Wednesday, June 15, 2016

QUERY KOMBAT ROUND 2: TO BE A MAN vs. ESCAPE THE FATE

Title: THE EVENTIDE
Entry Nickname: TO BE A MAN
Word count: 97,000
Genre: YA Fantasy

Query:

Val has studied, fought, and completed her sailing expedition—faster than anyone else—to become chieftess of her tribe. Returning home, she discovers her twin brother has been kidnapped by the foreign conquerors of Airylle and if she doesn't find him soon her tribe will go to war and be massacred by their enemies. However, the only way to get to Airylle is aboard one of their ships and their laws prohibit girls from joining a crew.

Assisted by Airylle’s only female mage, Val disguises herself as a boy and is hired aboard The Eventide. Surrounded by the people she believes are her enemies, her sole focus is locating her brother. But on the ship, Val discovers that not all Airyllens are pale-faced demons. As she earns Captain Devon's trust, Val is torn between her loyalty to the tribe and her newfound love for the captain—whose affections lie with the lady mage.

If Val doesn’t reveal her true identity, Devon will never return her true love. But if he learns who she is, he has an obligation to report her to the king and Val risks losing her brother, the war and her life.

First 250:

No one witnessed the tears staining my ocean-weathered face. Like my ancestors before me, I made this trip alone. If they still lived, I’d personally see them to the spirit realm for creating this rite of passage.

The purple mountains jutted into the sky, glistening as magic cascaded off them like an early morning fog encompassing the land. I leapt out of my seat. For most the Pass represented the boundary between the southern tribes and the pale-faced invaders. For me it meant home.

My rash movements caused the port side of my sailing canoe to dip under the water.

“Spirits!” If I capsized this close to the end, I’d die of humiliation.

Tonight, after eighty-two long days, the elders would name me chieftess. Chieftess Valerian. My mother had trained me for this moment all my life.

You’re only chieftess if you beat Shecayah home, a voice in my head reminded me.

The elders say the spirits whispering in your ear is a sign. I’d say my exhausted body wanted trick me.

Letting my sail out, I tied the mainsheet and moved from the stern to the bow, the wind pulling strands of my black hair out of its braid and into my eyes.

I sat cross-legged and loosened my drawstring pouch. Dust the color of the stars lay at the bottom. When I’d started my trek, Elder Fire gave me a full bag. I dumped the remnants in my hand. The silver stood out against my dark skin and I blew the powder away.

~ VERSUS ~ 

Title: Prophecy Punk
Entry Nickname: Escape the Fate
Word Count: 65,000
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy

Query:

Cassandra of Troy received the gift of divine prophecy from the Greek God Apollo. He also cursed her--no one would ever believe them (Trojan horse, anyone? Cassandra totally saw that coming).

In this contemporary retelling of the Greek myth, instead of suffering from madness and torturous hysteria, Cassandra is devoted to her family, a high school student (who needs a serious attitude adjustment), and runs a popular website where she puts her power to good use by recording benign prophecies as they come to pass.

While ProphecyPunked.com is a much-needed money-maker, Cass’ prophecies aren’t all viral video worthy. Buried beneath the funny accidents, incredible feats, and curious glimpses of her girlfriend-to-be, the gorgeous new transfer student, Elyse, she also foresees a deadly rivalry brewing. A foreboding vortex of violence has begun to swirl around her beautiful, and beloved sister, Helen.

With the sinister threat of a school shooting looming, Cass must turn to her morally bankrupt ex-boyfriend, Apollo, for help. She swore to never speak to him again after their prophecy-fueled blackmail business resulted in a suicide, but she’d do anything (including lie, cheat, steal, commit felonies…) for Helen. But not even the intervention of the Gods will be enough to help Cassandra, Helen, and Troy High School escape their fate.


First 250 words:

Cass had warned Kiernan this would happen. Up ahead there was a dangerous patch of early morning ice.

“Are you going to stand there all day?” Diana asked. Foggy plumes of breath formed in front of her face with each impatient huff.

Cass lounged against the Java Joint's brick wall. She winked at Diana, lips curling into a mischievous smile that only she could wear and make a person want in on whatever was about to go down. 

“Shut up before you mess up my video.” She pressed the camera icon on her phone and held it up toward the spot she had seen in her prophecy.

“Ooh!” Diana rushed to her side, peeking over Cass’ shoulder to watch the screen. “What are we recording?”

It had always been we, not you.

“In about ten seconds, Kiernan is going to come running out of the building, slip and almost fall for about seven seconds of pure hilarity in a stunning show of balance and luck. It’s going to be great. I’m thinking about calling it Lights, Camera, Traction.”

Diana’s eyes glazed over with an opaque sheen. Her face slackened while the memory of Cass’ prophecy erased itself from her mind. When she blinked, her eyes returned to their normal dark brown.

“Did you just say something?” she asked.

18 comments:

  1. Judges, please REPLY to this comment to cast your votes by awarding VICTORY TO one of the Kontestants.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To Be A Man

      Query:

      I think you’ve got an interesting and unusual premise, and this sounds like a book I’d enjoy reading. And your descriptions are absolutely gorgeous.

      You introduce her goal of becoming chieftess in para 1, but it doesn’t come back again here. Is it important to the query? Because, a girl signing on to an enemy ship to rescue her brother? Yay!

      I think you lose your focus in the last paragraph, because your stakes become diluted by her goal of winning Devon’s love. I’d rather see the focus remain on rescuing her brother.


      First 250:

      You’re missing “to” here: wanted trick me.

      My only other nitpick is her making a rash movement. If she’s been in her canoe for 28 days, wouldn’t taking care be second-nature to her?


      Escape the Fate

      Query:

      I really love the voice in your query! In your first paragraph, I’d suggest clarifying “them” with “a word she says” or something to refer back to the prophecies.

      In para 2, are you saying she’s devoted to her family and is a high school student? Or is she devoted to both? Maybe rework this sentence to make it clear.

      You build excellent tension with the introduction of her girlfriend-to-be and the danger to her sister, Helen.

      My only true concern is when you elude to her being involved in a blackmail prophesy business that resulted in a suicide. I’m confident this is handled well in your story, but it makes me lose sympathy for Cass in your query. Consider cutting it in the query and use something else to show us why she doesn’t want to speak with Apollo.

      250:

      Consider rewording your second line to make it more active, i.e., Up ahead, a dangerous patch of ice glistened in the early morning light.

      Overall, I like the changes you’ve made since I last read. I’m still curious to see Cass’s reaction to her internal “we” vs “us”, because it could show us more about who Cass is as a person.

      Now, the hard part. I love these entries equally! This is really tough.

      But, we have to choose, so:

      VICTORY TO Escape the Fate!

      Delete
    2. TO BE A MAN: Your query has a compelling premise, and the conflict and stakes are clear. Beyond that, though, I found myself confused at times throughout the query, and I had to reread several sentences before I understood what was happening.

      For example, the only way to get to Airylle is on one of their ships...but these are the enemy's ships? The conquerors? It would seem that being a girl would be the least of her problems in getting aboard if these are enemy ships, no? Also, it's not clear why her brother's kidnapping will lead to war.

      Additionally, in that first paragraph, "Kidnapped by the foreign conquerors of Airyelle" is confusing. I think it's the "of" that's throwing me. Are they the conquerors of Airyelle meaning they're conquering Airyelle or are they "of" Airyelle meaning "from" Airyelle? Do you see what I mean?

      But I love the premise of this overall.

      There's excellent world-building in your first 250, and I love the scene you chose to open with. Your prose is lovely, too.

      One note I had was regarding "rash movements." I have no idea what these rash movements might be. I'm also curious since Val is obviously a go-getter and very much in control, what makes her almost lose that here at the end. Is it exhaustion or eagerness to be home.

      ESCAPE THE FATE: This is a solid, compelling query with a strong voice.

      My one note would be that I had some confusion in the first paragraph. You switch from "her" to "them" in that one sentence and I'm not sure who "them" refers to. Also, regarding the parenthetical asides in that paragraph, I'm not sure how that connects. Nobody will believe them But Cassandra saw it coming? I'm not understanding.

      From the second paragraph down though, I loved this query. It's punch, has great detail, and an awesome voice.

      As for the 250, I really like the scene you chose to start with. It gives a good flavor of the story and its voice.

      My one note here is that I wasn't sure who's POV we were in. At first I thought we were in Cass's POV but then this line " lips curling into a mischievous smile that only she could wear and make a person want in on whatever was about to go down." feels outside of that so I thought maybe we were in Diana's or omniscient. So a little finessing here might really help.

      DECISION:

      Both of these entries are terrific...and so different and unique, but I have to make a choice so...

      VICTORY TO ESCAPE THE FATE!

      Delete
    3. To be a Man:

      Query – this sounds like a really interesting concept, but I’m unclear on a few points. “foreign conquerors of Airylle”… this makes it sound like they’re conquering Airylle, but I think you mean the conquerors are from there. I’d say Airyellian conquerors or some such, because I was confused the whole first two times I read the query., but I think the conquerors are the It sounds like your MC is the chieftess of a tribe in Airylle, I’m also unclear on why their tribe will have to go to war, and why they would be slaughtered, if she can’t find her twin brother. I’d follow your plotline and the query would have more punch if these points were clearer.

      Also the stakes are a little thin for me; I’ll bet, when I’m reading the story, they don’t seem thin, but saving her brother and the tribe seems a lot more important than trying to win over a man who is in love with someone else. I would make these stakes clearer either by NOT mentioning his infatuation with the mage, as well as involving some other plot point which makes the stakes less lopsided…because trading one’s brother and tribe for the love of a man doesn’t sound like much of a contest to most of us, and I’m left not liking your MC just from the query if that’s a legitimate choice for her.
      250:
      “…glistening as magic cascaded off them like an early morning fog encompassing the land.” I’m having a hard time picturing this, because I don’t know about your world yet. Do you mean real magic? I’d let us know a little about how the magic works in your world before giving us a visual like this.

      The rest is good visuals, good worldbuilding. Nice job!

      Escape the Fate
      I saw this last round, and really enjoyed it.

      Query:

      I would change this line to make it flow more and be clearer:

      “…Cassandra is a high school student who is devoted to her family, but needs a serious attitude adjustment. She runs a popular website where she puts her powers to good use by recording benign prophecies as they come to pass.”

      I sort of miss the line, what was it, about cute kittens etc., which is now “viral video-worthy”. You might bring some of that vibe back in... I sort of enjoyed the notion of her having prophecies about when someone’s dog would accidentally run into the wall or whatever, but if she doesn’t actually have prophecies like that, I guess don’t put it in the query.

      “But not even the intervention of the Gods will be enough to help Cassandra, Helen, and Troy High School escape their fate.” This seems like you’re giving away a very unhappy ending. I would change this to emphasize the stakes instead, because I don’t want to read the book if I think it’s a “then everyone died the end” book, especially if I know that’s the ending before I even start reading.

      250:

      I see no problems here. I’m fascinated by the whole concept, and I want to read more to discover why the memory of her prophecies get wiped from people’s minds, and how all that works.

      These are two great entries. I’m giving VICTORY TO ESCAPE THE FATE.

      Delete
    4. Sorry about the typos above in TO BE A MAN. I had a cut/paste fail there.

      Delete
    5. To Be A Man

      Query:

      This is very Mulan! I love that. The first line catches me, so it’s a great hook. I just get a little confused because how does she complete a sailing expedition, but women aren’t allowed to join a crew? I think that could use a little clarification. I’m also confused about why she’s torn between the loyalty of the tribe and love for the Captain? If she reveals herself, won’t her brother be killed? I can’t really see her revealing herself and letting her brother die—unless there’s something I’m missing.

      I think something needs to be clarified there—also if he loves the mage, it’s making it sound like Val is trying to steal the Captain away from his love. So that kinda sounds petty to me—not saving her brother because she likes a man, wanting to steal the guy from his girl. That’s how it’s coming off to me. So I think something in there needs to be explained better.

      I love the premise, but I don’t feel like the queries gone deep enough into the stakes.

      (Also, now I have the song from Mulan, “Be a Man!” stuck in my head. Your fault.)

      First 250

      There’s a few grammar issues going on here, so make sure you proofread a bit more carefully. I’m not sure you started in the right place, at least from what I’ve read. Why are there tears on her face? Nothing seems to be making her cry and there’s no explanation of it. We’ve got a description of her sailing (which again makes me wonder why she’s not allowed to sail if we start off with that), and a little bit about what’s to come.

      You might find a better start if you move things up to maybe when she’s just gotten home—have the receiving party, and is given the bad news of her brother. I want something a little more enticing to keep me reading. Play around with where you start to see what’s going to best draw the reader in.

      VS.

      Escape The fate

      Query
      I like the concept, but I think the information about it being a retelling should come at the end. Don’t summarize what the story is about, and then go into the plot. Give me the plot, then let me know at the end it’s a contemporary retelling based on the myth. In my opinion, the first two paragraphs need to go. There needs to be a snappy hook about Cassandra and her visions, then flow into it.

      Also, keep it to three names. Protagonist, Antagonist, Love Interest/Best Friend. There’s a lot of stuff in parenthesis that I’d rather have come out in the query if needed at all.

      I’m also not quite sure what the main stakes are? Catalyst of violence and fate are very vague. What’s happening now? What’s the main arc?

      There’s a lot of great voice in this query, and that’s great, but I need to know what the stakes are over all.

      First 250

      Your voice really flows, and I love the way you show us her prophecy ability right off the bat. I also love the fact that she’s having fun with it. Really, I don’t have much in way of crit for this, because I think it’s really good. My only bit was for a second I thought we jumped to Diana’s POV when the prophecy erased itself. I’d play with that a little to let the reader know Cass is observing this, knows this is what happens because it’s happened for. Otherwise, I think it’s great.


      To Be A Man: Love the premise, but the query needs a bit of work. I also feel like the first 250 might be better off starting somewhere else, or maybe deepening it a bit so I understand a bit more why she’s crying.

      Escape The Fate: Another great premise. I love Greek Mythology. I’d like to have more about what’s going on now in the query, as opposed to what it’s based off, but man, that voice is fantastic. The first 250 draws me in and makes me want to read more.

      This was a tough one, both are really strong entries.

      GO GO GADGET VICTORY: ESCAPE THE FATE

      Delete
    6. To Be a Man

      Query: My main question here is WHY. Why does her brother’s kidnapping mean war for the entire tribe? Why would it be a massacre? Is she chieftess officially? After that first semi-confusing paragraph, solid query. I’m super interested in this. Great concept.

      Opening: Beautiful writing. Descriptions are gorgeous, and the voice leaps off the page already. This opening started to clarify the confusing bits of the query slightly, but I don’t want to have to go to pages to not be confused.

      Escape the Fate

      Query: This is an intriguing premise. I like the way the gods are modernized. However, I was mostly confused reading the query. There’s so much going on. The hook sentence threw me, and it seems like you try to throw in voicey pieces in parentheses, but they just fall flat for me. Then you’ve got a love interest, problems for her sister, a school shooting, a past suicide related to a blackmail business and my head is spinning. I’m not sure where my focus is supposed to be, or what the stakes are. What fate are they escaping? This query needs to be streamlined and sharpened.

      Opening: Definitely interesting, especially when the prophecy erases itself. Sometimes I wish I had the power to erase the things I just said. My biggest problem with this section was the sentence that said, “…lips curling into a mischievous smile that only she could wear and make a person want in on whatever was about to go down.” Very clunky. Other than that, a strong opening.

      VICTORY TO: BE A MAN

      Delete
    7. SCOWLING DISCONTENTED JUDGEJune 17, 2016 at 4:15 PM

      TO BECOME A MAN

      I feel like the second and third paragraphs of this query work better than the first, which feels like backstory. The paragraph also raises questions that are too complicated to answer in the context of the query— what does becoming chieftess have to do with the rest of the story? If she’s chieftess, and she thinks going to war is bad idea, why would they go? Why is the tribe going to war if she doesn’t find her twin brother? Why is the twin brother important at all? None of these threads are picked up in the close of the query— which is a good closing, actually, and so I would focus the whole query on these later aspects of the story.

      For most, insert comma, the Pass represented…

      I like the 250, but I’m not sure it blows me out of the water. This feels like a good place to begin the story, I just wonder about some of the language. A sentence like: “My rash movements caused the port side of my sailing canoe to dip under the water,” for example. Why the passive construction? And why my sailing canoe instead of the sailing canoe? There’s only one, right?

      The next line: “If I capsized this close to the end, I’d die of humiliation” feels too contemporary, almost snarky.

      I like this, though, and I’m kicking its tires because I want it to do well.

      ESCAPE THE FATE

      I like this query, but I’m also not quite sold on its opening. The parenthetical is cute, but I feel like it’s almost insulting to literary agents to spend the first paragraph explaining Cassandra to them. They’re a well read lot. Besides, it’s Cassandra! This ain’t Acratopotes we’re talking about here.

      The second paragraph is lacking parallel construction. As it reads now, Cassandra is devoted to her family, who is a high school student who needs an attitude adjustment.

      But the query gets better and better as it goes along, and by the end I’m completely on board for this.

      Also like the last entry— these two entries are very well-matched, QK Overlords!— I feel like there are some language issues in the 250. If feels, to my ears, a little purple. “Foggy plumes of breath formed in front of her face with each impatient huff,” is just too many modifiers.Is ‘in front of her face?’ really necessary? Where else would this breath form?

      I feel like:

      “Are you going to stand there all day?” asked Diana, behind foggy plumes of breath.

      Would be stronger. I don't want to replace your voice with mine, but think very deeply about cutting back on some of the descriptors here.

      In the subsequent paragraph, it’s not clear to me whose lips are curling: Diana’s or Cass’s? I also feel like “into a mischievous smile that only she could wear and make a person want in on whatever was about to go down” is a very awkward construction. Also, it’s telling, not showing. What’s so great about this smile? Make me feel it-- don't just tell me it's amazing.

      ——-

      These entries are very close, but for the stronger 250, I’m hedging my bets on TO BECOME A MAN.

      VICTORY to TO BECOME A MAN.

      Delete
    8. Escape the Fate

      I like the tone of the query. Suggest changing out the em dash in the opening -- perhaps ‘He also cursed her(--) so no one would…’ I found the use of ‘them’ awkward. I know it refers back to the prophecies, but perhaps keep it more specific – e.g., ‘…no one would ever believe her warnings’? For me, this bit lacked power: ‘She records her benign prophecies as they come to pass.’ Since it would be more effective and garner her greater credibility to post her prophecies beforehand, what is her reasoning for waiting – is part of the curse that the recordings will vanish? Suggest trimming back the following: ‘Beneath the…and (curious) glimpses of her girlfriend to be, (the gorgeous new transfer student) Elyse, she also…deadly rivalry (brewing).’ Suggest reordering the following: ‘…but, for Helen, she’d do anything (including … felonies for Helen).’ Perhaps the closing line could be more effective? The use of the term ‘fates’ seems to say none of the characters – including Cass – can actually make a difference. Maybe I’m misreading this, but for me, that’s an enthusiasm killer.

      In the first 250, suggest reordering the opening lines and setting the scene before Cass’s warning: ‘Up ahead was…ice. Cass had warned Kiernan this would happen.’ I think you can trim back the following – the reader will still know what you’re saying: ‘Foggy plumes (of breath) formed (in front of her face) with each impatient huff.’ The line about Cass’s ‘mischievous smile’ was distracting and felt out of POV. Suggest combining paragraphs 3 and 4 to make it clear Cass is the one speaking. At the end, great job showing us how the curse keeps Cass’s prophecies from gaining traction.


      To Be a Man

      The query made me wonder why Val’s brother is so important to the tribe – or is he? Would the tribe have gone to war over any kidnapped member – or is her brother special in some way? I’m not sure the final paragraph does the job you want it to. There’s nothing to indicate that if Val reveals her true identity, Devon will return her love. Also, in the final line, she risks losing her brother, the war and her life. I thought she was going after her brother to prevent a war – this make it sound like the war is in progress. Perhaps reorder the information—and cut the war reference—if appropriate: ‘If Devon learns who she is, he has an obligation to report her to the king and Val risks losing her brother and her life. But if Val doesn’t reveal her true identity, she may miss out on her chance at true love.’

      Though it’s a dramatic opening line, I wasn’t clear why Val is crying – is it due to injury, fatigue, stress, loneliness, triumph? This could be an opportunity to give us a bit more insight into her. There’s a missing comma which threw me off: ‘For most, the Pass represented…’ There’s a missing word in the following: ‘I’d say my exhausted body wants trick me…’ I’d also like a sense of how big her sailing canoe is as it would help us to see the challenge she’s faced travelling on the sea. Perhaps add in something like ‘…and moved 2 (or 3 or 6) steps from the stern to the bow.’


      Winner: Escape the Fate

      Delete
    9. To Be a Man: Love the overall concept.
      Query: The first sentence reads a bit awkwardly to me. As written, it sounds like Val has studied faster than anyone else, fought faster than anyone else, etc. If the sailing expedition is some sort of trial by fire or survival test, I'd like that shown with stronger wording. Shows' she's a badass and deserves to become chieftess, whereas sailing expedition could just be a pleasure cruise.
      Next sentence, it sounds like the brother has been kidnapped by the conquerers who conquered someplace called Airylle, but later I see that's not what you mean: the conquerers actually are the Airylle. Not sure why him being kidnapped would lead to war and it seems important. Can you give us a brief hint? Also, why will they be massacred? Do the Airylle guys have 5x more warriors? Superior weapons? Dark magic?
      If Airylle is the enemy, and their skin colors are different, how could she get work on their ship anyway, boy or girl?
      So as you can see, I'm intrigued but confused. I would take out everything about the female mage. To me, Val being torn between her loyalty to the tribe and her newfound love for the captain is much stronger stakes than the fact that he likes someone else,so throwing that in at the end of the sentence only serves to muddy and weaken what are strong and clear stakes.

      First 250: I like this a lot. Your writing is evocative, love the part with the powder even though I have no idea what it's about yet. But I'd definitely read on. Two points of confusion: Could you give us a hint why she's crying? Is she overwhelmed to be almost home, her ordeal over? And why did she leap out of her seat, nearly capsizing the canoe?
      Great job!

      Escape the Fate: what a terrific premise! Kudos!
      Query: That second sentence threw me badly. I reread it several times, going back to the first sentence to see if I'd missed something, and each time muttered, "who the heck is "them?" Finally I figured out you meant her prophecies. Please clarify!

      I'd also move this to the part that it's a contemporary retelling to either the very beginning/intro or to the end/summary. I'm also a bit confused how she puts her power to use by recording benign prophecies as they come to pass. This is vague.

      When you introduce Elyse, that sentence gets too wordy and a bit confusing.
      LOVE the "foreboding vortex of violence" sentence. Take out comma after beautiful, though.
      Is the vortex the sinister threat of the school shooting? Has Cass seen Helen injured in a shooting? If so, I hope you can find a way to make that clearer. If not, I'd focus on one calamity or the other for the sake of clarity in the query.
      Now, as others have mentioned, the whole Apollo thing makes Cass immediately unlikeable.One minute she sounds like a do gooder, the next like a criminal, so more confusion for this poor judge!!!
      I like the last sentence, but feel it could be stronger. Escape their fate is vague. Are they escaping a violent shooting that will leave her loved ones/friends dead? More specifics can really strengthen this ending.

      First 250

      The first paragraph is quite vague. Cass had warned Kiernan WHAT would happen? I'd also like to see the second sentence changed from passive to active, although as a reader I couldn't quite see what the two sentences had to do with each other. Then I was further confused when the person who spoke was not either Cass or Kiernan but a Diana.
      I might start with Cass lounging against the building, telling her friend in a few seconds, Kiernan is going to come running out of the building, etc. It feels much more engaging and shows her ability off in action.

      It had always been we, not you: Who is thinking this? If it's Cass, what does she mean? Does she have some opinion or reaction to it that could start to show us a bit about her?
      All in all, this looks to be a fun read with a great idea behind it.
      Another great job!

      Two fascinating concepts with queries that are almost there!
      Victory to To Be A Man

      Delete
  2. Let's start randomly in the middle, because I know you guys want feedback and votes ASAP! :)

    TO BE A MAN:

    So, I judged this one last time, and I think the query (which was already good) is even better. You've really made the central characters and their relationships clear even in this short pitch, and the stakes just jump off the page. Nice job!

    My main comment on the first 250 is kind of a YAY! and a bit of constructive criticism in one. You have some absolutely BEAUTIFUL language here for describing visuals. I love this line: "The purple mountains jutted into the sky, glistening as magic cascaded off them like an early morning fog encompassing the land." And "Dust the color of the stars lay at the bottom." But (and this is nitpicky), you aren't as descriptive when talking about action. Something like "My rash movements caused the port side of my sailing canoe to dip under the water." ... what rash movements? Did she swat at a fly? Stretch? Attempt to do the moonwalk from one side of the canoe to the other? I'd like to see a few more specifics in some of these places, some more vivid verbs, etc, so that it feels like you're showing us EVERYTHING, not just those beautiful descriptive details, and not showing.

    I'd still keep reading, but it's something to keep in mind for revisions!

    ESCAPE THE FATE:

    I did NOT judge this one the first time around... skimmed through it, but didn't really take the time for critical analysis.

    So, I LOVE the last two paragraphs of your query. There's so much here to get excited about! Stakes are clear, I love that the importance of family is such a big part of this. I don't think I'd change a thing there. The first couple of paragraphs are a little awkward in places, though. In the first paragraph, when you say "no one would ever believe them"... what does "them" mean? There are no plural nouns before this sentence in the query, so it took me a minute to figure out that you meant her prophecies. I'd either say "her prophecies" or "believe a word she said" or something to make that clear. You don't want to trip up the agent on the very first line! I'd also consider cutting "devoted to her family" from the second paragraph, and just say "a high school student who runs..." It's apparent that she is devoted AT LEAST to Helen in the second half of the query.

    That said... this is a concept that I didn't think I'd personally be very interested it, and by the end of the query I'm already nervous about what'd going to happen to Helen and wanting to read more. Stakes and concept are 100% on point!

    First 250, I don't have a lot to suggest. You've put a smile on my face on the first page with "Lights, Camera, Traction," and I like the interaction between Cass and Diana. "It had always been me, not you" makes me curious to explore their friendship (or lack thereof?) in more detail, and... whoa, did Cass erase Diana's memory? Or does it just... auto-erase? I'm SO CURIOUS as to how this magic works... in other words, your opening has done it's job. Gimme more!

    The ONE thing I'm not crazy about is this sentence: "Up ahead there was a dangerous patch of early morning ice." This is very passive, and telling where the rest of your excerpt SHOWS. I'd either cut it entirely, or maybe move it down a little, to where Cass is adjusting the camera, and use a more active verb than "there was" ("A patch of ice shone in the early morning sunlight" or something?)

    ***

    Decision time! I feel like BOTH queries present amazing stakes and high-concept ideas that should do well with agents. If I could keep reading both, I would, but if I absolutely had to pick... Cass's fun, humorous voice is going to push me over the edge!

    VICTORY TO: ESCAPE THE FATE!

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  3. To Be A Man: One thing that confused me a little about the query is that if Val is chieftess, isn't it up to her whether her tribe goes to war? And would someone in her position be able to just skip off like that without leaving her people in a lurch? The query also implies that her people have been conquered and subjugated but that's not as clear as it could be.

    The first 250 were well written. I was a little less enamored with some of the descriptive prose but since the judge above liked it so much, I'd say that's just me. One thing - can you leap from your seat in a canoe - would it be more accurate to say - tried to leap from your seat?

    Escape the Fate: I would change 'no one would ever believe them' to 'no one would ever believe her' which is what I think you meant. Also, the sentence 'Cassandra is devoted to her family, a high school student' should probably be rewritten since it sounds like the family is a high school student rather than Cass.

    The first 250 - These read well though having the prophecy just be erased from the listener's mind makes me wonder a bit about the process. My poor memory of Cassandra was that no one believed, not that no one remembered. If people see it on video does it stay in their minds? If not, why would anyone go to Cass' website?

    I like how both of these are updated workings of classic stories. I think you both have very promising concepts. Good luck.

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  4. To Be a Man: Love the overall concept.
    Query: The first sentence reads a bit awkwardly to me. As written, it sounds like Val has studied faster than anyone else, fought faster than anyone else, etc. If the sailing expedition is some sort of trial by fire or survival test, I'd like that shown with stronger wording. Shows' she's a badass and deserves to become chieftess, whereas sailing expedition could just be a pleasure cruise.
    Next sentence, it sounds like the brother has been kidnapped by the conquerers who conquered someplace called Airylle, but later I see that's not what you mean: the conquerers actually are the Airylle. Not sure why him being kidnapped would lead to war and it seems important. Can you give us a brief hint? Also, why will they be massacred? Do the Airylle guys have 5x more warriors? Superior weapons? Dark magic?
    If Airylle is the enemy, and their skin colors are different, how could she get work on their ship anyway, boy or girl?
    So as you can see, I'm intrigued but confused. I would take out everything about the female mage. To me, Val being torn between her loyalty to the tribe and her newfound love for the captain is much stronger stakes than the fact that he likes someone else,so throwing that in at the end of the sentence only serves to muddy and weaken what are strong and clear stakes.

    First 250: I like this a lot. Your writing is evocative, love the part with the powder even though I have no idea what it's about yet. But I'd definitely read on. Two points of confusion: Could you give us a hint why she's crying? Is she overwhelmed to be almost home, her ordeal over? And why did she leap out of her seat, nearly capsizing the canoe?
    Great job!

    Escape the Fate: what a terrific premise! Kudos!
    Query: That second sentence threw me badly. I reread it several times, going back to the first sentence to see if I'd missed something, and each time muttered, "who the heck is "them?" Finally I figured out you meant her prophecies. Please clarify!

    I'd also move this to the part that it's a contemporary retelling to either the very beginning/intro or to the end/summary. I'm also a bit confused how she puts her power to use by recording benign prophecies as they come to pass. This is vague.

    When you introduce Elyse, that sentence gets too wordy and a bit confusing.
    LOVE the "foreboding vortex of violence" sentence. Take out comma after beautiful, though.
    Is the vortex the sinister threat of the school shooting? Has Cass seen Helen injured in a shooting? If so, I hope you can find a way to make that clearer. If not, I'd focus on one calamity or the other for the sake of clarity in the query.
    Now, as others have mentioned, the whole Apollo thing makes Cass immediately unlikeable.One minute she sounds like a do gooder, the next like a criminal, so more confusion for this poor judge!!!
    I like the last sentence, but feel it could be stronger. Escape their fate is vague. Are they escaping a violent shooting that will leave her loved ones/friends dead? More specifics can really strengthen this ending.

    First 250

    The first paragraph is quite vague. Cass had warned Kiernan WHAT would happen? I'd also like to see the second sentence changed from passive to active, although as a reader I couldn't quite see what the two sentences had to do with each other. Then I was further confused when the person who spoke was not either Cass or Kiernan but a Diana.
    I might start with Cass lounging against the building, telling her friend in a few seconds, Kiernan is going to come running out of the building, etc. It feels much more engaging and shows her ability off in action.

    It had always been we, not you: Who is thinking this? If it's Cass, what does she mean? Does she have some opinion or reaction to it that could start to show us a bit about her?
    All in all, this looks to be a fun read with a great idea behind it.
    Another great job!

    Two fascinating concepts with queries that are almost there!
    Victory to To Be A Man


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  5. TO BE A MAN

    QUERY: Great hook with the first sentence. While I think that first paragraph’s wording is good, it’s a little vague in consequences and how she will achieve the goal. The “massacred by their enemies” line might need a bit more detail (how will an attack lead to their massacre? This says a lot about their military, but maybe add a bit as to why this is). Might want a bit more detail about the ship she’s trying to get on. Might just be me, but I had the impression that the ship is a military ship until I read it again. And she seems like a military type, since she’s chieftess. So I’m not sure why she wouldn’t be allowed to join the crew.

    In the second paragraph, I’m not sure why she sees the people onboard as her enemies since (I think?) she’s their chieftess. I think most of the vague stuff could be remedied with a bit more detail.
    Otherwise, I like the 250 (save for a few typos others have pointed out). It’s an intriguing premise. Good job!


    ESCAPE THE FATE
    Improved from the last version. I like the hook with that first line, laying it out there that she has this gift, but nobody will believe her. It resonates better here. Voice is still good, and the consequences are stated well.

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  6. TO BE A MAN

    Goodness me. Twins. Disguises. Culture clashes. Fighting gender norms. Enemies to lovers. This has everything I love and the query explains it all well and leaves me desperate to learn more.

    However, there are a few things I’m a little confused about. You say that Devon’s affections lie with the lady mage – so why does Val think he’ll “return her true love” if she only reveals her true identity? And is this mage a good person or a bad one? If the former, it’s a little bittersweet if the heroine steals her lover away. And if the mage is from the enemy country, why is she helping Val. What happens to Devon if he discovers Val’s identity and doesn’t report her? Does he lose his position or face execution? Finally, I’d like a little more – just a line or two – on just why she’s fallen so in love with this person from the enemy state.

    The first 250 had more description than I usually enjoy, but I thought it worked well. You can really feel the heroines determination and the magic of the setting.

    ESCAPE THE FATE
    I commented on this one in round 1, where I loved the first 250 words and found the query intriguing and amusing, but also a bit confusing. The query is much clearer and sharper now, but (don’t hate me!) along the way it seems to have lost a little of the voice, in particular, the sense of Cassandra being somewhat amoral. I’d also either like more info about the “prophecy fuelled blackmail business” or for the reference to be cut and it just be mentioned that she isn’t speaking to her morally bankrupt ex.
    On the whole, this is looking good though.

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  7. While To Be A Man has a compelling query and interesting first 250, I'm going with Escape the Fate. The query just drew me in more, and I really enjoyed those first 250. Escape the Fate!

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  8. These are both really great entries, thank you for sharing!!

    TO BE A MAN: 97k is edging on the long side for YA, I think, even in fantasy. (Query) Is chieftess a word? Threw me out of the letter. It's not clear to me whether the faster than anyone else means she's the fastest to become chief or the fastest at sailing or the fastest to complete all those items. Whose ships are "their" ships? Love triangles seem pretty standard for YA but I'm still kind of meh on them, and I am immediately wary of the ages involved (this is YA, so I assume Val is ~16, whereas I'd put a ship's captain at 30-40, and that's kind of icky). But all that aside, I think this is a strong query. You've laid out the stakes pretty clearly and given some idea of the flavor of the book. As a former Navy gal, I love that it seems to be heavily sea-focused! (250) This sets up where Val is and some of the details of the story very well. I thought the writing in the first couple paragraphs seemed a little strained and didn't match the tone of the rest. Love the image of "dust the color of stars". My personal preference would be to feel more voice in this, especially since it is in first person.

    Escape the Fate: (Query) I am a sucker for mythology and retellings, I admit. I also like parentheticals, although I felt this one would have worked better on its own, not as part of the sentence. The comma before Helen should be before sister instead. By the end of this, I'm a little overwhelmed at all the different parts that are being brought up. The ex, suicide, blackmail, the sister, a school shooting...it's a lot. I think it could be pared down to make it more compelling. We don't need the whole book, just enough to make us want the whole book. I'm also not sure how the retelling ties back to your first paragraph, as people seem to believe Cass just fine and Apollo didn't curse her. I wonder if you could tie in more specifically to the parts of the myth that are more specifically paralleled? (250) Ahh, okay so here it is more clear that Cass's prophecies don't "stick". So now I'm confused about the entire website. Is it just her videos but no prophecies? I felt like the first paragraph was disjointed from the next couple paragraphs and then re-connected--maybe try re-ordering the presentation? I don't know who Kiernan is and then it's Diana speaking, so it's a little confusing. I like we not you callout, hints at conflict-to-come in this friendship!

    Well done to both Kombatants!

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  9. TO BE A MAN:

    QUERY: The first line confuses me. Is it that she fought and studied for the sailing expedition or to become chieftess? By the rest of the query, I’d assume the sailing expedition is a minor part so by bringing it into the query, for me, you’re raising more questions than you need to. I think that if you said something like “After earning the position of chieftess for her tripe, Val returns home…” When someone becomes a queen or chieftess it either comes one of two ways, through birth or through a fight, if you say something like earned, hard work is implied. Otherwise, I think you have a really cool concept here.

    250: A couple grammar mistakes here and there – make sure you use commas after phrases like “For me,”. Just give it another good read through and I think you’ll be good.

    Prophecy Punk:

    Query: Greek gods – fascinating. My only comment is that I am not a fan of the parentheses. It’s a stylistic thing – I just don’t like them.

    250: I think this is also really good. I especially like the line, “It had always been we, not you.” You tell us so much about the character in so few words. Good job

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