Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Query Kombat Round 2: LIFE AS A DUMPSTER FIRE vs. THE NOSE KNOWS

Title: ORPHAN
Entry Nickname: Life as a Dumpster Fire
Word Count: 103k
Genre: Speculative Noir, #ownvoices

Query:
Jeb knows there are only two kinds of family: the ones who leave you or the ones who own you. Each time he tries to escape the crime family who raised him, he receives a strike. The smartwatch implanted in his arm keeps count—three strikes and he's dead. Jeb already has two. When he gets his last, unexpected, strike, he knows it’s over. So, a federal agent offering him a way out of Felicity Harbour—a city as anxious and brutal as everyone living in it—looks too good to be true. All he has to do is hand over the access codes to his boss’s technology empire. Except Jeb’s best friend, Booker, has the codes.

It isn’t just a matter of stealing information. Both raised as mob orphans, Jeb and Booker have known each other since they were kids. But their relationship is complicated. Especially when they’re both more than a little in love with one another. Jeb has never told Booker that he loves him. Or, worse, how desperately he wants to leave Felicity Harbour.

Despite this gulf between them, betraying him is unthinkable—until Booker betrays him first. Now Jeb must decide which is preferable: the future ending shortly in a shallow grave, or the future where the only way out means becoming as brutal as the place he’s trying to leave behind.

First 250:
ERROR. Unable to open phone application. Please restart your device.

Jeb stabbed at the screen and the notification disappeared from view. He yanked open the taxi door and got out. His first step sank ankle-deep in a pothole pretending to be a puddle. Cold, dirty water flooded into his shoe and soaked the hem of his jeans.

“Damn it.” He sighed and shook his foot. The distant waves breaking against the waterfront laughed at him.

Jeb didn’t even have to be at the docks. Except Booker had asked for his company, and life was better when Booker was around.

A second notification appeared, this time scrolled across Jeb’s contact lens. There is a problem with the system. Please restart your device. Cold wind grabbed at Jeb’s nose as it passed—it smelled like misery and fear, and the corpse of Jeb’s childhood. He squeezed his eyes shut and scrubbed a hand over his face. Then he restarted his device—the edges of the implanted screen burned hot against his wrist—and retried the phone call.

THIRD STRIKE PROTOCOL INITIATED flashed across the screen, even as the connection went through.  He’d gotten another third strike alert that morning. Two in one day was alarming enough for Jeb to ask Hyun to look at it. It could be nothing. Or it could be the beginning of the end. Everything combined made him want to lay down on the wet tarmac and take a nap.

Booker picked up. “I'm getting old, man. Where the hell are you?”

~ VERSUS ~

Title: The End of the World as We Know it
Entry Nickname: The Nose Knows
Word Count: 69k
Genre: Adult contemporary fantasy. Ownvoice--Latino (two of the multiple POVs)

Query:
Eddie Nezevitch has a unique gift—just like everyone else. Though his power ranks low and poses no danger, it is why he’s the best homicide detective in New York. Eddie can smell the emotional content of a crime, and knowing why is half the battle.

But his newest assignment, the scene of a dark, gory ritual, proves too much for him to handle alone, forcing him to team up with an aging crank and a not-so-doe-eyed newbie. Together they discover that not only is this murder the work of a brutal serial killer who steals his victims’ powers, but the victims turn out to be worse than the killer. This murderer is going after a crime ring that leads all the way up to the mayor and back into the department itself. As the evidence of corruption piles up, the investigators realize they can’t trust anyone but each other.

Getting ahead of the killer means discovering the names of his intended victims, but that uncovers the leaders of the crime ring, and Eddie’s team finds itself in the mayor’s crosshairs. While it’s unclear if the mayor wants to recruit them or kill them, it’s quite clear the killer wants them for accomplices. Eddie’s team has to choose between saving the worst criminals in the city from a murderer, or trusting a brutal serial killer who will soon be too powerful to stop.

First 250:
The streets were wet, and the air carried the reminder of rain Eddie Nezevitch felt in his lungs and nostrils. The barrier in front of him shimmered like a slice of the Caribbean turned on its side, and Eddie couldn’t resist running his hand over the surface; it felt like glass but rippled like water.

Petty scenes got tape, but the department had an officer whose power could make important locations hermetic. Even though Eddie’d seen these seals enough to make them mundane, they remained beautiful. He touched his badge to the barrier and a hole opened, allowing entry. The seal closed behind him, leaving the avenue on the other side of the crime scene wavering and distorted.

The door of the house lay open, a sinister invitation into the quiet darkness. Eddie found a light switch and shut the door behind him. A sigh of frustration escaped when he saw the décor. Though gaudy complicated patterns in the furniture and wallpaper might hide blemishes, they also hid evidence—a pint of blood spatter might be nearly invisible in a room like this.

But it couldn’t hide an entire corpse, and the report said people had come and gone in this room for three days without discovering the body. Something else was at work.

Eddie closed his eyes and mouth, drew in a slow deep breath, and used his unique gift—his sense of smell. Lavender. Remorse? Lavender laced with…a soft decay, like mushrooms in the forest. Despair? Neither remorse nor despair made sense for this crime.

14 comments:

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

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Life as a Dumpster Fire:
      -Query: clear stakes & intriguing plot.
      -Last sentence: "Now Jeb must decide..." sounds a bit awkward. Concept is good, I just think the wording needs a little tweaking.
      -"It isn't just a matter of stealing info..." is obvious to the reader based on the next few sentences. I think you can cut it from the query.
      -Overall, good job on query.
      -First 250: Good job introducing his affections for Booker right away.
      -"Corpse of Jeb's childhood" is written beautifully
      -"Take a nap" doesn't seem like the right alternative for such a potentially dreadful situation. I'd recommend changing it to something more dramatic.
      -Nice job overall!

      The Nose Knows:
      -Query: Unique gift/power sounds really interesting and makes me want to read more!
      -Clear stakes but the gift/power concept doesn't seem to weave into the plot. The storyline seems like it could happen with or without the gift. I might reference it at least one more time later in the query to show how it's critical and relevant to the story as a whole.
      -Good job overall with the query.
      -First 250 look good, but I think you need to draw in the reader a bit more. What is compelling about the MC? Why should we trust him/root for him?
      -It's great that you introduce the gift/power in the first 250 words.

      Victory to Life as a Dumpster Fire

      Delete
    2. Life as a Dumpster Fire:
      Query: Killer first sentence! This is a very well-structured query: the first paragraph introduces the main character and the premise quickly and clearly, the second paragraph gives us the subplot/love story, and the knife is twisted in the third paragraph. Very well written. The one thing that threw me a little was "Or, worse…" It feels a little awkward to me. My suggestion would be to cut the "worse" and combine this with the previous sentence.
      1st 250: I really liked this—it was packed with great details, and I especially appreciated how you set the tone through the main character's eyes, imbuing the setting details with Jeb's emotions and reactions. There were only a couple of things that threw me momentarily out of the story: "pothole pretending to be a puddle" (I had to think about that for a second—might it actually be a puddle disguising itself as a pothole?) and "the edges of the implanted screen burned hot against his wrist." With that one, I was a little distracted by it being a mid-sentence interjection. These are minor things, though. Good stuff!

      The Nose Knows:
      Query: Excellent first paragraph! It's an intriguing setup, and the second paragraph follows through with an exciting description of the main plot. A quick thought: if you have multiple POVs of relatively equal weight, it might be helpful to name them in the pitch or otherwise indicate it isn't just Eddie telling the story. In the 2nd paragraph, the first two sentences are both rather long—I'd consider splitting the second sentence into two. The 3rd paragraph was a little confusing to me, and I found myself wanting to know how Eddie's power plays into solving the crime.
      1st 250: Intriguing magical setting—that part is put nicely on display in this first section. There were a couple of sentences here and there where I felt the writing could be finessed, including the very first sentence, which felt awkwardly worded to me. The last three paragraphs had some great storytelling and that was where I really started to feel hooked into Eddie's POV.

      Victory to Life as a Dumpster Fire!

      Delete
    3. Life as Dumpster Fire:

      Query: I really enjoyed this query! I love the speculative touch with the smartwatch implant, the secret crushes between the two, and the unexpected betrayal. I was a little confused at the start about the crime family as I pictured a foster family who dabbled in crime, not a big crime family with an empire and a mafia-like boss. I also wanted to understand the ending a little more—does he have to get violent and hurt someone in order to get the codes now, or hurt Booker? I like the line you used, but would love some clarity.

      First 250: Ha! Love ‘pothole pretending to be a puddle.’ This first 250 provided good insight as to his plight and set the tone. I would definitely read more.

      The Nose Knows:

      Query: Interesting first line! Sucked me right in. A world where everyone has a unique gift *gets cozy for the read*. Smelling the emotional content of a crime is certainly unique! Is Eddie’s gift relevant to the plot? I’d like to know more in the query if so.

      First 250: I like where you started the first 250 and that we’re introduced to his gift right away. I really like the concept of this story and would love to see where you go from here!

      Both great entries!

      Victory: Life as a Dumpster Fire

      Delete
    4. Life As a Dumpster Fire—

      Query: Such a cool premise! In the first paragraph, watch out for misplaced/excessive commas. In the sentence, “When he gets his last, unexpected, strike, he knows…” take out the comma between unexpected and strike, and also take out the one after the word “So” in the following sentence.

      Also, I feel this paragraph would be much stronger without the very last sentence. We don’t know anything about Booker and Jeb’s relationship at this point and stating that Jeb’s best friend has the codes doesn’t really sound like a bad thing. For that reason, because we don’t already have the context provided in the second paragraph, this final sentence is not delivering the punch I think you’re intending. Just delete the sentence and continue with the second paragraph, where you will show (not tell) why Booker having the codes is a bad thing. You’ll have to work that final sentence into the start of the second paragraph somehow in order for this to work, but I think it’ll make the query flow better. One way to do this—use a line such as: “But it isn’t just a matter of stealing information that Jeb’s best friend Booker already has” as the intro to your second paragraph.

      The ending of your query does a good job of upping the stakes and I like your last line.

      First 250: The writing here is strong—stronger, I feel, than in your query. Good job. You’ve created a vivid atmosphere.

      One tiny note—your character swears, and then right after, he sighs. (Third line). In general, I’m not a fan of sighing characters because it can make them seem weak and whiny. And here, you don’t really need it and it contrasts with the emotional state he’d probably be in after stepping into the puddle. Just say ‘he shook his foot’ right after the curse, and move on to your beautiful description of the laughing waves.


      The Nose Knows—

      Query: Ooh, intriguing premise! I like it. Your first and third paragraphs are strong—good job. The second paragraph is giving me some trouble, from a clarity standpoint. The line “The victims turn out to be worse than the killer” is confusing at first. The victims are dead, so they can’t turn out to be anything. I was able to figure out what you meant, but it took me a few readings. One way to fix would be to say “…they discover that not only is this murder the work of a brutal serial killer who steals his victims powers, but that the killer is targeting criminals more evil than himself.” Also, when you mention the crime ring that goes all the way up to the mayor and back into the department, make sure to specify which department you’re referring to. It could be a police department or some sort of government department, and it sounds vague as worded.

      First 250: It’s great how you jumped right in and introduced us to this world where police officers have special powers. You worked that in very smoothly and I’m very intrigued. One tiny note—when he sighs in frustration, maybe make it a grunt instead? Or just “He huffed when he saw the décor.” You don’t need to label it as frustration because you go on to show us that the décor will get in the way of his investigation. The reader will understand that he’s frustrated without you having to state it. (Showing instead of telling.)


      Overall, these are both strong entries with unique premises. I’m going to go with the one that felt a bit more polished.

      Victory to The Nose Knows!

      Delete
    5. Life as a Dumpster Fire

      Query:

      Love the hook. Very engaging. The whole query is. I love the main plot, the dynamic of Jeb and Booker, the betrayal. This is a super strong query. I'd request off that alone. I really don't have anything to add. Great job.

      First 250:

      The first line is awesome. So many people can relate to that. I enjoy the fact that you have action going on. More than just description or telling. Something is happening and we know that it's not good for Jeb. Really great start.

      VS.

      The Nose Knows

      Query:

      Kudos on the G.I. Joe reference. I like the passive type power Eddie has and how it helps him as a detective. I also like the premise of victims being worse than the serial killer. It's definitely an interesting twist and has caught my attention. The stakes are strong and clear, and over all I think this is a great query.

      First 250:

      There's some beautiful imagery in your first 250. The way Eddie does his work almost has a sensual feel to it. There's a lot going on and the prose helps it flow. It's a great place to start, gets us right into the use of powers and the problem. Excellent job. I think that you can do a little more in terms of characterization of Eddie though. All we gt of his personality is a sigh of frustration. I'd like to see a little bit more of him in the first 250. Give us a sense of who he is.

      Both are super strong, but I can only choose one.

      Victory to Life as a Dumpster Fire

      Delete
    6. OPRHAN

      Query: The first paragraph to me could be shortened and reads a little like a synopsis. I think you have everything you need here in these 3 paragraphs for a solid query, and mostly it's just shifting information around to make it flow better. I would like more stakes at the end rather than what's listed--only because, before even reading it, I could tell what the stakes were going to be just from the title and the genre. I think you should give me more concrete, OPRHAN esque, stakes and voice.

      TEXT:

      I love the voice, and I think you get the atmosphere well with the NOIR feel you're going for. I do think maybe the start is a little...rushed? Within 1 page and I'm already learning about this Third Stike protocol, which is good because it gets us in the weeds, but since I KNOW how important this is for the character, I'd like to know more about the character first, if that makes sense?


      THE NOSE KNOWS

      Query: I applaud you for having a unique 'gift' in your book, which is refreshing to see. The query reads a little like "And then and then" which can be fixed with some sentence structure changes. I'd also say I feel like I know more about the "Team" than I do Eddie. IF this is more of a 'team' novel then focus more on that in the query. If more Eddie, then the stakes should be more on Eddie. It feels like it's in the middle right now which loses its strength.

      TEXT: The text is exceptional. Reminds me more of DRESDEN Files--but BETTER. I think the only thing I'd consider is adding more of Eddie's voice in the text. It reads a little distant as it is right now, and I think that could really help take it to the next level. Voice will be key in selling something like this, so I'd much rather see myself, in the first 250 pages, REALLY in Eddie's mind.

      VERDICT

      Both of these are great, and both have things we don't often see in Lit, which I LOVE. Both are own voices too. IT was hard but one took my breath away a little more than another.

      VICTORY TO THE NOSE KNOWS

      Delete
  2. Fellow Kombatant here, not a judge.

    Life as a Dumpster Fire

    Very strong query. I have a couple nitpicky comments: The line, "a city as anxious and brutal…" catches for me. I can see a city being brutal, but I'm not exactly sure what an anxious city looks or feels like. I think you could just go with brutal, losing anxious, and it would be stronger.

    In paragraph 2 of the query, I would suggest striking the sentence, "Especially when they're both more than a little in love with one another." If you take that sentence out we are left with some tension and uncertainty over whether that love is reciprocated which makes the stakes feel higher. If they both are in love with each other, then I don't feel as much of the romantic tension of will they/won't they. Also, just from a POV standpoint, your query is written from Jeb's perspective. That sentence puts us in both Jeb and Booker's heads. At no other point in the query do we have access to Booker's thoughts, so this feels like a POV transgression to me.

    Regarding the first 250. Fantastic, overall. You're got a terrific premise and very cool technology.

    My only concern comes near the end where you've got Jeb receiving "another" third strike. In the query you tell us that a third strike is a death sentence, but here he's gotten two of them now and you tell us it's alarming, but also could be nothing. That feels contradictory to what you told us in the query, and the uncertainty saps your tension. Does he have to have gotten a third strike warning already in the day? Could this be the first one? Then we can see him truly alarmed and rushing to figure it out, rather than being left with the feeling that, eh, it didn't matter enough for him to deal with it the first time it happened, so it must not be that much of a big deal.

    Overall, very well done. I'm intrigued and itching to read more. Good luck in the Kompetition!



    The Nose Knows

    Very strong query. I have a couple suggestions: I don't understand what "emotional content of a crime" means. Could you simplify it to motive? I also feel like the last bit of that sentence, "and knowing why is half the battle," is incomplete. "Knowing why" what?

    In the second paragraph, the sentence, "the scene of a dark, gory ritual…" Rituals themselves aren't crimes. You tell us it's gory, but that could mean a lot of things, only some of which involve law-breaking. If you call it a ritual murder it's clear that it's a serious crime.

    Your first 250 are strong. Cool image of the hermetically sealed crime scene. It feels very ominous. I want to read on.

    Nice job. Good luck in the Kompetition!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hello! Fellow Kombatant here. Take my advice with a grain of salt. :)

    Life as a Dumpster Fire

    Query:

    Fabulously strong query! Overall, I don't have much to add here, but I did notice that sentences two through four are all about strikes. Is there a way to cut that down a bit? Maybe nix the "Jeb already has two," and just say, "When he gets his third, unexpected strike ..." Just a thought.

    First 250:

    Again, I don't have much to add. I really like the line, "corpse of Jeb's childhood." Perfectly chilling. However, not a huge fan of him wanting to take a nap. If third strike means iminent retalation from a crime lord, I'd expect something a little more anxiety-driven.

    The Nose Knows

    Query:

    Excellent! Matchups like these make me so glad I'm not a judge. I really really love the stakes in this query. It's a moral dilemma I could feasibly see happening, and that's fantastic.

    First 250:

    I love that you drop us right into the action in your first scene. Bonus, we get to see him use his power. Awesome! I know this isn't super helpful in terms of moving forward, but I really enjoyed it. It's a cool concept!

    Good luck to you both!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Life as a Dumpster Fire
    Your query’s first line immediately caught my eye and drew me into the story. You do a good job of establishing the stakes and relationships between characters. I just wish there was a little more explanation given about the strikes system and setting. It seems like the technology is extremely advanced in this setting, so I wondered why isn’t there a termination device also implanted inside of him?
    I do appreciate a good LGBT thriller. This definitely sounds like a novel I would read! Your first 250 words also interested me as well. I enjoyed how you included the messages featured on his implants.

    The Nose Knows:
    This sounds like such a cool concept! I love fantasies, especially with morally ambiguous protagonists. I also like how your character uses his sense of smell to draw emotions from crime scenes. It’s a unique power that I can easily imagine as a reader. I’d like to get at least a basic idea of the other POVs in the story, but that’s just me.
    Your first page does a good job of establishing the setting and magical elements in the world. I think there can be a little less description about the barrier though. I want to get right into the story. I’m not that interested about what the barrier looks like, just that it’s magical.

    VICTORY TO LIFE AS A DUMPSTER FIRE

    ReplyDelete
  5. Kombatant here.

    Both of these are great!

    Life as a Dumpster Fire

    Query: I think the conflict is clearly outlined but the flow is a bit stilted. The transition between "when he gets his last..." and "So, a federal agent" is a bit jerky. Maybe consider flipping it around so its "A federal officer's free pass off of Felicity Harbour..."

    250: Great that you get the third strike warning on first page! Sucked me right in.

    The Nose Knows

    Query: Love the premise and the set up. The second sentence I think could be reworded to be a bit clearer, maybe starting out "His gift is low and poses no danger, but it makes him the best homicide detective..."

    250: Love it! nice introduction to world and his gift.


    ReplyDelete
  6. Kombatant here!

    Life as a Dumpster Fire
    Query: Love your first line. Actually, the whole first paragraph. You made me feel empathy for a mob man in a query, and that is impressive. The last sentence is a little vague, I would make it a little more specific. Is he brutal because of violence? Betraying his friend? Unethical behaviour?
    Either way, I love this query and even thought I don’t love sci-fi, I would read this. I love that you have framed the story around relationships and emotions instead of technology.
    First 250: Good job on creating mood, I could feel Jeb’s annoyance and impatience. I was a little unclear about the phone screen— it’s implanted in his wrist, or is the screen in his contact lens? I would take a look at your sentence structure and vary it a little bit. The first few sentences are similar. Varying sentence structure and sentence length would lead to better flow. Good job, and good luck!

    The Nose Knows
    Query: Love the premise of this one. A cop you can smell emotions? Great idea! I did feel that for a story that is about emotions, this query seemed to be lacking in any. How does Eddie feel about his gift? His job? This case? Inserting a bit of Eddies own feelings into the query would create a stronger hook for the story.
    First 250: Your description of the weather, the room and the technology were fabulous. Great job world-building already. I still felt that I didn’t really know Eddie. He seemed to be going through the motions, without emotion about the scene he found. I can understand that maybe a person who has the ability to smell emotions may be a little lacking in his own emotional affect, but it made it hard to connect with him. This is a compelling beginning though, and I would read on.

    ReplyDelete
  7. LIFE AS A DUMPSTER FIRE

    QUERY: Very smooth, lays out stakes and motivations well. Nice job!

    250: I'm confused about the third strike, especially as it was talked about in the query as the last strike, the end of the line. Now he has two notices of his final notice? That doesn't really ring true for me. And I think it weakens the punch if it 'could be nothing'. Can this BE the beginning of the end? And if there's even a chance that it is, shouln't Jeb be more alarmed?


    THE NOSE KNOWS

    QUERY: The Round 1 version was shorter and I felt it had more spunk. I think in giving necessary details you've neglected voice. I would look for ways to maintain tension in the query.

    250: Definite improvement in this. I much prefer the way Eddie sees the furnishings here--this is how someone with his job description would see it. Very nice job.

    Great entries, and hard to choose between. Good luck both!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Life as a Dumpster Fire
    Query: The first paragraph confused me a bit. Is Jeb’s boss part of his family? Why isn’t his family coming after him after his third strike?

    Also, I don’t think you need to mention the name of his city—the detail about how the city is “as anxious and brutal as everyone living in it” felt unnecessary. It would be enough for the query to just say that he needs to get out of town and away from his family.

    First 250: Great voice, but similar to the query, I’m a little bit confused. For example, I didn’t realize he was calling Booker until Booker picked up the phone—all of the phone details deal with error messages, not him trying to make a call.

    The Nose Knows
    Query: I’m so down with the superpower being an enhanced sense of smell.

    First 250: Great job dropping us straight into the action and I like the visual of the crime scene barrier.

    I would read both of these!

    ReplyDelete