Jun 19, 2018

QK Round 3: Carrion My Wayward Son VS My Babysitter is a Skeleton

Title: Song of the Vulture
Entry Nickname: Carrion My Wayward Son
Word Count: 96K
Genre: YA Fantasy


Eighteen-year-old Alora Delattre should have been burned at the stake. Her power to possess others’ bodies is an ability condemned by scripture as the deepest form of corruption. Her father, the head of the church that would execute her, should have been the one to set her aflame. Instead, he hid her.

Then her mother is murdered by a heretic rebellion, and suddenly death by fire seems like a small price to pay for revenge. She takes over the body of one of the rebels, determined to hunt the killer down and make him bleed. But what she finds in their camp changes everything. For the first time, she sees her benevolent father through the eyes of the people whose blood he has spilled and whose families he has torn apart in the name of righteousness. And then there’s Chet, the quiet, passionate, maddening leader of the rebellion who she swears can see right through her even though he’s blind. She’s risking everything letting him get close—especially while she’s wearing another girl’s skin.

But Scythe, her father’s young, magical tracker, is on her trail and closing in fast. Alora must choose: get the revenge she craves by hauling Chet and his crew to the execution stage, or lead the crusade against the most terrible dictator her world has ever known—her own father.

SONG OF THE VULTURE is a YA fantasy complete at 96,000 words. It is a multi-POV novel with chapters from Alora’s, Chet’s, and Scythe’s points of view. The possession aspect hearkens back to Stephenie Meyer’s The Host, while the father-daughter relationship and the romance will appeal to readers of Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse.

First 250:

You will burn, little vulture. Your secret will be discovered, and your body will crumble to ash.

Alora knew the pyre couldn’t speak, knew the words were in her own mind, and yet the threat still raised the hairs on her arms.

The pyre’s great pole shone white as a bone over the housetops behind her. Every time she and Kirsi snuck out of the temple like this, that pole watched her dart from shadow to shadow, followed her around every corner, waited for her to slip up so she could finally meet fiery death at its feet.

Alora glared over her shoulder, aimed an obscene gesture in its direction, and continued on her way.

Hooves clattered on the cobblestones behind them, and Kirsi shoved her into the nearest alley, cursing. They ducked out of sight an instant before the guards rode past. Alora’s heart thundered in her ears.

Kirsi’s dark eyes flashed as she tugged her hood to shroud her pointed nose and deep olive skin. “How in ash do you manage to talk me into this every stupid time?” she hissed once the hoofbeats faded.

“Come on,” Alora replied, breathless. “Dodging them is half the fun.” She pulled Kirsi back down the road. Faster now. The sooner they got to the Frosted Vulture, the better.

Keeping to the darkest parts of the city, they reached the slouching remains of an abandoned shoemaker’s shop a few hours after midnight.


Title: King of Sand, Queen of Bones
Entry Nickname: My Babysitter is a Skeleton
Word Count: 71K
Genre: YA Fantasy


Fifteen-year-old Patella is tired of being coddled by her necromantic cult. No one lets her help with the goat-rearing, the morning worship, or even the sacrificial blood clean-up. While everyone else has a job, she’s expected to memorize their boring history book. Desperate to prove herself useful, she ditches their desert cave for the nearby castle town, hoping to find a job and a little freedom. At least, that’s the plan until a case of mistaken identity involving Ash, the city’s reluctant young king, accidentally outs her as a necromancer. Lucky for her, Ash is running away, too, just for a little while. They flee into the desert together, leaving the cultists and guards hunting them far behind.

Unfortunately, neither of them have half a clue how to survive on their own. Their first monster attack is almost their last until a trio of adventurers pull their butts out of the quicksand. Under the adventurers’ wings, Patella learns to use both life magic and necromancy while Ash studies swordplay. Patella’s a natural, healing Ash’s training wounds as easily as she summons lizard skeletons. Finally, she’s useful to someone, someone with a cute smile who trusts her despite knowing what she is.

But Patella doesn’t know what she really is. The cult was waiting for her 16th birthday to tell her she’s the long-awaited hero of their god, and the God of Death’s not at all pleased about her last-minute change of profession. He and the cult won’t rest until she’s dragged back to complete the job she was born for: the destruction of the life mages’ last known refuge — Ash’s kingdom. Just when she was getting the crazy idea that she could be its queen.

KING OF SAND, QUEEN OF BONES is a young adult fantasy novel complete at 71,000 words and would appeal to fans of REIGN OF THE FALLEN and CITY OF BRASS.

First 250:

A sea of black hoods surrounded Patella, all eyes on the young man, the old man, and the soon-to-be-dead man in front of the enormous dragon skeleton. Talus and Father Parietal stood before the sacrificial altar, while old Calcaneus lied on it, a gleeful smile on his face. It was no secret that he was ready to go to Nymok and no surprise that he had volunteered to be his grandson’s initiation sacrifice. All the adults agreed it was the most desirable death and the greatest sixteenth rites gift anyone could ask for.

In the privacy of her own hood, Patella fumed. Her grandparents had all passed on already, her parents were far too young to be her ritual sacrifice, and Tibby didn’t count because she was already dead. She’d probably end up with a boring old goat. How was that fair? Talus was only a week older than her, but he always got the best of everything. At least no one could see her scowling under her hood and ask her what was wrong.

“Brothers and sisters!” Father Parietal raised his hands for silence, though the echo of his voice around the great dragon’s cavern was loud enough to wake the dead without any magical aid. “Centuries ago, after our founder’s destruction, our ancestors wandered the lands, aimless, directionless, brotherless. Lost and alone, they struggled—”

How could everyone else bear to keep hearing this same story over and over, Patella wondered. She’d memorized it by age eight and stopped being able to stand it by nine.


  1. Judges, please respond here with your votes.

    1. Oooh, another extremely tough one!

      *eye twitch*

      I've got nothing constructive to add, as both queries and 250s look solid to me. And both sound like exactly the sorts of stories I'd love to read, which doesn't make this choice any easier.

      *re-reads the entries*
      *eye twitching intensifies*

      Victory to CARRION MY WAYWARD SON!

    2. No one of consequenceJune 19, 2018 at 4:24 PM

      CARRION...that first page...it's really good. Great tension, love the prose. Watch out for changing verb tenses in your query.

      At this stage in the contest, all the entries are good. I'm going here with the one that I think is special.


    3. Ugh. I've changed my mind three times. Both of these are excellent and I'm sure they will eventually land on shelves. Love the first page of CARRION. Such beautiful prose. That said, something about BABYSITTER really got to me. It was such a surprising bratty teen voice in a fantasy. VICTORY TO BABYSITTER

    4. Love and SqualorJune 20, 2018 at 9:00 AM

      These are both excellent entries, and I have very little critique of either one. A tough match, for sure. In the end, I practically had to flip a coin, but decided on my victor because the concept grabs me just a tiny bit more. For that reason...


      Love the entry nickname. Great query and I have nothing to offer there. The opening is quite promising too. The description of Kirsi's physical appearance is a bit over the top; if we're truly in Alora's POV, she's not noticing these details for a close friend, so it breaks POV. Overall, though, very strong entry.

      Overall, the query is good, and I love the personality in the opening paragraph. After Ash's introduction, however, it slows down a bit for me, possibly because now it's trying to tell a second MC's story. Focusing on Patella may help. In the second paragraph, I'm worried about Deus Ex Machina with the adventurers swooping in as nameless saviors. I almost like it better without that detail: Patella and Ash flee to the desert, where they make some new friends and begin exploring their powers.

      Both entrants should be proud to get this far, but there can only be one victor. Victory to CARRION MY WAYWARD SON!

      Ok, I'm ecstatic this made it to round 3, but you have that song stuck in my head again.

      That said, the query and 250 look even better to me now than they did in round 1. Great job.


      My notes on the query are one word: NICE

      On the 250, another word: FANTASTIC

      How tf am I supposed to choose here? I think the voice of the writing engages me a bit more in one.



      This might be the only entry I’d read previously, so great to see you've made it this far. I liked it before, but you really smoothed out the query and punched up the first 250. It’s even better than it was.


      I love the little details in the query, and like, I already feel kind of invested in Patella’s and Ash’s relationship.

      Both of these have a great central conflict. I’ve spent a lot of time on this one trying to choose. I’m kind of sucker for potentially doomed romances and both of these have them.


      (Don’t hate me Carrion!)

    8. Discount Wonder WomanJune 21, 2018 at 9:41 AM

      You both aren't making this easy. Both queries are great, laying out conflict and stakes in clear ways that make me invested in the story. Both concepts are also great, so here I sit, twiddling my thumbs, typing as I try to make up my mind.

      I liked the voice in one of them better (and this is just personal opinion) and I love a great tragic story, so VICTORY TO CARRION MY WAYWARD SON!

    9. CARRION MY WAYWARD SON: I’m happy to see that you made it to round 3! What I really appreciate is the tension you managed to weave into this query and you lay out the stakes so vividly. I find myself rooting for your character and appreciating her tenacity, though we don’t entirely know why she’s headed where she’s headed in the first 250 words. Maybe a few too many details of her friend since she’d definitely be comfortable with her by now and overlook a lot of these. Be careful of repeating words (knew). Also, I think you could remove “continued on her way” and use the extra words to help us visualize the setting a tad better. Maybe more about the city, the temple, or the Frosted Vulture. Great job overall!

      MY BABYSITTER IS A SKELETON: YEAY, I’m glad to see that you also made it to round 3! I still have a few concerns with your query, mostly surrounding the sentences: “…someone with a cute smile who trusts her despite knowing what she is. But Patella doesn’t know what she really is.” I think the use of “know” is what’s throwing me off here. I’d encourage you to change the second sentence above to mix with the one following it about what she is. This will also tighten up this query just a bit. I still ADORE your stakes sentence. I can feel her driving force, what she wants, wrapped up in this. Honestly, my favorite part of your entire entry is the first 250’s first sentence. One of the best fantasy first line hooks I’ve read in a while. It’s vivid and grabs your attention, as well as has makes you want to read on to know who the three men are.

      Why, oh, why did the hosts pair these up!?!?! How am I supposed to choose between two of my favorite YA fantasy entries? Okay, staying true to my judging style, I have to pick based on the query and words in preparation of submitting to an agent or editor. Who am I kidding, they are both ready….

      With that in mind, I made the difficult decision that VICTORY goes to MY BABYSITTER IS A SKELETON!

      ~Red Ink Slinger

    10. Okay... This is another hard one. The stakes are high in both, I love the concept in both *cries* Why do I have to pick one????? :(

      But, rules are rules :( So, I'll just pick one based on the voice I connect with more (which is definitely not an indication of quality, just my preference as a reader): VICTORY to CARRION MY WAYWARD SON

    11. Mrs. Will HerondaleJune 21, 2018 at 11:59 AM

      This is another really even match-up! Ultimately, I'm going to choose the entry whose premise and stakes spoke to me a little more, and whose query was a little tighter...

      Victory to CARRION MY WAYWARD SON!

  2. The Red CardiganJune 19, 2018 at 7:31 PM

    Great job both of you for getting this far! Carrion: your query is fantastic. So clear and easy to read. Your page was great, and I loved the action packed beginning. Babysitter: What a great premise! I love the idea of a bratty teenager in an epic fantasy. Great job capturing that voice. Both are great entries, and even though fantasy is not my thing, I'd read either of them. But since I have to pick one, I have to give it to the the annoyed teenager in a necromancer cult, for a unique premise.


  3. Carrion My Wayward Son
    Okay, I’m going to be super-picky because it was truly the only thing that bothered me in an already excellent query. In your second paragraph, instead of starting with “Then” which automatically makes me think of this as a step-by-step explanation, consider maybe rewording to “When Alora’s mother is murdered by a heretic rebellion, suddenly death…” I love your 250 and can’t think of a single thing I’d change. Well done!

    My Babysitter is a Skeleton
    I’m a little confused - is “their god” the God of Death, or a different god altogether? I think clarification on that would help, but otherwise you have an incredibly strong query. Again, the “surrounded” in your first 250 threw me off a bit into thinking everyone’s attention was on Patella, but that may just be me. I have no other suggestions as the rest flowed and had great voice.

  4. Fellow Kombatant with better-late-than-never comments. These were two amazing entries that are surprisingly similar in genre. I felt for the judges on this one.

    Carrion My Wayward Son
    I think all the edits you made to this really pulled it together. Nothing major, but enough to clarify things and make the piece flow more smoothly. Alora still makes me laugh, flipping off the pyre on her way out. Best of luck in round 4!

    My Babysitter a Skeleton
    I actually quoted parts of this entry when I was giving examples to my spouse of just how strong the competition is in this contest. The casual dark humor might not be everyone's taste, but it's very well done. My only suggestion is for the query/ It felt like the phrase, "just for a little while" undermines the danger they're putting themselves in. Maybe adjust it to clarify when he plans to come back. After he's taught everybody a lesson? Just until he gets bored? Some sort of hint like that.

    Good luck to both of you in all your writing endeavors!