Jun 28, 2015

QK Round 5: Best(iary) Western v. Life Sucks-I'm Stuck in Podunk

Entry Nickname: Best(iary) Western
Title: Fugitive Motel
Word count: 90K
Genre: Young Adult 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. Quick with a dart gun or a convenient lie, Iris provides her guests with live food, fresh blood, or a quiet place to spin a web.

It’s the only life Iris has ever known, but it was safer when her dad didn’t spend so much time as a human smoothie. Born with a hereditary curse, he liquefies then pupates 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. Enraged by 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. While Iris navigates her anger, the curses that fuel the Other world get stronger and stranger. Deeply buried magic is rising to the surface, bringing with it ancient beings who lack the “humanity” that makes Others worth protecting.

Faced with how these new beings will corrupt and endanger the world of Others, Iris finally learns her father’s secret, and its cost to her family. Now she has to decide whether she wants to become the next Innkeeper, 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 to 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, but I have to be sure.

“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.

There’s a long anxious pause as he tries to remember. He grips so hard that his nail beds turn whitish gray. My right hand creeps under the counter so that my index finger can rest on the pebbled steel of the trigger. I feel it and my heart rate drops.

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


The words before the knocks would have better though. Doing it backwards means he’s starving.

Entry Nickname: Life Sucks—I’m Stuck in Podunk
Title: Middle of Knowhere
Word count: 70K
Genre: YA Contemporary


Truck-driving, tobacco-chewing rednecks. That’s what seventeen-year-old Hailey Nelson pictures when her dad decides to up and relocate their family from vibrant Chicago to the middle of God-Knows-Where. She plans to hate this small, rural three-stoplight town. But what she doesn’t anticipate is falling in love with a Pepto-Bismol colored antiques store and the quirky woman who runs it. A woman who shows her more love and affection than Hailey's always absent, TV journalist mother.

Misery does love company, and when Hailey finds out her parents are getting divorced, anti-social Ryker Evans—a local teen outcast and bearer of hideous posture—is surprisingly supportive and understanding. Probably because his family is even more messed up than hers. When Hailey gets a glimpse of what Ryker could look like with a little TLC, Project Ryker is on. Only she doesn’t expect Ryker to be hot with a capital “H.” Or sweet and fun, writing her songs and taking her dumpster diving for donuts. Now she has more to worry about than her parents’ divorce and her mother’s abandonment. She has her own stupid feelings for Ryker to work through too.

But falling for Ryker could present a whole new set of problems. Because ever since his mother took her own life, Ryker has blamed himself. And if Hailey tries to find out the truth of what happened that day, she could lose him forever.

First 250:

This is what hell looks like.

I stare out the window of Dad’s Ford Explorer. Along the curvy road, dilapidated double-wide trailers that look like they belong in some independent film version of a horror flick, litter the sparse lawns. An old couch, unused tires, and even a rust-stained toilet lay strewn next to one particularly neglected trailer.

“Please tell me no one lives there,” I mutter.

Dad glances in my direction, his mouth set in a firm, disapproving line. “Now, Hailey, try to remember that these people aren’t as fortunate as you and I.” His eyes grind into me, like a pestle trying to turn me into bits of shame. “They do the best they can.”

I sigh and turn back to the window as another trailer comes into view, this one even more unkempt. Amazingly enough, one of the occupants is sitting on the sagging porch steps blowing a cloud of smoke into the humid summer air. The man is grease personified. Like if someone wrung him out, they’d have an entire vat of frying oil. I wrinkle my nose and look down when I make eye contact with him. Suddenly, my nails are desperate for attention.

“How long until Mom joins us?” I ask, digging at one particularly bothersome cuticle.

Mom’s been gone for weeks now. As a broadcast journalist, she jet sets around the world while Dad acts as homemaker extraordinaire. Not that I’m knocking my dad’s skills. He can make a mean BLT.


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

    1. I was really hoping this wouldn't be a choice I'd have to make. :-(

      I actually prefer contemporary to fantasy. In a bookstore, if I only saw these two books, I'd probably by Podunk. But Best(iary) had been one of my favorites since Day 1.


    2. Princess ButtercupJune 28, 2015 at 9:36 AM

      Best(iary) Western
      I loved this entry the first time I read it and hoped to see it advance! A teen girl running a hotel full of strange creatures, who sits at the front desk with her finger on a trigger is definitely right up my alley! The query is rock solid and so are the first 250!

      Life Sucks—I’m Stuck in Podunk
      And here’s where subjectivity comes into play. I’m really not into “girl-polishes-diamond-in-the-rough-boy” kind of stories. Sorry! Other judges may very well feel differently.


    3. These are both so, so wonderful. I've been dreading this choice. I would read them both in a heartbeat. They both show great voice, character development, and conflict.

      However, I have to vote for just one. So, while I'm rooting for both of you, I'm voting for the one with the more unique premise.


    4. Bookalicious MamaJune 28, 2015 at 12:10 PM

      Best(iary) Western

      Great voice, and this is actually the first time I've read it. I love a good paranormal YA, and I am totally feeling everything written. Everything about this entry is solid and well done. Great Job.

      Life Sucks—I’m Stuck in Podunk:

      Loving the YA voice here. You've hit it on the head. The query is solid, and the goals are set. I'm a sucker for romances like this.

      Both entries are solid, so I'm playing the subjective card:

      VICTORY TO: Life Sucks—I’m Stuck in Podunk

    5. Best(iary) Western
      I want to say right up front how pleased I am with the improvements to this query. This version is so much more polished than the original. It gives me a perfect idea of what the novel is about! Your first 250 words are wonderful for drawing the reader in. I’m ready to read more!

      Life Sucks – I’m Stuck in Podunk
      I like the plot of this from the query, but would encourage you to revisit it. You start a lot of sentences with “But” “Because” and “And.” While not strictly forbidden, this type of “breaking the rules” should be used sparingly. It makes me worry about the quality of the writing in your manuscript. As for your first 250 words, Hailey is immediately relatable, which is very helpful. My only suggestion would be to find a less “info-dump” way to explain her mother’s job. Perhaps she should complain what it’s like to be the daughter of a broadcast journalist, or be annoyed that her mother seems more interested in every other child in the world other than her own. The way you have it now isn’t bad, but I think you could be more subtle about it and give us even more insight into Hailey’s sullen teen persona.


    6. I hate having to choose! I really love both of these and would definitely read both of them, especially knowing how hard the authors have worked and how well they've accepted the criticism given. My personal preference is contemporary and I would read PODUNK in a heartbeat. It's a fresh twist on a perennial favorite. However, the opponent is something that I don't think has been done before and I believe it will appeal to both fans of contemporary and urban fantasy. So with that said, VICTORY TO BEST(IARY) WESTERN!

    7. These are both so good. I've voted for each of you in an earlier round. My vote is going to come down to pure subjectivity since I'm more likely to pick up a book with a romantic element than paranormal. You should both be proud of making it so far. Good luck to both of you.


    8. Holy cow, what a difficult choice. I've loved Bestiary since the very first round, and after reading Podunk for the first time last round, I'm definitely a fan. I am certain both entries will find representation very soon, they are that strong. But I have to choose...I love the unique setting of Bestiary, and feel like the query may be a bit more settled than Podunk (a couple of misplaced commas in Podunk, for example). So I will say:


    9. Both of these entries are incredible, as I'm sure you've gathered from making it this far in the contest. There's not much more that I can say that I haven't already in previous rounds. Therefore I'll skip straight to the good part...VICTORY TO LIFE SUCKS I'M STUCK IN PODUNK!

    10. Best(iary) Western - YES! Great revision! This version of the query finally has the sense of agency and rising dramatic tension I've been looking for. You nailed it!

      Stuck in Podunk - Great query! You do a great job laying out character and internal and external conflicts. Smooth and professional, too. Watch out for errors (comma, lie/lay) in the second paragraph of the 250, though.

      VICTORY TO BEST(IARY) WESTERN! (And great job and good luck to both!!!)

    11. I will always have a fondness for the idea of BEST(IARY)'S human smoothie shapeshifting Dad-hilarious and inventive. The whole concept has fun elements in the vein of Kiersten White's Paranormalcy series, which I loved. My only concern is I don't see agents right now looking for YA paranormal, even if it's a step beyond para romance. I think this is a great query and strong opening, so regardless of what happens with the contest, go forward and query.

      PODUNK has a solid query with great imagery in the opening pages. The writing draws me in. The Manuscript Wish List feed #MSWL for YA is currently full of agents looking for contemporary and realistic YA, and especially involving themes of class issues and diversity (racial, culture, gender, abilities). A marketable concept paired with strong writing puts this entry ahead for me.


    12. Jackie Jormp-JompJune 29, 2015 at 3:10 AM

      I can’t wait to read these books! I feel like both queries do a great job of incorporating the unique the voices of the MCs. However, I wish the stakes in both queries were a bit stronger, and that the consequences for failing/making a bad decision etc were more apparent. That’s easier said than done, I know (from personal experience!) But, food for thought.

      Again, I really like both of these, and know they’ll both go far, but I have to admit that I have a little crush on Iris and her bad ass attitude so…

      Victory to BEST(IARY) WESTERN

    13. The match-ups this late in the contest are more or less nonsensical, which is fitting because the prize difference is as well! :-D (You'll get an agent if your manuscript is as good as your query, regardless of what percentage of the ms you submit.) To each of you, I earnest hope these final rounds do not sweat you. You're both doing great.

      At this point, it all boils down to genre preference. Based upon the 250, these both seem like great, readable entries. But I'm personally more interested in BEST(IARY) WESTERN.

      Victory to BEST(IARY) WESTERN

    14. These are two of my favorite contestants from the whole tournament. Well done to both of you.

      This far along, I'm letting the first 250 make the difference for me. Both kombatants bring voice and outstanding vivid detail to the ring. In the end, though, I'm more grabbed by the immediate tension of the hotel lobby.

      Victory to BEST(IARY) WESTERN

    15. This is such a tough match-up. Both entries are really great. But the voice on Best(iary) Western is just unstoppable. Plus I'm a fantasy girl at heart.

      Victory to BEST(IARY) WESTERN

    16. The final tally is in, it seems, and I've had the kind of day that means losing Blogger comments and being away from reliable internet so, with apologies to the authors, here's my belated vote:

      BEST(IARY) WESTERN, I still feel as though the ultimate stakes for Iris are too vague, and there's material in the query you might cut to make room for a more foreceful, clear statement about what she stands to gain or lose.

      PODUNK, congratulations for taking a query that, to be honest, I actually actively DISLIKED in round 1, and turning into a charming, voice-y gem.

      My rule of thumb is that the writing sample is always more important, and the novelty of imagery and close attention to detail in BEST(iary) really has me at "hello."


  2. Best(iary) -
    I love the unique premise. I can just imagine the adventures and difficulties your MC would encounter. The query really makes me want to read more.

    Podunk -
    I love the voice here. The descriptions are great and I love how the setting comes through so vividly.

    However, if both these books were sitting in front of me and I had to pick one to start reading, I think one would win over due to it's incredibly unique premise.

    Victory to... BEST(IARY) WESTERN!

  3. I have no doubt all top eight will get agents and the top four is included in that list. That being said, I'm not a fan of contemporary and since I love paranormal, I'd have to vote for the one with the supernatural elements.
    There's nothing wrong with PODUNK, both the query and 250 are fine, it's just not my cup of tea (don't you love all a cliche first thing in the morning?).

    VICTORY TO BEST(IARY) WESTERN because I want to read it like right now.

  4. Best(iary): I love how much this query has progressed. And, your first 250 ropes me right in. I don't have any suggestions for improvement.

    Podunk: I write contemporary, and to me, voice is everything. Your query & 250 drip teen voice. So well done.

    I hoped I wouldn't have to choose because both of these entries are stellar.

    But, because it's so unique, I choose VICTORY TO BEST(IARY) WESTERN.