Saturday, June 25, 2016


Title: The Absence of Butterflies
Entry Nickname: Madam Butterfly
Word Count: 80K
Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance


Will Kavanagh is the only one who knows the truth about the drug overdose that killed Christy Talbot. Not that he’s telling. The world famous actress may have starred in the film adaption of his novel, but that doesn’t mean he wants to go to jail for giving her illegal drugs. Troubled by a mounting sense of self-loathing and guilt, Will returns to the only place he has ever felt something other than lost: home. Not that everyone in town is rolling out the red carpet for Cherrington’s prodigal son—especially not his former fiancĂ©e, Jessica Locke.

Following the unexpected death of her father, Jessica needs something—anything—to keep herself busy, and fixing up a property for Will’s mother sounds like just the ticket. The only hitch is her ego-fueled ex-fiancĂ© is back—the one who left her in the rear-view mirror on his way to literary fame in NYC. Will is the last person Jessica wants to talk about, let alone see. The trouble is, she never could resist those piercing blue eyes and tortured writer’s soul. It isn’t long before things heat up between them once again.

Each dealing with death in very different ways, Jessica and Will navigate conflicting emotions and their undeniable attraction to find something worth saving. Too bad Will, haunted by the knowledge of how Christy died, isn’t exactly relationship-ready. Neither is Jessica. She knows Will is hiding something and she’s determined to find out what.

Then Will realizes that unless he’s willing to reveal his secret to Jessica, fast, he could lose her trust—and her love—all over again. Because, as it turns out, Will isn't the only one who knows the truth behind Christy’s death.

 First 250:

When Will Kavanagh stepped out of the coffee shop, his eyes were drawn to the bookstore window like a magnet.

Just get back in the damn car, he commanded himself.

But his legs seemed to move of their own volition, taking him over to the book display. He would have recognized those red and gold splashed covers anywhere. Bold black letters at the top of each one proclaimed Now a Major Motion Picture. Underneath was a snapshot of the two main stars. The one on the right gazed back at Will, her full lips curved in a wide smile. His gut twisted into knots of guilt.

As he stood transfixed on the sidewalk, the world around him faded away. He didn’t see Christy Talbot with her arm around her leading man. Instead his mind burned with the image of the actress as she lay sprawled on the floor next to an upended pill bottle, her eyes empty. Those eyes had haunted him every day for the last two months.

“Excuse me.”

The voice made him snap back to the present. A man stood beside him, holding out the bag that contained Will’s bagel. “You dropped this.”

“Thanks,” he mumbled.

“Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere?”

Will stiffened. “No.”

He strode back to his BMW. With a tightness in his chest, he drove past the downtown stores, this time making damn sure his eyes faced forward. He needed another reminder of Christy like he needed a hole in the head.


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.


  1. Judges, please post your votes as a reply to this comment.

    1. These entries are both so well done, and you've each made such great changes to refine them. Congrats to you both, and best wishes when your requests are revealed!


    2. Ahhh... these have BOTH been among my favorites since round one! I'd love to keep reading both, but going to have to go with...


    3. Both are very well done. I love the immediate tension in MY BOYFRIEND's opening. It's instantly magnetic.


    4. Madame Butterfly
      I don’t see any problems here. The beginning doesn’t bug me as much as it did before. It’s a good introduction to what the story is about, and I get idea of a gruff and angry MC

      This query is A LOT better than I’ve seen before – it’s a lot clearer what’s going on with this lottery. The 250 is good as always.

      This is a really rough decision. The only reason I’m giving VICTORY TO MY BOYFRIEND RIGGED THE LOTTERY is because I get more of a sense of the voice in the 250.

    5. Solarpunk GoddessJune 25, 2016 at 10:58 AM

      MADAME BUTTERFLY: Your query and 250 are very straightforward and well crafted. I get an excellent sense of the tone in both, and felt an emotional connection to the 250. Good job.

      BOYFRIEND: I'm with Duendecilla on this one. The query was good before, but is much improved now. I get a much better sense of the story and how everything ties together. I also like how you reworked the 250. The tension is more immediate.

      I'm going with the query that I felt had a bigger emphasis on stakes, since it's what drives a novel and where a lot of queries fall flat.



      The changes to your query are awesome! It's so much stronger than when you first started. Bravo!

      Ahh...this one is great too. The first line in the query still kind of feels awkward to me, but it totally might just be me. I wish both of these could go through!


    7. Katherine PierceJune 25, 2016 at 1:31 PM

      Madam Butterfly: I love all the changes you’ve made to the query and the 250. I think you can probably skip this line in the query, “It isn’t long before things heat up between them once again,” we get the sense with the undeniable attraction in the next paragraph. Also, I think Now a Major Motion Picture may need to be in italics.

      My Boyfriend Rigged the Lottery: Great changes here, too. I still think the line, “She’s a Chinese-American…” reads a bit strangely, and the last paragraph is still just a tad confusing. I think you can streamline it a little. Also, the last line in the second paragraph, maybe just focus on Sean and what he’s bringing to her musical life and skip the part about old friends since it’s making the sentence a bit long-winded. I’m also really enjoying the way you’ve brought the action to the forefront of the 250. That last paragraph reads a little stiff though and doesn’t seem to flow.

      Both really great entries that I’ve voted for before, but this time my vote goes to MADAM BUTTERFLY!

    8. Madam Butterfly: Great job with the query letter! I was able to get a sense of who your characters were, and what motivated them. The first 250 was very immersive. The writing drew me in, and held my attention until the sample's end.

      My Boyfriend Rigged the Lottery: You tackled the revisions in your query letter very well. All the vague spots from earlier have been filled in, and your query reads so much stronger now. The 250 was great before, but the little touches really make it sparkle. Good job!

      Both are strong entries, but I have to go with the one whose voice drew me in more. Victory to: My Boyfriend Rigged the Lottery

    9. Strawberry ShortcakeJune 25, 2016 at 2:43 PM

      Hi everyone! Just wanted to give props to you both for putting yourselves out there like this! That’s not easy! Just so you know, I deliberately kept my nose out of previous rounds so I could come in with fresh eyes. So here goes!

      The Absence of Butterflies
      First off, I *love* this title. It evokes imagery and emotion all at once. I’d pick this up off the shelf based on the title alone.

      I feel like the first two paragraphs of the query do a good job of orienting me to both characters and their main conflict. Unfortunately, I got a little lost in far too many details after that. Once you’ve set up the main characters and conflict, it’s best to throw in a big ol’ story question and duck out. To accomplish that here, I would suggest cutting, “It isn’t long before things heat up between them once again,” and everything that comes after it. Build your last paragraph around the tension between Will and Jessica (not their reunion) and end with the last line you have now (about Will not being the only one to know how Christy really died).

      On to the pages…
      I wish I had something more substantive to say about the sample. There’s nothing “wrong” per say, but the first 250 just doesn’t pull me in. Part of this could be that I feel like I know a little too much from the query. He’s having a memory of something I already know about, Christy’s death, so there’s just nothing new to grasp me. Keep in mind I’m a picky reader, but I would much rather meet the MC’s personality and voice full on.

      Fabulous query that does its job of orienting me to the story and its main conflict while also raising substantial story questions. I was terrified you were going to tell me whether or not Sean’s involved and I almost covered my eyes so I wouldn’t see! :) There’s only one phrase that I’d massage a bit and that’s “newly entitled” – I know what you mean there but I did have to read it a couple of times to be sure. I also wished “Chinese-American” were woven in a bit smoother, but I’m not sure how to even suggest making that change.

      On to the pages…
      I immediately sense your MC’s voice in the opening paragraph. I especially loved the way you also wove in a bit of description “…a twitch of the elbow away from tumbling to the floor…” and it just builds from there. You get a sense of her angst and pain in that last large paragraph, “like they’d gotten lost on their way to the Oscars,” and then the self-help courses she’d suggest for them really helped her perspective come shining through. I want to listen to her, and I would definitely keep reading.

      So, without further ado, VICTORY TO MY BOYFRIEND RIGGED THE LOTTERY!

    10. Bernadine HarrisJune 25, 2016 at 3:43 PM

      Hi guys! So great to see you both again in Round 4. These are both really strong entries and I'd be happy if either of them went on to the next round. But since they basically told me that I HAVE to choose one...


    11. These are looking great! MADAM BUTTERFLY'S query has really improved since the initial round. I haven't read BOYFRIEND before, but congrats for making it this far, and I like your query as well. One drew me in a bit more. For some reason I just couldn't get into the first 250 of BOYFRIEND, probably because I think it's so impossible to win the lottery I can't imagine anxiously/nervously waiting for the draw. But, obviously people do that, so I'm totally the oddball. Shows how subjective this all is!


    12. Both of these are great entries and each Kombatant has tweaked them during the contest to make them even stronger!

      Victory to Madam Butterfly

    13. BUTTERFLY: This is great! Opening is very strong. Stakes are clear, and I am intrigued about who else knows about her death.

      LOTTERY: Distracted by repetiion of "new" in paragraph 2 of query. Dumplings thing is still cute / nice, but still takes a little bit too long. I wonder if you could swap it till after we meet her (piano prodigy sentence) with something like "she's a piano prodigy bla bla bla, but no matter howmany supposedly lucky dumplings she eats bla bla bla" so that we don't have to wait to get to know her. Also, are the dumplings really a huge part of the plot? Or just there for grounding us in the culture? If the latter, maybe there is something that is already in the plot that can do the same thing.

      I love both of these. I am sure both will be successes.
      Victory to MADAM BUTTERFLY

    14. From the beginning rounds, both of these have come really far. They are both suspense, have unique concepts, but if I could only choose one....


    15. Both of these are really lovely, but I'm sticking to my guns and going with:


    16. I'm really supposed to chose between these two? Because it's super hard. They're both really well done and I want to read both. In the end, though, I have to go with the book that draws me in more.

      Victory to: MADAM BUTTERFLY

    17. I'm so impressed by how both of these have been improved through revisions!

      One has a slight edge, speaking to me a little more strongly (subjectively speaking of course!).

      Victory to MADAM BUTTERFLY!

    18. SCOWLING DISCONTENTED JUDGEJune 26, 2016 at 3:18 PM

      I wrote up one response for this already but it was eaten by the browser. So I will try again.

      The last time I wrote up a response I voted for Madame Butterfly, and I've changed my mind and the 10 minutes in between. That's how close this is.


    19. Both of these are great and I've voted for both of them in the past. This just comes down to which one I feel is a tad bit more ready. VICTORY TO MADAM BUTTERFLY (but I love you both. I promise)

    20. Round of applause to you both on your revisions. Queries flow more clearly and are much tighter. First 250 was the deciding factor for me. MADAM BUTTERFLY's, which was an overhaul from the first draft I read, totally reeled me in. Captures the mood and Will's situation perfectly and ties directly to the query. So...


    21. Both of the entries are amazing and I hope writers get tons of requests. For me, I still feel that Madam Butterfly is especially good at putting the reader right in the middle of the action. So for me, victory to Madam Butterfly!

    22. Tough choice. I think the writing is pretty even, but feel the query for the second entry has a stronger hook, so it's victory to MY BOYFRIEND RIGGED THE LOTTERY!

  2. Wow. Both of these entries are wonderful.

    But, this is Query Kombat, so . . .

    Victory to: MADAM BUTTERFLY!