Jul 17, 2017

A NoQS Success: Ash Otterloo

My favorite type of success story--one that came from our contests! Let this bit of inspiration follow you into Pitchwars and the fall contests. Here's the story from Ash.
I put the finishing touches on my MG fantasy manuscript CATTYWAMPUS in late May of 2016, spent July-Sept in rounds of revisions with notes from my beta readers and critique partners. Right before I started my first round of queries, on a whim, I noticed a blog schedule for #NoQS and entered the story. Having entered contests a few times before, I knew it would be a fun experience and hoped to snag helpful feedback before I leapt into the query trenches.


When my name popped up on Mike’s team list, I promptly exploded with excitement. My second stroke of luck was being paired with the clever Kate Foster as my mentor, who I’d received a bit of constructive feedback from in a past contest with a shorter project. (A good reminder to us all to receive constructive criticism gracefully, even in rejection!) We polished my query and pages, and it got a significant amount of requests.


By the end of October, I found myself on the phone chatting with the incomparable Lauren Spieller. I’ll admit it: I had instant agent-crush. Besides being fun to chat with, she asked all the clarity-bringing questions about plot development, was enthusiastic and straightforward (swoon), and asked for an R&R, along with suggestions for sensitivity reads. Why, hello, sweaty palms. Obviously, I was eager to give it a whack.


I worked hard on revisions, found some amazing sensitivity readers, and resubmitted in March. Another R&R. And y’all. I am so grateful for last round of revisions, too, because that’s where I truly found my protagonists (and discovered an underground bunker of feelings to pour into the manuscript.) I re-submitted and got a phone call. THE phone call. (Dun, dun, dunnnnn!)


When I answered my cellphone, Lauren offered me representation with Triada Us. Only barely did I manage to refrain from shrieking directly into the receiver. As before, Lauren was supportive and excited about the story, and had great thoughts for final revision notes. After recovering from a round of omygodomygodomygod, I was eager to accept. I’d researched agencies and MG agents thoroughly, and this was indeed my dream representation. A couple of days later, I officially accepted the offer and went out with my family to celebrate with pizza.


My final thoughts: Writing can be lonely, sometimes. There are moments (months) when you have to be the one who believes in your work, even though part of you worries you might be wasting your time. And when the opportunity to make a helpful connection comes, even in the form of a constructive “no”, tackle it and suck every bit of wisdom from it. Learn, and be kind to yourself. And don’t give up.
_________________________________________

Ash Van Otterloo lives just outside of Chattanooga with her long time best friend and four wild forest-children. She's regarded fondly by her two cats, and, like a cat, she enjoys people who offer her good food regularly. Whether or not she's a witch is a topic for gossip among her neighbors. The ones, at least, that she's not yet turned into newts.

Jul 10, 2017

QK Grand Champion: Erin King



Query Kombat Grand Champion
Erin King



Erin King hails from the deserts of Las Vegas, where she was a serious high school choir nerd (no, really, we won a Grammy), turned songwriter, turned novelist. These days, she lives in Manhattan with her designer husband, where they pretend “creatives” can afford the city. She writes Young Adult fiction while her three native New Yorkers attend elementary school, and takes her life in her hands every time she goes for a run in Central Park. She’s anaphylactically allergic to exercise. Yes, it’s a thing. However, she hopes to survive to write many more fantastical tales about fictional teenagers.

Erin lives on Twitter @erinkingwrites, or online at erinkingwrites.com.

QK Adult Champion: Maxym Martineau


Query Kombat Adult Champion

Maxym Martineau


Maxym Martineau is a staff writer and copy editor by day and a fantasy romance writer by night. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Arizona State University and a borderline unhealthy addiction to Dr. Pepper and coffee. When she's not reading or writing, she can be found playing with her dogs or binge-watching TV shows with her husband. She also appreciates a well-made margarita.

Twitter: @maxymmckay
Website: www.maxymmagazine.com



QK Young Adult Champion: Tracy C. Gold


Query Kombat Young Adult Champion

Tracy C. Gold


Every day I strive to help people learn, spark conversations, think about “what’s next,” and play with cute animals.

I spend most of my time teaching, editing, and writing. I cofounded Sounding Sea Writers’ Workshop, which holds writing classes and provides writing tutoring. I teach composition at the University of Baltimore, and I write short stories and novels. I also intern for literary agent Carrie Pestritto.

When I’m not working, I’m devouring a novel, riding my ex-racehorse L.J., running, biking, or at least pining for the trail.

 If you’re a Terp or a Tar Heel, you may want to skip this part, because I’m a proud alum of Duke University. I earned my Masters of Fine Arts in Fiction at the University of Baltimore.

P.S., if you’re wondering why the middle initial is everywhere, it’s because I have no relationship with Tracy Gold, the actress in Growing Pains. I was actually named after a dog, which is cool by me.

Twitter: @TracyCGold
Website:www.tracycgold.com

QK Mid Grade Champion: Jess and Britney Gulbrandsen


Query Kombat Mid Grade Champion

Jess and Britney Gulbrandsen


Jess and Britney Gulbrandsen are a husband and wife writing team who spend their romantic date nights discussing plot points and hunting for Big Foot. When they aren’t writing, Jess and Britney like to read aloud first lines of novels and create dialogue for their children and dog. In his spare time, Jess enjoys fishing, arm wrestling, and extremely low-budget monster movies. Britney spends most of her days making lists, reading, and trying to keep the little ones from burning down the house. She also talks about books and writing on her


website: www.britneygulbrandsen.com
Instagram: @gulbrandsenbooks
Twitter: @britgulbrandsen

Jul 5, 2017

QK Awards Delay





It's unofficially over!

The Query Kombat Awards Ceremony usually marks the close of our brutal, month-long tournament. Praising the top performing entries in each age category as well as the Grand Champion is a something we can't do without!

That being said, the ceremony will be delayed for about a week or so due to an unforeseeable (but totally awesome!) circumstance. We're hoping to present our winners with their badges early next week, so hang tight.

I hope my fellow Americans had a grand Independence Day!

Jun 30, 2017

QK Championship Round: Book Boys Gone Wild vs Delicious Vicious Cycles

Title: Paper Seeds
Entry Nickname: Book Boys Gone Wild!
Word count: 109k
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy

Query

When seventeen-year-old Harlow Jackson gets dumped at her grandma Minny's wake, she's devastated, pissed as hell, and without an escort for the debutante season starting the very next day. But then Harlow finds something Minny left her: paper seeds. Minny always told her that if you place a magical paper seed in a book, and plant it in the ground, you can grow anything you desire from its pages.

In a fit of desperation, revenge, and, okay fine, a little too much funeral punch, Harlow grows teenage versions of Mr. Knightley, Sherlock Holmes, Dorian Gray, and Dracula to be her and her friends' debutante escorts. Because everyone knows there's only one thing better than a handsome, well-groomed, drawling Southern beau... an English gentleman. Harlow is tired of feeling second rate in her small Southern town, and vows to use the boys to beat her ex, and the mean-girl debutantes, at their own game. Frankly, she'd love to burn their perfect curls off their pretty little heads, but that would just be gravy. Instead, she'll settle for winning the debutante crown and the accompanying cash scholarship prize, which she badly needs.

Harlow passes the boys off as four rather eccentric foreign exchange students, and everything goes according to plan until the book-boys discover their own origins and run amok. At the same time, the town witch, Madame LeRoux, comes after Harlow for the paper seeds, claiming that planting them will have dark consequences for Harlow and the people she loves. Harlow must uncover the origin and twisted history of the paper seeds to discover a way to undo what she's grown. But as generations of town secrets and lies begin to unravel, Harlow discovers it was her beloved grandmother Minny who may have been hiding the biggest, ugliest secret of them all.


First 250
:

If I hadn’t been standing in the middle of my grandmother Minny's wake, I would have whacked that boy in the man parts so hard, people would be looking at pictures of his children in years to come and say—see the funny ear that kid has? Harlow Jackson did that.

But Jonathan took my hand and squeezed it, like he was bestowing some sort of warm comfort on me. He wore the gray shirt I'd saved up a week's wages for, the one that was the exact color of his eyes.

Now, I wanted to rip it off him.

And not in a good way.

I took a deep breath and tried to be civil. “Your parents will get used to the idea of us. I have a way of winning people over, you know.” I smiled my most becoming smile and flashed my dimple. Jonathan loved my dimple. Everyone loved my dimple.

He closed his eyes. “It’s not that, Harlow.”

“Then what is it?” I said, too loud.

Madison Pace cocked her ear in our direction as she scooped bean dip onto her plate at the food table. Nosey was not an adjective in this town, it was a given.

I tugged Jonathan’s hand, and he followed me out onto the front porch. The sky was gray, just waiting to burst open, the air heavy and thick. October in Georgia was not a cool, crisp autumn. It’s more like standing over a pot of boiling pasta. Or maybe more like being the pasta.





VERSUS




Title: VERA WITH A VENGEANCE
Entry NicknameDelicious Vicious Cycles
Word count: 74K
Genre: YA Contemporary, Own Voices (Jewish and sexual assault survivor)

Query: 

Seventeen-year-old entrepreneur Vera Davis starts a business to sell revenge in VERA WITH A VENGEANCE, a 74,000-word young adult contemporary novel.

When a car accident paralyzes Vera’s older brother and kills her parents, she's suddenly in charge of the medical bills, the mortgage, and her own anger and helplessness. Vera's always been good at getting back at people who hurt her, but she can’t exactly get revenge on the curve in the road where her father lost control of the car. 

Meager insurance payouts leave Vera desperate for money, so she starts a business: when the traditional justice system fails her clients, Vera wrecks wrongdoers’ careers and cars, relationships and reputations. She revels in taking down racists and sexual assaulters, but her crush--her brother’s best friend--thinks her style of vengeance is morally wrong. 

Then, while helping a client get payback for a leaked nude picture, Vera finds new evidence about her family’s “accident.” Turns out there is someone for Vera to blame, but the perpetrator had her own very good reason to seek vengeance. 

Now Vera must decide whether getting even is worth getting blood on her hands. 

First 250:

This creeper keeps staring at me with this little half smile, like he thinks I want his eyes undressing me. His face, all chin and cheekbones, reeks of always getting what he wants—women, money, free drinks in first class en route to Ibiza. I want to walk away, but his wife is shopping for an evening gown, and I need the commission to pay the energy bill.

I focus on her, and hold up a green dress to hide my body. “This would look great with your eyes.”

Her eyes are blue, but the green dress sells well, and if she buys it, I’ll hit the monthly quota for a higher commission percentage. I can only work so much after school, and I have to make the hours count.

She turns to Creeper. “What do you think?”

“I’d like to see more.” His eyes flicker down to my calves and back up to my chest. For all his wife can tell, he’s checking out the dress, but his gaze burns my skin.

I hold the dress higher to cover my chest and look at my boss for rescue. He mouths work it. If I didn’t need this job so badly…I force myself to smile.

Creeper’s gold smartwatch buzzes, and he glances away from me. Those watches cost three grand. Three grand would keep the lights on and pay for a month of the mortgage. Three grand could keep Levi and me from losing the house our parents raised us in.

Jun 29, 2017

Query Kombat Success: Magali A. Fréchette

What better time to share a Query Kombat success story than before the final round? 


Publishing is a long game. You tend to hear about the overnight successes, which is one reason it's so important to celebrate the stories that take a bit longer to find their homes. Today, we're hearing from Magali A. Fréchette about her journey to publish MY SOUL TO GIVE - available today! 

Congratulations, Magali! I've loved this concept since I first read the query, years ago.

Jun 27, 2017

Query Kombat Round 5 Begins!


Here we go! Round 5!



Entries are on Michelle's Blog! This round lasts until June 28th at 8 pm.

On Wednesday, the host will call out for extra judges to come and break ties, or in case of extra close votes to try and get a more decisive margin. 




The entry with the most votes for Victory moves forward to the final round for the championship on June 30th!


You know the drill. Judges, wait until after the host comments on each entry first and reply to that comment to cast your votes. Try making your votes objective instead of subjective (but if you really love an entry subjectively, don't even feel bad about saying it was a subjective vote - subjectivity rules!). Make sure to post under your nicknames! And use the entry nicknames instead of the titles. 

Jun 22, 2017

QK Round 3 Wrap-Up


Round 3 of this tournament is officially over. All kontenders fought valiantly, but alas, half of you must be knocked out. Win or lose, thanks for officially making QK the toughest query tournament in all the land. Be proud of yourselves for making it this far.  A standing ovation to those of you who fought and came out victorious. A full 48 entries out of the 64 that started this tournament have been eliminated. Those left can practically smell the title of QK Grand Champion. Best of luck in Round 4, kontenders. You're going to need it.
 
Round 4 will be hosted on Laura's blog from June 24th-25th. Below is not only a list of who made it into the 4th round, but who entrants be match against as well


Bounty and the Beast vs. From Gutters to Galleries
Boy Band Ninja Assassins vs. Book Boys Gone Wild
Delicious Vicious Cycles vs. Hero By Default
Alabama Witch Hunters vs. Be Grateful for Cookies 

Good Luck!!!

Jun 20, 2017

Query Kombat Round 3 Begins!



Here we go! Round 3!


Entries are on Mike's Blog! This round lasts until June 22nd at 8 pm.


On Thursday, the hosts will call out for extra judges to come and break ties, or in case of extra close votes to try and get a more decisive margin. 

The entry with the most votes for Victory moves forward to the fourth round on June 24th!


Kombatants will not have any more chances to revise for the rest of the contest.


Reminders for the Entrants:

No commenting on your own entries until the last day of the round. If there is a problem with your entry, shout out to us on Twitter as soon as you can. If you don't have Twitter, you may comment on your entry telling me the mistake.

Also, we tried our hardest to make the match-ups as fair as possible and against as similar stories as possible. But, obviously, this is impossible to do perfectly and some match-ups may seen very random. We apologize for this but it's an evil of the system.

Kombatants should comment on 4 other match-ups to help share the love around!


Reminders for the Judges:

Wait until after one of us hosts comments on each entry first and reply to that comment to cast your votes. Try making your votes objective instead of subjective (but if you really love an entry subjectively, don't even feel bad about saying it was a subjective vote - subjectivity rules!).

Make sure to post under your nicknames!

QK Round 3: Alabama Witch Hunters vs Girl of Your Nightmares

 Match-up closed to voting due to offer of rep. Alabama Witch Hunters is advancing!


Title: Southern Fried Witch Hunters
Entry Nickname: Alabama Witch Hunters
Word Count: 45,000
Genre: MG Horror

Query:

Twelve-year-old José Villa wants to be brave like his best friend, Bubba, but he’s more terrified than a fresh bass at a fish fry. So he accepts his role as sidekick in Bubba’s daring, and mostly harebrained, schemes and adventures.
But when José sneaks into a pasture with Bubba in the middle of the night, he encounters a horror he couldn’t have imagined: zombie freaking cows. Oh, and the evil witch Agatha Winters, back from the dead and ready to get revenge on the town that killed her. Not knowing what to do, José and Bubba team up with a young witch expert. Together, the trio works to stop Agatha, encountering a creepy undertaker, an incompetent sheriff, and a horde of demonic squirrels along the way.

When his friends get locked up, it’s up to José to become the hero of the story. He must overcome his fears and stop Agatha before she hoodwinks the whole town into jumping from the same cliff they pushed her off of years ago.

First 250: 

An angry wind echoed through the night as I read the cracked wooden sign nailed to the fence. “Warning: Trespassers will be skinned alive and deep fried.”

A chill rattled my shoulders. It’d be a miracle if I lived to see the seventh grade.

Bubba sniffed the fresh manure in the air and grinned. “It’s tipping time.”

In Trout Bend, Alabama, cow tipping wasn’t just a hobby. It was an art form. All the best tippers came from our town, but the greatest of them all happened to be my best friend, Bubba, better known around these parts as the da Vinci of the Dairy.

Unfortunately, like most great artists, Bubba had started to go a little bit loco. Actually, scratch that. There was nothing little about it. That boy was nuttier than a pack of rabid squirrels on a cashew binge. I mean, why else would he have dragged me out to Buck Miller’s pasture in the middle of the night?

I gulped. “Bubba, are you sure this is a smart idea?”

He laughed as he squeezed his round body between a couple strands of barbed wire. “Course it ain’t no smart idea, José. But it’s like my daddy always says, ‘Ain’t nobody ever have any fun being smart.’”


I wanted to point out that nobody had ever been arrested for being smart either, but Bubba didn’t like talking about that. I took a deep breath and slid my way through the fence.





Versus



Title: Lucid
Entry Nickname: Girl of Your Nightmares
Word Count: 93K
Genre: YA Psychological Suspense (ownvoices)

Query:

All Marlowe wants is control. Of herself, of her environment, and most importantly, of the people around her. When an attempt to prove the strength of her self-control through sleep deprivation lands Marlowe in the infirmary of The Diana Banesbury School for Exceptional Young Women, she crosses paths with Gwyn, Sloane, and Ellie. Gwyn, who developed major depression after the death of her brother, wants closure she’ll never get. Sloane, recovering from a black eye, wants an adventure to save her from the monotony of her daily life. Ellie, a student volunteer who recently transferred from her small hometown to the exclusive girl’s boarding school, just wants friends to make the adjustment easier.

When Ellie offers lucid dreaming—the ability to control one’s dreams—as an unconventional solution to each of their problems, Marlowe sees a better opportunity. Under the pretext of a club for learning lucid dreaming, Marlowe convinces the girls to move to an abandoned classroom in the woods around the school, aiming to gain control by gaslighting and manipulating them until they’re incapable of differentiating reality from dream. As Gwyn, Sloane, and Ellie question their identities, realities, and the lies Marlowe has bound them with, they must find a way to wake themselves from her influence before they reach the end of a path leading to psychological destruction and death.

First 250:

People didn’t tend to believe that insects had free will, but Marlowe never doubted. If something had free will, she could control it. The fly was no exception.

Marlowe was halfway through the second day of her vigil when the fly landed on the bulb of the green shaded lamp on her bedside table. The rest of the girls in the dormitory were asleep, which left Marlowe alone with the dark, the quiet, and the long wooden room with its vaulted ceilings and double rows of beds. She was wearing her favorite silk pajamas and doing fairly well considering it’d been nearly three days since she last slept.

She watched the fly intently, the way its filmy wings shuddered, how it threaded its spindly, segmented arms back and forth through its proboscis whenever it took a break from its paces along the surface of the hot glass. Once they’d been properly acquainted, Marlowe devoted her thin morning hours to mentally coaxing it in one direction or the other, “Come here,” “Go there,” over and over again.

Most of the time, it wouldn’t. But on the rare occasion that its movements aligned with her mental command, she became re-energized by the illusion that her will had been so strong that the insect had been unable to resist, that the sheer force of her own thoughts had pushed it back onto the glass bulb when it wandered off. She indulged in the fantasy that this small, fragile thing would burn itself alive if she wanted it.

QK Round 3: Be Grateful For Cookies vs Perfectly Imperfect Princess

Title: Plus-Size
Entry Nickname: Be Grateful For Cookies
Word Count: 45,000
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Query:

Thirteen-year-old Lizzie will do almost anything for a cookie. Sadly, her mother banned them from her life months ago, replacing sweets with tasteless foods and a gym membership. Her mom claims it’s for her own good, even though her skinny sister can still eat whatever she wants.

Doomed to a life of flaxseed and broccoli, Lizzie joins what she believes is an after school cooking club, hoping to make chocolate-anything on the sly. When the teacher announces they'll also be sewing, Lizzie discovers a knack for designing stylish plus-size clothes, something she desperately needs. After the owner of a local boutique sees one of Lizzie's shirts with the message BE STRONG sewn across the back, she asks Lizzie to reveal her inspirational clothing to the public with a fashion show. Lizzie hesitantly agrees —she’s never been comfortable being the center of attention, and her mother’s lecture about her hopeless future as a larger girl is on a constant auto-play in her head.

Faced with an overpowering mom, a group of relentless school bullies, and some embarrassing mishaps at the gym, Lizzie realizes how important it is to BE YOU — a phrase on one of her shirts. Armed with her collection and a chance to show her mother that success comes in all sizes, Lizzie sets out to prove there's more to a person than the size of their waist.

First 250:

From the moment I stepped onto Aunt Teri and Uncle Joe’s patio, they taunted me. My eyes darted away, trying my best to ignore them, but I knew they were there. Every summer, my aunt and uncle hosted a huge neighborhood cookout. Mom had warned me on the car ride over to be good. "A little self-control goes a long way." The words still echoed in my head.

Hearing Aunt Teri behind me, my heart began to race. No doubt she had them with her.

You can do this, I reminded myself. You’re better than they are.

“Lizzie,” Aunt Teri called.

Her hand clasped my shoulder. She twirled me around.

“It’s so lovely to see you. And my, look how big you’ve gotten. Chip?”

She thrust the dreaded bowl in my face. They were the kind with ridges. The kind covered with that powdered sour cream and onion stuff I loved. I forced a smile.

“No thanks. I’m good.”

She shrugged and began to walk away.

“Wait!” I yelled. “I mean …” Rushing over to her, I dug my chubby fingers into the bowl, emerging with a fistful of my forbidden fare. “Maybe just a couple. Thanks.”

My eyes darted up, meeting my mother’s glare through Aunt Teri’s kitchen window. I threw the chips in the trash and grabbed a piece of celery off of the veggie tray instead. My hand lingered over the dip, but knew mom could see and quickly moved it away. I was in for a long afternoon.




Versus




Title: Penelope Charming and the Poisoned Glass Slippers
Entry Nickname: Perfectly Imperfect Princess
Word Count: 53K
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Query:

Twelve-year-old Princess Penelope, daughter of Cinderella, has a “charmed life.” Closets full of ruffly dresses (itchy), classes at the prestigious Charming Academy (boring), and her very own fairy godmother (annoying). Penelope would trade them all for her mother’s signature on an adventure slip to travel outside the castle walls. Too bad Cinderella refuses to sign.

Exploring secret passages and games of capture-the-frog are fun, but when a rival princess dares Penelope to steal her mother’s glass slippers, her craving for adventure results in shattered shoes days before the annual ball. Smashed slippers are small peas to Penelope, but to a villain plotting the end to her mother’s Happily Ever After, it’s a perfectly twisted opportunity. The replacement glass slippers are poisoned, casting Cinderella into a deathly slumber.

Determined to save her mother’s life, Penelope searches for the origin of the mysterious poison. Once upon a time, an antidote existed. Lucky for Penelope, her new friend Jack may know where to find it. With Jack’s promise to guide them, Penelope and her best friend, Red, sneak out of the castle walls to travel into the forbidden Beanstalk Forest. Penelope’s wish to explore Fablewood becomes a race to find the antidote ingredients to wake her mother before she sleeps forever after.

First 250:

Glass slippers made terrible frog-capturing shoes. Each footstep clink-clinked on the stepping stones or slurped in the mushy mud. Plus, the cold glass pinched my toes. I kicked them off my feet and dropped to the ground to peer through the rose bush. A small, green frog lay stretched out on the edge of the wishing well, belly up to the sun.

Once upon a time, a princess ventured through the wilds of Fablewood...

I tightened the sash around my slingshot before squeezing under the bush. A thorn snagged the frilly hem of my dress, tearing the fabric with a loud rip. I froze. The frog stretched his scrawny arms, wiggled a teeny bit, and relaxed. He hadn’t heard me. The frog was mine. I crawled to the well and paused.

One happily ever after...two happily ever after...three happily ever after.

She was Princess Penelope, daughter of Cinderella. One slimy beastie was no match for her.

“Surrender!” I sprang to my feet. Only a wet spot glistened on the stones. “Rotten peas!”

As I leaned over the well, searching for the frog, he leaped from his hiding spot beside a broken stone onto my shoulder.

“Gotcha, Princess Penelope!” Smirking, he poked my cheek with a twig.

 I glared into his scum-colored, googly eyes. “Phib! When did you know I was coming?"

 “I saw you leave the castle.” Phib flourished the twig like a fencing sword, bowed, and strolled down my arm. The dank smell of algae mixed with jasmine tickled my nose: eau de Phib.

QK Round 3: Book Boys Gone Wild vs Nowhere Land

Title: Paper Seeds
Entry Nickname: Book Boys Gone Wild!
Word Count: 109K
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy

Query: 

When seventeen-year-old Harlow Jackson gets dumped at her grandma Minny's wake, she's devastated, pissed as hell, and without an escort for the debutante season starting the very next day. But then Harlow finds something Minny left her: paper seeds. Minny always told her that if you place a magical paper seed in a book, and plant it in the ground, you can grow anything you desire from its pages.

In a fit of desperation, revenge, and, okay fine, a little too much funeral punch, Harlow grows teenage versions of Mr. Knightley, Sherlock Holmes, Dorian Gray, and Dracula to be her and her friends' debutante escorts. Because everyone knows there's only one thing better than a handsome, well-groomed, drawling Southern beau... an English gentleman. Harlow is tired of feeling second rate in her small Southern town, and vows to use the boys to beat her ex, and the mean-girl debutantes, at their own game. Frankly, she'd love to burn their perfect curls off their pretty little heads, but that would just be gravy. Instead, she'll settle for winning the debutante crown and the accompanying cash scholarship prize, which she badly needs.

Harlow passes the boys off as four rather eccentric foreign exchange students, and everything goes according to plan until the book-boys discover their own origins and run amok. At the same time, the town witch, Madame LeRoux, comes after Harlow for the paper seeds, claiming that planting them will have dark consequences for Harlow and the people she loves. Harlow must uncover the origin and twisted history of the paper seeds to discover a way to undo what she's grown. But as generations of town secrets and lies begin to unravel, Harlow discovers it was her beloved grandmother Minny who may have been hiding the biggest, ugliest secret of them all.

First 250:

If I hadn’t been standing in the middle of my grandmother Minny's wake, I would have whacked that boy in the man parts so hard, people would be looking at pictures of his children in years to come and say—see the funny ear that kid has? Harlow Jackson did that.

But Jonathan took my hand and squeezed it, like he was bestowing some sort of warm comfort on me. He wore the gray shirt I'd saved up a week's wages for, the one that was the exact color of his eyes.

Now, I wanted to rip it off him.

And not in a good way.

I took a deep breath and tried to be civil. “Your parents will get used to the idea of us. I have a way of winning people over, you know.” I smiled my most becoming smile and flashed my dimple. Jonathan loved my dimple. Everyone loved my dimple.

He closed his eyes. “It’s not that, Harlow.”

“Then what is it?” I said, too loud.

Madison Pace cocked her ear in our direction as she scooped bean dip onto her plate at the food table. Nosey was not an adjective in this town, it was a given.

I tugged Jonathan’s hand, and he followed me out onto the front porch. The sky was gray, just waiting to burst open, the air heavy and thick. October in Georgia was not a cool, crisp autumn. It’s more like standing over a pot of boiling pasta. Or maybe more like being the pasta.





Versus




Title:  FOLLOW THE SUN
Entry Title:  Nowhere Land
Word Count:  75K
Genre: Historical YA (#ownvoices)

Query:

In 1969, Rett syndrome is unheard of. But come hell or high water, Jackie is determined to discover the reason why her four-year-old sister, Evie, suddenly lost the ability to speak and control her hands.  Her parents find it easiest to accept their small town doctor’s generic diagnosis that Evie was born with physical and mental impairments. Jackie doesn’t buy it. Evie wasn’t born that way; she regressed just before turning two.  So, Jackie spends months secretly mailing letters to various doctors around the country. She’s convinced that if she can find one expert with a possible explanation for Evie’s symptoms, it will force her parents down a path toward determining the cause.

That’s a lot to handle for a seventeen-year-old, though, and no amount of getting drunk with her flower child friends, flirting with a guy who’s caught her eye, or bickering with her June Cleaver-ish mother keeps Evie’s condition from constantly gnawing away at the back of Jackie’s mind. When she finally hears of a doctor in Austria who might have an answer to the riddle that is Evie, Jackie’s world begins to brighten.  But, Evie’s disability becomes too much of a hassle for her self-absorbed mother and father, and they make plans to institutionalize her in another state.

Devastated by the idea of separation from Evie, Jackie makes a rash decision:  she’ll take off on a planned trip with her friends to the Woodstock music festival, and she’ll never come back. If Evie won’t be in Everton anymore, Jackie doesn’t want to be either. But she can’t shake the feeling that the best place for Evie is with her family.  As Woodstock ends, Jackie must decide to either find a new life elsewhere or return home to reveal the information she discovered to her parents and convince them that Evie is capable of more than they believe.  If only they’ll listen.
 
First 250: 

Woodstock Music & Art Fair, August 1969
Day One – Late Afternoon

I inhale the scents of lost inhibitions disguised as weed and booze. They’re so thick it’s as if I can reach out and touch them; literally get a contact high. It’s a pretty killer scene, and after hours of waiting, the music’s finally starting. For most, time has no place here. You simply exist. You are here. It is today. The time is now. And it’s all good. But my mind flickers like the flashes of a camera between photos of the before and the after. The past and the present.

Between Evie and this field full of strangers.

The odors surrounding me vanish, replaced by the memory of more comforting aromas: cookies and apple juice. I smile, in spite of myself. But those thoughts angle my mind toward others that curdle my stomach, like Evie at the supper table with my parents, her hands tying themselves in knots. I’m not in my seat next to her, and she doesn’t understand why. The image of her face in my head pushes each beat of my heart one notch higher on the threshold of pain in my chest. As if some great chasm has cracked along my sternum, leaking a burning fire through the rest of my body.

I ache to see her, but I can’t go back home. Not after what I found out. Not after what I learned.

I swear I’ll never go back to Everton.

QK Round 3: This Selkie Can't Swim vs Hero By Default

Title: IN HER OWN SKIN
Entry Nickname: This Selkie Can't Swim
Word Count: 70K
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy

Query:

At sixteen, Emily is an extraordinarily fast varsity swimmer, until one day the chlorine burns like acid and she nearly drowns. Unable to swim in the pool again, she hears voices calling her into the ocean. A long-submerged memory of her mother walking into the sea, never to return, floats to the surface. Hunting for proof her mother didn't die in a car accident like her father said, Emily uncovers a bundle of old letters from friends and family she's never heard of. They all have the same return address: an island in Nova Scotia. When her father refuses to answer her questions, Emily sneaks away to Canada over winter break—alone.

But when Emily arrives her supposed family won't talk to her and they threaten to send her packing. Her only help comes from Fiona, a seventeen-year-old activist whose friendship provides the intimacy Emily has always lacked. After days of cat-and-mouse, Fiona reveals the island's secret: they’re both daughters of selkies, a species of Scottish seal shape-shifters. The selkies’ isolation protects them from fur hunters, but temptation draws some to human company. Eventually, they return to the sea, leaving behind any half-human children. Children like Emily.

With time running out before school starts, and her romantic feelings for Fiona getting stronger, Emily fights for the truth about her mother's death, and if she willingly abandoned her. When Emily's attempt to claim her selkie heritage puts the island's inhabitants in danger from tourists and pelt hunters, she must choose between an ordinary human life cut off from the fleeing selkies, or a solution that will save the selkies and trap her as a seal forever.

First 250:

If Coach Gina says one more good word about me, I may scream. Coach thinks reading our meet times every week is motivating. I just want to crawl into a hole.

Every time she says my name, I expect this to be the time the team glares at me with jealousy.

"100 free, Emily Mulligan, 49:51."

Instead, the girls whoop and clap for me, because my points are their points. They don’t care where the numbers come from. Cheers bounce around the pool and I catch David grinning at me from the other side, not paying attention as the boys' coach also reads. When his name is called the guys thump him on the back and chant, "Ecklestein! Ecklestein!"

We're a pair of winners, a matched set, the perfect couple.

So why don't I enjoy any of it?

If it weren't for Dad, I wouldn't be here.

I jump in for warm-ups, the water swallowing me. I rush downward, the bottom twelve feet below. When I slow, I open my eyes and gaze up through the jelly-like water to the lights above.

It starts as a prickle on my arms. Then I want to rub my eyes. They're gritty, like I haven't slept. Just as I'm thinking how weird that is, the pain kicks in. I gasp water.

I cough convulsively but there’s burning water in my airways. Needles drive through my skin, setting my nerves alight. Acid is eating me alive.

I'm the best swimmer in the state and I'm drowning.





Versus



Title: The Mortal Coil
Entry Nickname: Hero by Default
Word Count: 80K
Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
Query:
When Covington Academy's basketball team is found comatose during practice, seventeen-year-old Aiden Milligan goes from top of the class to top of the suspect list. His extensive disciplinary record and recent altercation with the team's captain make Aiden the obvious culprit. Worse, his combination of brains, boredom, and bad attitude marks him as a possible member of The Orphion Circle, the rumored anarchist group being investigated by police. Guilty until proven innocent in the principal's eyes, Aiden knows he's one misstep from expulsion — or worse, a prison cell. Losing his academic future, the one thing that separates him from every other parentless screw-up, is not an option.

Teamwork is torture for Aiden, but classmate Jessie Rivas is his only help in clearing his name. A crackpot journalist determined to make her big break, Jessie drags Aiden into a mystifying investigation of the rising coma incidents around the city. When bloody symbols appear at the scene of one the attacks, Aiden begins to believe Jessie’s theories about the mysterious Orphion Circle are true. The Circle isn't an anarchist group. It's a coven of dangerous witches.

Stopping The Circle and clearing his name become one and the same for Aiden. A detective hounds his steps, though, hell-bent on locking him up. With every step of his investigation implicating him further, salvaging his reputation and his academic future may be impossible. But if he can't uncover the truth behind the mounting coma victims before The Circle silences him, he won't have a future at all.

First 250:

Aiden Milligan sat in the principal's office. Again. And for once, he wasn't sure why.

Aiden reviewed the usual complaints. No skipping classes — this week, anyway. Not like he couldn't afford to when he was so far ahead of the rest of the class.

No disrespecting any teachers. Correcting Ms. Maynard's electron assignment during Chemistry didn't count. Eye-rolls were reflexive at this point.

No refusing to cooperate with others. ...Okay, guilty as charged. But was that such a crisis?

"Mr. Milligan."

Aiden straightened up. Principal Hadley entered the office and sat behind his impenetrable oak desk.

"Sir," he muttered.

In the two years he’d attended the prestigious Covington Academy, Aiden and Principal Hadley had grown very familiar, in the way a lion gets familiar with a straggling wildebeest. Aiden was a problem that didn't want to be solved, and Hadley took that as a challenge.

Hadley ran a hand through thin, graying hair. “Thank you for coming, Aiden."

Aiden raised an eyebrow. Like he had a choice?

Here it comes. Slap on the wrist and hollow lecture. Then set me loose, 'cause you can't risk losing your highest GPA student. Rinse and repeat.

“To business.” Hadley folded his hands on his desk. "Last night, campus security found Coach Singer and the entire basketball team collapsed in the gym. The police were called in to investigate."

Police... Aiden's stomach twisted.

Hadley's eyes locked onto him. "They suspect foul play."

Foul play? Now his stomach plummeted somewhere around his feet. Damn, not good...

QK Round 3: Delicious Vicious Cycles vs Life as a Dumpster Fire

Title: VERA WITH A VENGEANCE
Entry Nickname: Delicious Vicious Cycles
Word Count: 74K
Genre: YA Contemporary (#ownvoices)

Query: 

When a car accident paralyzes Vera’s older brother and kills her parents, she's suddenly in charge of the medical bills, the mortgage, and her own anger and helplessness. Vera's always been good at getting back at people who hurt her, but she can’t exactly get revenge on the curve in the road where her father lost control of the car.

Meager insurance payouts leave Vera desperate for money, so she starts a business: when the traditional justice system fails her clients, Vera wrecks wrongdoers’ careers and cars, relationships and reputations. She revels in taking down racists and sexual assaulters, but her crush--her brother’s best friend--thinks her style of vengeance is morally wrong.

Then, while helping a client get payback for a leaked nude picture, Vera finds new evidence about her family’s “accident.” Turns out there is someone for Vera to blame, but the perpetrator had her own very good reason to seek vengeance.

Now Vera must decide whether getting even is worth getting blood on her hands.

First 250:

This creeper keeps staring at me with this little half smile, like he thinks I want his eyes undressing me. His face, all chin and cheekbones, reeks of always getting what he wants—women, money, free drinks in first class en route to Ibiza. I want to walk away, but his wife is shopping for an evening gown, and I need the commission to pay the energy bill.

I focus on her, and hold up a green dress to hide my body. “This would look great with your eyes.”

Her eyes are blue, but the green dress sells well, and if she buys it, I’ll hit the monthly quota for a higher commission percentage. I can only work so much after school, and I have to make the hours count.

She turns to Creeper. “What do you think?”

“I’d like to see more.” His eyes flicker down to my calves and back up to my chest. For all his wife can tell, he’s checking out the dress, but his gaze burns my skin.

I hold the dress higher to cover my chest and look at my boss for rescue. He mouths work it. If I didn’t need this job so badly…I force myself to smile.

Creeper’s gold smartwatch buzzes, and he glances away from me. Those watches cost three grand. Three grand would keep the lights on and pay for a month of the mortgage. Three grand could keep Levi and me from losing the house our parents raised us in.




Versus



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 is a strike against his life. 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. Therefore, a federal agent offering him a way out of Felicity Harbour 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 orphans raised in the mob, 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.

Betraying Booker is unthinkable—until Booker betrays Jeb first.  Jeb is left with a choice between two futures: a swift end in a shallow grave, or becoming as brutal as the city 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 the screen embedded in Jeb’s contact lens. There is a problem with the system. Please restart your device. A cold wind grabbed Jeb’s nose as it passed—it smelled like misery and fear, and the corpse of Jeb’s childhood. He 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 as the call went through.

Panic sent Jeb's stomach tumbling. He took a step back, already trying to calm himself down. He was still well within the territory borders. The system must have glitched.

But—

If it hadn't glitched, there was no way to know how he'd made Valin angry or how long Jeb would be punished before he was put down like a dog.

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

QK Round 3: Super Powers and Problems vs Boy Band Ninja Assassins

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

Query:

Seeing twenty-seven-year-old Jenna downing shots at the local dive bar, no one would guess she was once the feared supervillain Engine. That’s because everyone knows Engine is dead, just like the rest of the Specials–the superpowered teens who, ten years ago, tried to take over the world.
Or so the old manufactured headlines read. Jenna would say she and the others were trying to help.

Burdened with anger and guilt over being the last of her kind, all Jenna wants is to be left alone in the secret life she’s pieced together in New York City. That dream dies when the man who created the plague that eradicated the Specials threatens humanity with a new strain of the virus, and a government agency aware Jenna survived demands her help. Help she has no intention of providing until they blackmail her with the only thing that would change her mind: a promise to execute a handful of secretly-imprisoned surviving Specials.
Now Jenna must resurrect the leader she was and stop a madman from murdering billions. After enduring the genocide committed against her people, she’s not sure she can. Or should.

First 250:

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 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.”

He was right, I wasn’t twenty-two. I was twenty-seven, but got carded everywhere. I couldn’t even buy cigarettes without catching grief. 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 dump.



Versus



Title: LETH5L: DEEP CUTS
Entry Nickname: Boy Band Ninja Assassins
Word Count: 80K
Genre: YA Adventure Comedy

Query:

When Derrick Dominick and the other members of the world’s hottest boy band stumble into a coffee shop robbery in progress, they easily thwart the crooks with killer choreography. They didn’t name the band ‘Leth5l’ for nothing. Audiences, fangirl hearts, bad guys—they can slay just about anything thanks to their training for the Special Intelligence Network for Global Espionage, Recon and Security. (And dance class.)

Due to a misunderstanding with the barista, Derrick ends up in the back of a cop car. Roughly six seconds after he leaves the station, photos, videos, and internet rumors spread faster than a bullet leaving a gun. Consequently, Leth5l’s Manager/Handler sends two bloggers along on their next tour/mission to prove they’re just another boy band and Derrick’s not a criminal with a dimple.

Things get dicey when, to protect his cover, Derrick is forced to take a dangerous new drug called Rewind. It turns out that reliving the moment your biological mom abandoned you can sting just as much at seventeen-years-old as it did as a baby. Rewind, his butt, he’d rather erase that memory completely. Now, on top of his mission, and the two nosy (and hot!) bloggers up in his business, he’s got one mother of a mother issue to deal with before he makes a mistake that might be lethal (minus the five) to one of his bandmates.

At least his hair’s still on point.

First 250:

Five-part harmony is ridiculously hard in the morning. Especially before coffee. Yet, here we are, strolling out of W-IDK television station after singing our asses off at six-freaking-thirty A.M. on “Wake Up, Whichever-City-We’re-In!

They’re awake now.

I learned—foster situation number two, specifically—my dimple has that effect on people. Thank God it stayed with me beyond the chubby-cheek baby phase. I can wield it like a sword, but that’s only for my second job. Other times, like today, I use it to give the people what they want. Because giving the people what they want is the best part of my day. Even if it’s at an unholy hour.

Four steps outside the studio, Jay starts in on me. Again. “Do you think that you could, for once, turn your thousand-watt smile down some? How are the rest of us supposed to compete? That make-up chick was under my spell until you Derricked her to death.”

I dive into the backseat of the SUV with Leth5l-standard blacked out windows. Can’t let fangirls or bad guys know our location. Though, I’d totally be down if some of the fangirls knew. “I wasn’t aware that my name is a verb now. Good to know. How, exactly, does one Derrick somebody?”

Dash slides in next to me, his untied tie flapping around his neck. “Don’t act like you don’t know.”

“I have no clue what you’re talking about.”

Maybe that’s a bit of a lie. Lying is one of the things I do best; lying, and carrying lead vocals.