Jun 19, 2018

QK Round 3: No Heroes Here VS I'll Stand Bayou

Title: Following Shadows
Entry Nickname: No Heroes Here
Word Count: 93K
Genre: Adult Fantasy, OwnVoices


Lord Kieron Lawson is a dashing hero on a quest to save the damsel in distress...in his dreams. In reality, he’s a socially awkward man with a penchant for heroic fables and an aversion to touch. Determined to have an adventure, he makes a deal with his controlling father: in exchange for permission to travel across the Kingdom of Alros, he’ll finally choose a bride.

Chasing down a thief in the kingdom’s capital earns Kieron a private meeting with Princess Adelina, and when she slips into a deep sleep after being poisoned, he’s promised her hand in marriage if he can retrieve a cure from a forbidden wasteland. Confident his own tale is about to unfold, Kieron convinces himself that, like any brave hero, the princess and the crown are what he wants.

But the fairytale falls apart when Kieron’s company abandons him, and the only person willing to guide him on his quest is the aforementioned thief, Eidolon—a man of masks and shadows, who inspires feelings Kieron doesn’t understand and can’t control. When a cave-in traps the men underground, cornered by beasts that look like they stepped out of a storybook, Kieron finds himself faced with a choice to be the hero and save the princess, or follow his feelings and save the thief.

FOLLOWING SHADOWS (93,000 words) is an #ownvoices adult fantasy novel with romantic overtones and strong series potential. Imagine a classic medieval fairytale, in the vein of Sleeping Beauty, except the charming prince is an asexual man on the Autism spectrum who falls for a male companion, instead of the princess he sets out to save.

First 250:

Kieron Lawson stared out the lancet window, sympathizing with the strawman, slouched sadly in the wheat field. Lunch had not gone well, but he couldn’t imagine why. He’d done everything by the book.

“Must you keep doing this?” asked his father, Viscount Lawson, tapping his fingers against the table.

“Why do you assume I did anything?” Kieron kept his eyes on the horizon. Cumaro’s farmlands seemed to stretch on forever. By now, he’d all but memorized every golden stalk and hay bale.

“Lady Voss left in tears.”

The viscount’s methodical drumming sounded like a ticking clock.

“I don’t know why.” Kieron shrugged, thumbing his cold metal tankard. As his etiquette text dictated, he’d nodded politely as the lady spoke. He’d even made eye contact once. “I didn’t say anything.”

“Yes, that’s exactly the trouble. She says you sat silently for the majority of the meeting, staring at the wall behind her. Then when you did say something, you called her by the wrong name.”

“You mean her name isn’t Liza?”

The rhythmic tapping skipped a beat. “No. Her name is not Liza. We’ve known the Voss family for years. How do you not remember the girl’s name?” The drumming intensified, and Kieron’s heartbeat echoed the hurried tempo. “And did you have to tell her you didn’t like her dress?”

Kieron cocked his head at his father’s squat frame and frowned. “She asked if I liked it, and I said no.”

He’d answered a question when asked. What else should he have done?


Title: Warden of the Lost
Entry Nickname: I'll Stand Bayou
Word Count: 99K
Genre: Adult Fantasy


Thaddeus Fortier is a Warden of New Orleans, guardian and peacekeeper to all things that go bump in the bayou. The job’s got terrible benefits: zero sick days, no dental, and it comes with a sort of compulsive conscience that keeps Wardens walking the straight and narrow. Murder, mayhem, even little white lies—all off the table for the city’s supernatural guardians. Which is downright problematic for a man like Thad, who’s hell-bent on avenging the murders of his mother and brother. He’s got the whodunit down; all signs point to the city’s resident racketeer, a bougie backwater baron named Papa Ru. The trick is convincing the spirit of New Orleans that there’s more to Thad’s mission than a good old-fashioned revenge plot—preferably before Papa Ru makes good on his promise to turn Thad into gator bait.

Thad’s got a plan. Wardens and supernaturals are going missing around town, and they’re turning up dead if they turn up at all. It stinks of Papa Ru and his one-man war on all things otherworldly, and if Thad can connect the dots back to him, it might be just what he needs to convince the city to let him have his vengeance. But with Papa Ru’s threat hanging over his head, and more pissed-off supernaturals than he can stir with a stick, it might just be Thad who’s next on the list of the lost.

WARDEN OF THE LOST is a mash-up of Elmore Leonard’s whackjob crime novels and Neil Gaiman’s darkly bizarre supernatural stories, and would appeal to fans of fantasy, horror, and magical realism alike. I’m currently pursuing my J.D. from Belmont University, and I have a law review article slated for publication in Spring 2019.

First 250:

The taxi driver blinked at me in the rearview with glazed-over eyes. “Where to?” he asked. His voice had the dull monotone of somebody who’d said the same two words so many times they’d stopped sounding like words. Just reflex, now. The bless you after a sneeze that just wouldn’t quit.

Three pine tree fresheners dangled from the mirror, and I still smelled something rancid-sweet wafting up from the upholstery.

“Belle Knoll cemetery,” I said.

The driver’s eyebrows ticked up toward his hairline. “Funeral?”

“Yeah.” Not exactly tough math to do: black suit, dark tie, headed to a graveyard. It was the kind of no-shit question that begged for a sarcastic answer, but I’d lost my sense of humor with my luggage at the last layover.

I looked away from the rearview to watch the airport traffic give way to good old New Orleans highway. Flat land, green grass, that unlikely mix of palm trees and crepe myrtles growing side-by-side—I’d figured I wouldn’t ever see it again, but the city had her own ideas. And Lord, she could be a real bitch about getting her way.

“Friend or relative?” the driver asked. The question fell on the wrong side of personal, but neither of us batted an eye. Taxi drivers are the bartenders of the road: you sit in their seats, you tell them your woes, and you walk away with a lighter heart—and a lighter wallet. It’s a pine-scented taste of everyday magic, and it’s true what they say: all magic has a price.


  1. Judges, please respond here with your votes.


      Excellent query. I love your stakes at the end. Very compelling, and the story sounds charming and fun. In contrast--and this may simply be me--the opening line of your 250 tripped me up while trying to figure out if the strawman was slouched or Kieron. But the rest of your 250 is great!


      Another excellent query. I wouldn't mind a little more detail on this threat Papa Ru leveled at Thad (and thus a hint more on their relationship in general), but otherwise this sounds like a fun read. And the 250 backs that up! Nicely done.

      I've been re-reading these entries for fifteen minutes because they're both so good. This is a really tough choice (something I suspect I'll be saying a lot as QK moves forward). I love the voice in Bayou, and Kieron's adventure in No Heroes sounds like a ton of fun. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact I like a sense of what makes a setting unique (not just plot and characters) in fantasy queries, and I think Bayou does that better.

      Victory to I'LL STAND BAYOU!

    2. No one of consequenceJune 19, 2018 at 1:41 PM

      These are both great. I commented on NO HEROES in an early round. My vote in this match comes down to voice. I'll Stand Bayou's got it in spades.

      Victory to I'LL STAND BAYOU

    3. Congratulations to both entrants for making it to round three!

      This is well-written. I like the way the MC's status is presented in world-appropriate terms in the synopsis part of the query. Then, the last paragraph describes it clearly and succinctly. This feels closer to a fairy tale, or to golden-age fantasy, than to modern fantasy, but I like the setup. My primary concern is that the opening may not do enough for a work of fantasy. I enjoy the dialogue, and I'm settling into the voices, but a boy staring out at hay while his dad is unhappy with him is very mundane. Modern fantasy readers expect openings like we see in A Game of Thrones, the Eye of the World, and The Lies of Locke Lamora.

      Another excellent entry here. The author captures the flavor of New Orleans well, and that's a great setting for what appears to be an urban fantasy. I think the query's first paragraph spends too much time trying to be cute with the setting, and leaves me a bit confused about who this guy is and what he wants. He has a job that seems completely counterintuitive to his purpose. And I don't know enough about his abilities as a supernatural being. The conflict is set up well, but I wonder if there's a way to simplify all of the information being presented here. Don't tell us the plan, tell us the problem, the stakes, and what he stands to gain or lose.

      Strong entries both. Victory to THE BAYOU!

    4. Love and SqualorJune 20, 2018 at 8:54 AM

      These are two of my very favorite entries in the whole competition, and my heart broke a little to see them pitted against each other here. I absolutely love the writing and voice in the first 250 in both. In this one, it's going to come down to subjectivity, because while I would absolutely read both these books (and hope I get to, in the near future!) one stands out for me just a little more.

      Victory to NO HEROES HERE!

    5. Mrs. Will HerondaleJune 20, 2018 at 2:15 PM

      These are both strong entries, and really hard to choose. Ultimately, the first 250 of I'll Stand Bayou grabbed me a little more.


    6. No Heroes Here: I remember judging this one previously, and I can tell you put a lot of effort into revising both the query and the first 250 words! I really love this new version. Stakes? Check! Great comps? Check! Sensory details? Check! If I was being nitpicky, I’d encourage you to give us a few quick hints of what Keiron’s father looks like, but other than that, I think you have a strong entry here.

      I'll Stand Bayou: Few changes have been made through the rounds because this entry has been strong from the start. I really like the voice and premise here and can tell you’ve tweaked based on my previous suggestions.

      Seriously trying to figure out how to choose between these awesome entries. A very tough one for me, as I’m sure that you both deserve to be in round 3 and snag an agent… Can't wait to read these both someday!

      *thinks overnight* Okay, I’m ready to choose… I think…


      ~Red Ink Slinger

    7. This is another tough match!

      I think both the query and the first page here are really strong. I'm not a huge fan of the last sentence of the query as it seems to have a conversational style that, to me, doesn't really match the tone of the rest. I like the humor of the first page and the way that it's presenting the main character. Part of me kind of agrees a bit with Bowser. I think something small might be missing on the first page. I'm just not sure what. I think it might just need a slight tweak that hints at the stakes of the story. I think there might be an opportunity with the father's question which right now reads as kind of bored but could hint more at why Kieron's interactions with these women are important.

      I really loved the first page here! I would totally keep reading this. On the query, I have to say, I didn't love the last paragraph. I worry that comparing yourself to two of the most successful, influential writers of the last few decades is one of those things that is not going to be interpreted positively by some people. I'd also strongly encourage you to pin down the genre of your book a bit more (probably removing the magical realism reference) and, personally, I'm not sure how much referencing your law review article will help you - unless your MC is also a lawyer.

      But as you have a killer first page, VICTORY to I'LL STAND BAYOU!

      Lord Kieron Lawson is a dashing hero on a quest to save the damsel in distress...in his dreams [Okay, so I immediately think this is a dream-fantasy, but I think you mean that he dreams of being that way, but IN REALITY he's not… I’d make that clearer. Instead of “in his dreams”, change it to, “at least, in his daydreams he is.”]

      Chasing down a thief in the kingdom’s capital [This seems like a leap for a guy who you suggest in the 1st paragraph previously spent most of his time in his dad’s basement, playing with action figures and daydreaming about being a knight, and has to ask his dad’s permission to leave the house. Okay, I know that’s not what you really said, but it’s still a big change. Give us a brief hint as to how he gets from there to here, and also hint at WHY that earns him a “private meeting” with a princess. Additionally, when you mention the private meeting, and then that she’s poisoned, my mind wants to jump to him being a suspect in the poisoning. I’d put some distance between those two events.]

      But the fairytale falls apart when Kieron’s company abandons him [Why do they abandon him?]

      This is great writing, and I’m really itching to know more about this #actuallyautistic character!

      Extra thumbs-up for the punny nickname :D

      Murder, mayhem, even little white lies—all off the table for the city’s supernatural guardians [give us a hint as to what happens if they violate these rules]

      Thad’s got a plan. [I don’t connect this plan to anything within shouting distance of this statement, and I think you can cut it - the paragraph doesn't need it.

      This book sounds amazing, and the voice in the query is amazing!]

      Oh WOW, the voice HERE is amazing TOO.

      This is SUPER-DUPER tough. Both of these need to be published immediately. I'm crazy in love with the prince-whose-personality-is-too-complex-for-a-fairytale in NO HEROES HERE, and I'm immediately sucked in by the voice (as well as the concept and the comps) of BAYOU.

      I think one seems just slightly more "ready" than the other, though.



      This sounds great. I really like the character of Kieron and it sounds like a lovely spin on a classic fairytale. The voice of the first 250 is very strong too and the way you use the visual of the strawman to indicate what Kieron is feeling. I love characters who are too honest for their own good and we need more asexual heroes! Nice work.

      I’ll STAND BAYOU

      Crap, this one is great too. I love the voice and language of the query letter. I love stories set in New Orleans and Elmore Leonard novels so you’re right in my wheelhouse. My only complaint, and this is a personal nitpick, is when a story starts off with describing things as dull, I feel less hooked in, but I still like the opening sentence. It just doesn’t grab me. But I love, love the phrase "bartenders of the road."

      Tough decision as I would easily read both of them, but I must choose.


      I’ll STAND BAYOU

    10. Discount Wonder WomanJune 21, 2018 at 9:36 AM

      As I was reading the query, I kept thinking, "This is great. I have nothing to say that hasn't been said before". Then I get to the 250 and it's the SAME.

      I love this nickname! And it's also great, both in the first 250 and the query.

      It feels silly to come here and just say "great job you guys" but really, great job to both entries. This comes down to splitting hairs, but hairs must be split and so, VICTORY TO I'LL STAND BAYOU!

    11. Both these entries are well-written and have interesting premises. I can see how you both improved from the previous rounds to this one. Great job! But since this is Query Kombat, I need to pick only one. So I’ll just go with the entry whose voice speaks to me more… VICTORY to NO HEROES HERE

      This has a smashing query but not enough voice in the first 250, and that makes me sad, but I love the premise so much. I know how difficult it is to try and write a snappy 250 to get someone's attention, and sometimes I think authors go so hard in that direction, they forget the story has to unfold. I would suggest more description and maybe going back just a tad to show your protagonist standing in the room while the princess runs away crying (totally lost as to what her problem is).

      Meanwhile we have I'LL STAND BAYOU, where the query didn't engage me quite as much, but the first 250 words have voice and cadence that simply pops.

      So based on the more polished 250 words:

      Victory to I'LL STAND BAYOU.

  2. The Red CardiganJune 19, 2018 at 3:53 PM

    Love these! No heroes here has a fantastic premise. And you've done an amazing job of portraying your character's autism on the first page. I both understand his confusion, and understand his father's frustrations. Well done. I'll stand Bayou has a great voice, even in the query, which is no easy feat. I love the line about taxi drivers. One point-- I'm not sure it's necessary to mention your education or publishing history since they have nothing to do with creative or fiction writing. But congrats on the law article!

    These are both very good, but victory to NO HEROES HERE!

  3. Holy you-know-what! These entries are both so excellent! Love the twist on the fairy tale in No Heroes Here. I really get a sense right away of the character's frustration and confusion right on the first page, so that's awesome.

    STAND BAYOU has wonderful voice and imagery both in the query and the first page.

    Therefore, VICTORY TO STAND BAYOU (before I'm turned into gator bait).

  4. Nathaniel GlanzmanJune 20, 2018 at 10:39 AM

    No Heroes Here:

    I’m in love with this revision! You’ve done some stellar work on this bad boy over the course of the tournament. I especially love the line: “Confident his own tale is about to unfold, Kieron convinces himself that, like any brave hero, the princess and the crown are what he wants.” I also like how you went into how the ‘Kieron’s temper getting them into trouble’ bit is explained a little more with the cave-in mention. One little nitpick I have, and I realize this is poorly timed considering you can’t revise anymore, is saying that the beasts are from storybooks. For some reason, this took me out of it for a moment because I was like, “But the characters are too?” Again, may just be me. Your 250 are pretty much perfect in my eyes—can’t say anything but that I love the new sensory details you put in there!

    I’ll Stand Bayou:

    Your query is VERY strong! I love the way you introduce the stakes, the plot and the voice. The only thing I’m wondering about, and this may be just me, is if this particular voice is at risk of jeopardizing the seriousness of the plot. It’s told like Southern town gossip as opposed to a haunting crime novel. Of course, I can see why you used that particular voice, because it is organically part of the setting. But my concern is that it might be undermining the seriousness of what happens. Again, you can absolutely choose to ignore this if you want. I don’t have much to criticize in your 250, because it is rock solid, especially the voice. I’m particularly fond of the ‘taxi drivers are the bartenders of the road’ bit.

  5. No Heroes Here
    I would love to read this. The query is great—it sets everything up and tells us what happens without telling us too much. My only suggestion is to maybe shorten a few of your sentence/split them into two to vary the length a bit. Your opening page is wonderfully written and vivid.

    I’ll Stand Bayou
    Another strong query! I’d try to condense the first paragraph, just a bit, because it feels like a little too much set up. I absolutely love the voice in the first pages.

  6. (fellow Kombatant)
    NO HEROES HERE - I love your premise, and I love the query so much! I WANT TO READ THIS PLEASE!!! As far as feedback, I would probably shorten the query because it is a bit dense for my little brain, lol. I'd personally keep it simple - he has to do X to get his birthright, but his heart says Y, what will he choose? In the 250, I'd like more action and it's a bit too much dialogue for my personal taste, but I DO get an awesome sense of this character.
    Love the voice in the query and the first 250. I also LOVE New Orleans and you get the rich, dark, eerie beauty of it in your query, which I love. That said, I didn't really understand the antagonist and therefore the stakes. For example, who is Papa Ru (I don't know what a backwater baron is) and what is a "one-man war on all things otherworldly"? Finally, I personally am not a fan of revenge as a motive, so that's just a personal preference but if there is a deeper / richer theme to highlight as well I would do so.

  7. Kombantant feedback. :)

    First time reading one of these entries. Hope my comments are useful.

    No Heroes Here
    There's a lot of interesting ideas in this story, and I like the concept of taking the "normal" hero's journey and challenging the audience's expectations. But it bothered me in the query that it doesn't seem like Kieron ever really realizes how much he's looking down on women. He treats the princess like a prize, from the sound of it. I mean, I assume he realizes that's not cool in the book, but a hint of it in the query would be nice, too. I think the dialogue in the first 250 is very strong. I can feel Kieron's frustration as not knowing what he did wrong. I would prefer a bit more grounding in the setting, as you're able to work it in.

    I'll Stand Bayou
    Honestly, I can't think of anything to say I didn't say already. Your story sounds great, and I wish you all the best in the next round!