Saturday, June 24, 2017

Query Kombat Round 4: BOUNTY AND THE BEAST vs. GUTTERS AND GALLERIES

Title: Dangerous Beasts
Entry Nickname: Bounty and the Beast
Word Count: 85,000
Genre: Adult Fantasy Romance

Query:

Exiled beast charmer Leena Edenfrell is in deep shit. Empty pockets force her to sell her beloved magical beasts on the black market—an offense punishable by death—and the Charmers Council hires a lethal assassin to exact punishment. With the realm’s most talented murderer-for-hire nipping at her heels, Leena makes him an offer he can’t refuse: a promise to procure a handful of mythical creatures in exchange for her life.

For assassin Noc, murder comes easy and pays well. But only fools pass up the chance to own rare and powerful magical beasts, even if that means lying to one enchanting charmer. Agreeing to Leena’s terms, Noc plans to keep the bounty live on her head until the creatures are his. Two paychecks, one job, no sleep lost.

To hunt for creatures, Noc and Leena embark on a quest across the countryside of Lendria. But traps capture more than beasts, and ensnared hearts are hard to untangle. Banished by the people she loved, Leena has no desire to take her heart out of exile, yet Noc is nothing like the monsters on the Council—or so she thinks. Bound by the magic of the assassin’s oath, Noc can’t renege on the contract for Leena’s head unless he’s willing to sacrifice his own. But neither can tame their growing feelings, and the ever-watchful Council demands blood. With Noc’s hands and heart tied, and Leena dodging enemies at every turn, no manner of beasts or money can protect their hides.

First 250:

By the time evening fell, three things were certain: the gelatinous chunks of lamb were absolute shit, my beady-eyed client was hankering for more than the beasts in my pocket, and I was being watched.

Two out of the three were normal for my after-hours dealings.

Sliding my meat to the side, I propped my elbows against the heavy plank table. My client lasted two seconds before his gaze roved to the book-shaped locket dangling in my cleavage. Wedging his thick fingers between his shirt collar and neck, he tugged gently on the fabric.

“You have what I came for?” Nasally and high-pitched, his voice grated along my skin. A businessman. A rare visitor in Midnight Jester, my preferred black market bar. My pocket hummed with the possibility of money, and I fingered the copper key hidden in my pants.

“Maybe.” I nudged the metal dinner plate farther away, and the gray meat jiggled. “How did you find me?” Dez, the bartender, sourced most of my clients, but a businessman? Neckties and Midnight Jester didn’t mingle. Shady with a side of grime, the regulars were as dirty as the floors. I shifted in the booth crammed against the shiplap wall, and the cracking black cushions creaked.

The unseen pair of eyes lingering in a dark recess of the bar burrowed further into the back of my head. Faint movement from the shadows flickered into my awareness. Movement that should have gone unnoticed, but I’d learned to be prepared for such things.


~ VERSUS ~

Title: Only When I Fall
Entry Nickname: From Gutters to Galleries
Word Count: 80K
Genre: Multi POV Adult Upmarket Fiction

Query:

If she could find a better paying job than the Museum of Fine Arts café, Mia Clarke wouldn't have to keep selling heroin. As a single mom, it kills her to contribute to people's afflictions—especially Tris, her former partner in both love and graffiti art. When he stops by the café for a couple of grams and accidentally leaves behind a gorgeous painting, Mia anonymously enters it into an online art contest hoping to help him turn his life around.

Soon, the image goes viral, sparking a widespread search for a troubled loner with a singular gift. But not everyone searching for Tris means him well. A posh art dealer with a trail of disappearing protégés, a social network moderator obsessed with the anonymous contest entry, and a groundskeeper required to evict the homeless are all closing in on the abandoned utility room under a Charles River bridge where Tris has been staying.

Unaware of the pursuers closing in, Tris must shake the heroin in his veins and leave his old life behind or risk losing not only his life's work and the person he loves, but the very life to which he clings. While Mia, weighed down by her guilt over being both Tris's dealer and the one person who can help him find the recognition his talent deserves, vows to quit selling drugs and to fight to save the man she wishes she didn't love—for herself, for him, and for the daughter he never knew he had.

ONLY WHEN I FALL is 3rd person multi-pov, uniquely structured with interspersed chapters in the 2nd person as descriptions of paintings that are moments from the astist's life seen through his creative lens.


First 250:

The Museum of Fine Arts was humming. Patrons clopped around on marble tile toward the new Vermeer exhibit, loners sketched landscapes in their spiral pads, and tour guides directed groups between potted ferns from the European galleries to the Americas. An odd tang of coffee and parmesan wafted from the café on the first floor.

Mia Clarke wiped down table five, the edge of her full-sleeve tattoos peeking out from beneath the black uniform shirt cuffs buttoned at her wrists. She brushed a strand of pink hair behind her ear. As she rushed to take an order from a customer at the next table over, a different kind of customer stepped into the café.

She saw him out of the corner of her eye. He was hard to miss.

His dirty blonde hair was matted and fell past his shoulders like a neglected houseplant, its tendrils winding their way through his overgrown beard. Glancing around the room, he found an empty chair and slid into it. Their eyes met.

Finishing up with her customer, Mia closed her pad and wound her way through the maze of tables before stopping at his.

"Hey, Tris. Can I get you a cup of coffee?"

He sat hunched over the table, his eyes unreadable. "No thanks. Just a fruit cup."

A thin sigh escaped her lips. "How about a muffin or something?"

"Not today."

She knew he didn't care about the fruit. He came for the heroin she slipped inside.

26 comments:

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

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dangerous Beasts: I LOVE what you've done with your query since I last read. Great job.

      Only When I Fall: my only suggestion is to change the second "closing in" to avoid duplication. 'Closing in' borders on cliche already, so you don't want to use it twice.

      Two very different entries, but both equally appealing. Beasts has created an unusual fantasy world & a romance with plenty of conflict. And Only When I Fall's compelling story line pulls me right in. I'd want to read more from both of these entries.

      But this is a Kombat of the Queries, and I can only pick one.

      VICTORY to DANGEROUS BEASTS!

      Delete
    2. Vanellope von SchweetzJune 24, 2017 at 10:25 AM

      Bounty and the Beast -- Love your query! Wouldn't change a thing :)

      From Gutters to Galleries -- Really interesting premise! You might want to reword one of the "closing in" phrases though. It's redundant, you've already used it in one sentence.

      I love both of your 250's! Which is why voting on this one is soooooo hard :( But this Query Kombat, so I need to pick one:

      VICTORY to BOUNTY AND THE BEAST!

      Delete
    3. Eek, I think my first reply disappeared. Let's try this again!

      BOUNTY: Great premise, loved your query and first page. Absolutely ready to go.

      GUTTERS: I love this premise. I really enjoyed the description in your first page.

      This one was absolutely impossible. I would love to have both of these on my shelf and have no doubt someday I will... but I can only choose one for now, so...

      Victory to BOUNTY AND THE BEAST

      Delete
    4. LumpySpaceAuthorJune 24, 2017 at 1:48 PM

      BEAST: This is a spectacular and layered concept. In the pages: "Shady with a side of grime, the regulars were as dirty as the floors." This is redundant. Chose one sentence fragment and go with it.

      GUTTERS: I will either love this book or hate it, I can tell that from the concept. This one hits way too close to home for me, so I'd be picky about the way it was told. I cannot tell from either the query or the 250, though.

      I'd read both of these. But I have to go with one. I think I will go with the one that most others won't relate to, because it frustrates me that people aren't able/refuse to relate to this sort of story on some level. VICTORY TO GUTTERS.

      Delete
    5. Bounty and the Beast
      Query:
      This is my first time reading this one, so bear with me. What I’m getting from the query is that your MC has to sell something (beasts) illegal to make money because she’s poor, so now she’s being chased because she should be killed because she broke the law. If this is the basic premise (minus the whole complicated relationship with Noc), I’m not feeling really compelled even though it’s well-written and seems exciting.

      250:
      I like the writing and the layered details. There are a couple of tiny things I could nit-pick. “Key hidden in my pants” is vague. Is it in her pocket? “Cracking black cushions creaked” is a bit awkward with the cracking and creaked close together. Otherwise, I like the dark mood you’ve set.

      Gutters to Galleries
      Query:
      This is also the first time I’ve read this. I do not buy this line, “As a single mom, it kills her to contribute to people's afflictions.” It just doesn’t ring true to me. Either it kills her and she doesn’t do it. Or the reader needs to know why she’s so desperate to prey on others in this way. It makes me not like her. Also, “sparking a widespread search for a troubled loner” doesn’t make sense. If it’s anonymous, how do they know it’s a troubled loner…and what does that have to do with the search? After this, it seems like this is Tris’ story. The query makes me think Mia’s part of the story is basically limited to the love story and that she’s not the MC. However, I do like the art story premise. I’m not sure why people are out to get Tris, really. They all seem like happenstance situations, nothing specifically tied to Tris/who he is. I think there are some disconnects here. Who is the MC? What do they really want and, conversely, what do they really need in the end?

      250:
      Your sentence structure of the first several sentences/phrases are so similar that it feels heavy. Ex.) The museum was humming. The patrons clopped. Loners sketched. Tour guides directed. Parmesan wafted. Mia wiped. She brushed etc…

      VICTORY: (nearly impossible on this one) My vote goes to the more unique premise: GUTTERS to GALLERIES

      Delete
    6. Both of these are excellent! I don't have any suggestions for changes!

      It was a hard choice, but VICTORY TO BOUNTY AND THE BEAST

      Delete
    7. Both these entries knocked me out! The writing is excellent and both premises are intriguing.

      BOUNTY AND THE BEAST: This query - WOW! Well done. It has everything I hope to see: compelling characters, an enticing plot, and clear stakes. The First 250 is masterfully written and your use of description had me inside the Midnight Jester with the characters.

      GUTTERS TO GALLERIES: Your query has a ton of voice which I love. The only issue is that it reads a little convoluted at the end where you merge Tris and Mia's stakes and goals. I'd suggest using paragraph one to illustrate Mia's goals and stakes. Paragraph two to outline Tris' and then use paragraph three to sync their storylines and add in your final sinker. Your First 250 reads very tight and I love the bomb you drop in the final line.

      Both fantastic entries but victory goes to...

      BOUNTY AND THE BEAST

      Delete
    8. Really nice job on the revisions! These keep getting stronger every time I read them. I really don't want to have to choose, as I love them both.

      It's a hard choice, but: VICTORY TO BOUNTY AND THE BEAST by a beastly hair, because I think the query is just a tad more streamlined.

      Delete
    9. Bounty and the Beast

      Query: An interesting premise and strong writing. I feel like the line “Noc can’t renege on the contract for Leena’s head unless he’s willing to sacrifice his own’ is the more powerful ending to this query.

      First 250: Polished and tight. Makes me want to read more.

      From Gutters to Galleries

      Query: This query is much stronger than the first time I saw it. Very nice!

      First 250: The first paragraph doesn’t pull me in and it’s a little slow to start. It’s not until the very last line that I sit up and want to keep going.

      Victory to: Gutters to Galleries

      Delete
    10. Bounty and the Beast—

      Query: Ooh, this is one I haven’t seen yet in this competition. I like the premise. When Leena initially makes the offer to procure magical beasts in exchange for her life, I didn’t get that Noc would have to join her on that quest. So in the third paragraph, when you say that the two of them set out together to get the beasts, that threw me off. I LOVE the line about traps capturing more than beasts and ensnared hearts being hard to untangle. So beautiful!

      When you first mention the assassins oath and how Noc can’t get out of taking Leena’s life, is that new information to Leena or to the reader? I’m assuming that Noc knows this all along. I feel that the stipulation that Noc can’t get out of the contract without exchanging his own life should be clear up front in the query, but you should also make it clear that Leena doesn’t know this. That’ll add a ton of tension, and then at the end of the query when Leena finds out, it’s a big bombshell.

      You’ve done a great job weaving a web of deceit, though, with multiple parties out for different things, and the entwining hearts only complicating it further. This query is full of great stakes!

      250: You do a good job of creating tension while also setting the scene. I especially like the line ‘shady with a side of grime’.

      It’s unclear in the fourth paragraph exactly what tips her off that this guy she’s doing business with is a gentleman. The way it’s written, it seems like she’s using the nasally, high-pitched voice to infer that he’s a businessman, but I’m not sure that’s what you’re going for. Later you mention that Neckties and that bar don’t mix, so that makes me think it’s more this guy’s clothes that tip her off. Just clarify that.

      From Gutters to Galleries—

      Query: You’ve made some excellent changes to this. Things are much clearer now—Bravo! Two tiny notes: In the first line of the second paragraph, I’d change one of the words so it reads “…sparking a widespread search for *the* troubled loner …”. And at the end of the third paragraph, I’d take out a word to avoid the overuse of the word ‘to’. So it would read: “…vows to quit selling drugs and fight to save…”

      Also, in the final line, check the spelling of ‘artists.’ And the story structure sounds very interesting—I’m intrigued.

      250: I’d change the words ‘around on’ in the first line to ‘across the’. So it would read ‘…patrons clopped across the marble tile toward…’ If they’re just clopping around, they’re not going toward anything, technically speaking.  Otherwise, this is pretty solid.

      This is a really tough choice! But I’m feeling pulled a little more in one direction, though I’d love to read both of these.

      So … Victory to From Gutters to Galleries!

      Delete
    11. Professor McGonagallJune 25, 2017 at 9:55 AM

      Two very strong entries! Congratulations and best wishes to both of you.

      Because I love the idea of a mythical beast trade, victory to BOUNTY AND THE BEAST

      Delete
    12. ?TIE BREAKER?

      I got word there was a tie on this entry, so I'm jumping in.

      Quick notes for: BOUNTY AND THE BEAST

      Again, I'm in the minority opinion on this query. I find it incredibly boring. The 2nd and 3rd paragraphs contain too much plot, making me worry that this novel is far more into the world building than character. Romance clearly plays a big role in this story, but it is pretty flat on the page. Lots of showing and not a lot of telling.

      The first 250 appear to be roughly the same, I've got the same issues. Leena can be made to appear edgy without resorting to cheap tricks, particularly in the first 250 words. Also, the author uses the same expletive to start the query as they do the book, and neither feels earned.

      -----
      From Gutters to Galleries

      This query is improved yet again, I now understand a bit more why the query is structured this way. You have a typo in the final sentence (artist's not astist's.) 2nd Person is risky, but if kept incredibly short, I suppose it could work.

      I think the "different kind of customer" line should still be modified, after all, Mia doesn't find him different. While I get that he is less like the other clientele, Mia knows this person. if you feel it necessary to point out that he sticks out, I'd think that it would be best to do so in the description of him.

      ----

      Final thoughts/Conclusions:

      It's entirely possible I'm just the worst reader for Bounty and the Beast, but while many others seem to adore this, I find it completely lacking. Not every story can appeal to everyone, but as someone who enjoys fantasy and romance, this should be calling to me more than it is. It just seems like a book that's a lot of work. My hope is I'm completely wrong, and that the universe as described feels more fleshed and out and real in the story itself, but I'm certainly not getting that here.

      Gutters to Galleries, on the hand, does feel relatively new and interesting. The uniqueness of the story comes off in the query. The lack of this quality is my #1 complaint with Bounty and the Beast. As such, despite the typo, for me, Victory is an easy choice:

      VICTORY TO: Gutters to Galleries

      Delete
    13. Dangerous Beasts:

      I love the way you slipped into a fantasy setting without a ton of exposition and set-up. So very nicely done! I would suggest: "To hunt for [the] creatures." That was the only thing that stopped me in the query. I also loved the first 250 words. You nailed the character and setting with ease.

      Only When I Fall:
      The writing in your first 250 words is also excellent, you move us into the scene with ease. The only problem I had here was with the query. The first two paragraphs are smooth as glass, but the third suffers some slippage when you shift the focus from your protagonist to the Tris. I think you could fix this by eliminating the first sentence:

      [STRIKE: Unaware of the pursuers closing in, Tris must shake the heroin in his veins and leave his old life behind or risk losing not only his life's work and the person he loves, but the very life to which he clings. While]

      Mia, weighed down by her guilt over being both Tris's dealer and the one person who can help him find the recognition his talent deserves, vows to quit selling drugs and to fight to save the man she wishes she didn't love—for herself, for him, and for the daughter he never knew he had.

      Likewise, I have no doubt that you would be able to pull off a "3rd person multi-pov, uniquely structured with interspersed chapters in the 2nd person as descriptions of paintings that are moments from the astist's life seen through his creative lens." I would strongly suggest not including this description in your query.

      I read this as an agent would and thought, "Whoa, that's complicated." You don't want to turn them off before they've had a chance to read the story.

      In this case, I have to give

      VICTORY TO DANGEROUS BEASTS

      Delete
    14. These are both really good, unique, and draw the reader in!

      I think the first 250 for one has more of a hook and action in it, so I will have to go with...

      VICTORY to DANGEROUS BEASTS

      Delete
    15. Creature of the SeaJune 25, 2017 at 3:56 PM

      BOUNTY AND THE BEAST:

      I don't really have much to add from my last round of feedback, except to say that I would still really like to know what Leena needs to do in order to save herself, because it all seems up to Noc. Otherwise, great query, great 250.

      GUTTERS AND GALLERIES:

      This is a really compelling query. I just had two small comments. One is that, if I haven't missed something, there's only one line in the query from Tris's POV. I'd suggest cutting that. It'll read much cleaner and you don't lose anything. The second thing is that I'd recommend cutting that final paragraph about the multiple POVs. It's a lot to digest and I don't think it adds enough to your query. The writng style in the first 250 is solid and engaging, but I find it a little slow to start.

      -------------------------------------------------------------

      I'm struggling with this one. I like these both, and could make arguments for either to win. I think I'm going to have to go with the one that feels slightly fresher in concept (which is admittedly subjective).

      Victory to GUTTERS AND GALLERIES.

      Delete
    16. Bounty and the Beast: The first two paragraphs of your pitch do a great job of establishing the two characters' storylines and setting the conflict in motion. A couple of minor things tripped me up in the third paragraph—"But traps capture more than beasts, and ensnared hearts are hard to untangle" I found somewhat confusing. It sounds great, especially as potential jacket copy, but for the pitch it was a little vague. I also wasn't sure where the enemies at every turn came from. Your 1st 250 are great, though, and do a nice job of setting up the atmosphere and Leena's narrative voice.

      Gutters and Galleries: The query is strong and does a great job of introducing characters and conflict quickly, then providing the intriguing story complications. It's well structured, though I'm not sure you need the final paragraph describing the 2nd-person sections, especially if they are more atmospheric than plot-oriented. The 1st 250 really shows off both characters and the setting with a lot of great visual detail, though if we're in Mia's POV at this point, that aspect could be a bit stronger.

      Really tough decision—victory to Bounty and the Beast.

      Delete
    17. From CatAttack

      I've read -- and loved -- both these entries before. Each is a book I'd like to read some day. But since I can only choose won here...

      VICTORY TO FROM GUTTERS TO GALLERIES!

      Delete
    18. Wow - two very different, but both quite intriguing, entries!

      BOUNTY AND THE BEAST: I feel like your query is strong but could maybe be even a bit tighter, in terms of cleanly laying out the plot and stakes. I feel like I'm getting a little tangled up in clever turns of phrase, especially in the third paragraph. E.g. "But traps capture more than beasts, and ensnared hearts are hard to untangle." - it's a great voicey sentence but kinda slowed me down in my understanding - maybe simplify a bit so that you're really driving home your plot/action?

      GUTTERS: I was a little confused by one phrase in the query - I wondered what is pushing Tris to get clean if he's "Unaware of the pursuers closing in..." What's changed in his life, other than suddenly being pursued? That sort of lessened the stakes for me a smidge.

      Both of the 250 have rich writing and distinct voices, and in terms of voting, dang this is a difficult choice.

      Victory to FROM GUTTERS TO GALLERIES!

      Delete
    19. BOUNTY AND THE BEAST:
      The query feels a little confusing to me... It feels like I'm still not entirely sure what the rules of the world are, which makes it a little hard to see exactly what the obstacles are that stand in the characters' way.

      The voice in the first 250 is amazing though, and I get a great sense of character and place! What atmosphere!

      FROM GUTTERS TO GALLERIES:
      I feel almost the opposite about this one. I love the query, and get a strong sense of conflict and stakes for both main characters.

      The first 250 don't really grab me though, and it's hard to explain why. It may just be personal preference, and the hook at the end of this excerpt is great, but I just don't really FEEL the voice the way I'd like to.

      Tough choice, but I'm a voice and atmosphere gal, so victory to BOUNTY AND THE BEAST!

      Delete
  2. Congrats to both for making it this far! First time reading GUTTERS, and I really like the concept! Still wishing the last pargraph in BEAST showed a little bit more how Leena can control her destiny as opposed to having her life left in Noc's hands and his decision to turn her in or not.

    VICTORY TO FROM GUTTERS TO GALLERIES!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Moonstone DragonJune 24, 2017 at 3:53 PM

    My goodness, these two are so different, and they each work in their own way.

    For DANGEROUS BEASTS, I really don't have much to say--the only question the query doesn't answer for me yet is, why are mythical beasts a desirable thing to have? But the rest of the story comes across so clearly, I'm not sure this is a real issue. Oh, and I still think the last sentence in your first 250 could be stronger. :)

    For ONLY WHEN I FALL, I'm still not sure about the shift in POV in the query. I'm also not sure you need to add the little disclaimer about POV in the MS--personally, I'd let your sample pages speak for themselves. I get that when you've written something like that, it's even harder to write the query sticking to a single POV, but I think you're nearly there--you just need to shift what happens to Tris as seen from Mia's perspective. Or you could attempt a dual POV query, but that would open a different can of worms and honestly, I'm not sure it would work for your genre.

    OTOH, your opening SINGS. I love it. It's deftly done and well-paced. We get an instant sense of your protagonists and of setting and that is a hard and wonderful thing to do.

    For that alone, although I love both entries, I will grant victory to FROM GUTTERS TO GALLERIES!

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  4. Bounty and the Beast

    I still love this entry and I want to read it. I don't have anything to add!

    Gutters to Galleries

    Again great and what a compelling premise.

    Both are great and I had a hard time picking last time. But I still have to go with my gut.

    VICTORY TO BOUNTY AND THE BEAST

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  5. My vote is purely subjective here since both have great queries and 250s. Bounty and the Beast gets my vote! I'm a sucker for all things Fantasy Romance :)

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  6. Hmm. Defaulting to the first page as I often do (since both the queries are a tie for me), I find I'm more interested in seeing how the style of a multi-third in Gutters to Galleries works out than I am exploring the chemistry of Bounty and the Beast.

    HOWEVER, a word of advice for the author of Gutters to Galleries: the structure of a multiple third POV with a second persona POV used intermittenly isn't actually unique. That's not something you should feel at all bad about, but making that claim indicates that you have some gaps in your reading and query prep that should be addressed. The easy fix is to take the word "unique" out, but another good strategy would be to read some recent N.K. Jemisin to see examples of this being done by others.

    Good luck to victor Gutters to Galleries!

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  7. Your queries are both excellent, so this vote comes down to the 250... Victory to BOUNTY AND THE BEAST! You had me at gelatinous.

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