Jun 19, 2018

QK Round 3: Why Are You So Obsessed With Me VS Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom

Title: Guarded
Entry Nickname: Why Are You So Obsessed With Me?
Word Count: 76K
Genre: Contemporary Romance (#OwnVoices)


Fame and tabloid gossip are nothing new for actress Ava Madison. After all, it’s not every day someone who uses a wheelchair becomes a Golden Globe winner. So when rumors swirl she’s romantically involved with her friend, heartthrob Brett Sinclair, she doesn’t feel the need to comment—until Brett falls for someone else. Knowing the public will turn on him if they think he dumped her, Ava claims she dumped him. She expects added scrutiny after this declaration—but she never expects Brett’s overzealous fans to threaten her life because they think she broke his heart.

After someone vandalizes her car, and with Brett refusing to diffuse the situation, Ava’s manager hires a security team for her. Always striving for her independence and refusing to be tied down in any way, Ava hates the thought of having twenty-four hour protection. To make matters worse, she discovers the person assigned as her live-in bodyguard is Leo Matthews—the annoying, condescending man she encountered at a coffee shop just the day before. They immediately clash over everything, and Ava can’t wait to get Leo out of her house for good.

But as Ava is forced to spend nearly every waking moment with Leo, she can’t deny her attraction to the tall, dark, blue-eyed former Navy SEAL who seems to anticipate her every desire. Their relationship soon heats up, but the threats from Brett’s fans turn into physical violence, affecting not just Ava but hurting those around her. While she’s scared something will happen to Leo or one of her friends, independent Ava is also scared of doing the one thing she never thought she’d do—fall in love.

First 250:

Ava Madison and Brett Sinclair Getting Married!

Wedding bells are on the horizon for recent Golden Globe winner, and our favorite cougar, Ava Madison! Sources tell us that her boyband heartthrob boyfriend, Brett Sinclair, popped the question to her last weekend! They plan on tying the knot as soon as possible, creating growing speculation that she is indeed pregnant with twins, as we reported last week. One thing’s for sure—those babies are going to be gorgeous!

At twenty-eight years old, I was a cougar.

Never mind that men like Jack Nicholson and John Stamos had women one-third their age on their arm every time they made an appearance and no one batted an eye. As soon as I was ‘caught canoodling’ with Brett, five years my junior, you’d think I was a decrepit old woman robbing the cradle.

At least I didn’t look like one.

I rolled my eyes and clicked off the site before taking a sip of my tepid coffee, flashing a smile to the barista as he glanced my way. The speculation about Brett and me was crazy. It started when he took me as his plus one to the AMA’s. We never commented about our relationship, so according to celeb gossip sites we were either hooking up, engaged, already secretly married, or preparing for the upcoming birth of our twins. No one ever considered the truth—that we were just friends.


Entry Nickname: Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom
Word Count: 89K
Genre: Adult Thriller


To her family and friends, Marybeth Delay is the embodiment of the word "wholesome": she's a teacher, wife, and loving mother of two young children living in small-town Minnesota. But they don’t know that she was once, in a different lifetime, Valentina “Babyface” Nacosto, the New Jersey mob’s most prolific and mysterious killer. They don’t know that she had a child seventeen years ago, who died in a hit meant for her. They don’t know that the serenity of her new life is repressed denial of her old one.

Marybeth thinks the past is forever behind her until the morning she turns on the news — and discovers that her son is alive. Alive, and the focus of a furious FBI manhunt, along with Valentina’s ex-husband, fugitive mob boss Vincent "Nine Lives" Nacosto. 

Valentina couldn't save her son from violence seventeen years ago. But she can now. And she will. She’ll get to him before the FBI does. She’ll be his way out—and she will risk her new family, her new life, her new peace to do it.

BABYFACE is told in both past and present timelines as Marybeth/Valentina comes to terms with who she was, who she is, and who she needs to be for both her families. Complete at 89,000 words, BABYFACE evokes a female John Wick crossed with the emotional conflict of A History of Violence. It will appeal to fans of Alafair Burke’s The Wife, Riley Sager’s Final Girls, and Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive.

First 250:

I have the Minnesota winter to blame for what I did today, and for everything I know I will do tomorrow.

The kids and I got home at 3:30 from pickup. My fingers were numb. The heater in the minivan doesn’t work well, not in this kind of cold, and I forgot my gloves. It’s month two of my maternity leave and I guess I don’t have it together yet. Caroline was nagging me for Doc McStuffins the entire ride and Jacob was screaming his little head off. I knew he was hungry. I knew because my breasts felt like overfilled water balloons about to burst. But Jacob doesn’t latch; I have to pump. My stomach sank when I realized he was twenty minutes away from his meal.

Five tortured miles later, we made it home. I dragged the car seat into the living room. “Give mommy a second," I begged. No luck. He screamed louder as Caroline tugged on my hand. Doc McStuffins. Right. Maybe it would entertain Jacob, too. I jabbed at the remote, my fingers blue and slow from cold. The TV jumped to life and I pressed the numbers. 3-1-3, Disney Junior. Jacob was still screaming when I headed to the foyer to retrieve the pacifier and pump, wincing as my fingers came back to life in potent little stabs. If he hadn’t been crying, if I hadn’t been in pain, I would have noticed. I would have seen. I would have understood that I had the wrong channel.

I would have changed it. 


  1. Judges, please respond here with your votes.

    1. These are both excellent entries, but I think Obsessed's query is the stronger. For Assassin Mom, I think I'd like a hint more of why her new life is so important to her in the query to really highlight what she stands to lose when her past and present collide. I do love this concept a ton, but alas, there can be only one.


    2. No one of consequenceJune 19, 2018 at 1:36 PM

      Okay, both of these are awesome. But Don't Mess With an Assassin Mom...I want that in my kindle right now, and I'm not a big fan of enemies to lovers.

      As both books have great potential, this is 100% a personal preference vote. Victory to DON'T MESS WITH AN ASSASSIN MOM.

    3. Mrs. Will HerondaleJune 19, 2018 at 1:53 PM

      These are both strong entries. I had a really hard time deciding! Obsessed, I think the edits on your query have definitely improved it and the stakes are clearer than in the past entry, although the vagueness of "the fans" still gives me pause. Ultimately, I'm going to go with the entry whose concept spoke to me more:


    4. The Red CardiganJune 19, 2018 at 3:37 PM

      Wow. These are both amazing entries. What a hard choice! I think obsessed has a stronger query. In assassin mom, the name change from Marybeth to Valentina confused me. I understand that it is necessary to the plot, but queries are often read quickly, so clarity is your friend. I love the first page in obsessed, but I question when in the story the hero appears. For contemporary romance I'd like to see both the hero and heroine together soon after the story starts. The first line of Assassin mom is amazing.

      Tough, tough choice, but victory to WHY ARE YOU OBSESSED WITH ME

    5. I've been a fan of both of these entries from the beginning. I love a good thriller and adore a swoony romance, too. These are both strong. I love the first line of BABYFACE so much. I'm also really into the set up of OBSESSED, so it's a personal choice only as to which one puts me right in the conflict right away. VICTORY TO WHY ARE YOU OBSESSED WITH ME.

    6. Congratulations to both writers for making it to round 3!

      Overall, a good structure to this query. The first paragraph gives us a lot of backstory, some of which may be unnecessary. The most unique element is the wheelchair, but that detail feels tossed in with virtually no effect on the rest of the synopsis. I think the setup could be shortened to one sentence or perhaps two. The reason I suggest getting some room here is that Leo's character jumps from a condescending jerk in paragraph 2 to a Navy SEAL hunk in paragraph 3. It feels jarring. Also, the ostensible source of tension (threats from the superfans) never felt meaningful to me, perhaps because it's so vague. Maybe give us an event signifying the escalation to violence. Finally, for a rather commonplace romance setup of falling for the bodyguard, I wanted some hint of learning what causes Ava to fall for him, other than just spending time together. And it need to be more than him having a hot bod.

      The prose is engaging, though I'm not sure what "At least I didn’t look like one" is meant to convey.

      Nice query here. The "no one knows" is a bit cliche but adds some cadence. I like the setup of this story. I suppose that, because of the order of information, I didn't sense the emotional depth of the son's sudden reappearance. Part of me disbelieves she'd drop everything to go after him. Even so, it's a nice setup. My main concern is with the opening. The voice is good, but it's a heavy dose of reality for a reader who's probably looking for some escape. It would be great for a contemporary mom story but feels like a mismatch for the thriller genre.

      Both of these are strong entries; I can see why they've come so far. Victory to ASSASSIN MOM!

    7. Love and SqualorJune 20, 2018 at 8:52 AM

      Both really strong entries, and based on the queries, I'm immediately invested in both. Both have great potential, but because I think the story gets going a little fast in WHY ARE YOU SO OBSESSED WITH ME, that one gets my vote.


    8. Why Are You So Obsessed with Me: An interesting twist on the stardom trope! You do a great job in the query of focusing on Ava’s independence rather than her handicap, and I think your stakes statement packs a strong punch. I’d encourage you to be aware of passive voice and write it out if you can, but honestly, that’s just a nitpick. An example is in the first 250 words: “At least I didn’t look like one” while punchy, could become something like “at least no one can say I look like one.” You could take out “for her” in the query’s second paragraph if you wanted since that’s implied. Also, I don’t think the tabloid in that starts your narrative would have that many exclamation points. I’d make the first two periods and leave the one at the end. Other than these small things, this looks fantastic!

      Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom: I think I judged this before, and I still have the same question: How does she know that the man she sees on the t.v. is her son or that the mob boss is after him? One thing I still love about this query is its unique stakes statement. It has the character’s voice and a rhythm that really makes me want to read. There is a lot of passive in the words, and I know that some of those punchy statements need them, but I’d encourage you to try to write a few out. I have a clear picture of the state of this mother and you do a great job of a cliff hanger at the end of the 250 words. Great job!

      Tough call, as I can see how both of these would fit into their respective markets… and both have done a great job both their queries and words.

      ~Red Ink Slinger

      After someone vandalizes her car, and with Brett refusing to diffuse the situation [YIKES! WHY??? I immediately hate him with a fiery passion, and I’m not sure you want the query to make that happen]

      the annoying, condescending man she encountered at a coffee shop just the day before [I’m not sure you need the deet that they met in a coffee shop in a query. “she’s encountered before” is enough]

      This sounds like a very sweet romance - this is a good query.


      Great writing! And I’m SO, SO into the idea of an Own Voices wheelchair-user contemporary romance (which does not seem to fall into the “miracle cure” trope!!! YAY). This NEEDS to be picked up ASAP.

      Valentina couldn't save her son from violence seventeen years ago [okay, so I need the issue of “she was sure he was dead, but now he’s alive” to be addressed in some way. Even if it’s “she isn’t sure how it’s possible, given what she saw, but he’s alive” or “discovers she was ruthlessly tricked/manipulated” – just something to let us know that it’s not another dead-person-mysteriously-alive-with-no-good-explanation trope, and also that she’d had good reason to think he was dead, so we don’t think she just abandoned a young son for no good reason. Something that makes us curious, instead of dubious. Does that make sense?]. But she can now [In fact…it’s like she’s been given a second chance to save him, correct? Consider addressing that, because I think it’s a powerful idea that will resonate].

      crossed with the emotional conflict of A History of Violence [needs to be in italics]

      This is a really relatable, well-written scene – beautiful in its banality – and yet you still find a way to really insert the tension and hook me. Great dichotomy.

      These are both very good entries - well written, great concepts. I would read either one. In the end, there's just one concept that resonates with me more. I NEED an ownvoices wheelchair user romance. VICTORY TO WHY ARE YOU SO OBSESSED WITH ME

    10. This is SO tough. I think both of these entries are in great shape and I love the sound of both of these stories. Ultimately, this is a difficult, very subjective call. But the John Wick reference totally got me.


    11. How come these two are the ones pitted against each other??? *cries* Seriously, your entries are rockin’! I just LOVE the voice in both. Great queries too! Ughhh I wish I didn’t have to choose, but since I have to… I guess I’ll just go with the one that comps to John Wick (John Wick is one of my fave movies, and that really has nothing to do with the quality of your entries, but I need to choose okay).


      This is an excellent query, and let me say how much I admire the fact that you take your time getting into the characters and story without feeling the need to roll into ACTION/ACTION/ACTION. All in all, it is a very professional presentation with a rom-com feel to it from the beginning. Kudos for coming up with a different spin on an old theme and special thanks for having a fiercely independent person who is happy with her life as the protagonist.

      A History of Violence but with a woman protagonist. I'm so in for this and I do mean IN. Both of these are wonderful queries and first 250 words, but I've got to say the whole set up for DON'T MESS WITH AN ASSASSIN MOM totally blows me away.




    This sounds like a great classic Rom Com with a refreshing change in perspective. I love how you understate Ava’s disability, but also make it a clear and important pillar of the story. I guess my only criticism is I hope Leo is a bit more than just tall, dark and handsome. Maybe you could sneak in a little more personality to him, or at least give an example of how he is condescending. But otherwise, great query.

    FIRST 250:

    I love the juxtaposition of how the media views Ava as opposed to how she views herself. It’s a little expositiony, but there’s enough voice where it comes off less labored. It’s like an opening voice over for a movie, and it sets up some nice conflict and a fun tone. Great job!



    I love the idea of sort of Proud Mary meets A History of Violence. The plot sounds really solid with potential for some great emotional conflict. I don’t really have any advice. From the sample, it sounds like the environment of Minnesota itself, such as the winter, might play a significant part so perhaps throw in a bit of scenery into the query if you can. But it's not neccessary.

    FIRST 250:

    Really liked the sample, how you used the environment to play into the plot and the nice details of motherhood. Maybe try breaking out the dialogue in the third paragraph. It’s a bit of a block of text. Otherwise, great Job.

    Normally, voting is really hard when two entries are very similar, but these are quite different, which makes it a bit subjective unfortunately. Congrats on you both for getting this far.



  3. Fellow Kombatant, not a judge! (I was trying to hold off so my comments didn't get mistaken for votes, but it's kinda coming down to the wire, so here we go.)

    Why Are You So Obsessed With Me?
    I remember reading an earlier version of this. I can't 100% recall what all your changes were, but I like this even more than I did the first time around. (And no, it's not just because I love the name Ava.) I love how the plot evolves naturally from Ava's actions. I really feel for her as she's trying to make things right and it just turns around on her every time. The romance also feels like it will build in a believable way, and it makes me excited to read it. As for the opening pages, I love Ava's attitude, and the line you end on is perfect. Good luck with this! I hope it goes far!

    Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom
    First off, how can I not love that nickname? I get why it might not work for an actual title, but it's an attention-grabber here, for sure. I felt so much for Marybeth in this query. She's clearly got admirable traits and serious character flaws. I want to follow her story, and her fierce motivation to protect her son now that she knows he's alive--I'm there. The opening page does a fantastic job of capturing how it feels to be the mom of a toddler and infant. I can't think of a thing I would change. (And that ending line is, pardon the pun, killer.) I hope this goes far, too! Best of luck!