Wednesday, June 1, 2016

QUERY KOMBAT ROUND 1: SUGAR AND BLOOD vs. HUMANKIND IS BASICALLY SCREWED

Title: Storm Traveler
Entry Nickname: Sugar and Blood
Word count: 107K
Genre: Adult Dark Fantasy

Query:

Twenty-one year old Malika knows her days are numbered. When she was eleven, a horrific bus accident claimed the lives of thirty-two students including her brother, leaving Malika the sole survivor. She has blocked all memory of the trauma except one: the demon king Oroth who caused the accident promised to return for her in ten years.

Time’s up.

When Oroth shows up to claim her, bent on revenge for an ancient grudge, he drags her through a portal to his world. The magic of Malika’s amulet traps him behind a barrier, but the portal to Earth is on his side, a ticking time bomb which will soon allow the merging of the two worlds and the destruction of both.

Malika needs help to open the barrier, escape Oroth’s revenge, and close the portal before two worlds perish in darkness. But the immortal shadows in this world, known as nefas, keep humans as slaves, and her life soon belongs to a handsome nefas with a secret connection to her family’s history. In a dangerous world where magic is power and cruelty rules, Malika must choose the right side to save her homeworld and herself. Trust the wrong monster and humans in both worlds will pay the ultimate price.

First 250 words:

I’d waited for death to claim me since six in the morning.

With a sigh, I paced my bedroom, rehearsing the speech for the tenth year memorial taking place in a few hours. Soon it would all be over, but still, I wanted to make it perfect for all those who’d died―especially my brother.

“The losses…” I mumbled, then skipped ahead, trying to get the middle part just right. “Though this tragic accident…” My voice shook with the empty words.

Glancing toward the patio door, I checked the lock for the hundredth time. Not that it would matter… if he wanted to get in, he would find a way.

I stared around my room with detachment. None of this stuff mattered; it wasn’t like I could take it with me once I was gone.

With my impending doom nearing, I sat by my plants, taking a calming breath. Nature had been a sanctuary of sorts, but today the usual Zen wasn’t working. My breathing accelerated and heat rose through my body, drenching me in sweat. Despite continuing with my kickboxing classes until yesterday, nothing seemed to relieve the stress burning me inside out. It was hard to stay calm when I’d known the year, month, and approximate time of my death for the past ten years.

Well, at least I got to turn twenty-one before dying… an adult for seven full days―lucky me.

A knock on the front door jolted me out of my reveries, and I frowned when an unfamiliar voice spoke.

~ VERSUS ~

Title: Fresh Horizons
Entry Nickname: Humankind Is Basically Screwed
Word Count: 86K
Genre: Adult Science Fiction

Query:

Addisalem Worede never asked to be the last hope of the human race, and to be honest, she’s not that great at it. As the unofficial leader of a mission meant to ensure that the end of Earth is not the end of humankind, her two main concerns are keeping the last twelve humans in the galaxy alive and maintaining their meticulously curated trove of gametes.

Except the other humans seem to be on a mission of their own to die, one by one. A fire onboard their spaceship threatens the precious genetics banks, and it is defeated only at the cost of a colonist’s life. Addi guides the grieving crew through an unprecedented Sisyphon jump and averts disaster as the co-pilot of their crash landing on their new planet, but it’s not enough to prevent another casualty. The colony is foundering before it has even begun, and Addi is in no way prepared to deal with it. The planners back on Earth developed endless protocols for the mission, but Earth is a quadrillion kilometers away, and the colonists—and Addi—are on their own now. She doesn’t dare reveal just how precarious their position is, even as she agonizes over every decision she makes. Their colony is supposed to be the continuation of humankind, but Addi may just be presiding over the final demise.

First 250:

Space is mind-bogglingly, indescribably huge—so of course they all had to attempt to describe it.

"It's like a drop trying to picture the whole ocean," was Sasha's offer. She only said it to hold up the bare minimum of participation in the conversation. She wished everyone else would just shut up or go away, but they wouldn't, so she had to play along. At least it wasn't the worst way they had passed one of their post-dinner evenings, trying to assuage the boredom of being cargo.

"The cramped conditions of a spacefaring vehicle will require extra attention to interpersonal relations," her mission therapist had said.

Fine. She tried to disregard the others, biting her tongue against Moa's idiotic statement that the universe was a giant womb. Sasha didn’t want to think about wombs, or the suspended gametes a couple decks below her boots. She pressed her forehead against the porthole. The velvety blackness stretched away in all directions, speckled with a few stars bright enough to be seen past the Mayflower's lights.

One of those stars was not a star at all but Earth. Almost impossible to believe, if she hadn't spent the past few months watching it grow steadily distant and miniscule. Longing lanced through her. The craving to see blue skies overhead, to run until her lungs ached and still have a limitless horizon in front of her. To feel the sun on her face.

Yeah, and then die an excruciating death. Don't be daft, Sasha.

19 comments:

  1. Judges, please post your feedback and comments as a reply here:

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sugar and Blood:
      Query:

      Great opening. Should be “Twenty-one-year-old Malika…”

      “Malika needs help to open the barrier, escape Oroth’s revenge, and close the portal before two worlds perish in darkness. But the immortal shadows in this world, known as nefas, keep humans as slaves, and her life soon belongs to a handsome nefas with a secret connection to her family’s history.”

      This is a little confusing. I’d reword, something like: “Malika needs help to open the barrier, escape Oroth’s revenge, and close the portal before two worlds perish in darkness. But she’s soon enslaved by a handsome nefas—an immortal shadow—who guards a secret connection to her family’s history.” The secret connection phrase is a little vague. If there’s any way to make it more specific without spoiling, do it.

      Pages:

      “With a sigh…” This isn’t a typical reaction for someone awaiting death. If she’s the sort of person that sighs at death, bring home the point more strongly and make me identify with her and know her.

      “With my impending doom nearing…” I’d delete. You’ve already shown us this.

      Humankind is Basically Screwed:
      Query:
      “…the co-pilot of their crash landing on their new planet…” I had to read this three times to see what you meant. I’d reword.
      Pages:
      “Space is mind-bogglingly, indescribably huge—so of course they all had to attempt to describe it.”

      Awesome. Very Hitchhiker’s Guide.

      Good beginning. Awesome writing.

      TOUGH MATCHUPS, GUYS. I'm voting for Humankind is Basically Screwed.

      Delete
    2. Sugar and Blood: You have a really interesting concept. It even seems like the story has a touch of romance, which is always a plus for me!

      Query: I thought your query letter started off really strong, but I got a bit lost in the second paragraph. All in one sentence you mention an amulet, portals, a ticking time-bomb, and destruction. It can be overwhelming, which tunes the reader out until they hit something familiar. Writing queries for fantasy and/or sci-fi can be difficult. The trick is to find ways to make it relatable to more common situations. For example, instead of saying:

      But the immortal shadows in this world, known as nefas, keep humans as slaves...

      You could say something like:

      But the creatures in this world keep humans as slaves...

      Sometimes simplifying terms, especially fantastical ones, can help the reader relate better.

      250: You have a unique voice, but I noticed you tend to tell the story rather than show it through Malika's perspective. When a character sighs, frowns, glances around a lot, it's a sign of telling. By showing the underlying emotion that would have sparked those expression, you can help bring the reader closer to your MC. Also, I wonder if you're starting in the wrong place. If the majority of your entire first chapter is full of references to the past, and Malika doing random stuff (like picking out outfits and chatting with her friends) to prepare for the memorial then you might be starting in the wrong place. It's best to have a paragraph or two to set the scene and introduce the character then drift into the inciting incident that kick-starts the story's plot.


      Humankind Is Basically Screwed: I love this nickname. Is it a non-fiction? I'm just kidding, sort of :)

      Query: The first paragraph of your query is very good, very intriguing, but the second paragraph gets a bit jumbled. The first sentence of the second paragraph makes it sound like the remaining humans are trying to commit suicide. Is that what you meant to convey? I would suggest streamlining the second paragraph. You don't need to list everything that threatens the survival of the humans, just that their lives are continuously in peril due to a string of freak events.

      250: I really like the voice and flow of your writing style. My only comment is to be careful with your use of pronouns (she). It was often difficult to know who the narrator was referring to, especially when there's mention to Sasha, Moa, and a mysterious she. I'm hoping the "shes" are Addi and you haven't started the story in Sasha's perspective, because there's no mention of a Sasha in the query letter. See how pronouns can cause confusion? You don't need to overload the script with Addi's name, just in spots where it will help differentiate between the other female characters in the scene.

      Having to vote on this matchup is really difficult. Both have amazing ideas and interesting voices, but I have to go with the one that drew me in more.

      Victory to Humankind Is Basically Screwed

      Delete
    3. Katherine PierceJune 3, 2016 at 6:53 PM

      Sugar and Blood

      Query: I almost feel like this first paragraph is a little bit backwards. I’d like to see you start with Malike at 11, “At age eleven, Malika barely escaped the bus accident that claimed her brother’s life by making a deal with the demon king, Oroth. Now, ten years later, he’s back to collect his debt.” Or something to this effect, tightening and shortening these points. I’m also curious—did she make a deal? Why would he allow her to live but everyone else died? You really lose me in the third paragraph. We’ve got grudges, portals, amulets, and ticking time bombs, and to be perfectly honest, I’m really not sure what’s going on at this point. Really scour your query and simplify everything that you can and really only gives us the information that’s necessary for us to understand the story. This sounds like a really twisted and complicated story so I know that’s hard, but I think you can do that.

      250: Love this opening line, but a few paragraphs down she says she knows the approximate time of her death, so why would she be waiting if she already knows? Also, it seems odd that she might be practicing a speech if she thinks she’ll be dead by then, and is she at all concerned the demon might show up at the memorial? Down in the fourth paragraph there’s a typo, “lock” instead of “clock.” Then in the sixth paragraph I’d suggest cutting that a little. There’s a bunch of information that I think you can drizzle into the story without giving it in such a big chunk. Other than that, I really like this sample.


      Humankind is Basically Screwed

      Query: I really like this first line, it definitely catches my attention. In the second sentence you use “end” twice, is there any way to rephrase to avoid it? You lose me a little at “meticulously curated trove of gametes”—I’m basically just guessing as to what I think this is. In the second paragraph, I’m not sure what you mean by “on a mission of their own to die.” Are they literally all trying to kill themselves? I get a little lost in the rest of this last paragraph. Why are these genetic banks so important? What’s a Sisyphon jump and is it necessary to mention? How much of the book is spent on the new planet? If it’s a good majority you might want to give us some of the difficulties/problems they encounter there. Also, you mention “planners back on Earth” but aren’t Addi and these colonists the only humans left? I feel like I have a lot of the pieces here but I’m not sure I’m grasping the bigger picture.

      250: Reading this 250 has me really concerned. We spent an entire query hearing about Addi, but the only person we’re hearing from in this sample is Sasha. Whose POV is this story told from? Once we get into the fourth paragraph I’m getting interested in what’s going on and I really like the closing line, but the opening isn’t really drawing me in.

      My vote for this one goes to SUGAR AND BLOOD!

      Delete
    4. SUGAR AND BLOOD
      (just a piece of overall advice someone gave me last year before Pitch Wars (and I’ve gotten again from my agent, so it was right…) Stay below 100k if at all possible. It sounds silly, but agents and editors really do look at that as a dividing line on debuts (even in speculative fiction... it can only help to stay right at 100k). Just something to consider!

      Query:
      If there’s any way to get the *this is fantasy* feeling up earlier in the query, it would be helpful. I was going along and then BOOM demon king seemed to hit pretty hard because it didn’t fit as well with the first 2 sentences. Maybe bring mention of the amulet (I want to know more about the amulet!) … was she wearing it when the bus crashed and that’s why she is safe? That might help us.

      I think there may be a little too much going on here. There’s the bus crash, the other world, the ancient grudge, slavery, secret family history… I am a bit overwhelmed. Maybe look for elements that can be streamlined or saved out for the Synopsis. The key for the query is it is it has to be a hook. So who is the MC? What does she want? What happens if she doesn’t get it?

      There are lots of really cool elements happening here, and if you could zero in on the main points, I think you will have some very voracious readers!

      First 250 words:

      I really like the first sentence!

      I am not sure which thing she is nonchalant (or feigning nonchalance) about: the memorial or the fact that she is going to die? Or both? I don’t know that she should be so nonchalant about both in her speech. Specifically “With my impending doom nearing” sounds VERY flippant. Otherwise, I get the sense that she is taking this seriously. “Impending doom” (I think) is usually a joking way of saying that. Like some cartoon character saying “IMPENDING DOOOOOOOOoooOOOOOoooM!”

      That might be just in my head…

      Also a couple of wording things:
      “out of my reverie” (I think it should be singular)
      “burning me FROM THE inside out” (I think you need those two words in there)
      “unfamiliar voice spoke” = I heard an unfamiliar voice (it’s a person speaking, not a voice speaking… unless it is a magical voice. Is it?)


      HUMANKIND IS BASICALLY SCREWED
      Query:
      LOVE the first paragraph. Great voice. I think you can tighten up “a mission meant to ensure that the end of Earth is not the end of humankind” somehow. It is a lot of words and it slows down the pace. “humankind’s final mission from a failing earth” or similar. Just get it shorter (bonus points for FUNNY. You are good at that)

      I also like the opening of paragraph 2. Then it gets a little too in-the-weeds. I don’t need to know specifically how each person dies. I think keep that there is a fire and there is a crash. We already heard in the intro sentence that people are dying one-by-one. I love “The colony is foundering before it has even begun”

      “She doesn’t dare reveal just how precarious their position is, even as she agonizes over every decision she makes” – this is the weakest link. I think it tells instead of shows and I think we may already know this. The rest is SOOOOOO good.

      If you wrap it up with more of a feeling of what Addie has to do (get everyone to work together? Overcome the lack of help and create new protocols? Throw the rule book out the window?) and why/stakes (before humankind’s last hope of survival is supernovaed (or something less BSy and actually scientifically correct. Sorry I can’t think of it but I bet you can!)… then this will be one helluva attention getter.

      I WANNA READ THIS BOOK.

      First 250:

      Ummm I love this. I can’t even really come up with a critique here. Only thing I am confused about is who is Sasha? That’s always a toughie. Is there any way to mention Addie or at least Addie’s role? I am assuming Sasha dies and then we get Addie’s POV. Or is this a multi-POV? Regardless, super great writing.

      Both really really neat premises. Tough call. So many good things in both.

      Victory to HUMANKIND IS BASICALLY SCREWED

      Delete
  2. A tough matchup in round 1. Good luck to both entrants!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello, Kombatants! Congratulations on your entries and your books. You both have interesting premises and a good way with words.

    SUGAR AND BLOOD: I really like the idea that Malika knows when Oroth will be coming for her. An interesting issue for a character to deal with! I had a couple of questions about the story as I read the query: In paragraph two I'm confused as to where the barriers are and which ones Oroth is trapped behind. I guess they're in his world, but I'm not sure where the barrier is or what it's keeping him from. Any way to make that all a little clearer? I'm also unclear if she did something to him in the past that he wants revenge for -- or if that might show up in the story. Finally, in the third paragraph, when you say there are different monsters to trust -- is her nefas one (is it singular nefas as well as plural?) and Oroth the other? Or is there another one? Your 250 word entry is very strong. Clear and concise. I especially like the first sentence. I did wonder if it should be "ten-year" anniversary rather than "tenth year." It might read a little easier. Good job on this entry!

    HUMANKIND: I already like Addi. :) The first sentence of the query is enough to make me enjoy her voice. Your summary in your query is good. I feel like you give a lot of information in a short time, and already feel for the colonists and their losses. I do have a question - if Addi and her colonists are the last 12 people, who were the planners on Earth? Did that happen a long time ago? Did they die since the spaceship went up? I just needed a little more about that to feel like I knew what was going on for sure. I really like your 250 and think they're very funny. Is Sasha one of the colonists? I was a little confused that Addi wasn't the character we were hearing from. Is there a way to make a note about that in the query, or even at the beginning of the 250? (Like, just putting her name above the segment, although I don't know if you do other chapters from other perspectives -- just an idea)

    These are both strong entries, and I had a hard time deciding between them. But because I felt the query was a little strong, and the 250 very funny, I finally chose:

    Victory to HUMANKIND IS BASICALLY SCREWED

    ReplyDelete
  4. Two really clear queries here. They read fast, and I had a clear sense of characters, stakes, and concept. The opening line of Fresh Horizons made me snort. Clear announcement of tone right there. I also felt the impending doom in Storm Traveler in both query and first 250.

    ReplyDelete
  5. SUGAR AND BLOOD:

    Query: Wow, there is a lot going on here. This is an awesome premise, and I really want to know what sort of connection Malika has to this other world that would put her on a demon king’s radar. There might just be a little too much going on. The first paragraph is a great set up, but then at nefas you started to lose me. I don’t know what a nefa is, but from the description “immortal shadows” I thought I had a pretty good picture, but then you said “handsome nefa” and I was like wait, but they’re shadows… It had me pretty confused, and I haven’t read the other comments yet, but if it confuses anyone else, I’d consider leaving nefas out altogether. Or maybe finding another nefa-free way of describing them. Also, is the singular of nefas nefa or is it always nefas?

    250: I love the first line. I think it really sets the tone and the pace for the book. But then the second line - please delete “with a sigh”. There are so many sighs in literature that the entire fictional world needs an albuterol machine or something. If I see something about a sigh or a held breath in the first couple of pages of a book, I put it back on the shelf. This concept and the way you’re putting it together seems really original, I’d hate for the writing to appear cliché because of small things like this. If you work on showing a little more instead of telling what’s going on in Malika’s world, I think you will have an excellent submission.

    HUMANKIND IS BASICALLY SCREWED

    Query: I love this concept. Reluctant and possibly unfit heroes are kind of my weak spot. The only thing I would watch out for in your query is using terms that people who haven’t researched your topic might be unfamiliar. When it comes to sci-fi, there are bound to be scientific terms, but when you’re writing a query, it’s probably a good idea to keep them to a minimum.

    250: The last sentence did its job superbly. I need to turn the page to see why earth has become so dangerous. I’m not a huge fan of the disconnected dialogue above it though. The writing is great, and it does set up the atmosphere, but I just don’t like the use of dialogue. It’s probably just a personal thing of mine, but if others comment, I would consider changing it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sugar and Blood: Love this concept. The stakes are so high and you've laid them out very clearly. I'm interested to know more about her amulet; is that the only magical object she has at her disposal? Is it common for people in this book to have items like that, or is it something only Malika has? Also liked your 250; definitely want to read more!

    Humankind Is Basically Screwed: Fascinating concept! I love a good "humankind's last hope" story, and your premise seems very strong. I'd love to know more about what sets Addi apart. She seems like a reluctant leader, so what skills or abilities does she have that might help her overcome these enormous odds? Great opening paragraphs, and I'd read on for sure!

    ReplyDelete
  7. SUGAR AND BLOOD
    Query: Great setup with the first paragraph, bridging the past to the present. And I like the simple “Times up” paragraph. I might need a bit more about the nefas in order to make Malika’s choice clearer, because right now it just says “choose the right side” and “trust the wrong monster” — it comes across as vague. It might be stronger if you say what the right side entails and something that describes the “Wrong monsters”. But overall, great premise and I’m excited to read pages after reading this.

    250: Excellent hook with the first sentence. Very strong first 250, and my eyebrow went up (in a good way!) when i read the line about knowing the time of her death. One thing, you might want to limit the number of ellipses. They can become jarring when used too much in prose. It’s okay in dialogue, but can interrupt the flow otherwise.

    HUMANKIND IS SCREWED
    Query: Stakes are good and the character is fleshed out well as being the Reluctant Hope. I’m not sure if I’m reading it right, but it sounds like the humans have some issue where they are all attempting to die, but the MC has to work to keep them alive. If so, you might want to clarify why this is. You might also add why Addi has been put in this position as leader and why they have to listen to her. Great query, and I love these types of stories.

    250: You establish the setting/situation well with both watching Earth disappear behind them and having them try to come up with metaphors about space.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sugar and Blood:

    Query: I loved how your query opened. Your voice shined through and I instantly connected with your MC. However, the second main paragraph (after the "Time's up") really started to lose me. We really had no clue that your MC possess a sort of magic, and we don't really know Oroth's motives. You seemed to kind of lean on vagueness to keep that paragraph trim, but it comes across a little unclear on what is happening. Your final paragraph sets up the stakes really well, but it gets pretty busy too. I can tell a lot probably happens in your story, and it's probably really hard to summarize. I totally get that. I wonder if you could trim up the second main paragraph and elaborate more in the final paragraph? For example, maybe you could cut everything and just say "When Oroth gets trapped behind a barrier," and then dive into a more elaborate final paragraph? That way you can explore more of your MC being taken by a nefas (which seems like a big deal) and the male nefas character (who also seems like a big deal, love interest maybe?). That's a totally out-there suggestion, but hopefully it helps to hear what I think sounds important just from your query and what might could be cut out.

    Your first 250 really sings! I loved it and wanted to keep reading so, so badly.


    Humankind is Basically Screwed:

    OMG this book! Can I read it NOW?! It sounds so good. For your query, I felt like I totally got a clear understanding of your MC, the stakes and conflict, and the goals. How the heck you did all that in that short of a query baffles me. I think you even got pretty specific in your query. "A fire onboard their spaceship threatens the precious genetics banks, and it is defeated only at the cost of a colonist’s life. Addi guides the grieving crew through an unprecedented Sisyphon jump and averts disaster as the co-pilot of their crash landing on their new planet, but it’s not enough to prevent another casualty." <--- That is super specific for a query, I feel. I think you can show the stakes in more general terms so that you have room to show another aspect of the story (if there's a romance or something personal for Addi???). Also, I had to read this sentence a few times to understand. Maybe you could re-arrange or chop up for better flow. "The planners back on Earth developed endless protocols for the mission, but Earth is a quadrillion kilometers away, and the colonists—and Addi—are on their own now."

    First 250: If your story has multiple POVs, I think that has to be handled in the query. Other than that, loved the writing!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Sugar and Blood
    Query: Very interesting premise! A few things -- having the two "up"s so close to each other (Time's up. When Oroth shows up...) sounds a little repetitive. Maybe "returns" instead of "shows up"? "Perish in darkness" is kind of cliche -- maybe just "perish"? Same with "revenge for an ancient grudge" -- either give the reader some hint about what this ancient grudge is about, if it's important to the plot, or don't mention it at all. Comma after "monster" in the last sentence.
    250: Great first line! "With a sigh" in the second paragraph isn't really necessary. The "I stared around my room" paragraph doesn't really add anything -- it's what everyone expects a person about to die would think. I think she'd do more than "frown" if an unfamiliar voice speaks while she's waiting for a demon king. :)

    Humankind Is Basically Screwed
    Query: Really gripping first paragraph! The second paragraph reads a bit like a synopsis. You might want to add something about the MC's personality.
    250: Great job getting a lot of info in with out feeling like an info-dump. Love the name of the ship (although it implies that the mission is run by Americans. Is that the case?) Would they really be able to see Earth from so far away in space? Earth can't be that bright, since it doesn't make its own light, right? (I'm not an expert in astronomy, so who knows?!)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sugar and Blood:
    Query: The first paragraph up until "Time's up." is brilliant! Great hook! The very end is confusing to me. "Malika must choose the right side to save her homeworld and herself. Trust the wrong monster and humans in both worlds will pay the ultimate price." Does she have a choice in this? I thought she was a human slave. What are her choices, when you say she gets to choose a side? It seems like she doesn't have a potential safe haven in Ortho's world, only that she finds a certain nefas attractive.
    250: GREAT opening line. Killer. But I wanted to learn what else she says when she rehearses the middle part, the important part according to her. I'd like more of a snippet of what she says here otherwise, I don't really see the point in leading the reader on. The tiny tidbit doesn't serve a purpose that I can see. The knock at the door I feel like would elicit a startled, panicked response from the Malika instead of a casual frown. I'd suggest revising to her allowing the panic she's been holding off to envelop her for a second, then relax when she recognizes the voice (or whatever happens next).

    Humankind:
    Query: The going is very smooth until I got to the crash-landing and the new colony. I don't think you need the caveat that "Addi is in no way prepared to deal with it." On the one hand, she must be because she's the chosen leader and we haven't learned anything about her that says she's untrained or was randomly plucked from the masses, and additionally, I don't need you to tell me she's unprepared for it - I'd like to infer that myself from your writing. You say she's not that great at being the last hope of Earth but I don't read anything that supports her inefficiency. Also, what are gametes? It might help to provide some context for your reader/agent-to-be. Also, I feel like this is all professional/external conflict. Where is the internal/personal conflict? The plot as you describe it feels like it's missing something. Why does she feel so inadequate? Was she left to care for her little sister before Earth became uninhabitable and left her to die? Is saving these 12 humans the last thing she promised her mother she would do? Obviously, that's a task that would be both personal and professional, but I'd like more of a feel for Sasha's personal stakes. It's still very intriguing and I'd be interested to read on!
    250: I would suggest placing the therapist's words in italics so we know it's a thought in Sasha's mind. Apart from that nitpick, I really enjoyed these 250. The voice is great and it's something I would definitely read.

    ReplyDelete
  11. These are both very compelling.

    SUGAR AND BLOOD:
    Query: Very clean and engaging! My only hang-up was around the third paragraph, with the amulet and the barrier. The amulet seemed to come out of nowhere (not much time for setup in a query, I know), and then I had trouble imagining what kind of barrier, and how it worked with him being on the side as the portal to Earth. Does he go through to Earth, then?
    250: The 250 didn't feel as clean and punchy as the query. The thoughts felt a little unfocused--but then, I guess that's what you'd expect if someone's facing their imminent death!

    HUMANKIND IS BASICALLY SCREWED
    Query: As a SF geek, I am in love with this. You may want to break the second para into two at "The colony is foundering..." (floundering?). My one complaint is that it feels a little list-like or synopsis-y. Maybe you could angle it a bit more from Addi's POV to inject some extra voice in it?
    250: I couldn't get away from the Hitchhiker's Guide associations with the first line, but I love the "so of course they all had to attempt to describe it." I expected to be taken to a character scene, with them sitting around blathering about space, and we get introduced to some of the key players while the POVC's thoughts fill us in on details. It turned out to be more introspective than I anticipated. I also did a little double-take to make sure I hadn't missed something when it seems like Sasha is the POVC even though the query is all about Addi.

    Good luck to both of you, love them both!

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  12. Wow, wow, wow. You are both such amazing writers! Just reall echoing what others have said.

    Sugar and Blood, super intriguing concept, loved the voice, totally invested in the character and her heartbreaking and disturbing past. Like others, I found the middle part of your query a bit confusing, and I think backing up a bit in your first scene would set the stage nicely before throwing us into the memorial planning. Maybe even a prologue scene. Not with telling, but with a scene showing the accident and the demon promising to come back.

    HIBS: I am a SF lover so I just ate this up. Your writing completely drew me in. Nice balance of comic and tragic, which makes sense given that ay some point people just have to move on and deal. Only nitpicky thing was what others said - references to other people's comments were a bit distracting and I think could be better just inserted as dialogue.

    Congrats to BOTH of you!!!

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  13. Sugar and Blood

    I've read that "portal" stories are out of vogue, but this is one I'd read nevertheless. Oooh, an amulet? Would have liked to have heard about it right up front. Does Malika have some kind of magic power? Was that the reason she survived the bus crash? A question that I think should be answered, and answered right away. "Ticking time bomb" struck me as cliched; the note about her world's imminent destruction renders it superfluous anyway. Oh, nefas...is *that* why she survived the bus crash? Hrm. Having some questions is good but leaving that one to the reader's own devices might not be a good idea. Great stakes! A choice between bad and worse.

    LOVE that opening line in the first 250! Heavy. And so is the rest of the excerpt. Checking the lock on a patio door suggests tugging on the handle, not merely glancing at the door itself. Maybe an em dash instead of an ellipsis after "matter" (although the one after "accident" is fine.) Instead of telling us Malika is detached, can you show us by having her look at things dear to her and just feeling ambivalent toward them or just plain numb? "once I was gone"--perhaps "to where I was going"? The former suggests a past event, the latter an imminent one. "Impending doom" struck me as cliched. Might she mull over what the did after turning 21? For most the big deal about 21 is they're now of legal drinking age...did she? I suppose if anyone had reason to tie one on, she does!


    Humankind Is Basically Screwed

    "last hope of the human race" and "she's not that great at it" don't seem to correlate well. The only way she would know she's not that great at it is if she tried and failed. But if she was the last hope for the human race and failed, then no one would be around to note she's not good at it. Now she may have certain abilities that make her humanity's last hope which she's not at all confident in! If that's your intent I might suggest rephrasing this opening line thusly. Can we have some context regarding a Sisyphon jump? We don't know what it is so we don't know whether it's routine or a dangerous maneuver, nor whether they put only themselves or the known universe at risk in doing so. I appreciate the gravity of Addi's situation, but the others have eyes too. They would know they've already lost members of their party to incidents, and may question whether Addi's fit to lead them. I'm sure Addi's confidence would only crumble faster with a potential mutiny on her hands. I like the setup here in the query, but the last lines suggest all may already be lost. Conflict is far from enjoyable if it's cast as futile all along. Can we have at least a glimmer of hope that Addi can pull this off? What will she have to risk in order to do it? Aside from her life, that is--it was forfeit the moment the ship lifted off.

    Ow. "mind-bogglingly" in the first 250 made my head hurt. I do like the transition into Sasha's line, though I first thought we were hearing it through another character's (Addi's?) ears. And I appreciate how while your query introduces us to Addi you begin with Shasha's POV. I did something similar because my novel's antagonist is the one with the most influence over the story's inciting incident. But for his doing what he does, there *is* no story. Is that the case here with Sasha? If so, can you indicate just how Sasha and Addi are connected in the query?

    When did the mission therapist give her advice? Five minutes ago? Before they lifted off? I'm not sure if Sasha's remembering something from the recent or distant past.

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  14. I have no idea why, but I commented on this thread a while ago, and it isn't showing up, so please forgive me for doing this a bit late, but I'll try to recapture what I had written the first time.

    First off, congrats to both kombatants for making it to the first round---that's amazing and you should be proud of yourself! Both of these entries are at or near the querying level, and that makes for an extremely intense match-up, in my opinion.

    Blood and Sugar:
    Query: Loved the premise, and I would pick up this book in a heartbeat. I like how you show the MC's age right from the start so that whoever you are querying knows exactly what category your novel falls in. I simply adored the "Time's up" part, like so many other commenters.

    I was a bit confused in the paragraph after that, about when Orath "comes to claim her." Perhaps a few words on why this demon king has a grudge would work well here. Then the agent can get a sense of both side's motivations. Other commenters have raised the same questions about the realms and nefas, so I won't clutter this up by repeating them. All in all, I really enjoyed the query, and with a few minor tweaks, think it would be strong enough to query.

    250: I love Malika's snarky voice...it definitely fits her age, and that is something of a pet peeve of mine when I read books where the MC acts much too old or too immature for their age without any explanation as to why that is the case. Your opening line definitely packs a punch, and after the 250 words, I was definitely pining to read more. Well done!

    HIBS: Query: Ooo, but this is a tight query...well done! I get the stakes right away, and I definitely get a sense of voice. I'm definitely curious as to why Addi believes herself unfit for the mission, but I guess I'll have to read the book to find out. :p

    250: Very nice sense of atmosphere and stakes as well with these words. My only question is: who is Sasha, and why is she talking? If this is a dual point of view, that makes sense, but I'd suggest to put Sasha in the query, if this is the case.

    The vibes of this book remind me of "Illuminae" and that is one of my favorite books, so I'd definitely be interested to see how you do things differently in terms of character development. The last few science fiction books I've read all centered around a girl who didn't think she was worthy of main character status, so I hope you choose to breathe a bit of fresh air into this trope. (Nothing wrong with tropes, mind you...I love tropes, and you can do so much with them! :D)

    All in all, great job guys!

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  15. So sorry I'm late to the game but I have a tardy pass from my daughter who is getting married in a week. Here are my two pennies worth of advice:
    Sugar and Blood
    Query:
    Give us a hint about the reason Oroth wants revenge, and why he let Malika live ten more years.
    Why will merging the two worlds destroy both?
    Is “nefas” plural for “nefa”? In one sentence, it is used in the singular form, so you might need to remove the s.
    Last line “pay the ultimate price” sounds cliché.
    250:
    Reconsider use of ellipsis.
    She has a patio door in her bedroom?
    Descriptions of characters breathing, sighing, taking a breath read like filler, like the author couldn’t quite feel and see the scene so the reader has to make it up for themselves. Show us. Make us feel it.
    Work on revision to bring more tension into the first page. I’m not afraid or concerned. Malika seems one-dimensional so far.

    Humankind is Basically Screwed
    Query:
    I would change “her two main concerns are keeping the last twelve humans in the galaxy alive and maintaining their meticulously curated trove of gametes” to “she must keep the last twelve humans alive and maintain their meticulously curated trove of gametes”
    And “maintain” might be too soft a word. And maybe explain to the non-scientist what a gamete is, or they might not appreciate the stakes.
    Why does she need the other humans if she has the gametes?
    2nd paragraph, 1st sentence does not need to begin with “Except”. Maybe change it to: The other humans seem to be on a mission of their own: to die, one by one.
    After the fire and crash landing, are they down to 10 survivors?
    This is my kind of story—I love worrying about the fragility of life and marveling at its inherent strength. I’d love to worry more about the individual characters, and the query doesn’t have enough voice to make me care individually about Addi.
    250:
    Whoa, where’s Addi and who is this Sasha? After I reread, I think it's interesting to begin with the castaways, instead of Addi. But what do I know? The feedback on my entry was about similar details. The query+250 might be stronger if they go together better. If Sasha is a main character, perhaps her stakes should be included in the query, or the first 250 might be rearranged to start from Addi’s perspective.
    Either way, get this published so I can read it, please.

    I hope you both keep querying! Good luck!
    Laura


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