Jun 27, 2018

QK Round 5: I'll Stand Bayou VS Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom

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.

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.


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 vote as a reply to this comment.

    1. Seriously, these are both extraordinary... I really don't know how I'm deciding this... coin toss? Eenie Meenie Minie Moo? (You'll never know... I won't either!)


    2. Mrs. Will HerondaleJune 27, 2018 at 10:01 AM

      These are both so good. Assassin Mom's query is a little easier to follow- short, sweet, and to the point. I love the premise so much! But ultimately, I think the voice of Bayou is a little stronger and I love the first 250.

      Victory to I'LL STAND BAYOU!

    3. This was a really tough one. I thought both of the entries had great tension and voice. However, I thought Assassin Mom's first 250 was a bit stronger so...


    4. The Queen of ThornsJune 27, 2018 at 11:31 AM

      Greetings, brave Kombatants! Congratulations on making it to the final rounds! I'm so pleased to see these entries, both of which are new to me. I'd happily vote them both as winners in any other round, so wow... this will be a tough one.

      Both queries and concepts are strong, but DON'T MESS WITH AN ASSASSIN MOM stands out to me for having a concept I haven't seen in some form before (urban fantasy is a bit tough for finding new ways to tread familiar ground, though I love the comps and the voice in I'LL STAY BAYOU).

      A word of advice to the author of ASSASSIN MOM, though: the final paragraph of comps is really complicated. You use two style comps and three "it will appeal to" reader comps, which means there are five different works you're asking an agent to juggle and combine in thinking about yours. I'd cut these down considerably, perhaps to just one of your "it will appeal to" comps so you can focus on the style comps, instead.

      Ultimately, though, for its fresher concept and strong first page, victory to DON'T MESS WITH AN ASSASSIN MOM.

      The Queen of Thorns

    5. Oooooh these are both so good this hurts me.

      I'LL STAND BAYOU, the second paragraph of your query reads the tiniest bit stagnant. We want to get a sense of what changes early in the book to cause the course of events. Even to say that "wards and supernaturals start going missing" and then note Thad's plan, would work a bit better than "wards and supernaturals are going missing". That is, unless the inciting incident is something different. Otherwise, fabulous.

      ASSASSIN MOM, this is great. On your first 250, I recommend changing "The heater in the minivan doesn't work well, not in this kind of cold" to "The heater of the minivan doesn't work well in this kind of cold."

      So, I'm asking myself (1) which of these has more tension on the first page, and (2) which of the two blurbs would read better on the back of a book? They're both good blurbs, but in my mind, one edges out the other just a little. And that same one has more first page tension. So:


    6. I hadn't had the chance to read either of these in previous rounds. They were both such a pleasure to read!

      I'LL STAND BAYOU has an interesting concept, and Thad's voice seems to pop right off the page in the query. However as we got into the first 250, I didn't feel that same amount of voice. It was there in snatches, but I definitely wanted more.

      DONT MESS WITH AN ASSASSIN MOM has a killer query. Despite having a lot going on, it was extremely easy to follow. Even when it went from calling the MC Marybeth to Valentina, which takes skill. The opening pages are far too relatable for this mom of two. I like where it left off and it gave me the push I needed to want to keep reading.

      So keep that in mind, victory goes to DON'T MESS WITH AN ASSASSIN MOM

    7. Congrats on making it this far! That’s a huge accomplishment.

      Another pair of entries I saw in round two and both loved. Why on earth are you doing this to me. WHY. To be totally frank, I would pick up either of these at a store. The fantasy nerd in me wants to get lost in the voice of BAYOU, but the action-based plot of ASSASSIN MOM, not to mention I haven’t read anything like it before, is killer.


    8. Thaddeus SpinsterJune 27, 2018 at 4:12 PM

      Both are great but I like the sarcastic voice of one over the other so I say victory to: I'll Stand Bayou.

    9. Earthbound MisfitJune 27, 2018 at 4:30 PM

      Congratulations to both of you! Fantastic work all around, and thank you for sharing it.

      Bayou: The query cracked me up—your use of language and humor are spot on, and clue us in well to the novel's narrative voice. I feel like the 1st 250 start a teensy bit slow, though—specifically, the first paragraph could be sharpened or even cut, bringing us straight to the weird smell in the car, and setting a creepy tone that hooks the reader without knowing why yet. Still, the voice is great, and hints at both action and humor to come.

      Assassin Mom: Very impressed by the work you've done on revising the query since Round 1! It packs a more immediate punch up front in the first paragraph, and promises a tightly written plot. The writing in the 1st 250 is dynamite, too—ultimately that ended up being the deciding factor for me.

      This was hard, because I was blown away by I'll Stand Bayou's query—both queries, really—but with a stronger 1st 250…


    10. Mother Trucker! I wan't signed copies of BOTH of these! Also, it's cruel and unusual torture to make me have to choose. It's like...utterly ridiculous. Can we call it a tie? We'll have three finalist in round 6.... No? Okay.

      That being said, I'm always on the hunt for new, amazing Urban Fantasy and Bayou, you've got the voice. I love the idea of a supernatural prison, and I think you've done really well. I do wonder why we're starting in the cab, which if I could keep reading, I might know. I'm just wondering if the cabbie is gonna become some cool side kick. Otherwise, why not just start at the cemetery maybe? The voice is absolutely amazing and either way, I'd keep reading.

      Assassin Mom...I LOVE THIS IDEA! The plot sounds amazing, and I love that while people on the outside think she has a wholesome life, that you show the reality of a mom with multiple kids, and how it isn't a picnic. I WANT TO READ THE WHOLE THING! Now. Can I please?

      No? Not till the contest is over? I can't have either of them?


      Okay, I'll stop stalling.



    11. Jumping JellybeanJune 28, 2018 at 12:18 AM

      I’ll Stand Bayou

      Your first 250 are great! I was sucked in. After reading it thought I think you should add in your query that Thad is a Warden NOT by choice, but rather it’s a calling he can’t escape. Otherwise, I find the “hell-bent” thing kind of clich├ęd.

      Assassin Mom

      This premise is great. I love the dueling mother loyalty you have going on. It’s a relatable situation many of us can understand without ever having been in the mob.


    12. These final matches are SO tough! I'd gladly read either of these. Personally, I'm slightly more sold by one of the queries.

      Victory to Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom!!

    13. These matches are brutal. But I wanna step in and give

      VICTORY TO STAND BAYOU for voice and ambience.

    14. I love both of these, but my absolute favorite is the whole thriller idea behind Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom.

      Victory to Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom!

    15. Title: I'll Stand Bayou

      This is my first time seeing this one, and it sounds like a lot of fun. I adore NOLA, and it’s a great spot for stories like this! I see shades of “Ghost Train to New Orleans,” here too.

      The author could definitely cut the query down a bit. I feel like the author sort of harps on the same few plot points too much. I'd reduce the repetition and give us some more flavor of the other things in the book (the relevant ones if possible.) That way we get a stronger idea of the comedy.

      The only other thing I noted was that the author really makes the top of the 2nd paragraph stark with “Thad’s got a plan.” For me, this seems ill used. The previous paragraph indicates he’s had a plan for a while, so it seems odd to state this again in such a dramatic fashion.

      First 250 words:
      Lovely atmosphere, and strong story telling. My only quibble is that in New Orleans, people visit cemeteries for all sorts of reasons. They are sort of touristy. I googled the name of the one used, and came up empty, so I assume it is fictional. However, I’m not sure the taxi driver would assume this, even with Thad dressed this way.


      Title: Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom

      The sentence structure of the first paragraph is pretty rough. The first one is a pretty long run on, and so is the second. You also repeat “they don’t know,” over and over. The repetition does not really appear to be for effect, and mainly serves to make me concerned about the overall quality of the writing of the story.

      In the 2nd paragraph you call her both Marybeth and Valentina. I’d encourage you to stick with one, or at least make a joke about how she’s known by them both.

      I’d likely change the word “child” in the first paragraph to “son,” since that’s how he is referred to later.

      I like the statement of stakes.

      First 250 Words:

      So Marybeth/Valentina has had at least 3 kids now. So I’m not sure the 2 months of maternity leave would be the time frame referenced for “getting it together.” I’d think she’d say something in her voice that reflects more of a “You’d think by third kid, I’d have this down,” sort of feel.

      I like the detail that she has to pump so even though she’s 5 minutes from home he still has to wait roughly 15 minutes more for her to pump, but I had to read it twice to actually figure it out. It might just be I’m tired, but it wouldn’t hurt to sort of ease the reader into it. Remember first pages are about being invited in. I like Marybeth/Valentina’s voice, it’s edgy without being too obtuse.

      The closing bits are pure gold.


      Victory to: I'll Stand Bayou
      Honestly it came down to Queries for me. The query for I'll Stand Bayou isn’t perfect, but it needs less work than Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom.

    16. Congrats to you both for making the final four! These are both excellent and in tip top shape.

      In the end, this is totally subjective, but the voice in one just really drew me in.


    17. The Red CardiganJune 28, 2018 at 7:14 PM

      I love these both. Honestly, you’ve both done a great job. But for me, one of them has a stronger voice.

      Victory to I'LL STAND BAYOU

  2. No one of consequenceJune 27, 2018 at 9:44 AM

    These are both great. My vote is because one of them literally has me wanting to email the author for the next page. Seriously...send me the next page.