Friday, June 2, 2017

Query Kombat Round 1: MEN AREN'T DYING vs. SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS

Title: Still Life
Entry Nickname: Men Aren’t Dying 
Word count: 95K
Genre: Adult contemporary sci-fi


Query: 
On the same day the world is enveloped in a virus-laden preternatural fog, Samantha Davis’ ex-boyfriend survives a horrific car accident against expectations. As he begins to recover, his radically altered personality is hard for Samantha to explain.

Active virus samples in men begin to emerge, where the viral DNA is dominant. Samantha’s ex is among them. Research confirms, since the date of the fog, men under fifty are no longer dying. Or they are, but they come back, their organic death proving to be the trigger for activation of the virus. When infection rates start to exceed the normal mortality rates, it becomes clear they are killing men to speed up the transition.

Samantha must prove the threat men with the new virus pose, before their numbers mean they cannot be stopped, or risk that women will be subjugated, useful only as breeding stock in the enforced evolution of humanity. 

First 250
I peered into the darkness, the thick, swirling fog making it difficult to see any other traffic on the dark Brighton streets. As I accelerated, my foot slipped on the clutch, the car lurching onto the roundabout. Edward’s hand shot out, gripping onto the door handle, his other fastened to the side of his seat. My next gear change wasn’t much smoother. I could feel Edward looking at me, wanting to talk. “Sam-”

I jabbed at the radio button, to shut him up and avoid having to listen to any more of his bullshit. The cool, professional tones of the BBC news reporter helped, today’s events a welcome distraction:

“An unusually heavy fog has led to transport delays and disruption worldwide today.

Despite reports of an apparent ‘luminosity’ in the fog, the Department of Health has issued a statement saying the phenomena is not believed to be a cause for concern — however they’ve advised children and the elderly to stay indoors as a precaution.

Continued travel disruption is expected while the fog persists-” 

Edward flicked the off-switch.

I took my eyes off the road to glare at him. “I was listening to that!”

“Sam, we need to talk about what happened.”

“I know what happened. I was there, remember?” I slowed as we hit another mini-roundabout, the fog hiding it until the last moment. A pedestrian hurried across the road in front of us, head down, his skin and clothes coated with a pink film of whatever shit was in the fog. It was everywhere.

~ VERSUS ~ 

Title: Engine of Change
Entry Nickname: Super Powers and Problems
Word Count: 100K
Genre: Adult SciFi

Query:
Seeing twenty-seven-year-old Jenna downing shots at the local dive bar, you’d never guess she was once the feared supervillain Engine. That’s because everyone knows Engine is dead, just like the rest of the Specials–the teens who ten years ago tried to take over the world.

Or so the old headlines read. Jenna would tell you different.

Burdened with guilt over being the last of her kind, all Jenna wants is to be left alone in the secret life she’s built in New York City. That hope is shattered when the man who created the virus that eradicated the Specials threatens humanity with a new strain of the plague, and a government agency aware Jenna survived demands her help. Help she has no intention of providing until they reveal they possess the only thing Jenna would care about: more survivors of the original virus.

Can Jenna overcome her demons, revive the leader she was, and save the world? After the genocide committed against her people, will she even try?

First 250 Words:
The worst thing about having gained immortality at sixteen was being treated like a scamming teenager any time I wanted a fucking drink.

“ID,” Jimmy said as I climbed into the rust-red swivel seat at the middle of the bar. He leaned over the stained bar top and eyed me like I’d trailed dog shit in on my shoe.

I ripped open my wallet, nearly knocking over a half-empty glass of skunky swill someone had abandoned. “I’ve been in here a hundred times. Why are you still being a tool about this?”

Jimmy flicked his bald head up and to the right, at the fist-sized black camera aimed at the bar. His engorged belly swung around under his blue sweat-soaked t-shirt. “Because I still don’t buy that you’re twenty-two, Jenna."

Jimmy was right, I wasn’t twenty-two. I was twenty-seven, but got carded everywhere. I couldn’t even buy cigarettes without catching shit. Immunity to physical addiction was a nice perk to the whole doesn’t-age-or-get-sick thing, though. Take that, Philip Morris and Anheuser-Busch.

I yanked out my well-fabricated driver’s license and passed it over. Jimmy looked at it just long enough to satisfy a judge, and handed it back.

“The usual? Beer and a bourbon shot?”

I nodded and jammed my ID back into my wallet.

The place was pretty empty; only three sad sacks scattered around, hunched in shadows, nursing their regrets. Of course it was a Tuesday at five PM and the place was a shithole.

20 comments:

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

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Men aren’t dying:

      Query: Very interesting premise. And scary. A few questions for clarification: How is the ex’s personality different? Why is she the only one who can prove the threat? I also don’t get the leap from men can’t die to women are just going to be breeders.

      250: I think you set the scene very well. I could absolutely picture it.

      I could use a few more details about Edward. What does he look like? What does he sound like? If you go a little deeper, I think you’ll be in really good shape.

      Super Powers and problems:

      Query: Some really nice voice here. I generally try to avoid questions in a query. I think you should rewrite to say something like “Now Jenna must overcome her demons in order to X or else Y will happen,” or “Now Jenna must decide between X or Y, or else Z will happen.”

      250: I enjoy the set up and the voice, and the imagery of someone who looks 16 trying to buy a drink. You set up some nice tension, too. Great job.

      I really enjoyed both of these, and it could go either way.

      VICTORY TO MEN AREN”T DYING

      Delete
    2. Men Aren’t Dying

      Query: I definitely get a general sense of what your book is about from this query, but would love some more details. I’d skip “virus-laden” in the first paragraph since we get to that in the second. Can you tell us more about his change in personality? How is this virus actually affecting them? Is it making them more violent? The second paragraph seems a bit too technical, which pulled me out of what you were trying to convey. Can you simply what you’re trying to say here? Since Samantha is the protagonist, I’d love more on what her role in the story will actually be. Why does she need to prove the threat? How will she do that? Is there someone who’s specifically infecting and killing these men? For what purpose? You say “before they can’t be stopped”, but stopped from doing what?

      250: I really enjoyed this opening. It does seem like Sam might be a bit more concerned about driving in such a terrible fog. Maybe tell us about her having trouble seeing, maybe something darts in front of the car, taillights disappearing. Really drive home this creepy angle. I’d also love to hear a bit more about Edward. Seems like they’re in an argument (and since we know his personality will be changing in an upcoming accident, which I feel is soon) I think we need more of who he is now before that happens.

      Super Powers and Problems

      Query: Overall, I really like this query I just think it needs a bit more clarification. When you say, “or so the old headlines read” I’m not sure whether you’re saying that Jenna’s alive after they claimed she was dead, or that she was a supervillain instead of a superhero. I’m curious why she feels guilty about being the last of her kind? Did she cause their death? The next sentence makes it sound like a virus killed them off. I think it would also be important in here to mention what Jenna’s power is and how that will help her save the world. At the end of the 3rd paragraph you say, “until they reveal…” but I’m not sure whether you mean she’s demanding they give her information or that they convince her to help by telling her there are others still alive. Honestly the biggest disconnect for me is her being a supervillain, but then also being guilty and having to overcome demons and save the world.

      250: I really enjoyed this opening, definitely got a good voice for the character. It seems a little bit slow, but I’m hoping something is about to happen right after this next paragraph. I’d just caution you to be careful with the profanity. I’m all for it but overusing it can dull its effect.

      VICTORY TO SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS!

      Delete
    3. From CatAttack

      MEN AREN’T DYING
      Query: This does a good job setting up the situation, but maybe cut ‘against expectations’. I think that will give a greater punch to the reveal that men may be dying while their bodies live on as the virus takes over. I wanted a little more clarity here: ‘…it becomes clear they are killing men.’ Suggest greater specificity – is ‘they’ other infected men or? In the 3rd paragraph, I thought the cause to conclusion linkage needed more fleshing out. Has there been a move by these infected men to subjugate women? I think adding in some steps/laws/decisions that lead in this direction would better ground the final line.

      250: Engaging opening – the hint of risk in the fog and something Sam wants to avoid talking about. Suggest breaking up the first sentence: ‘I peered into the darkness(,). The thick swirling fog made(king) it difficult…’

      SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS
      Query: Great opening paragraphs. I love the hook – Jenna can go from being a sole-survivor to a member of a promised community. Ending with a rhetorical question didn’t work as well for me as the rest of the query did.

      250: Funny opening line. I simply love the voice here. And without a ton of description, I feel like I can see the bar where she’s sitting.

      Both entries are off to a strong start.

      VICTORY TO SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS

      Delete
    4. STILL LIFE
      Query: On the first read of the query I was like, “why is Samantha even remotely interested in her ex and his wellbeing? He’s an ex!” but then reading the first 250 I realize SHE’S driving. So, I’d consider revamping the opening line of your query to reflect that she and her ex-boyfriend were together at the time of the crash so we can connect with her and why she’s spending time with him during his recovery. The second paragraph of the query is hard to follow. One minute men aren’t dying, but then wait! Maybe some ARE dying but virus becomes activated…and then there are mortality rates….and killing men….I’m confused as to what is exactly happening with the men under 50 who come in contact with this fog and what the stakes are with this stuff.

      First 250: Your first 250 are really excellent! Lots of great showing examples and you put us right into the action with this one. You can feel Sam’s anger and Edward’s fear of her driving, while trying to stay calm. Great hook too with the pink shimmer of the fog on the pedestrian’s clothes. I don’t have any suggestions for improvement for you, other than the query information I’ve already detailed.


      ENGINE OF CHANGE
      Query: A down and out superhero?!? It’s like a twist on the Incredibles! Totally hooked with this one. Clear stakes, clear understanding of her goal/motivation. My only suggestion for your query is to ditch the rhetorical questions at the end and rewrite them as strongly worded statements.

      First 250: Great voice! You did an excellent job of showing us her “fuck off” attitude without going overboard. I could feel how unimpressed she is and just wanting to have a drink or two. Loved the line about dragging dog shit in on her shoes. My suggestion for you is to consider the overuse of Jimmy’s name (there are several close together). Otherwise, well done!


      VICTORY GOES TO: ENGINE OF CHANGE (aka SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS)

      Delete
    5. MEN AREN’T DYING

      Query: Who doesn’t love killer fog???

      The second paragraph is all explanation of the virus that takes away from Samantha’s story, so I would try to condense that into a couple sentences. It then feels like a rather large leap to the subjugation of women as the next evolutionary step… How does Samantha discover this? (Where did the virus originate? Who’s the real villain here?)

      250: Very atmospheric! This is gripping and creepy, and you do a great job of conveying the mood in the car with only a few lines of dialogue.


      SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS

      Query: Query looks good until the end. Instead of questions, rephrase them to show the stakes: Jenna must overcome her demons and revive the leader she was if she’s going to save the world. But after the genocide committed against her people, she’s not sure she wants to try. (I might move the last line of the second paragraph here: …try until the agency reveals they possess the only thing Jenna would care about…etc.).

      250: This had me laughing from the first line, and I would definitely keep reading!


      VICTORY TO SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS

      Delete
    6. Moonstone DragonJune 4, 2017 at 4:48 PM

      STILL LIFE

      Query:

      The first paragraph was totally intriguing--it made me think of that old Stephen King novella, THE FOG, and I was curious about the personality change in Samantha's ex. But I'm afraid the next paragraph lost me a little, because the virus description sounded to me a lot like the premise for many a zombie story out there (believe me, I know my zombies :) ). Of course, your concluding paragraph made me wonder if this was NOT a zombie story after all... So, my suggestion would be to bring in a bit more about what the virus actually DOES, what the "transition" entails, exactly. You don't have to wax long about it, but a bit of an earlier example of what the behaviour change entails could go a long way, IMO.

      First 250:

      For the most part, I found this engaging and fun. My only quibble is with the transcription of the radio news, which felt a little too tell-y for me. I don't have a problem with you mentioning that the radio is on and using that as a device to set things up, but I think you go into too much detail for the opening of your story. It kind of stalls the action a little.

      ENGINE OF CHANGE

      Query: I actually quite liked this. Cool voice, very intriguing beginning. I did find the third paragraph a little confusing, though: I'm not getting the connection between Jenna and the new virus. When you describe it as a new strain of the plague, I'm reading it as the actual plague, the one that killed tons of people over several periods in history. I suspect that you're actually using the term to describe the illness that presumably killed all of the Specials in your book, but I'm not sure. I think if you could clarify that, the rest of the paragraph would make more sense, as a new strain of the same virus that killed Jenna's friends would definitely justify her involvement ten years later.

      First 250:

      Nice sense of Jenna's personality and a good snippet of the world you've created. It also makes me wonder why Jenna needs to drink, which it's also the first thing you allude to in your query: so, nice consistency there! I do feel there's some punctuation missing in the very last sentence of the sample. Like, maybe colon after "Of course." As in, "Of course: it was a Tuesday, etc)

      Two very cool, strong opponents here! And who doesn't love evil viruses??

      A tough choice, but, VICTORY TO... SUPERPOWERS AND PROBLEMS!

      Delete
    7. MEN AREN'T DYING
      Query: Intriguing premise for sure! The opening is good, but it lacks the punch needed for this sort of story. Here's my suggestion:

      Samantha Davis' ex-boyfriend survives a horrific car accident on the same day the world was enveloped in a virus-laden preternatural fog. As he begins to recover….

      To me, putting Samantha and her ex in the front of the sentence lends for a stronger opening. Could just be me. And if you can explain how his personality is changing, it would set the tone for this book as well. I think you can cut out the "where the viral DNA is dominate". It sort of slows down the pacing of the query letter. If you can define why Samantha is the only one who can prove the threat, it would strengthen her motivations.

      First 250: I need to read the rest of this. I'm so curious about the fog and also what Samantha and Edward aren't talking about. Way to set the tone and ground us into your world right off the bat! This sounds super creepy and I dig it!

      SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS
      Query: I like the premise of the book. Really I only have a couple suggestions. Instead of opening with the word "Seeing", I think "Witnessing" is a stronger word or something to that effect. And I would maybe think about rephrasing the last couple sentences so they aren't rhetorical questions. You want the ending of your query to pop and this ending isn't doing it for me. Really spell out what Jenna wants, what she will do to get it, and what will happen if she fails.

      First 250: Great opening! And the voice really shines through. Just in this first couple hundred words, we get the sense Jenna is hating life. You have painted the picture and you have done it well. I really don't have much to add other than this sounds fantastic.

      Wow, I wish I could pick both of these, but I'm again forced to go with the strongest voice.

      Victory to: SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS

      Delete
    8. MEN AREN’T DYING

      The Query:

      The concept of a virus STOPPING people from dying is pretty cool, and I’d love to know more.

      Can you elaborate on the danger this virus poses? To me, men living forever doesn’t sound like a great thing, but I’d like to know why your book may take this stand. How exactly is their personality changing? I’d really like a better sense of who Sam is and what her relationship with her ex-boyfriend is like. Maybe give an example of his personality change to help sell some voice too.

      The ending is a bit unclear, how exactly does this lead to the subjugation of women, at least in the sense of how it makes them useful as only breeding stock? And who exactly is killing the men to speed up the transition? Is it supposed to be so mysterious? Good start, it’s clear who we’re following and what the overall plot will entail.

      The first 250:

      The first sentence uses the word “dark” twice, which I would change, but otherwise I love how you set up the fog and use the radio to divvy up some exposition. I also like that here we get a bit more of a sense of Sam and Edward’s relationship. Overall, I don’t have many thoughts on this. It starts in a great place. I think if you work on clarifying the query more, I’d be pretty sold.

      SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS

      The Query:

      I love how this one starts, it has a great opening line. The concept of a bitter supervillain forced to be a hero is great. Is there any stakes besides her just wanting to retain her anonymity though? If the main obstacle to becoming a hero is her bitterness, or former villainy, maybe sell her contempt for humanity more. It sounds like if they have more survivors, and she’s up against the person who originally killed her friends, then why wouldn’t she be more willing to help? Does she not trust that there actually are other survivors?

      The only thing I’d try and do is raise the stakes or punch up the internal conflict a bit if possible.

      The first 250:

      Loved it, the voice really sells the character. I’m not sure I would change anything. Maybe, just maybe think twice about having three curse words on the first page. It might be an instant turn off for some. But then again, it might be exactly what someone is looking for. I like the line about dragging in the dog s***, but the others might be a bit gratuitous.

      But if that’s how Jenna is, then that’s how she is.

      Great job.

      I really love sci-fi, so I’m into both of these. Both queries need work, but the first 250 are almost equally great. Alas,

      VICTORY:
      SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS

      -Outer Space Potato Man

      Delete
    9. Congratulations to both Kombatants... I want to read both of these stories!

      MEN AREN’T DYING
      What a killer premise for a sci-fi! By the way, the correct genre is "adult sci-fi" or even better, "adult science fiction."

      In the first paragraph, I like how you make it personal for our MC against the backdrop of the world problem. Paragraph 2 threw me out of the story I was just getting into. How is viral DNA "dominant" and who the heck is Research? This should perhaps be vetted by a scientist, but that's beside the point. Rather than trying to explain the speculative element, you can use Samantha's observations of her ex to tell us how the virus changes men (and the threat they eventually pose). After that, a single sentence can tell us that this is happening worldwide. If Samantha's goal is to prove the threat, we almost need to know a tiny bit about her and her skill set. Is she a scientist or a cashier at Walgreens? That'll tell us a lot about how she'll go about it.
      First 250: Nicely done. I admire how you weave the argument with the ex, the dangerous conditions, and the news report into a giant ball of tension.


      SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS
      This is like Wolverine meets The Incredibles, and kudos for writing a superhero story with a female lead. That said, I think you're trying too hard for a hook with the first two paragraphs. The third one ("Burdened with the guilt") is where I really start to connect with the character. For that reason, I think a more straightforward structure to the query would read much better. It would be in your words but go something like this: Ten years ago, teen supervillains called Specials tried to take over the world, and failed. Ten years later, Jenna is the last surviving member and drowns her guilt in alcohol. All she wants is to be left alone, until a government agency shows up... and you know the rest. Is it genocide to kill a bunch of supervillains? What are/were her powers, anyway? I think the injection of some concrete details will make this even more intriguing.

      This is my hardest battle yet, because both of these deserve to move forward. Reluctantly, I award victory to MEN AREN’T DYING.

      Delete
  2. Men Aren't Dying
    Query: Very good! At the end of paragraph 2, I'd rephrase the part that says "...it becomes clear they are killing men..." Who is killing men? Is that a mystery? If so, maybe you can try "someone is killing men". I think it reads awkwardly with the ambiguous "they". In paragraph 3, it talks about the threat the men impose, but I don't understand exactly how they are a threat. Do they behave violently?

    First 250: It's a little odd to me that the fog is described as a "welcome distraction". I think in spite of the argument, attempting to drive in thick fog would be very aggravating. In paragraph 4 "phenomena" should be "phenomenon" (singular). Overall, I love the first 250. Great imagery.


    Super Powers and Problems
    Query: I really like the first paragraph! Great set-up. I'm a little confused by the part that says "Or so the headlines read. Jenna would tell you different." Does this mean she'd tell you she's Engine? But later, it talks about her "secret life", as if her identity is a secret. I think you could take out "Or so the headlines...tell you different" and the query would still make sense.

    First 250: Jenna seems very angry. I'm kinda scared, haha. Nice job establishing her disposition early. It makes me wonder if this is really about getting carded, or if something deeper is upsetting her. Make sense because the query establishes that she carries a lot of guilt.

    ReplyDelete
  3. MEN AREN'T DYING

    Query: The concept is interesting, but there seems to be a lot lacking here. My first issue is that I get no concept of who Samantha Davis is - her personality, her wants or desires before this epidemic, or even what her relationship with her ex is at the moment. The second is that the stakes given at the end seem to come out of nowhere. We're told that Samantha's ex has an altered personality, but we're never told in what way. He could have gone from a self-absorbed jerk (hence being an ex!) to a completely docile saint. We're told that infected men pose a threat, but we're never told why or how. I like the conspiracy element that men are being killed on purpose to make the virus awaken more quickly, but I don't know why or how the subjugation of women for breeding purposes factors in. Can this virus which strikes through fog be passed on genetically to children? Why does it only affect men? Does it target Y-chromosomes or something? There's too many holes for me to get a strong sense of what this story actually is.

    First 250: I think the 250 is stronger. I feel in the moment, the tension strong both internally from the conflict between Samantha and Edward and externally from the environment and the strange fog. However, at the moment, it's easier to sympathize with Edward, who's being calm and level-headed at the moment, than with Samantha, who's driving recklessly and endangering them both in obviously hazardous conditions. It does make the emotions brewing under the surface resonate more, but it is at the cost of me giving the protagonist a disapproving side-eye.



    SUPER POWERS AND PROBLEMS

    Query: I like the concept of a forcefully retired and bitter supervillain being forced to save the world and actually having an emotional bond with her teammates. The stakes are strong, but I do wonder what exactly she's saving the world from. What does this new strain of plague do, and why is the scientist who helped stop the Specials from taking over the world now planning to do the same?

    First 250: I think your voice is great, and the descriptions add really nice flavor to the scene. I'm not getting an immediate sense of stakes or conflict though, other than whether or not Jenna is going to get her alcohol. Maybe the inciting incident happens further in the chapter, but I would at least like a tantalizing teaser that it's coming up.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thoughts on Men Aren't Dying:
    I like this concept, like zombies you can't just shoot in the head. It makes the typical zombie problem much more complicated. The confusing part for me was women becoming breeding stock. The situation seems to devolve extremely quickly in the query. I'd assume women would become more valuable/powerful as they become relatively rare, and I do see how once the number of men is out of hand, women could lose their power and be subjugated. But the men's personalities would have to change for the worse, which isn't clear in the query (he's an ex, so he's probably a jerk to begin with, right?). It also seems like it might take some time for that kind of societal decay, but maybe because it's not an immediate change, she's trying to be taken seriously before it's too late to fix?
    In the first 250, I love the tension, and I want to know why she's driving this guy anywhere, who is making her so angry that she's not thinking clearly. She has to be pretty upset to be throwing all caution out the window and driving like a mad-woman even on a good day, let alone in such a thick fog.
    I'd read this book, and if it were a movie, my husband would come with. Good luck!


    On Super Powers:

    I love the total role reversal from hero to villain for the virus creator, and from villain to potential hero for Jenna. I think you've given her the only motivation I would believe for someone who had tried to take over the world to save it and not just take it more easily later- more of her kind. But there is that hint that she may have been misrepresented, and then attacked anyway.
    In the first 250, I was a little distracted by the fact that she can't get sick. If she's immune to addiction and sickness, then why does she want to drink at all? Why put herself through the hassle of proving her age and slosh through a disgusting bar just to have a drink she's not affected by? Is she allowed a certain degree of sickness (drunkenness) but just not enough to make her vomit? I could understand if her body heals itself too fast for any permanent changes or addictions, if she can't get sick at all it seems odd that she'd drink, especially there (because you described the scene so well and yuck!).

    I can't wait to see what her superpowers are, and which of her friends survived! Good luck to you too!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Dying

    I love this idea! The ultimate call for women's rights book. I would change your first paragraph though. Maybe this? Defying the doctor's expectations, Samantha Davis’ ex-boyfriend survives a horrific car accident On the same day the world is enveloped in a virus-laden preternatural fog. A radically altered personality is the only side effect-one Samantha cannot understand or explain."

    250: In your first sentence you use darkness and dark. Maybe change darkness to night? I am intrigued by the description of the fog. And I like that it is pink and will make men stronger. :) I would definitely read this book.

    Engine
    Query: I read your 250 first and LOVED it. The query...not so much. You have such voice in the words and it needs to shine through the query, too. I would start like this:
    "Once known as the feared super villain Engine, lone survivor of the Specials--teens who tried to take over the world-- twenty-seven-year-old Jenna is burdened with guilt over being the last of her kind. She wants only to be left alone in the secret life she’s built in New York City." I think that is more concise and makes it easier to read. Also, stop after "...of the plague. The government, award Jenna survived, demands for her help. But Jenna has a few demands of her own..." And why does she want the other survivors to be exposed? What's in it for her?
    Rephrase the rhetorical questions as action sentences, and you'll be much better off.

    250: Change nothing! LOVED IT!!



    ReplyDelete
  6. Yesss I wanted to read this one since I saw the nickname and the concept lived up to my wildest dreams! This could be “dystopia,” which folks will say is dead, but which I still love, so I think you’ve made a good call in calling it sci-fi. Some questions/nit-picks in the query in brackets.

    Query: 
    On the same day the world is enveloped in a virus-laden preternatural fog, Samantha Davis’ ex-boyfriend survives a horrific car accident against expectations. [YES, love this first sentence! However, you might be able to tighten it to be just “ex-boyfriend miraculously survives a deadly car accident.” Against expectations just sounds a little odd.] As he begins to recover, his radically altered personality is hard for Samantha to explain. [How is it radically altered? I’d love some details here. Is he suddenly violent? A sweetheart?]

    Active virus samples in men begin to emerge, where the viral DNA is dominant. [This is a little awkward. I’m confused about what this means. Maybe something like “In some men, the viral DNA is dominant. Samantha’s ex” –except I don’t really know what dominant viral DNA means] Samantha’s ex is among them. [This transition is a little abrupt. Maybe: “Researchers think this is why, since the date of the fog, men under fifty are no longer dying.”] Research confirms, since the date of the fog, men under fifty are no longer dying. Or they are, but they come back, their organic death proving to be the trigger for activation of the virus. [I LOVE THIS! Zombies OR The OA?!] When infection rates start to exceed the normal mortality rates, it becomes clear they [Okay who is they here?] are killing men to speed up the transition.

    Samantha must prove the threat men with the new virus pose, [no comma needed here—and also, why are they a threat? Giving more details with the “radically altered” personality part could answer this question] before their numbers mean they cannot be stopped, or risk that women will be subjugated, useful only as breeding stock in the enforced evolution of humanity. [Yess feeling some Handmaid’s Tale here]

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  7. Still Life First 250: a definite exception to the "don't start with the weather" rule. I think this is great and sets up conflict on multiple levels. Pretty much the last place I'd want to be in a fog like this is in the fog and that's where you've put your characters. Some nitpicks! First 250
    I peered into the darkness, the thick, swirling fog making it difficult to see [“Making it difficult to see” could be tightened to something like “obscuring”] any other traffic on the dark Brighton streets. As I accelerated, my foot slipped on the clutch, the car lurching [this should be “and the car lurched” or “sending the car lurching”] onto the roundabout. Edward’s hand shot out, gripping onto the door handle, his other fastened [fastened makes it sound like it has buttons or something. You could repeat gripping or say clenching”] to the side of his seat. My next gear change wasn’t much smoother. I could feel Edward looking at me, wanting to talk. “Sam-”[this should be a new paragraph if it’s dialogue from Edward]

    I jabbed at the radio button, [you don’t need this comma] to shut him up and avoid having to listen to any more of his bullshit. The cool, professional tones of the BBC news reporter helped, today’s events a welcome distraction:

    “An unusually heavy fog has led to transport delays and disruption worldwide today.

    Despite reports of an apparent ‘luminosity’ in the fog, the Department of Health has issued a statement saying the phenomena is not believed to be a cause for concern — however they’ve advised children and the elderly to stay indoors as a precaution.

    Continued travel disruption is expected while the fog persists-” 

    Edward flicked the off-switch.

    I took my eyes off the road to glare at him. “I was listening to that!” [was she creeped out by the broadcast at all? Does she know the alleged legends?]

    “Sam, we need to talk about what happened.”

    “I know what happened. I was there, remember?” [This makes me worry that we’re about to get an info dump of dialogue that one of the characters already knows] I slowed as we hit another mini-roundabout, the fog hiding it until the last moment. A pedestrian hurried across the road in front of us, head down, his skin and clothes coated with a pink film of whatever shit [I’m all about cursing but here, it doesn’t seem to fit the voice, which is creepy and atmospheric and not frank and cursy] was in the fog. It was everywhere.

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  8. Query:
    [This concept sounds super fun! A few nit picks/questions.]
    Seeing twenty-seven-year-old Jenna downing shots at the local dive bar, you’d never guess she was once the feared supervillain Engine. [I’m not sure that I love the second person in this first sentence. It takes the focus away from the main character.] That’s because everyone knows Engine is dead, just like the rest of the Specials–the teens who ten years ago tried to take over the world. [I’d put ten years ago at the end of this sentence, and this sounds very mystical and fun!]

    Or so the old headlines read. Jenna would tell you different.

    Burdened with guilt over being the last of her kind, all Jenna wants is to be left alone in the secret life she’s built in New York City. That hope is shattered when the man who created the virus that eradicated the Specials threatens humanity with a new strain of the plague, and a government agency aware Jenna survived demands her help. Help she has no intention of providing until they reveal they possess the only thing Jenna would care about: more survivors of the original virus.

    Can Jenna overcome her demons, revive the leader she was, and save the world? [Okay, so I was confused at how it was “save the world” and then I went back and reread that he was threatening all of humanity, not just remaining specials. Maybe try to make that a bit more clear?] After the genocide committed against her people, will she even try? [Hmm, this last sentence doesn’t quite jive, and I think this last paragraph can be stronger. In my mind, of course she’d want to try—it’s her chance for revenge! How can you make her choice—not trying—more compelling? Is her life at risk if she tries? Will she have to face her old demons if she tries?]

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  9. Pages
    [This page is hilarious! Love it! I’m curious to learn more—and maybe we need a few more hints earlier—about what is special about this particular night at the bar for Jenna. Why start here/now?]

    The worst thing about having gained immortality at sixteen was being treated like a scamming teenager any time I wanted a fucking drink. [LOL]

    “ID,” Jimmy said as I climbed into the rust-red swivel seat at the middle of the bar. He leaned over the stained bar top and eyed me like I’d trailed dog shit in on my shoe.


    I ripped open my wallet, nearly knocking over a half-empty glass of skunky swill someone had abandoned. “I’ve been in here a hundred times. Why are you still being a tool about this?”


    Jimmy flicked his bald head up and to the right, at the fist-sized black camera aimed at the bar. His engorged belly swung around under his blue sweat-soaked t-shirt. “Because I still don’t buy that you’re twenty-two, Jenna." [I don’t think he would say her name here.]


    Jimmy was right, I wasn’t twenty-two. I was twenty-seven, but got carded everywhere. I couldn’t even buy cigarettes without catching shit. Immunity to physical addiction was a nice perk to the whole doesn’t-age-or-get-sick thing, though. Take that, Philip Morris and Anheuser-Busch. [Wait, if she was immune to addiction, why would she want cigarettes? I could buy it if she was immune to lung cancer?]

    I yanked out my well-fabricated driver’s license [So it IS fake? Because she’s immortal? A tad confused.] and passed it over. Jimmy looked at it just long enough to satisfy a judge, and handed it back.

    “The usual? Beer and a bourbon shot?”

    I nodded and jammed my ID back into my wallet.

    The place was pretty empty; only three sad sacks scattered around, hunched in shadows, nursing their regrets. Of course it was a Tuesday at five PM and the place was a shithole. [If there’s a sentence that leads us on to the next action a little more than this, consider trying to fit it. This shows great voice, though!]

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  10. Still Life

    The premise in your query is very intriguing! I love a good virus epidemic story. At the end of the first paragraph, you say his radically altered personality was hard for her to explain. I felt that was too vague. I didn’t know what it meant. Was the change good or bad? Was he crazy? This is where a bit of detail would be perfect. In the second paragraph, you said it becomes clear they are killing men, but who is they? The infection? The men who have died and been taken over by the virus?

    The last sentence of the query is a mouthful and I had to read it a couple of times. The stakes regarding women being only useful as breeding stock is great. I think you need more about how the women are treated in your query. I think that would make the stakes even better.

    Your first 250 does a good job of pulling me into the story. I assume that they are about to get into an accident based on your query, so there is an impending tension in addition to the tension between them. My only minor criticism is in the first paragraph when she has trouble shifting a couple of times. At first I thought maybe he was teaching her how to drive. Does she know how? Once I read more, I assumed it was because she is upset with Edward and distracted by the fog. Just keep it in mind as it made it a little slower for me to get into the scene. Regardless, I would keep reading!

    The Engine of Change

    I think you do a good job of setting up the query. This reminded me a lot of Jessica Jones (except a villain instead of a hero). There are tons of these kinds of movies/stories right now so you should really focus on what makes this one stand out from the rest. Also, maybe reword your last paragraph and remove the rhetorical questions.

    Your first 250 have a lot of good voice. I like the problem of her always being carded since she doesn’t age. I would love the power to never get sick, but it seems like if that were the case, she couldn’t get drunk either. So why drink and smoke? Not much happens in the first 250, but I have a feeling more is right around the corner. I would keep reading to find out!

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