accepting of her orientation? I’m guessing that is part of the story here, but I can’t say for sure. Also the CEO / Intern thing concerns me. Stop and think if it were a male CEO and female intern...might not be so romantic, might read as more exploitative. No reason why that wouldn’t apply just the same to a F-F relationship, so I would address that.

    Words: As a born and raised San Franciscan, YAY! And Hi :). Anyway! Nice description but not much happens. Add some internal conflict if you can’t find any external ones. Also, George seems just slotted in – give us a reason to NOT go “Who is George and why do I care about him??”. Answer the question: “Why is he germane, here at this early point?” Or take him out.

  7. Mississippi Amnesia


    This is a great query!

    Things I would consider changing:

    I agree with one of the comments further up, and would change the name of the hospital - if it is fictional. Mississippi State Asylum, or just Mississippi Asylum.

    Maybe have a “but” somewhere before saying instead of working on her personal problems, as the query says she need to, Ligon throws herself into her new job?

    I don’t like the “seizes upon the idea of helping the man.” I can’t explain why, but I would remove it, and only say what she does to help him instead.

    250 words:

    I would remove the “of course” in the second sentence. Maybe even remove the entire sentence.

    There is a lot of setting description in your first 250 words. I would focus more on the state Ligon is in, as I think it would hook the reader more.

    Hope some of this helps!
    Good luck!

    Lady CEO’s are Sexy, too


    I don’t know if it really matters, but “a fish out of water” is a little cliché, and may make an agent assume the MS will have many as well.
    In the second paragraph, I would save the almost getting fired to after telling about

    Maggie’s run-in with Victoria. Maybe even delete it, as you later say Maggie believes it will be the end of her career. Also save the “goes from accidental to intentional” to the last paragraph.

    I don’t think you need the “lived a sheltered life”, as it is Maggier believing to be straight, which is important.

    I really like the stakes, but I think they could be stated better. What do you mean by “bringing loss and ruin to the world she’s always known”?

    250 words:

    I really like your first paragraph.

    I don’t think you need the “Shaking the thought away.” Maybe say she couldn’t bring herself to download the app, so she lugged down her baggage and hailed a taxi. Then you don’t need the em-dashes either. They tend to take the reader out of the story.

    I would also delete the “suddenly”, as the word often tend to make an action feel less sudden.

    Hope some of this helps!
    Good luck!

  8. Lady CEOs Are Sexy, Too:
    QUERY -
    Great stakes. Reminds me of the devastating 'family v. rest of the world' struggle Tara Westover details in the recent non-fiction book, Educated. Well-drawn characters who we don't often see in fiction, and I can't wait to find out how the characters interact/read more.

    250 WORDS -
    Really enjoy how you make the Bay Area sound scary and unpleasant and contrast that against Maggie's memories of her hometown. An underrepresented take and I'm excited to read more. The writing is concise yet poetic, setting the tone really well for the piece. Like some other commenters, I'd like to know who George is.

  9. The Madhouse Gardener:

    This read a little bit more like a short synopsis for me, although I don't think that's a bad thing. It gives a nice amount of background in the opening paragraph. I like that Mr. X helps to reveal more of MC's true self. Are there specifics that might add to that? I LOVE the premise of launching a campaign to find his identity--there are so many possibilities with that and I suspect it keeps the reader invested. The ending was vague and I think could be strengthened with more info regarding the unintended consequences (hopefully, without giving away too much!).

    Good luck! :)

  10. The Madhouse Gardener:

    1st 250: Loved the juxtaposition between the beautiful landscape and the MC with a hangover. The final line reeks of failure leading to triumph.