Jun 19, 2018

Qk Round 3: Hungry Ocean Gods VS Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere

Title: Tidepool
Entry Nickname: Hungry Ocean Gods
Word count: 77K
Genre: Adult Dark Fantasy

In 1913, Henry Hamilton disappears while traveling on business. His sister Sorrow defies her controlling father’s orders to stay home and travels to the last place Henry is known to have visited – Tidepool, a shabby shore town near Ocean City, Maryland.

After corpses wash up on Tidepool’s beach looking as if they’ve been torn apart by something not quite human, Sorrow is ready to run home to Baltimore. But then she meets Mrs. Ada Oliver, a widow whose expensive black dresses and elegant manners set her apart from other Tidepool residents.

A terrifying encounter with the daughter Mrs. Oliver keeps in her basement leads to Sorrow’s discovery of the town’s secret: the sacrifices Ada Oliver makes protect Tidepool from the horrifying creatures living in the ocean. And if the Lords Below don’t get their tributes, they will rise.  

Sorrow wants to stop Mrs. Oliver and get justice for her brother, but doing so will doom all the town’s residents. And the denizens of Tidepool—human and otherwise—are hell bent on making sure Sorrow never leaves. 

Gender-flipped Lovecraftian dark fantasy meets American Horror Story in TIDEPOOL, an adult novel complete at 77,000 words. It will appeal to fans of Eric Scott Fischl’s DR. POTTER’S MEDICINE SHOW and Cherie M. Priest’s MAPLECROFT.

First 250:

Sorrow Hamilton stood before her father’s enormous oak desk, feeling like a misbehaving student as he frowned up at her. The odor of stale pipe smoke—a smell she had grown to detest—hung heavy in the air of the study. 

“It is unsafe for young ladies to travel alone, Sorrow.” Winslow Hamilton folded his arms over his chest. “And unseemly.”

I’m twenty-one, for God’s sake, she dared not say. You cannot stop me

“Betsy Mueller travels alone and has encountered no trouble.” 

“Betsy Mueller is not my daughter.” 

Sorrow’s fingernails dug into her palms. Winslow had definite ideas on what young women could and could not do, and his much longer “could not” list included many of the things that interested Sorrow—such as traveling alone. 

But she’d heard nothing from her brother Henry since his stop in a town called Tidepool, and a sick, cold dread intensified inside her as each day passed with no word. Surely Winslow didn’t expect her to sit in their house like a lump of suet while Henry was missing? She intended to look for him, and this Tidepool was where she would start. 

“It’s been over two weeks. We should have heard something by now, Father.”

Sorrow often thought that Winslow’s steel-gray eyes and matching hair suited his personality perfectly. He had all the warmth of a slab of granite as he stared at her. 

 “I know that. But what exactly do you think you’ll be able to find out?”

She raised her chin. “Whatever there is to know.”


Entry Nickname: Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere
Word Count: 92K
Genre: Adult Historical LGBTQ


Under its glittery surface, Belle Epoch Paris is a brutal place where an illustrious name or prodigious bank account are almost the only means of advancement. British expat Fin Tighe has neither due to his illegitimate birth. His evenings spent in the clandestine gay community are legal through a loophole in the Napoleonic Code, but they leave him vulnerable. So the engineer proposes to find investors for his employer Gustave Eiffel's pet project: a 300-meter tower that will dominate the city's skyline. If Fin raises enough money, the commission will earn him a fortune, and hopefully, some protection. 

Capricious stranger Gilbert Duhais appears to be a boon from the gods. Gilbert is wealthy, connected, and somehow privy to the tragedy Fin instigated in his native Yorkshire. Gilbert soothes Fin's suspicions with heart-thumping charm and introduces him to every nouveau riche speculator in the city. Each provocative interaction heightens Fin's risk of exposure. But also brings Fin closer to his dream of financial security.

When a dear friend of Fin's is murdered, piecemeal clues indicate that Gilbert may have hijacked Fin's life for revenge over a man from Gilbert’s past, a scoundrel that Fin had good reason to want dead. Fin must untangle the disparate threads of his past--and his current romantic gamble--before they become his noose.

GREEN CARNATIONS is a 92,000-word LGBTQ adult historical fiction that will appeal to fans of Mackenzi Lee's Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue and Cat Sebastian's M/M historical romances.

First 250:

Paris, 1886

I lifted my glass to hide my unshakable smirk in another drop of wine. The terrace wasn’t empty, but I had my choice of seats facing the direction of the river, toward the Champs du Mars. Not that I saw it over the mansard roofs of my neighborhood’s apartments, but I knew where it was. I wasn’t the most creative man, my talents were concrete; numbers and measurements. Dependable things, unable to be changed on a whim. But when I lifted my gaze toward the gibbous moon, I could almost make out the iron lacework tower that would change my life.

If it were built.

Inasmuch as possible, I'd ensure it. Monsieur Eiffel would make it worth my effort.

The expanse of butcher paper serving as a tablecloth begged for some scribbles and I pulled a pencil from the pocket under my green-tinted boutonniere. With a flourish, I wrote out the sum I could've done in my head when I was six, let alone one-and-thirty, to see the answer in writing. Twenty percent.

Good Christ. I giggled, and I never giggled. Giggling was for small children and overenthusiastic young girls. Yet, there I sat, in a crowded restaurant, and something I vaguely recognized as joy burbled out.


My head whipped up at the unfamiliar male voice. I could count on one hand the people who called me Fin rather than Finley or Tighe, and none of them would hover around a perfectly bourgeois establishment like this tonight—or any night. 


  1. Judges, please respond here with your votes.

    1. Love and SqualorJune 20, 2018 at 9:05 AM

      These are both strong entries I've enjoyed since Round 1. Sad to see them pitted against each other now and know that one has to go. For me, it comes down to voice, and the voice in one of these entries is so strong, so delightful, I want to follow the main character through the whole book, no question. For that reason...


      Ooh, I'm intrigued by this from the start. The names of characters and places are somehow perfectly evocative. There are some structural quirks to the query that might be addressed. There's a tendency to string passive phrases together, i.e. "After corpses wash up on Tidepool’s beach looking as if they’ve been torn apart by something not quite human" and "A terrifying encounter with the daughter Mrs. Oliver keeps in her basement leads to Sorrow’s discovery of the town’s secret." These can be tightened and strengthened with active writing. For example, "the sacrifices Ada Oliver makes" could be "Ada Oliver's sacrifices." These structural comments aside, the content of the query is excellent. I like the character's dilemma and I'm into the story.

      Very interesting setting here, though I feel the time period should be stated clearly. Similarly, I'm wondering what "Belle Epoch Paris" is... a hotel? A brothel? A retirement community? As intrigued as I am, the query sort of loses me with all of its names and places. I'm not really sure what Fin's goal is. The plot as described here feels wandering, and the stakes are a bit unclear.

      Kudos to both entrants; these are some of the most unique projects I've seen so far. Victory to HUNGRY OCEAN GODS!

      Still like this. It’s clear and concise with good snapshots of the characters and good stakes

      Great writing. Good opening – character development and tension. And the voice is good, too – “like a lump of suet” is an underrated analogy.

      This is a good query with lots of hooks, but it’s delivered in a fairly dry way. It would be good to have more voice. There’s a lot of things in here that I don’t have a lot of context for – the Napoleonic Code, for instance, is something I remember hearing about but don’t remember the details wrt homosexuality. There might be a way to make this more accessible and hookier for a general audience. “The underground gay community where he spends his evenings isn’t a safe place to be caught in, in post-revolutionary France.” (1886 doesn’t really count as post-revolutionary, I suppose). But something similar, perhaps.

      You can just leave it at "facing the river" and take out "the direction" - or else "facing downstream", if that's what you mean.
      Gibbous is an underrated word.
      Great setting, great writing. I’d definitely keep reading.

      One of these, the concept hooks me more.


    4. Hungry Ocean Gods
      Love the premise on this one. The beginning of the query is a bit confusing though—I thought the main character is Henry Hamilton, not Sorrow. For the first 250, LOVE the voice on this! The voice in period pieces is usually hard to get, but you nailed it perfectly.

      Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere
      I’m a bit overwhelmed with the names thrown in the query, but the plot flow is great! For the first 250, you really have a great way describing things. I really feel like I’m in the scene with Fin.


    5. HUNGRY OCEAN GODS: I still love this entry! Glad to see you made it to round 3! This is really well done. The only thing I still wish is that somehow you could make the query reflect the time period. Adding the date at the beginning is okay, but adding voice would be better. I love the ominous feel of the first 250 words and the cliffhanger you leave us with here.

      UNNATURALLY DYED BOUTONNIERE: The voice, the wonderful, smooth, effortless voice. I’ve voted for you before because of that voice. You have some serious skill in these 250 words! I’m still a little concerned about the start of the query. I almost want your character introduced in sentence one, but this still works as is. Great job!

      My votes have always gone to the entry I feel is the most ready to submit to agent or editor… both of these are there, but I think one just has little more punch.


      ~Red Ink Slinger

    6. Mrs. Will HerondaleJune 21, 2018 at 1:29 PM

      This was a tough choice for me as I think the queries and first pages are both well done, but ultimately, I'm going to choose the one whose premise really spoke to me:

      Victory to HUNGRY OCEAN GODS!

    7. Discount Wonder WomanJune 21, 2018 at 2:57 PM

      HUNGRY OCEAN GODS: Such a great entry! I was drawn in from the start, and I love the protagonist's name. I don't think you need to give more of Sorrow's intentions, as getting justice for her brother is believable enough for me. The 250 are good, and my one nitpick is that the first sentence could be shortened to something like, "Sorrow Hamilton stood before her father’s enormous oak desk, feeling like a misbehaving student under his frown." Other than that, great job.

      I have nothing to say on this other than (and I sound like a broken record at this point) the query is stellar and so is the first page. The voice really shines through for me.

      Both of these are amazing, and it's so hard to make a choice. Because I NEED a gender-flipped dark Lovecraftian fantasy in my life ALWAYS, VICTORY to HUNGRY OCEAN GODS!

  2. No one of consequenceJune 19, 2018 at 4:59 PM

    I really like the query of Hungry Ocean Gods. The format isn't traditional, but it worked for me. I understood the story, the character, and the stakes. It does seem to put the heroine in quite a situation, but then, that's a good thing, if you can pull it off. The prose is solid.

    I absolutely love the premise of GREEN CARNATIONS, and I think it has strong potential. In this case, though, I think the writing is outshone just a bit by the competition.

    Victory to HUNGRY OCEAN GODS

  3. Terrific job to both of you! I really, really want to read both of these. I think they are both solid, but one is just a tad bit more polished at this point. All things being equal (stakes, conflict, character etc.), that's all I have to go on, but I wish you both the best of luck!


  4. Tidepool:

    Really interesting concept. The query totally intrigued me, especially the comps which were super fun. I was a bit put-off when I got to the first 250. While the writing was very clean and the set-up was good, it was all VERY distant. I really felt like I couldn't quite connect with your main character. It might be the lack of body language/emotional/tonal cues. There were also quite a few first and last names for only the first 250 words which felt like a waste.

    Green Carnations:

    Another really great concept. I like that it's a bit of history, a bit of romance and a bit of mystery. And the first 250? I loved the words. I connected immediately with Fin and his word. I could picture him dreaming at the cafe. The world is built so quickly. I also loved that it ended on a cliffhanger. Really wonderful job.

  5. The Red CardiganJune 20, 2018 at 8:38 AM

    Hungry ocean gods: The query was nice and concise, but something felt missing. I'd like to have known more about Sorrow, and why she is determined to avenge her brother. Needed a bit more characterization in the query. The first page was wonderful. I have a clearer idea of the character and why she feels she has to disobey her father. Well done.
    Unnaturally Dyed Boutonniere: I still love this entry so much. Your query is great. Stakes well defined, and I love that I have a feel for both characters. The first page is so well written, and I love the imagery.

    Both of these entries are so well written, especially in the sample page. I think they'll both go far, but victory to UNNATURALLY DYED BOUTONNIERRE


    I love the name Sorrow for this particular character. And I appreciate that you’ve done a good job setting up her agency right away. I’m a fan of this type of horror. Also, it’s funny that smell is such a strong sense in our lives, but we often forget to put it in our books, so I like that you used it to help set the scene. It’s a powerful tool that’s ignored a lot.


    The voice in this is just wonderful. The stakes are clear. This is a fantastic query and the first 250 is perfectly immersive.

    This is a really tough matchup. Both stories have such richly described aesthetic that I almost feel like I’m watching a movie.

    I’ve spent too much time trying to choose. I really like both of these.


    I like the characters and the voice in this query. Great job! But a lot of questions. I am not quite sure of the nature of the sea creatures, seems vague to me. Also I am not sure if her brother is dead or not? If he's dead and eaten by supernatural evils that want to kill everyone, I would think she would not hang around, but I could see the opposite case - maybe. I agree w/ Red Cardigan that the query could use more characterization.
    First 250 - nice use of the five senses and this characterization reads great to me. Now I "get" her.
    Great query, said before that I like it a lot. The plot and stakes are a bit convoluted for me, and I would really try to clarify sentences like " Fin must untangle the disparate threads of his past--and his current romantic gamble--before they become his noose." I'm not quite sure what that means, maybe just give a hint so we know what the (high) stakes are?
    First 250
    Great and I LOVE that you get to the inciting incident / action right away. Well done!