Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Query Kombat Round 2: I'll Stand Bayou vs Sister Witches Who Kick Butt

Title: Warden of the Lost

Entry Nickname: I'll Stand Bayou

Word Count: 99K

Genre: Adult Fantasy


Thaddeus Fortier is a Warden of New Orleans, guardian and peacekeeper to all things that go bump in the bayou. The job’s got terrible benefits: zero sick days, no dental, and it comes with a sort of compulsive conscience that keeps Wardens walking the straight and narrow. Murder, mayhem, even little white lies—all off the table for the city’s supernatural guardians. Which is downright problematic for a man like Thad, who’s hell-bent on avenging the murders of his mother and brother. He’s got the whodunit down; all signs point to the city’s resident racketeer, a bougie backwater baron named Papa Ru. The trick is convincing the spirit of New Orleans that there’s more to Thad’s mission than a good old-fashioned revenge plot—preferably before Papa Ru makes good on his promise to turn Thad into gator bait.

Thad’s got a plan. Wardens and supernaturals are going missing around town, and they’re turning up dead if they turn up at all. It stinks of Papa Ru and his one-man war on all things otherworldly, and if Thad can connect the dots back to him, it might be just what he needs to convince the city to let him have his vengeance. But with Papa Ru’s threat hanging over his head, and more pissed-off supernaturals than he can stir with a stick, it might just be Thad who’s next on the list of the lost.

WARDEN OF THE LOST is a mash-up of Elmore Leonard’s whackjob crime novels and Neil Gaiman’s darkly bizarre supernatural stories, and would appeal to fans of fantasy, horror, and magical realism alike.

First 250:

The taxi driver blinked at me in the rearview with glazed-over eyes. “Where to?” he asked. His voice had the dull monotone of somebody who’d said the same two words so many times they’d stopped sounding like words. Just reflex, now. The bless you after a sneeze that just wouldn’t quit.

Three pine tree fresheners dangled from the mirror, and I still smelled something rancid-sweet wafting up from the upholstery.

“Belle Knoll cemetery,” I said.

The driver’s eyebrows ticked up toward his hairline. “Funeral?”

“Yeah.” Not exactly tough math to do: black suit, dark tie, headed to a graveyard. It was the kind of no-shit question that begged for a sarcastic answer, but I’d lost my sense of humor with my luggage at the last layover.

I looked away from the rearview to watch the airport traffic give way to good old New Orleans highway. Flat land, green grass, that unlikely mix of palm trees and crepe myrtles growing side-by-side—I’d figured I wouldn’t ever see it again, but the city had her own ideas. And Lord, she could be a real bitch about getting her way.

“Friend or relative?” the driver asked. The question fell on the wrong side of personal, but neither of us batted an eye. Taxi drivers are the bartenders of the road: you sit in their seats, you tell them your woes, and you walk away with a lighter heart—and a lighter wallet. It’s a pine-scented taste of everyday magic, and it’s true what they say: all magic has a price.


Title: Destiny's Sister

Entry Nickname: Sister Witches Who Kick Butt

Word Count: 62K

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy (#Ownvoices)


Sixteen-year-old Draya has always been ‘one of the triplets’, which is weird because she and her sisters don’t get along at all. But Draya hopes that will change when they join the Ukatha, a society of African-American witches skilled in combat, weaponry, and spell-casting.

Draya is excited to learn magic, even if there are some drawbacks to using it for personal gain (who knew conjuring up a Louis Vuitton purse could get her arrested for shoplifting?). And it might not be a good idea to use her magic to get back at one of her haters at school, although she’s tempted. Besides, she can’t let anyone know she’s a witch, not even her boyfriend, if she wants to keep her people from being exposed to the world.

As Draya struggles to keep her magical and social lives separate, she tries to develop a closer bond with her sisters, but it’s not easy when they’re all so different—her sisters care about lame stuff like vegetarianism and cosplaying, whereas Draya is into fashion and going to the hottest teen parties. However, the triplets will need each other more than ever with the African male witch hunters—called kegali—coming after the Ukatha. When one kegali clan attempts to kidnap the triplets in order to use their magic to kill other witches, the girls train harder than ever to become strong enough to stop them. And Draya learns that working together with her sisters to fight against their enemies is just as important as keeping her individuality.

DESTINY’S SISTER is a YA African-inspired urban fantasy novel complete at 62,000 words. Filled with humor, magic, and sisterly bonding, this novel is like the TV show CHARMED with a mix of Zulu witch culture.

First 250 Words:

Whoever thinks triplets have an instant bond when they’re born should meet the Zennelle sisters, which I am one-third a part of, and which has driven me one-third crazy. No, maybe one-half.

“Draya, I thought you said I could wear the silver hoop earrings!” yelled my sister, Alaya, stomping across the carpet to where I sat at our vanity mirror. In the reflection, the crease between her eyebrows told me she was massively pissed.

Yep, definitely one-half.

I finished clipping the first earring onto my ear. “It’s whoever got to them first. And I got to them first.” I gave her reflection a smug smile as I put on the last earring.

“Mama! I told you I needed my own pair of silver hoop earrings! Why do we have to share everything?

Ah, disadvantage #1 of being triplets. Mama thinks she has to buy only one of everything and we can all share it. Even a car. Like, who wants to share a car when we all have separate social lives?

“You can wear my gold ones, Alaya!” Mama hollered from her bedroom.

I spun away from the vanity mirror. “What? You know, I’ve changed my mind, Alaya. You can have these earrings.”

“No, I’m fine now.” She rushed out of our room, her dress fluttering behind her.

I sucked my teeth in annoyance. I swear, after this ceremony, I might consider using a spell to zap my sisters to another country for a week. I’d try to have them back by next Friday. Keyword: try.


  1. JUDGES ONLY: Please reply to this comment with your feedback and match decision. Thank you!

    1. Congrats on making it to round two of QK!

      I’ll Stand Bayou

      Your voice is excellent, and I love the concept you’ve got here. Someone who wants to do wrong, but can’t? I dig it. That said, because there are so many details in the query, I am a little confused as to why. At first, I thought the “compulsive conscience” was a supernatural effect keeping him from acting. But then he has to convince the spirit of New Orleans to let do what he wants? So is it a permission-based thing? A magical tie-down? Or is he just a super law-abiding citizen and the thought of exacting revenge goes against everything he’s ever stood for? If you could find a way to weave that little detail in there somehow, it might clear up a bit of the world building (i.e., is he really supernatural or not, especially since you distinguish between the two with “Wardens and supernaturals are going missing…”).

      This cynical voice is stellar. Seriously. I have very little to give in the ways of feedback. The word choice you use, the details you incorporate — I’m definitely in the cab with him. Such a perfect final line for your first 250, too. Let me know where I can sign up to buy this when it’s on the shelves!

      Sister Witches Who Kick Butt

      I watched Charmed nonstop growing up, so this speaks to my heart. We need more witch stories! And sister bonding? Perfect.

      I’m a bit confused as to why she can’t let anyone know she’s a witch. It’s hinted at as a bad thing in the intro graph, but then the main stakes seem to be about the kegali coming after them. If not outing she’s a witch is a subplot, then it might not need to be referenced in the query (and gives you the opportunity to tighten it up a bit, which you can use to answer some questions about their unique society).

      Also, what’s the kegali’s motive? Why do they want to kill other witches? What’s in it for them? Sure, they’re witch hunters, but then why kidnap the triplets in particular? Do they have some sort of magic that makes it easier to kill other witches?

      Great voice! Super nitpicky, but I’d probably restructure this sentence like so: “Ah, disadvantage number one of being triplets: Mama thinks she has buy only one of everything and we can all share it.” But seriously, nitpicky. Other than that, I’d like a few more concrete details here and there to really ground us in the setting. Right now, we get a lot of her internal thoughts.

      Gossshhhhh this is so difficult! Both of these entries have fantastic and unique voices. Merrr. I don’t wanna pick. But I have to, so …


    2. I’ll Stand Bayou: I can see the effort you put into improving this query letter, especially removing the extra character. I also love that you tied the title into the stakes sentence. I’m still in love with the voice in both the query and the first 250 words!

      Sister Witches Who Kick Butt: This is my first time reading this query and first 250 words, and I have to say the premise is awesome. I am concerned about all the passive sentences in the query, and I almost want to know more about how different from her sisters she is at the beginning. I’d also recommend that you change the summary sentence to be more of a stakes sentence. Something like “Draya must learn to cooperate with her sisters and become stronger as a magical unit if they hope to stop the kegali from destroying Ukatha.” Part of what I’m confused about is why her not telling others is important and if that should come into the stakes as well. The first sentence in the 250 words is really long and passive. I’d encourage you to break it up to make more of an impact. Despite its length, I’d say this has a lot of voice, which I really appreciate and almost want more of in the query. I’d love a few more details on setting and her sister in addition to the internal thoughts you give us here. Overall, a really great entry!

      Super hard decision here, but VICTORY goes to I’LL STAND BAYOU.

      ~Red Ink Slinger


      I went through each of these several times, trying to find something constructive to add, but I have to say that I think the queries get the job done and anything I’d suggest wouldn’t necessarily make them better—just different. I think agents will definitely get a sense of what the story is about, which is the entire point of a query, so I’m hesitant to suggest for the sake of suggesting.

      The same is true for the 250s. Both strong, both infused with voice. For SISTER WITCHES, my one suggestion would be to slow down the introduction of the sisters just a tad. You have all three plus Mom in this first 250. We’re going to need to know each of them, their personality differences, how they interact with each other, and slowing that part down could help ground the story a bit more.

      Overall, two great entries with interesting concepts. This is another close one, but one intrigued me more.

      Victory to SISTER WITCHES!!!

    4. I’ll Stand Bayou
      Query: Strong query with clear stakes and setting. I feel like you spend slightly too much time describing the job of the Warden, instead of focusing on the deaths of his mother and brother. I would have liked to see more about why Papa Ru might have killed his relatives, and also what else is at stake if Thad does not peg Papa Ru for the murders. How will this affect the grander scheme of things for the citizens of New Orleans?

      First 250: Fantastic intro. I love how you begin in medias res and seed hints throughout the first page. I feel that this beginning is very strong and I unfortunately don’t have any critiques.

      Sister Witches who Kick Butt
      Query: Great query and premise. I would like to know a little more about the kegali. I feel like you bring them in slightly too late, especially since they seem like such an essential part of the plot.

      First 250: I love this intro and how you show the sibling dynamics so effortlessly. I also love how you incorporate the triplets aspect into her feeling 1/3 crazy and being 1/3 part of the sisters. I think when you say one-half the first time, you should specify that she is being driven “maybe one-half crazy.”

      Both these entries are great, but I have to go with the one that resonated with me more and had a stronger voice.

    5. I’ll Stand Bayou

      Interesting premise! You might want to divide your first paragraph in two—it’s too long. Also, you might want to focus more on the story’s plot instead of the character’s background.

      First 250:
      I love the voice in this one. It has the right amount of snark, which I like. You also manage to integrate magic in such a modern-day setting—it just comes naturally.

      Sister Witches Who Kick Butt

      Oh. I LOVE this. The voice, the premise! I want to read this right now! One thing though… You might want to add a bit more to the query’s “sizzle.” End it with a bang by showing us what Draya and her sisters have got to lose, what’s at stake.

      First 250:
      I love your voice. Draya is funny and snarky. You might want to find a different word for “crazy” though, because using this in such context gives the connotation that mental illness is a bad thing.

      Okay, this going to be a totally subjective vote. Both have amazing voice and premise, but I love sister stories so VICTORY to SISTER WITCHES WHO KICK BUTT.

    6. I'm having internet problems, so I will post a comment with feedback later.

    7. I’ll Stand Bayou:
      Your query is really strong! I’d take out the sentence “Thad’s got a plan” at the beginning of the second paragraph; it’s not the best turning point from Thad wanting revenge to Thad going after Papa Ru, because this phrasing makes it seem like Papa Ru’s evil antics are a part of Thad’s plan. As we read further in the paragraph, we realize it’s more of an opportunity, unless Thad has been watching Papa Ru for a while specifically to catch him doing something evil. I love the way the stakes are given. The third paragraph is also great.
      Your first 250 is well-written but more fact-based than feeling-based. Facts are good, and in fact, I think the voice is good. However, since Thad’s going to a funeral, I’d like just the tiniest hint of how he feels about this, even if it’s just from the voice. I suggest upping the tension a little. I like the last few sentences.

      Sister Witches Who Kick Butt:
      Good query. I especially like the humor. Just be careful not to let the setup and general info of the query outweigh the plot details.
      In your first 250, the phrasing of the first sentence is awkward. However, overall, this is a great page! The voice shines through clearly, and the situation is funny and relatable. I especially like the last few sentences.

      This is so tough, as both entries are awesome! Congrats and respect to both authors, who have done an awesome job. Best wishes.


  2. Hi, Fellow Kombatant here (A Boy Named Pez)

    Starting off, I adore the humor and voice in this writing! I'm a fan of Terry Pratchett, and this is exactly the sort of thing I would read. So, well done! I don't have that much to offer in terms of feedback because I think this is executed very nicely. I will say that for the query, I was a tad confused as to whether the MC is also supernatural himself or if he's a warden TO supernaturals? From the 250, I get the sense that he's human, though it actually could be comedic to have a supernatural being in a taxi. But, maybe I'm just missing something. Starting on the way to a funeral, yet told with humor, really enticed me to read more. Overall, the writing is very efficient and comedic so kudos to you.

    I really enjoyed this too, especially the mix of humor with magic! I haven't seen too many things that mix those two elements, so I think that would set this book apart. Nice work on the query! I liked how I got a good sense of the MC's internal conflict as well as the exterior conflict with the kidnapping. So, I appreciate that the story will explore deeper themes of family/identity in addition to intriguing plot elements of magic/kidnapping. For the 250, I will say that I'm torn on this as a starting point. The writing is humorous and really enjoyable. And I do like setting these triplets up in a very common situation amongst sisters as fighting over earrings. I could totally relate! Which is really nice. I was just wondering about perhaps mentioning the magic or ceremony earlier to pull me in. You get there at the end and that may be enough! I think it's just tough to judge since we only have 250 words to work with. But, possibly consider sprinkling in a mention of the magic sooner to entice readers from the opening paragraph. It may be best as you have it, but thought it could be worth exploring. This story is so much fun and I'd definitely want to read it!

    I found both really enjoyable so I'm glad I'm not a judge! Good luck to both of you!

  3. BAYOU: I read this last round and feel like you've tightened up the query significantly-- the detail in the phrasing you've added really grabbed me! It's much easier to follow, but there are still a few places that made me stop to think, and why give an agent a reason to disengage, so here they are: How can supernaturals turn up dead if they're already dead, and what is Papa Ru's threat? Great job revising either way, though! The 250 is well written although we don't get to see any of the magic world in the query yet... which is OK except in the context of this contest!

    Also, and this holds for almost every entry: The nick name is clever and concise and I love it and it should probably be the title. "I'll Stand Bayou" is adorable!

    WITCHES: The writing is clear and fresh from the get-go here-- nice work! My caveat, especially as a huge Charmed fan: We get the parallel to the show immediately just by the reference to sister Witches, so I feel it starts to veer toward the derivative when you actually use the same lexicon terms as in the show, e.g. "personal gain." Can you invent your own terminology for this kind of transgression? It can't be a bad thing to focus on what makes your story unique as opposed to what is pulled from the source inspiration-- especially when the comp is immediately clear. The writing in the narrative is strong, fun, and engaging, so I'd only say take every opportunity to infuse your own originality into the story, and make it your own. It will lift it that much higher while still being a fantastic draw for the Charmed audience.

    Great job to both of you! Best wishes!

  4. I’ll Stand Bayou

    You have me immediately with the first line in the query - “…that go bump in the bayou.” That’s great. I was slightly confused about the conscience (is this like a jiminy cricket deal?) But that barely makes me pause. This query would definitely make me want to read more. (Actually, it sounds like something my bookclub would eat up – can’t wait till it’s published so I can put it on our to-read list.)

    250 –
    Fantastic first paragraph. Immediately gets us into the voice and the scene without being “telly”. Extremely minor thing – I think putting “along with” instead of just “with” his luggage at the last layover conveys the meaning a bit better. I read it, then read it again, then laughed. But that’s so minor, if it doean’t sound right to you – go with what reads best in YOUR mind.
    Can I just say – I hate taxi drivers that ask me a million questions. But in this scenario, I love that it’s happening because it’s bringing in my own personal experience to the story so I can relate.

    I have nothing more to add here! Great job! Best of luck!

    Sister Witches who Kick Butt

    First line I was caught on the word “weird”. Is it “weird” or just annoying? Then I read the second line and was like … “THAT WOULD BE SO COOL.”
    An “Afircan-inspired” YA version of “Charmed” sounds really awesome. I could totally see loving seeing how the sister interplay goes down. I also think you did a great job introducing unfamiliar words and meanings – which is a really hard thing to do, especially in a query.

    The first sentence feels a little long to pack a punch, but I did really like the “1/3 crazy” thing. Great voice you’ve established in just 250 words. Any girl with a sister can relate to what you have here.

    Great job! Good luck!

  5. I'll Stand Bayou

    You just had to go and choose a nickname based on a catchy song, didn't you? I have been humming to myself all day, thanks to you. :)

    Okay, in all seriousness, onto the feedback...

    I think you do a great job of bringing across the voice of your character. I can tell a lot about his personality before I even get to the opening page. I would suggest some caution that you don't sacrifice voice for clarity, though. For example, I was a bit confused by this line:

    "The trick is convincing the spirit of New Orleans that there’s more to Thad’s mission than a good old-fashioned revenge plot."

    Why exactly does he need permission from the spirit of New Orleans to act? Is it a single entity or a group of entities? What happens if he acts without permission? I think this could be made a little more clear.

    I think your comparison to Neil Gaiman is great--it gave me an even better picture of what to expect.

    First 250:
    You capture a lot in this opening page. I like the back and forth with the taxi driver and the comparison to a bartender. It just captures the feel of the neighborhood and the attitude of both its people and the protagonist. I can't find much fault with the page as it is. The only thing I might suggest looking out for in the manuscript as a whole--sometimes cynical protagonists can be hard to sympathize with. When the protagonist takes a nonchalant attitude towards everything he encounters, it can wear on the reader after a while. I'm guessing from your query that isn't the case for Thaddeus at all. It sounds like he has a lot he cares about. I'm just not sure how far into the story we get before we see him get emotional, so that might be something to consider.

    Sister Witches Who Kick Butt

    First 250
    I meant to read your query first, and my eyes were just drawn to your opening line. It was awesome. I'm a teacher by day, and I've taught two sets of twins and two sets of triplets. So while it wasn't reminiscent of direct personal experience, it was still refreshing to see you introduce the tension that can form between siblings right off the bat. I laughed out loud when the gold earrings came into play and all of a sudden, Draya is feeling super generous with her silver ones. I feel like that's something everyone can relate to, even people without siblings. The voice is spot on, and Draya seems like a fun and energetic character to spend pages with.

    There is some jumping between present and past tense in your opening page. I was able to follow it without any issue, but I know some people getting picky about that sort of thing. You may want to consider putting some of the present tense sentences in past tense for the sake of consistency. Other than that, I think this is spot on.

    Your story sounds like a blast. I felt so bad for Draya when I got to the line about conjuring up a Louis Vuitton purse. It's an awesome glimpse into what the book with bring without being a laundry list of events.

    I was slightly confused about the phrase, "African male witch hunters," since that could mean males who hunt witches or hunters who target male witches. I assume it's the former, since they go after the sisters, but I think shortening it to "witch hunters" might be a bit smoother.

    Small quibble, but I don't think you need to specify that Draya is going to the "hottest teen parties." She's a teen, so I assume the parties she attends are teen parties. :)

    These are all very minor suggestions. The query as a whole is superb and made me want to read the book, which is the entire point of a query.

    I hope this is useful! Best of luck to you both!

  6. I'll Stand Bayou

    Query: Maybe it's just me, but if your story takes place in New Orleans, I want to get more of that flavor, even in the query. I do love all of the other supernatural going-ons that are occurring around the setting, but NO is a character unto itself. I just feel like that element is somehow missing in the query.

    First 250: Wow! The writing, though. I love how this scene is paced, and the voice is phenomenal: "The bless you after a sneeze..." My story also starts with dialogue, and one thing I've heard a lot though is that we are kind of left adrift in a conversation, even though yours is quite tight and clearly defined in a taxi. I also like how you actually do show NO more in the first 250 pages. I might incorporate an event that happens in NO (Mardi gras?) that ties it all together. Otherwise, not really sure why NO is important, besides all the ghosts.

    Sister Witches Who Kick Butt

    Wow wow! Now that's how to write a query! I love every detail of this, and also the flow. It works so well.

    First 250: I like the voice, and it does match the query, but...I don't know. I think the fashion plays a much larger part in this than I initially thought. You do make it clear that that's going to be a major portion of this since your protagonist loves fashion, but it just seems a bit much so early on. Still, that's just a personal opinion. If that's who your character is, then by all means, keep with it. It just doesn't pull me along as much as that stellar query. I'm still thinking about the sisters together. That really gets me enthused--the confrontation of sisters. Good luck to the both of you.

  7. Bayou: Your query and first 250 both have an amazing voice. Really well done. I’m not usually so much into Elmore Leonard, but a dash of Gaiman in there just might get me to read. I guess my one nitpick for the query is wondering why the supernaturals are pissed off. Occupational hazard? Something else that Thad did? Or do I have to read the book to find out?

    Sister Witches: You, too, have a great voice, and even though I didn’t grow up with my two sisters, I can imagine it all going something like what you portrayed here. (Without us being actual witches. *grin*) In your query, I stumbled a little over the third paragraph — it starts with Draya trying to form a closer bond with her sisters but closes with her understanding that working together with them is important. It seemed to me that if she was trying to bond with her sisters, she already sensed that importance. But that’s a minor nitpick to an otherwise really good entry.

    Good luck to both of you!