Jun 21, 2016

QK Round 3: My Boyfriend Rigged the Lottery vs. Ticket to Ride

Title: Windfall
Nickname: My Boyfriend Rigged The Lottery
Word Count: 83K
Genre: YA Contemporary Suspense


In Marina’s culture, dumplings are thought to bring wealth and good fortune to anyone who eats them. But she’s been eating dumplings her whole life and good fortune remains as elusive as a good boyfriend. She’s a Chinese-American piano prodigy with no say in her future, and the pressure to be perfect is crushing her. 

On her eighteenth birthday, Marina plays Windfall—a new lottery game promising large payouts every day for life. When she wins and her dad inexplicably forbids her from claiming the prize, she feels newly entitled to defy her parents and reject their plans for her life. She accepts the money against their wishes, cutting her family ties in the process. As she lets new friends in, including a sexy guitar player named Sean who represents everything that’s missing from her musical life, her old friends get pushed to the side.

But Marina’s lottery win comes with strings attached. She was hand-picked to win because of her family connections, and because those on top thought she’d be easy to manipulate. If she fails to do her part and the scandal is exposed, she’ll be removed. Since it’s a for-life prize, the company only has to pay out as long as she’s … well, alive. When Marina finds evidence linking her dad to the intrigue, she turns to Sean for help. But Sean’s arrival in her life was suspiciously close to the announcement of her lottery win and there’s a lot she doesn’t know about him, including the fact that he’s the CEO’s nephew. To keep her family and friends out of the crossfire of the scandal, Marina must figure out who to trust and who’s pulling the lottery strings—before her prize becomes a noose.

First 250:

My best friend’s raspberry spritzer sat dangerously close to the edge of the table, a twitch of the elbow away from tumbling to the floor. It was non-alcoholic, of course. The staff at Valer Prep made sure that alcohol was only consumed by parents (preferably ones with fat checkbooks) at the annual fundraising events.

I reached over Darya and slid her drink to a less precarious spot in the center of the table. She didn’t even notice—she just kept staring at the phone in her hands.

Okay, I was staring at it too.

“The draw was at six. Why haven’t they posted the numbers yet?” Darya’s eyes were wide, and her dark hair hung in thick waves down her back. She had the tiniest hint of a Spanish accent, but it only came out when she was stressed or upset. Like now.

“Relax, it’s only been five minutes.” My leg bounced up and down under the table, upsetting the floor-length tablecloth.

The parents in the decked-out ballroom were dressed like they’d gotten lost on their way to the Oscars and ended up at our high school’s silent auction by mistake. They mingled about, bidding on rounds of golf at exclusive country clubs and dinner cruises around the San Francisco Bay. What they really should have been bidding on were self-help courses like: Connecting with Teens For Dummies, or How to Break Your Workout Addiction in Ten Easy Steps.

Despite what I'd said to Darya, I felt anything but relaxed.


Entry Nickname: Ticket to Ride
Word Count: 78K
Genre: YA contemporary


Seventeen-year-old Jack wants to escape his narrow-minded Appalachian hometown more than anything. His family’s welfare checks pay for little more than food on the table, his mom and her pastor won’t stop lecturing him about his sins, and the rumors about his sexuality floating around school make him feel unsafe at every turn. The only thing worth looking forward to is the full-ride scholarship with his name on it—his one-way ticket to a better life.

But his plans hadn’t involved falling for Casey, the boy from the trailer park down the road who understands him in ways no one else in their town can. With the countdown to college ticking away, there’s only a limited amount of time to make the most out of their relationship. And unfortunately for Jack, using his scholarship means leaving Casey behind.

Then, right before college starts, his mother tries to commit suicide, blaming her attempt on her son’s sexual orientation. Overwhelmed with guilt, Jack finds his mental state heading in the same direction as his mom’s. It doesn’t help that he hasn’t slept since she kicked him out of her room at the psychiatric clinic, or that Casey, without explanation, hasn’t returned any of his calls since the incident. Now, Jack must learn to balance the life he’s been dealt and the life he wants before he can patch up the situation with his mom and win back the guy he loves.

First 250:

Jack snapped his head around. What was different? Had the shower curtain moved?

He swiped a hand over his face to clear away the sudsy water, then examined each corner of the shower stall. Nothing, nothing, and nothing. The only thing within reach was his tiny bottle of shampoo, the one shower product he’d been using to clean himself.


There, on the bar above the shower curtain, he saw it: No clothes hanging over the bar, no towel, even though they’d been there just moments before.


He rotated the lever until the water stopped flowing. Surely this couldn’t be happening. His towel must’ve fallen off the curtain rod. His clothes, too. Because there was no way someone had taken them. Right?

Jack placed a hand on the shower curtain, ready to pull it back. His stomach clenched as the root of the problem hit him: the noise level in the locker room also fell into the “nothing” category. He heard no talking, no footsteps, no lockers slamming. Had he been so focused on his thoughts—what was I thinkin’ about, again?—that he’d missed when the entire gym class left?

With a turn of his wrist, he peeled back the edge of the shower curtain. His gaze landed on the bare floor, the empty bench, and the vacated shower stalls. The only sound prickling his ears was his own breathing.

Everyone was gone. And they’d taken his clothes on their way out.


  1. Judges, please leave votes and comments as a REPLY to this comment.

    1. Ahhh... and we're down to the "both entries are so perfect that there's not a lot to comment on" stage of the contest!

      My Boyfriend Rigged the Lottery:

      Fascinating premise, and I love how you're able to work so many details about Marina into the query. I get a very good sense of who she is even in three paragraphs! The only thing I'm a little confused about is what exactly the "scandal" is that the CEO is trying to cover up. Still, I get enough of a sense that there are multiple layers of stakes here that that confusion wouldn't stop me from reading on.

      The first 250 are perfect. Love the humor and the sort of self-awareness of the ridiculousness of the situation!

      Ticket to Ride:

      Oh, this sounds heartbreaking, and I love the poor, rural setting. Only thing I'm confused about here is that "balance the life..." is kind of vague as far as stakes go. It can also be very hard to explain what the stakes are for a more literary, character-driven novel, though. Again, nothing that would make me NOT want to read.

      First 250... what an opening! I feel for your narrator right off the bat! One tiny suggestion--I would suggest NOT writing out dialect, except possibly in dialogue (and be careful with it even then). The reason for this is that it is "othering" rural accents... we don't really usually see authors trying to phoeneticize Brooklyn accents or British accents... these are seen as default. But if this book is set in Appalachia, that accent WOULD be default here, and the voice in Jack's head would, as far as Jack is concerned, just be saying "thinking."


      Both AMAZING entries but I'm going with...


    2. Wow! Two great entries with clear stakes and conflict. Love it!

      My Boyfriend...


      From the last time I read, the story has been streamlined and the stakes and conflict are there. The only thing I keep getting hung up on is the scandal. I know you're trying to keep it a mystery, but without a hint as to how it truly effects Marina's life it's hard to feel the conflict in the story.

      First 250:

      This revision is solid. I love how you set the scene and get us right into the story. Just one question though. Why is an 18 year-old girl playing the lottery? Why is this game so important to Marina and Darya? It might help define the stakes if we understood the drive to play from the start.

      Ticket To Ride


      Great opening. Stakes and conflict are clear. The only thing I'd like to know is how at the end of the school year Jack and Casey are just meeting? A little set-up may help define the stakes more.

      First 250:

      Perfect place to start the story. With only a few paragraphs, we as the reader immediately feel the tension and conflict. My only comment would be to think about editing the line about the shampoo to "The only thing within reach was his tiny bottle of shampoo." It gives a clear image of the shower and hints at his background.

      Victory to... TICKET TO RIDE

    3. These are both fantastic. I don't want to choose at all.

      I love the details and texture in Lottery. It's very intriguing. My only question is whether there is almost too much going on in the query. I'd love to see it a little more focused on just 2 conflicts. I also didn't get a sense that there was a thriller aspect until the end. I'd love the mystery to be evident from the hook. That said, very good job!

      Ticket to Ride: I like the clarity, stakes, and tension. I think you can up some of the emotion in the first 250. I also think you can use a tad more voice in the query. Give us a sense of what Jack sounds like.

      Wishing you both the best of luck.


    4. BOYFRIEND: Super intriguing, with great voice and detail. I really love this, and can’t really think of anything to change about the query – it really worked for me. As for the sample pages, the only thing I noticed was the “tiniest bit of a Spanish Accent” coming out when she’s nervous – I don’t totally buy that. I just think it’d be quite noteworthy if I had a friend who suddenly had an accent when they were nervous. This could totally just be me though.

      Ticket: This sounds really powerful. I LOVE this voice in the sample too, it grabbed me instantly. With the query, I have a bit of an issue with the "who understands him in ways no one else in their town can" line, because to me, it could be more specific. How does he understand him more? I think it needs to be more than “because they’re both gay”.

      This one is so difficult, because I really think both books are going to do great. But for this round, I am going to pick TICKET TO RIDE.

    5. (note: fresh judge who hasn't read earlier versions of these entries!)

      I love how your opening paragraph gives little glimpses of insight into Mariana and her family's culture and life. The lottery-winning premise is interesting, but I'll admit that the third paragraph had my head spinning. There's a conspiracy and her dad's involved, but he didn't want her to win anyway, and then they're trying to kill her and there's a new boyfriend who's uncle's the CEO? Unfortunately, it ends up making her seem really passive -- all this stuff is happening around her and to her, but she isn't doing anything herself.

      First 250:
      Nice! I like how you introduced us to your main character, gave us a hint of the conflict/tension between her and her parents (whom she obviously disagrees with about certain things), and gave us a reason to keep reading (the drawing)

      The character, conflict, and stakes are clear here, and you've given us enough specific details to know what the story is going to be about. The "balance the life he's been dealt and the life he wants" is a bit cliche -- you might see if you can be more specific there.

      First 250:
      I was a bit disoriented and hadn't realized until nearly the entire way through this exerpt that he was not in his own shower in his home. It might help the reader to get a proper mental picture and understand the tension if you make it clear from the first paragraph or two that he's at school in the locker room.



      I really like this one! I think you have a lot of potential for tension and the stakes are excellent. The only thing I'd look at in the 250 is the opening action. Something doesn't sit well with it being her friend's drink. Can it be hers? Picky, I know. I'd rather begin with your MC's agency.


      I still love it. I like that you have a lot of intersectionality here and a little something for everyone. I agree with the above comments about making the setting more clear in the 250.

      Seriously an impossible choice. I would read both of these right now. But I'm going for the one that I would pick up half a second quicker.

      Victory to BOYFRIEND.


      Query: I loved this query when I first read it, and I think that you’ve improved it greatly since. Throughout the query, you maintain the same voice as your first 250 words, which is commendable. Last line is killer!

      First 250: Great first page. It draws me in, and I feel like I get close to the character right away. I’m interested to know more about who she is.


      Query: Great query! You present the stakes clearly, and I feel sympathetic for Jack from the first line onward. He seems like a fascinating character, and I love that you have a gay main character.

      First 250: The only thing that stood out to me as strange is the fact that Jack doesn’t use soap, but he has shampoo. He sounds like a teenaged boy to me, and I want to read more about him.


    8. My Boyfriend Rigged The Lottery


      This is very much improved. Now I know why Sean is in the middle of things, and why she was picked to win the lottery. What I still don’t know is what they’re manipulating her for. Are they basically making her claim the money for them? Did they contact her? I’m still not quite sure on some things.

      First 250:

      I still think you need to make the readers aware that it’s a high school fundraiser. The school isn’t going to let the kids drink alcohol for sure, but really it wouldn’t be a question of them letting the kids do it since it’s illegal. Otherwise, I love the intense feeling as they wait to find out about the numbers. You do a good job with the suspense. Very nice!


      Ticket To Ride


      Wow, this is intense and touches on a lot of subjects that teens today deal with. I think the buildup is great, and it gets us to the point, but the stakes are a little vague to me. Balance the life he’s been dealt? Not sure what the means. Once that’s clarified, I think this is a great query.

      First 250:

      I like the set up, but I feel like the voice is missing. “Surely this couldn’t be happening” doesn’t make me think teen about to go to college. It feels older and stiff. Also you might consider tightening this up or starting just a little bit later instead of giving us the action leading up to it. Right now it’s just actions and no one else there to interact with. It’s missing just a little something. Try playing around with it.


    9. QUERIES:
      Both lay things out masterfully. I still don't like the false choice in TICKET TO RIDE--that for Jack, going to school (using his hard-earned scholarship) means losing Casey after they've only just started dating. If Casey would make Jack feel like the relationship is over if he leaves for college, I just wouldn't root for that relationship. The romance isn't there for me and neither is the friendship. Maybe Jack had done something to Casey other than decide to use his hard-earned scholarship to make something of himself, but I don’t see it in the query. I LOVE the suspense in MY BOYFRIEND. I love the conflict, and it’s something that makes me root for Marina.

      Right off the bat in MY BOYFRIEND, the mood is edge-of-my seat. The glass is on the edge of the table, and I’m nervous it will fall too. This is a perfect opening for a suspense. I love it! The prose here is beautiful. TICKET’s first page still feels like it’s missing the mood-setter. I don’t have any indication as to what Jack thinks about his clothes missing. Is it a prank he'll laugh at or is it bullying b/c he’s gay? I’m missing the mood. I got that he’s confused, so maybe Jack doesn’t know he’s gay yet or doesn’t know he’s being bullied b/c he’s gay yet? If that's the case, maybe move the opening to a scene that introduces his struggle. Here it almost seems like Jack would have no idea why in the world anyone would take his clothes, as if it would be just as likely the work of the school ghost. The opening with Jack snapping his head around feels like a cliché expression, which probably doesn’t show off the writer’s prose or story-telling enough to make this opening memorable.


    10. You have both done so much great work on your entries - starting with great premises. I can see both of these books having much success. Congrats and best wishes!

      Victory to TICKET TO RIDE

    11. I read the My Boyfriend Rigged The Lottery and loved it and thought, "Oh this is gonna be easy!" Then I read Ticket to Ride...and loved it. So, yeah. I loved the intrigue of Rigged, especially the lottery element. I did question if the lottery was a private one or a government one. So maybe mention that in the query.

      I loved the personal story elements of Ticket. It just felt so real to me. I immediately felt for him. I also loved the pages.

      With it being so close and being forced to choose, I have to go with the one that interests me just a tiny bit more, so...

      Victory to My Boyfriend Rigged the Lotto!

    12. [TIE BREAKER] <-- This vote should only count in the event that there is a tie

      Both of these were in the last round, and I gave my feedback then. I don't recognize many substantial changes. The amazing thing about these 2 is the similar themes. However, ultimately it comes down to what I'd rather read and what I believe has the best chance of success in the marketplace. Of all the queries and stories still in the competition, "TICKET TO RIDE" is the one I adore the most and am pulling for. Therefore:

      Victory to: Ticket to ride

    13. [TIE BREAKER]

      Both of these are excellent, the queries and the writing, and for me it boils down not just to personal preference, but also to the timeliness of the stories. My Boyfriend Rigged the Lotto sounds like a wonderful story. However, there aren't as many stories out there with the themes that Ticket to Ride addresses. So for that reason, I'm throwing my vote behind:

      Victory to: Ticket to Ride

    14. [Tie Breaker]

      For Lottery: Query - paragraph 2 you use the word "new" several times. Read it out loud and you will hear the echo in there.
      250 - I think the rearranging worked really well! Brings the tension in earlier.

      For Ticket: Query - Love this premise, and the stakes are clear. I was a bit confused as to why the boyfriend stopped speaking to him after the mom's suicide... I wonder if there is a way to add a clarifying detail to show more stakes.
      250 - super dramatic opener. But I would love to have a snippet of what he was thinking rather than "what was I thinking?" to give us more insight into him. Is he upset? Was there teasing / bullying he is mulling on? Is he thinking about a project (to show us he is studious) or writing a song in his head or dreaming about college? I wanted to feel a bit more for him right away.

      Victory to LOTTERY

    15. This got put in the wrong entry:

      SCOWLING DISCONTENTED JUDGEJune 23, 2016 at 1:34 PM
      Doing this from my phone, as I've been paged into action, so I'll be brief.

      These are both excellent entries. I still feel like the role Marina is called upon to play in LOTTO is a little vague. And I'm concerned that the 250 in TICKET, however well-written, gives me very little sense of an authentically gay or southern voice. That's not to say it's not in the book; I just want to see it up front. (I'm a gay southerner myself. Make me believe!)

      At any rate, I like both of these entries and think they're ready. But I've got to pick:


    16. {potential tie-breaker vote}

      I confess to struggling with this pairing because I have troubles with the query and first page of both -- but in that sense, though it's a tough matchup for me, it feels roughly even.

      I give VICTORY TO TICKET TO RIDE because its statement of the stakes in the query is simple, straightforward, and pretty strong. I'm very bothered by BOYFRIEND RIGGED's use of exposing "the conspiracy" as the stakes when no mention of a conspiracy has occurred prior, and though the life-or-death stakes are very interesting and high-concept, the fact that there is some kind of involvement of "conspiracy" and the father which is introduced almost as an afterthought doesn't focus the reader on the drama as effectively as the quieter, more personal stakes of TICKET.

    17. I've already judged these entries, so I'll spare the comments. I'm here to add a vote.

      Victory to: MY BF RIGGED THE LOTTERY!!

    I feel like the query is a bit muddled...did it change? I'm not sure what the second sentence has to do with the first and what the old friends being pushed out have to do with anything really as far as the query is concerned. I do love this premise so much and the writing is great, aside from a couple of tweaks I'd suggest. The first sentence is a bit awkward with the added dependent clause on there, for example.

    I still love this one too. This is so hard to choose. But I like the changes that were made in this one better, especially in the writing sample so I'm going to vote...


  3. Since these are both fairly polished already, I'm going to keep comments brief!

    MY BOYFRIEND: Something was missing for me from your query. I didn't understand why the lottery folks are manipulating your MC. I don't necessarily think it needs to be spelled out completely for us here, but a little more context would be great!

    TICKET TO RIDE: Both your query and page are much improved from the last time I saw them. I'm really impressed with what you've done.

    Victory to: TICKET TO RIDE!

  4. My Boyfriend

    I love this concept and can see why your entry has made it this far. The stakes start out high and just get greater for Marina. I think your query is fantastic. I usually have to read through queries at least twice, but yours flows so smoothly and is so clear. Nice job! The first 250 does a great job with setting and hinting at the MC’s status in her world. I think you can delete “She didn’t even notice” because just staring at her phone says that. I feel like the details about Darya’s hair and accent are unnecessary at this point. Maybe there is a way to sneak them in without it causing a pause in the story that’s building. Still, this premise promises to be an edge-of-your-seat read! Good Luck!!


    Wow, you’ve really complicated things for your MC. You’ve put him in such a tough spot. I think your query is very polished and the story sounds like a fantastic read. In your first 250, I love how you put us in the setting right away, along with the tension that’s something’s wrong. I’m right there in the shower. I think there’s still more tightening you can do to make the tension really pop here. For example, you can just say “He turned off the water.” Instead of “He rotated the lever until the water stopped flowing.” Or, when you say “He heard no talking, no footsteps…” try “No talking, no footsteps…” The way this entry ends, I just want to keep reading to find out what your MC will do. Nice job, and good luck!!

  5. Boyfriend Rigged Lottery:
    The query is much cleaner this round. Voice is good in the 250 and the tension comes across well.

    Ticket to Ride:
    I enjoyed this in R2 as well. Great voice, and very well-written in both query and 250. I think it just needs a bit more oomph to make it stand out above similar types of stories. That might be fixed by cranking up the stakes a bit more. But overall, I’d read this book. Good job!

  6. Congrats to both of you! These are both amazing entries that I'd love to read.


    Your query has changed so much since the first round! It's much more clear now, though I'm afraid there might be *too* much information in the last paragraph. What is her part in the scandal? It's clear she'll face some dire consequences if she doesn't comply, but it's not entirely clear what the lottery officials would have her do. Other than that, the entry is solid--your 250 still has wonderful voice. :)


    I love the query and the concept--heartbreaking. The one suggestion I have pertains to the 250... I agree with a comment someone else made in regards to the dialect. It took me out of the action and threw me when I saw the dialect written out. I don't think it's necessary.

    Good luck to both of you! These are so strong. :)

  7. Lottery:
    I love the premise, and the 250 is just about perfect in my book. You include so many great details about Marina's world and craft them seamlessly into the narrative. I love the opening paragraph of the query. It felt really authentic and natural. There are a lot of details in the last paragraph, and some of the them feel a little jumbled. I had trouble following the scandal, and how her dad is connected. But I love the stakes in the last line.

    Great query. Your stakes are clear, and I get a good sense of world and character. I think there are a few extra words are cluttering it up (i.e.'narrow-minded'-we can see that for ourselves in the next sentence. I would also get rid of 'on the table', the 'out' in 'make the most out of', and maybe replace 'unsafe at every turn' with something that sounds a little less cliche). Love the 250!


    Query: I remember in the first round, thinking this had maybe a little too much voice in the query, that the voice was sort of overpowering the query. Now I think it is perfect. I also think you did a good job giving the boyfriend a clearer role in the story.

    250: great job with the 250. The only suggestion I’d make to maybe make it a little better is if you took out the “Like now.” In the fourth paragraph and replaced it with something showing how much her accent was popping through. Perhaps having her say a Spanish word. This would show us just how stressed she was.

    Overall, great job!


    Query: I want to read this story. The only comment I have is on your stakes. What happens if Jack doesn’t do one or the other, because it sounds like he can’t do all three. Instead of setting it up as a now he must *do* x, it might be better to set it up as he must *choose*.

    250: Fantastic opening scene. I have nothing to comment on here to try and improve. Your voice is great, the place you start is awesome, and all the backstory you manage to get in just by the scene you picked (without actually giving any backstory), is great.