Jun 15, 2015

QK Round 2: Best(iary) Western v. Skins of the Father

Entry Nickname: Best(iary) Western: Young Adult Paranormal Fantasy
Title: Fugitive Motel
Word count: 90K
Genre: YA Paranormal Fantasy


By day, fifteen-year-old Iris Vox sleepwalks through high school. By night, she plays a grown-up behind the reception desk of her father’s Kansas hotel, checking supernatural Others in and out and making sure they have live food, fresh blood, or a safe place to spin a web.

Keeping the Other world safe and secret is the only life Iris has ever known. She’s handy with dart guns and convenient lies. It was just safer when her dad didn’t spend so much time as a human smoothie - his curse makes him liquefy then pupate back to his normal shape. Dad’s metamorphosis used to happen on a schedule. Now it comes without warning, leaving Iris to hold everything together.

Just as sleep is a luxury to Iris, so is the truth. Her father won’t admit that something’s changed in his curse, or where her mother went. Deeply angry at her father’s silence, Iris turns to her guests for human contact. Consoling a vampire’s fading blood moll, soothing the self-hate of werewolves, and helping a handsome insect learn to fly, Iris finds her role as listener and solace. As Iris works through her anger, the Other world begins to change. The deeply buried magic that fuels it is coming close to the surface, bringing with it nameless creatures banished a millennia ago, creatures without the “humanity” that makes Others worth protecting.

Forced to bear witness to this change, Iris finally learns her father’s secret. Now she has to decide whether she wants to become the next Innkeeper and face this new danger, or leave the Other world behind.

First 250:

5:45 a.m.

A man staggers in through our automatic doors. Glad for some action, I slide last month’s National Geographic under the counter so I can focus on my customer. Nothing special about him, anyone else would see a regional salesman coming in after driving all night. An older man with skin like a re-used paper bag.

But the stagger…it’s not quite right. Drunks weave. This guy lurches forward like he’s got an absolute goal. Our desk. Me.

Yep. Pale, sullen, haggard with a side of desperate determination? Definitely looks like one of ours.

“Can I help you, Sir?”

“Have you got a room, Miss?”

The man grips the rim of the counter to steady himself. His well-groomed fingernails point toward me. With a great effort he lifts his left hand and slaps it on the counter twice. That’s good. It’s half the sign. Still, he’s not finished performing.

“What are you looking for exactly, Sir?” I prompt.

You have to say it or you can’t come in!

There’s a long anxious pause as he tries to remember. He grips so hard that his nail beds turn whitish gray.

“Rest and feed,” he answers finally, fishing the words out of some hard-to-access place in his brain, laying them out heavily on the counter.


Although the words before the knocks would have been better. Doing it backwards means he’s starving. Keeping a watchful eye on my guest, I check our availability.

“Have you stayed with us before?”


Entry Nickname: Skins of the Father
Title: The Sumerlin Curse
Word count: 66K
Genre: YA Southern Gothic


Sixteen-year-old George Sumerlin is a boy, no matter what he looks like. Born under a wicked family curse, he has the wings of a bat, horns of a bull, and the scaly tail of a lizard. While it doesn’t stop him from dribbling a basketball, it does keep him trapped on his family’s derelict plantation. He calls it prison. Mama calls it protection. The islanders would not understand him. They would kill him.

After George botches an escape attempt, pictures of him surface online and catch the eye of Grace, a young hoodoo-doctor hell-bent on capturing the beast terrorizing her village. She sneaks through George’s window, convinced he’s it. Now he must prove his innocence in order to save his tail.

He offers Grace a deal: he will track down the real monster—something she calls a Boo Hag, which haunts the marshes—if she will help him escape. His scaly butt is worth risking, at least until their search exposes a twisted secret about the Boo Hag, Mama, and the Sumerlin Curse that not only puts Grace’s soul in the monster’s sights, but proves George is more of a beast than he realized.

First 250:

Today, the third Wednesday of July, is a good day to run away.

Everything has gone according to the routine.

This morning, my caretaker, Clarence, came from the village, taking the dirt road I can just make out through slits in the fence. I’ve never been to the village—I’ve never left the yard—but I know where the road leads because I’ve stared at its serpentine line on the map pinned to my bedroom wall.

Clarence passes the ball. We always play basketball after morning studies. Today we graphed quadratic equations—snore—and finished our unit on the War of Northern Aggression. Because even when time is the only thing I have in unlimited quantities, there’s never enough to kill on learning about the South’s “glorious cause.”

I dribble the ball between my legs, avoiding my scaly tail, and float it off my claws. Swish! Clarence claps and says something about how good I’m getting. It’s a small consolation for being trapped here like a rabid animal.

A magnolia-scented breeze hits me like the air blowing out of Mama’s hair dryer. The million degrees of south Georgia heat and humidity bake the tips of my leathery wings. Sour moisture pools on my brow, curling the hair around my horns.

I dribble…dribble…again. Then a loud slap! reverberates off the reflection pool. I look up and squint. Mama’s on the patio, her lips smothered in gloss, a black pocket book clutched under her armpit. The third Wednesday of the month, the day Mama goes to the salon.


  1. Judges, please vote as a reply to this comment.


      I like the changes you made to your query. The first paragraph in particular is really attention-grabbing now.

      The first 250 dive us right into the action. I like the setup, and am intrigued by the premise. I'd definitely read on.

      Only (nitpicky!) thing I noticed is that you need to check the structure of the third sentence - break it into two sentences or use a semicolon or em-dash.



      I didn't notice any major changes with the query. I like it, but would still like some sort of insight into the time period - basketball makes it seem modern-day, but hoodoo doctors and "islanders" and derelict plantations make me wonder if it's set in the past sometime.

      The first 250 of this one also dives right in, giving us a glimpse of the main character and his conflict, as well as clues about the setting.

      One small comment - does George buy into his lessons on northern aggression and the South's glorious cause? If so, I don't think "glorious cause" should have quotation marks around it; otherwise it sounds like he's being facetious.

      Victory to... BEST(IARY) WESTERN!

    2. Best(iary) Western Query:

      This sold me: “It was just safer when her dad didn’t spend so much time as a human smoothie - his curse makes him liquefy then pupate back to his normal shape.”
      This is amazing and needs to be in paragraph 1! I think you can blend this into the line about checking in the ‘supes. It shows so much voice and uniqueness, you don’t want that buried. The beginning of paragraph 2 doesn’t add much, but you could add the part about Dad’s unpredictable changing as a new second paragraph and get right to the choices Vox faces. You don’t need to list the things she does at the inn, but instead focus on what Vox risks if she doesn’t run the hotel, and what she will lose if she does commit to the otherworld. We need to care about her choice.

      First 250:

      I like that right away there is tension, and we’re shown the hotel and Vox’s role without a narrator explaining. Though, I would have liked to see more of a glimpse of the supernatural. “Definitely looks like one of ours” could mean anything and so far only implies it’s a weary or drunken traveler. If there could be a hint that shows he is “other” that could blend very well with what’s brought up in the query.

      Skins of the Father Query:

      Well done. Honestly, I have nothing to add for this query. It fits the Southern Gothic subgenre, it shows detail, a hook, and personal motivation/stakes. Nice!!

      First 250:

      The opening compliments the query so well. I like the commentary on the War of Northern Aggression and this: Because even when time is the only thing I have in unlimited quantities, there’s never enough to kill on learning about the South’s “glorious cause.” The details and the sensations of the heat add a lot to the Southern Gothic vibe, plus the bat boy lizardy fantasy elements are distinct to set this apart.

      Victory to SKINS OF THE FATHER

    3. WHY DO YOU HAVE TO BE SUCH GOOD WRITERS?!?! This judging job would be easier if some of you were less awesome!


      Bestiary Western - I still love the premise and the little details, and you did such a great job making the query clearer and more specific.

      The part of the query I think still needs work is the last paragraph. Bearing witness sounds really passive, and facing danger is vague. I need a better sense of how she has agency in the story, and what that ramped-up second-stage conflict is. What does she have at stake? What are the consequences of failure? What choice does she have to make or obstacle does she have to overcome (more specific than “facing danger”)?

      The first 250 is great, and I love the little details that make me feel like an insider with Iris, inducting me into this weird world even as you teach me about it. I want more! My suggestion here is to get some stakes on the page. Is Iris worried about the situation possibly turning dangerous? About accidentally outing the inn to an outsider? Just eager to get this done and get to bed? Even small stakes will help hook us in.

      Skins of the Father - Great query! You create a nice arc of rising tension and increasing stakes, and it’s clear and concise, with a touch of voice. I actually can’t think of a way to make the query better. Great job!

      For the first 250, I think the middle could use a little tightening. I love your opening lines, the description of the heat (great setting), and the appearance of Mama, but it gets a bit bogged down in dribbling and more detail about his studies than we probably need right at the beginning when you’re hooking us into the story. None of it is bad, there’s just enough that it drags a bit, especially in contrast to the first line.

      This is a really, REALLY hard choice, and I keep waffling on it. If I could give a tie, I would. These are both very strong entries. But since I have to pick one, I’m going to go with the one that nailed the ratcheting up of stakes and tension at the conclusion of the query.


    4. No. No, no, no, no, no. I vote for both of you. YOU BOTH WIN A MORAL VICTORY. Oh, wait. Crap. I'm not allowed to do that. Excuse me, I have to go cry.

      Best(iary) Western:

      Wow. The changes to this query completely blew me away. I'd suggest not using angry and anger so close together, but that's a minor detail. I want to read this NOW.

      There are a couple of extra words in the first 250 - You don't need "Although" at the beginning of the last paragraph (and that's not a complete sentence as written). You've got "out" twice in one sentence a little before that. These are minor tweaks, but in a competition like this, where it's so close, you really could get knocked out for something that seems stupid.

      Skins of the Father:

      I love the idea of a YA Beauty and the Beast retelling. I want a little bit more about the beast terrorizing the village so it's a little more clear why the villagers would kill George if they knew his secret.

      I'd really love to know what makes Wednesday a good day to run away. It might help to tighten and trim a bit to see if you can get that onto the first page- maybe cut the line about things going according to routine, since we'll see that when you say they "always" play basketball and she goes to the salon on the third Wednesday of every month?

      Seriously, I love both of these entries. I'm this close to flipping a coin. May you both be pleased when you see your agent requests. But the voice in the first entry grabs me harder. VICTORY TO BEST(IARY) WESTERN.

    5. Best(iary) Western


      I LOVE your opening paragraph. What great details and lovely contrast sentences. Already from your query I get a strong sense of voice and your story really stands out. I want to read this NOW. However, the main conflict isn't hinted at until the last paragraph and you leave it pretty vague. Surely there are more stakes for Iris in this whole mess? What awful decisions does she have to make? What horrible consequences does she face? Does she want to run the hotel? What is her main goal? Those are questions I don't feel like I have the answer to yet and I'd like to. I think this query is great, but with a bit more work it can be even better.

      First 250

      What a great first page. You've got fantastic details and the story stands out already. Little things like "Haggard with a side of determination" really bring the story to life and show off your main character's voice. I don't have any suggestions for improvement. Just really, really loved this.

      Skins of the Father


      Another excellent query. You've done a fantastic job laying out your main characters, the conflict and what makes this story unique. I don't have any suggestions for improvement. I'm sure this is going to earn a bevy of agent requests!

      First 250

      You have a lot of lovely concrete details throughout your first page. Make sure to look for extra words you can cut, however. For example, in your first line "the third Wednesday of July," is unnecessary because you mention its the third Wednesday lower in the page. Additionally, that sub clause slows the reader while reading this first sentence and it lessens the impact of the overall statement. Compare that to "Today is a good day to run away." That later statement is far more stark and has more punch without the sub clause cluttering it up. I'd also suggest dropping your second sentence as it doesn't add much info and can be better conveyed by showing us his routine, rather than telling us about it.

      Your third paragraph has a lot of great detail in it, but that's getting lost amid some clunky sentence structure. There are only two sentences in this paragraph but both are long with several sub-clauses. I'd suggest rewording a bit and simplifying one or both sentences. Remember that you want to vary your sentence structure to give the narrative a good pace and rhythm. Long sentences, especially in succession, slow the reader. Whereas a bit of variation can help a great deal. Contrast the original paragraph with the following:
      "This morning, my caretaker, Clarence, came from the village, taking the dirt road I can just make out through slits in the fence. I've never been to the village. I've never left the yard. Despite that, I know where the road leads thanks to the map pinned to my bedroom wall."

      Do you see how the above structure varies long sentences with short. Breaking up the statements "I've never been to the village" and "I've never left the yard" give them more prominence and emphasis. Those are stark statements and they deserve a bit of a spotlight.

      I like how you've woven descriptions of George into the narrative. You've also done an excellent job including lots of sense details with the feel and sound of the location. In a very short time you're already building a believable and vivid location for your story. As with my comments on the first paragraphs though, look for words you can cut. Do we really need to know that George was working on quadratic equations? It's interesting, but this first page is precious real-estate and I'm not sure that little detail is as important. It also slows the narrative slightly when what the reader really wants to know is why and how George is going to run away.

      This was a hard choice, but in the end the first page of Best(iary) Wester won me over, so:
      Victory goes to - Best(iary) Western

    6. Princess ButtercupJune 17, 2015 at 12:26 AM

      OKAY. These two entries are simply unfair to judges. There is no way to pick a favorite between these two—but here I go!


      I loved your opening paragraph! It sets up the world and introduces us to your MC quite well. I do think there are too many details about what Iris is doing at the hotel and not enough detail about the conflict and what’s at stake. I didn’t really even notice the nameless creatures line until I read it again because it was buried in with all the other extraneous details about her daily interactions.

      What choice does she have to make when this buried magic resurfaces? Be as specific as you possibly can.

      I really don’t have any critique to offer on the 250. This story is right up my proverbial alley and I’d definitely read on, which means I’d request pages if I were an agent. Well done!

      Skins of the Father

      This is the first query I’ve not had a single nit-picky thing to say about. I can’t wait to see how many agent requests this query reels in! So. Well. Done.

      First 250
      First—I’m curious what year this is. I’m a Southerner and I’ve never heard anyone refer to the Civil War as a “glorious cause,” so that makes me think we might be in a historical setting. If not, the magnolia-scented breeze and the mention of Georgia that comes later is enough to establish we’re in the south.

      There’s also a slight POV slip in the basketball scene. Your MC wouldn’t think of his tail as his “scaly tail” any more than I think of my hair as my “brown hair” – it’s just “my tail” and “my hair.” It’s a small thing, but an agent or editor will likely notice.

      Otherwise, I also love your 250. Sigh.

      Overall I’m left trying to judge two entries that are about as evenly matched as any two entries can possibly be. It has to come down to which one I would be more likely to pick up if I had each in my hand and only enough money to buy one of them...


    7. BEST:

      The changes you've made to this query are remarkable. This is clear, interesting, and the tone is 99% consistent. Despite the wacky premise, I'm getting a really touching, emotional coming-of-age vibe that I don't think was there before, so bravo. The one thing that stood out to me--and goes against what other have said so take this as you will--is the use of the word "smoothie." It pulled me out of the query. For lack of a better word, it feels juvenile where the rest of the query has a more mature tone. Maybe just mention the curse liquefies him and be done with it? The 250 is a solid set-up and does a nice job of showing the level of detail Iris' has to have when working with her special clients. I don't get a lot of tension though - maybe if we see more of what makes the new guest unique?


      I think this query is very well done and the stakes are quite clear. George's voice is most apparent in the first paragraph, though, and it might be worth reconsidering word choice to see if you can increase that throughout. I would also recommend defining Grace's age. George is 16 and this is YA, yes? When I hear "doctor" I think mid to late twenties at the earliest and I get she's not a medical doctor so age is probably irrelevant for her position but you don't want an agent to assume there's a huge and not-so-YA-friendly age gap in what seems to either be a close partnership or possibly romance. So, say her age or swap doctor for a word that has fewer preconceived notions - this type of clarity could change my entire impression of the book TBH. Your 250 is where the real magic is. It's quite atmospheric and I can feel the same breeze George does. I know exactly where I am and who I am right off the bat. Great job.

      This is a really difficult one for me, but I'm going with the one I can see on the shelf right now: VICTORY TO BEST(IARY) WESTERN

  2. Best(iary) Western: query - Okay, got to love the irony of her turning to non humans for human contact. Loved that. Dad as a human smoothie is funny also. :-) First 250 - Strong. Good voice. I have nothing. LOL

  3. The Skins of the Father: Query: Good stakes, good length. I couldn't get Beowulf out of my head while reading it. First 250 - I found the first 250 alive with voice. Somehow being in a monster's head made me laugh.

  4. Best(iary) - I loved the opening paragraph of the query -- it does such a great job setting up the world and MCs role. My one nit-pick would be to perhaps rephrase: '...his curse mak(es)ing him...' In the opening 250, the descriptions are fresh and the voice comes through clear and strong. I'd keep on reading.

    Skins - The query does a good job outlining the stakes and situation. Since it's a fairly long sentence, perhaps trim back the following?: '(His scaly butt is worth risking, at least until) Their search exposes....' The opening 250 were engaging. I was confused why his mother's being outside caused a 'slap' to reverberate off the reflecting pool, but realize that may be explained in the next couple sentences. I like this idea of the misfit wanting to explore the world, while knowing the world is unlikely to welcome him.

  5. Hi, Best(iary)
    I love the concept here. The problem is clearly defined and the potential for fun, odd goings-on is clear.
    The beginning is perfect for this kind of a story. The voice is not especially YA, but it works and is engaging. I found her a little cold, but that might point to her arc. Further in, I would need something to help me empathize with Iris.

    Hi, Skins
    The query catches the hero in a dilemma and doesn't let go. That's good, and it is clear what the stakes are. What might improve it is more of the sense of the gothic and the mysterious other world. As this is presented, George might be nothing more than a deformed kid, which would disappoint genre readers. What is there about this story that is outre?
    The beginning points directly at the escape, and I like the way his own state is taken for granted, but it feels static without much going on. There is a real opportunity to present his sense of urgency, risk, and tension within this section.

  6. BESTIARY WESTERN - This sounds very original. I loved your 250. your query felt a little long and winding. Can you leave out some of the details and just give us the stakes?

    SKINS - Nice voice in your 250, in the query, I'd like to see something more specific at the end about the stakes. Discoveries are one thing, but what is really on the line?

  7. Fellow QK'er here, K. A. Reynolds. :)

    Fugitive Motel, Gah! I love this concept. I have zero to crit. The query is clear and interesting, the 250 is engaging and I already get the MC's voice, and love it. Great job and good luck!

    Skins: I'm really confused by the last paragraph in your query. The lack of named names (*he* offers Grace a deal--who?; if she will help *him* escape--he who?) is confusing for someone who doesn't know the story. I'd clear that up by inserting the actual names, as there are a few characters n your query. I do like the premise, however, but am not quite sure what's going on. Your 250 gives a nice southern tone I love. Good luck!

  8. I love Fugitive Motel's concept and voice too. Nothing to critique that I can think of!

    Skins has a good 250, releasing info bit by bit very effectively. But I was puzzled right off the bat about this idea of escaping. If he's such a monster, where could he possibly think he could escape to?

    Query: Great voice and very cool premise with lots of opportunities for adventure and character growth. The second paragraph makes me wonder whether breaking her father’s curse should be one of your MC’s priorities, rather than a mere inconvenience. I also think you can amp up the stakes in the end by pitting Iris against the rising danger. Otherwise, your query is enticing and well-crafted.
    250: Excellent world-building in such a limited space. I love the way you create a sense of intrigue as you introduce us to Iris’ home and its secrets. The opening has a noir feel to it and definitely makes me want to pick up your book and explore your world further.

    Query: Excellent query. I have nothing to add, other than I need this book in my life.
    250: The juxtaposition of the supernatural and the ordinary gives a dreamlike quality to your story while grounding it firmly in reality. Seeing your “monstrous” mc play basketball, sweat and wine about homework makes him instantly relatable. Well-done!

    Good luck to you both!

  10. Best(iary) Western: I'm not generally a fan of paranormal, but I could totally get into this! If nothing else, I want to hear about how Iris helps werewolves learn to love themselves. In the first 250, I might change the sentence about a long anxious pause to something that makes it clear she's also anxious - she held her breath as he tried to remember or she was willing him to remember the words, if that fits her personality. I'm also not in love with "Although the words before the knocks would have been better," and might change to "If he had given the words before the knocks, it would have been better - doing it backwards means he's starving."
    SKINS: Lots of potential. I think you can take out the snore with quadratic equations - kind of goes without saying. Maybe think about adding an adjective around Clarence, such as "claps like an X" or "caretaker, Clarence, who pretends to tolerate me." Also a thought - while playing basketball, do his wings get in the way? I like the idea that he may have a clip holding them back similar to a ponytail. But these are just random thoughts, and I know you will do great in your query process.

  11. Best(iary) Western - I really liked the revisions on the query - everything is a lot more clear now. I'm still a tiny bit uncertain about what curse Iris's father has, but I don't think it really interferes with my comprehension as much as it did with the older query. As for the 250, I thought it was really good, with a very nice flow. If there's one thing I'd recommend changing, I'd take out that thought about 'if you don't say it, I can't let you in" - I feel like that's implied by everything else, and breaks up that awesome flow you have.

    Skins - I thought your query was particularly strong, and did a great job building up tension until we get to the ultimate stakes. As for the 250, I really loved the opening line. I did think at times there were little words or lines that took me out of the narrative though, like when he makes a point to say "snore" with quadratic equations, or the ellipses between "dribble...dribble" - Maybe word it something like "I dribble. Dribble again" just so it keeps its punchiness.

    Overall, though, two excellent entries.

  12. Thank you all so much for taking the time to read, think and give feedback. I'm busy taking in the critique and working with it. Thanks to my talented opponent as well. I've admired the originality of the idea and voice of The Sumerlin Curse since I read it in Become an Agent. I'm looking forward to seeing it on a bookshelf soon.