Jun 15, 2015

QK Round 2: Guinness

Entry Nickname: Guinness
Title: Blacktop Oracle
Word count: 65,000
Genre:  Supernatural Fantasy


Seventeen-year-old Cooper “Coop” Lambert excels at mischief. After a run in with Johnny Law, the D.A. offers diversion. He’s assigned to Mac, a 92-year-old crotchety piece of work, but the old guy has a way with cars and owns a bad ass 1969 GTO called Sybil. They’ve nearly finished restoring it when Coop arrives at the garage only to find Mac dead. Days after burying his elderly friend things only grow more confusing for Coop when he discovers Mac left the GTO to him.

Coop’s parents overcome their reservations until he’s ticketed three times in one week for reckless driving. Only Coop knows he isn’t the problem; it’s the car. Mac failed to mention that Sybil goes all funhouse mirror while doing 80 on the interstate. The windows wash out and instead of the landscape he sees visions of people in trouble. If that isn’t enough to get him committed, the prophecies start coming true, and the cops eyeball Coop for knowing more than he should. He doesn’t have to tell anyone, he can keep it to himself. But when he witnesses a murder, he has a choice to make. If he keeps his mouth shut, someone he knows dies. If he talks, it’s a one-way ticket up crap creek, where his parents have a rubber room on reserve.

First 250:

Dust swirled around Coop’s head like pollution, clinging to his hair, skin, and eyelashes. Grit lined his nose and tickled his throat, but Mac kept reminding him that restoration was an art form, a way to bond with the vehicle.

The sander cut off and he ran his gloved hand across the fender. A grunt got his attention, and he turned to Mac, sitting with his cast up on a case of WD-40.

 Coop pulled the dust mask from his face. “What?”

“Don’t go on many dates, do you?”

Mac was famous for causing whiplash with his topic changes, but Coop had learned to go with it.  “Huh?”

“A car is like a woman.” Mac shifted in his chair to ease the pressure on his leg.

Coop mopped away the sweat on his forehead with one arm. What the hell did that have to do with anything? Mac’s wrinkled gaze homed in on his, and he realized the old guy wanted a response. “Yeah, how so?”

“A woman must be handled gently.” Mac ran his calloused hand lightly, almost lovingly, across the fender. “Stroked in a way that soothes rather than offends. A car is the same way.” Mac was full of…little bits of wisdom.

Coop eyed the sanded spot, his mind struggling to follow.

“Take that blasted glove off.” Mac’s gravelly voice landed on Coop’s last nerve, but he ripped the glove off.

“Run your hand across that spot you’re sanding, from right to left.”


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


      Love the concept here (still). You've got a couple long sentences in your query that could be split up, particularly in the first paragraph.

      The first 250 works well. I already like Mac.

      You might consider throwing in a few hints here or there about Coop himself, why he's there, or what his relationship to Mac is. I'm not quite sure if he's enjoying working with Mac or just humoring the guy.

      Victory to GUINNESS!

    2. Guinness Query:
      There’s a nice, consistent voice here in the query. I think it’s pretty strong as is. In the spirit of nitpicking, I’m not sure you need the part about the parents and the three tickets. You could go right into the line that Mac failed to mention Sybil…. We don’t really need to know how he found out in the query, only that he does and what it’s like, and what it forces Coop to do.

      First 250:

      Nice to begin right with imagery of the car since that’s the focal point. It’s so hard to find the right place to start a story, and I think this is it. Mac’s affection for the car is creepy in all the right ways, and (hopefully) foreshadowing he might know the car is cursed/sentient.

    3. Very cool! Great query—cool concept, and the query lays out the stakes clearly and compellingly.

      I found the first 250 a bit disorienting, and think you might want to take just a little space to orient the reader to the scene and characters. The first paragraph doesn't pack much punch and doesn't really establish the scene well without context, either.

      We also don't really have anything at stake in the first page. I know it's hard to get stakes into page 1, but if you can, there's a much greater chance your readers will be compelled to stay with you through page 2. Even if it's just a sense of what Coop wants out of this situation/exchange, or something he's worried about.

      I especially love how you ramp up the stakes at the end of the query. Great job! Good luck!

    4. Guinness:

      Good work on revisions! I feel like you've cut something important from the first paragraph though and have left us hanging - what reservations do his parents have? I also dislike the phrase at the end about the rubber room. It'll probably make more sense when you clarify the parents earlier on though.

      250 is funny and very voicey and all I have to say is that I wish Mac lived. I love curmudgeons :)

    5. Princess ButtercupJune 16, 2015 at 11:40 PM


      I’d love to see you cut back on the first paragraph and get to the gritty stuff in the second paragraph sooner. I’m going to be completely (painfully?) honest. I started skimming after about the third sentence, but my brain did a backflip when I got “funhouse mirror…the windows wash out…” THAT’S when I backed up and re-read the entire thing.

      I would trim everything before that part down to a couple of lines. We don’t need to know his parents have reservations and all that. He excels at mischief and is offered an alternative assignment to work with Mac—until Mac dies and leaves the car to him. That’s really all we need to know…then launch into the creepy car stuff.

      I love, love, love Mac’s voice in your first 250 and the way he and Mac interact feels very authentic. I do think your 250 could benefit from a little framing/scene setting. I know you mentioned what kind of car it is in the query, but it’s not mentioned in the MS. A reader won’t have the benefit of the query letter to let them know what kind of car is being restored. Also, are they in a garage? A driveway? And we don’t learn until five sentences later that it’s Mac’s leg that’s probably propped up on the case of WD-40. I imagined his arm (I also have to admit not knowing how large a case of WD-40 might be, so my assumption might not have even been reasonable). But weaving in a few of these details can really help orient the reader and drop us into your story.

      The voice you have in your 250 is very well done. Old men have a very special place in my heart. Even the crotchety ones! I’d just like to see a bit more of a hook or some sort of story questions raise to ensure that the reader reads on to the next page. Well done!

    6. Query
      I really like the originality of this premise and your overall idea. The last line, "If he talks, it’s a one-way ticket up crap creek, where his parents have a rubber room on reserve" is my absolute favorite and indicative of the fun word-play and voice that really come across in this query. How does Mac die? Foul play or natural causes?

      You've done a great job introducing the main character and the stakes in your query and I think you'll get a lot of requests for this one. Great job.

      First 250
      You've done a good job using sensory details to bring the scene to life and ground the reader in the story. There's also the inklings of the relationship between Mac & Coop, which is nice to see right of the bat. It's hard only being able to read such a tiny excerpt, but is this the right place to start your story? What is the inciting incident? Is it in this chapter? If not, consider starting either earlier or later in the story to get closer to that incident. When I read a first page I want to have the sense that the story HAD to start right here, in this moment because it couldn't have started anywhere else. I don't have this with your opening. I feel like this is an ordinary day and an ordinary interaction between these two. Is there a way to show why it isn't?

  2. Fellow Kombat warrior here, Kristin R.

    I remember this entry, and I love the changes you've made. The query letter is clear, concise, and it explains the plot beautifully. Good job cutting that baby apart! I still love the 250. Just love mac to death. :) Good luck!

  3. Guinness - I read this entry before and, though I can't pin down what changes you made, the query read smoothly to me. My one nit-pick is the choice of 'more confusing' in the 1st paragraph as nothing mentioned before seemed confusing. But perhaps I've missed something? In the 1st 250, I thought the dialogue had a natural feel and I could feel the grit in the air.

  4. Hi, Guinness

    The concept here is powerful and clearly stated in a minimum of words. The only think that might be added is a touch more to distinguish Coop from other bad boys. The query works as is, but an added dimension would seal it.

    I'm not fond of the opening simile, and the first sentence is so critical, it might be worth a rethink. After that, the story takes off, shadowing but not aping The Karate Kid. It does raise expectations of a romance. I guess the relationship with Sybil might be a love story, with all the elements, but I doubt it. If not -- as much as I love what this conveys about Mac -- other options might work better for the beginning.

  5. My first time reading your entry. Love the whole concept. In the first paragraph of the query, I'm a bit confused by the sentence that the DA offers diversion. What does that mean? Since when do DAs offer diversions? And why would a boy be assigned to an old man? Is this some sort of probation type or public service type program? I had to read it twice and still didn't quite grasp it. The rest, great! Great voice.
    First 250: If I hadn't read the query, I'd be lost. I'd love to be more grounded in the setting right from the first few lines. And then, since you are starting after he's been "assigned" to the old guy, if you could throw in some internalizations that let us know something about their relationship and why he's there, that would really help. Of course, I know it's only the first 250 words and you probably have that in the next 50, lol. That's what makes both writing an opening page and critiquing it so difficult.

  6. Query: This is awesome! The voice is spot-on and intriguing without being too muddled in slang or MC-specific vocabulary. It's accessible while being really engaging. My only question is what age category this is? YA? Adult? Coop is 17 but clarification would be good to make it easy for agents to categorize.

    250: Fun opening! Great juxtaposition between the young buck and the grizzled old-timer full of wisdom. It's a nice set up of opposites, but I feel the Game of Thrones aspect coming on, that takes away a character I'm probably going to fall in love with - Mac. I also wonder if this is the right starting point for your book. It's engaging but I don't know that starting with this introduction is indicative of the rest of your MS. You're the one who's read (written) the rest but I would suggest starting with Coop admiring the car in an internal monologue, watching Mac tinker or smoke or whatever, and then launch into the conversation between the two of them. Just to establish the story is about Coop, not his relationship with Mac, which we know from the query will be ended soon due to Mac's death. Great job catching the eye though!

  7. Guinness/ Blacktop Oracle

    Congratulations on moving on to the next round! A supernatural fantasy sounds awesome, but I just wanted to point out that you forgot your age range. Since your MC is 17, I'm guessing it's a YA novel.

    I really like the concept of your story, it's so unique. The query does a great job of outlining the stakes and shows the special aspects of the characters. I only have one nitpicky comment. The second sentence in the first paragraph comes off a little muddled for me. First, I wondered if Jonny Law was a real person then I got stumped up on the term diversion. It might help to be clearer on this detail, say probation instead of diversion and maybe use another slang word for the cops that doesn't sound like a person's name.

    I love the voice in your 250, it flows so naturally. I would definitely read more of this. I don't have anything to add, as your writing is very good, except good job.

    I think you'll do well with this script and I can't wait to read it when it's in print.
    Good luck next round!

  8. Guinness
    Query: I read this one before. I still love the concept, and while I think some of it is clearer, some of my original questions still haven't really been answered (or removed). Specifically--what kind of "diversion" is working with an old guy on cars? I don't understand how Coop is assigned to work with Mac as punishment. Maybe I just don't know enough about the legal system/court-ordered community service, but I always envision that as picking up trash or something that affects an entire community, not working for one lone old dude.

    I also sort of feel like the line about Mac's parents at the beginning of paragraph 2 is unnecessary, and you could start with "Mac failed to mention..."

    First 250: A hint of Coop's goal (does he need to please Mac to finish his service--or whatever he's doing?) might be nice, but this reads really smoothly, and I still love it.

  9. Thanks everyone! I am back at revisions. Good luck to all combatants.