Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Query Kombat Round 2: Tequila Mockingbird vs Don't Mess With An Assassin Mom

Title: Day of the Dead

Entry Nickname: Tequila Mockingbird

Word count: 89K

Genre: Adult Comedic Mystery


Claire Giannini is about to take the most terrifying step of her life – marriage. But she’ll have to find her missing fiancé first. When Andre vanishes in colonial San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, during their annual Day of the Dead festival, Claire overcomes her fears of enclosed spaces, mummified bodies, stampeding bulls and short bald men named Cyril, in order to search for him.

Still reeling from her father’s death, Claire can’t bear to lose another person she loves. Not without a fight, anyway. Relying on her journalism skills and Italian-Irish tenacity, she finally tracks down the man who can give her answers. But he inconveniently drops dead, leaving Claire as the prime suspect and in danger of becoming the next victim.

DAY OF THE DEAD is a story of lost love and what happens when you discover more about your partner – and yourself – than you bargained for. It is a humorous mystery in the vein of Carl Hiaasen and Janet Evanovich.

First 250:

The pregnant one frightened Claire most of all. Face twisted in agony as if the woman died mid-labour pain. Mouth frozen in a permanent scream. Midsection caved in like a collapsed soufflé.

“No epidural for you, I guess,” Claire whispered to herself. She looked around at the glass cases that lined the walls of the Museo de las momias and shuddered. When Danny said Andre was last seen in a museum, Claire pictured displays of old coins and broken pottery, not skeletal corpses with parchment skin and bared teeth. The mummified cadaver stretched out before her was naked to the ankles – resting for all eternity wearing nothing but a pair of filthy socks.

As horrified as she was, Claire couldn’t look away. Like the time her mother sang “I’m Every Woman” at karaoke.

She spun around to shake off the memory and spotted three teen girls snapping photos of themselves with the exhibits.

Mummy selfies. Peachy.

Between the jet lag and the sleepless nights since she got Danny’s call telling her that his nephew, Andre, was missing, Claire felt her head spin. What day was it again? Tuesday?

She’d intended to come down to Mexico to reconcile with Andre, not search for him. And to end up here? The thought that her plane had crashed and she was in hell crossed her mind.

What on earth had Andre been doing in this ghoulish place? He winced at the sight of a dead bird.



Entry Nickname: Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom

Word Count: 89K

Genre: Adult Thriller


To her family and friends, Marybeth Delay is the embodiment of the word "wholesome": she's a teacher, wife, and loving mother of two young children living in a small Minnesota town. But they don’t know that she was once, in a different lifetime, Valentina “Babyface” Nacosto, the New Jersey mob’s most prolific and mysterious killer. They don’t know that she had a child seventeen years ago, who died in a hit meant for her. They don’t know that the serenity of her new life is repressed denial of her old one.

Marybeth thinks the past is forever behind her until the morning she turns on the news — and discovers that her son is alive. Alive, and the focus of a furious FBI manhunt, along with Valentina’s ex-husband, fugitive mob boss Vincent "Nine Lives" Nacosto.

Valentina couldn't save her child from violence seventeen years ago. But she can now. And she will. She’ll get to him before the FBI does. She’ll be his way out—and she will risk her new family, her new life, her new peace to do it.

BABYFACE is told in both past and present timelines as Marybeth/Valentina comes to terms with who she was, who she is, and who she needs to be for both her families. Complete at 89,000 words, BABYFACE evokes a female John Wick crossed with the emotional conflict of A History of Violence. It will appeal to fans of Alafair Burke’s The Wife, Riley Sager’s Final Girls, and Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive.

First 250:

I have the Minnesota winter to blame for what I did today, and for everything I know I will do tomorrow.

The kids and I got back home at 3:30 from pickup. My fingers were numb. The heater in the minivan doesn’t work well, not in this kind of cold, and I forgot my gloves. It’s month two of my maternity leave and I really don’t have it together yet. Caroline was nagging me for Doc McStuffin the entire ride home and Jacob was screaming his little head off. I knew he was hungry. I knew because my breasts felt like two water balloons filled a hair short of bursting. But Jacob doesn’t latch; I have to pump. My stomach sank when I realized he was twenty minutes away from his meal.

Five tortured miles later, we made it home. I dragged the car seat into the living room. “Give mommy a second," I begged as he screamed louder. I felt like a PSA for birth control.

My eyes fell on the TV. Maybe the cartoon would distract him. I jabbed at the remote, my fingers blue and slow from cold. The TV jumped to life and I pressed the numbers. 3-1-3. Disney Junior. Jacob was still screaming when I headed to the foyer to retrieve the pacifier and the pump, wincing as my fingers came back to life in a series of potent little stabs. If he hadn’t been screaming, if I hadn’t been in pain, I would have noticed. I would have seen. I would have understood that I had the wrong channel.

I would have changed it.


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

    1. Tequila Mockingbird: This is my first time seeing this entry and I really love the premise! The query is a little short, yet concise. I think this gives you an opportunity to give a few more plot-specific details and voice to the query. The line “Not without a fight, anyways” feels cliché, as well as “Drops dead.” Does he actually drop dead or is he murdered? I also would love for the stakes to be a tad more urgent. The first 250 words are so full of voice, its hard not to love. The only thing I really paused on was that when Andre is first mentioned, we’re not sure what her connection to him is? Maybe make that clearer. Overall, a great entry! Best of luck with this!

      Don’t Mess with an Assassin Mom: This is another first time seeing an entry, and I have to say that this premise is right up my alley. The query feels long, and there’s a bit too much backstory in the first paragraph. I’m also trying to figure out how she turned on the news and suddenly knew her seventeen-year-old son from a quick shot. The first 250 words are vivid and pull me right in. Way to compete!

      Super hard decision here, but VICTORY goes to DON’T MESS WITH AN ASSASSIN MOM.

      ~Red Ink Slinger

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

      Tequila Mockingbird

      First, I love your entry nickname! Just had to get that out there. Now, onto the query…

      Is she nervous-excited about marriage or downright terrified? Because if she’s downright terrified (which is the vibe I get from the first sentence), I’m struggling to understand why she’d decide to search for her missing fiance to begin with. Because we don’t know the nature of their relationship — is it an arranged marriage? something else that would spark fear? — I don’t feel the emotional rationalization for confronting all those fears just to search for him. Does that make sense? I also wouldn’t reference Cyril in your query if we don’t get more information about him (i.e., what’s his part to play in the story, how it affects Claire/the plot, etc.).

      Ah — so she does love him (real-time reaction to the query, right here), according to the second graph. Which brings me back to my original point — why is she scared?

      The good news is, your query is on the short side, which gives you ample room to play up the stakes. Because right now, I’m a little fuzzy on what the actual stakes are. Becoming the next victim of what? Dropping dead or going missing like her fiance? What’s at risk if she does unearth the truth? These stakes need to be hammered in clearly so we understand the choices she has to make.

      There are a few places where you could restructure without filter words (i.e., “Claire felt her head spin”) to further entrench us in the MC’s POV, so I’d take a closer look at that. I noticed that you’re calling this a “comedic mystery,” but I’m a little thrown by her lack of … panic? Concern? She’s studying mummies at a museum and wondering about epidurals and karaoke instead of her missing fiance. Even when we learn that he’s missing, we get some head spinning, but then we’re back to the museum. I’m not sure if this is a case of the story starting in the wrong place or if we just need to add some more believable internal beats about her concern.

      Don’t Mess with an Assassin Mom

      I like this premise a lot, as well as all the mobster names you use in here. Kudos! Overall, your query is clean and I’m intrigued. There are just a few things here and there I’d finesse — specifically the stakes. Right now, there aren’t any. She’s going to save her son. She’s OK with risking her new family to do so. So … what’s at stake, then? Do they capture her two young children and force her to pick? Does ex-husband come to blows with new husband (if there is one)? I don’t know your story so I don’t know the scenario, but we definitely need to highlight the conflict she faces.

      So I believe a mom being too distracted with two kids to notice what channel she turned on the TV. But I’m not seeing how that correlates to a Minnesota winter? You can make note of the cold, that’s completely fine and adds to her frazzled nature, but I’m not sure blaming the winter really helps your start, here. I’d try to hone in on the chaotic nature of getting two kids through the door, needing to pump, trying to find the right channel, getting warmth in your hands, etc.

      Also, what happens to Caroline? If she’s screaming for Doc McStuffins, I’d think even just a small beat about how she plops down in front of the TV, eagerly awaiting her favorite show, would solve the “oh crap, is the girl still in the car” thought I had, haha.

      It could just be me, but I’m wondering if we fast-forward the scene a bit and start with Mom seeing the news broadcast. You know, pump in hand, shock on her face, not even mad that she dropped freshly pumped breast milk across the kitchen floor even though that would usually warrant tears. Screaming kid in the background dulled by a ringing sound in her ears as she sees the name of her ex — and his son — blared across the television. I’m not the author, so you’ll have to make the decision about where the best place to start is, but just something to consider.

      Tough decision here. I’m going to have to go with…



      My only issue with the query is that it doesn’t read comedic, and that is what you say it is. I also think the second paragraph can use a few details about what specific problems Claire runs into in trying to track down her husband. Right now it’s just that she has to find him, but it’s unclear what the obstacles are.

      For the 250, the only thing that tripped me up was the mention of the reconciliation with Andre. I got lost there and I’m not sure what you mean. It sounds like she came after she knew he was missing, so how could she reconcile? Anyway, something to think about.


      It’s Doc McStuffins not McStuffin. Now that that is out of the way, I have to say that I really like this concept! For the query, I wonder if it would be better if you phrase it as her having to choose between saving her son and keeping her current family safe. Instead of, “She’ll be his way out—and she will risk her new family, her new life, her new peace to do it,” you can mention that as danger mounts (but be specific as to how the danger is mounting), Valentina will have to decide whether she’s willing to risk her new family, new life, and new peace to save the son she never knew (or whatever). That really amps up the conflict/stakes!

      I like the first 250. You give us a glimpse of her life and get to the TV ad/commercial quickly. No real suggestions.

      There’s lots to like in both of these entries. One grabbed me a bit more. Good luck to you both!

      Victory to ASSASSIN MOM!

    4. Tequila Mockingbird

      Ohhhh this sounds like a fun story! I love your query, it clearly shows your inciting incident and the complications that come after it. I do think it might be better if your “sizzle” will show us what’s at stake for Claire.

      First 250:
      That epidural comment—I totally lol’d! And the mom singing karaoke—I feel her pain! :D I love your voice. I honestly want to read more.

      Don’t Mess with an Assassin Mom

      Ohhh this is interesting. And your comps—wow! This is also a well-written query, I love how it flows and I won’t change a thing. “Female John Wick” — sign me up!

      First 250:
      I can feel her frustration, especially since your query mentioned her being a former assassin.

      This is a hard one. I really like both, but one has voice that speaks to me more: VICTORY to TEQUILLA MOCKINGBIRD!

    5. Tequila Mockingbird
      Query: I love this query! Short and concise, with a humorous flair. I would like a hint of the reason behind her fiancé’s disappearance, along with a small bit about the dead man’s identity. Also, I recommend adding a “must” before “overcome,” so that you tell us what she must do to succeed instead of what she does.

      First 250:
      I wouldn’t want to change anything in this first page. It reads perfectly as it is, and I love how you characterize both Claire and Andre through Claire’s POV!

      Don’t Mess with an Assassin Mom
      Query: This sounds like a fantastic book with great stakes! My one critique is that the line “she will risk her new family, her new life, her new peace to do it” grabbed me and not in a good way. I immediately wondered if she had new children and if she was willing to jeopardize her new kids to save her son. Is she willing to bring the danger home and risk her kids’ lives?

      First 250:
      Love this! You’ve done a great job of hooking the reader and making them want to read more. I feel like there’s a bit too much backstory in the second paragraph and it drags down the speed of the intro. I don’t need to know right now that she’s on maternity leave, and it’s clear from the rest of the page that she recently gave birth.

      These were two of my favorite entries, but I’m going to have to go with the one that seemed a bit more polished.

    6. Tequila Mockingbird:
      I this concept. I also like that you mention Claire’s fears in the query. This automatically creates some obstacles for her, thereby upping the tension. I want more info from your query though. Can we have hint about the identity of the man who drops dead. If not his identity, maybe something like why Claire needs to find him, or some other detail. In general, there’s a good amount of description of the situation in your query, but not enough specifics of the plot. And I think your query’s word count is small enough that you have room to elaborate. I find Carl Hiassen’s work problematic, but in terms of tone, I think you’ve done a great job finding comp titles. I’m probably in the minority, thinking that, so I don’t want you to worry.
      Your first 250 sets the tone very well. Just like the comps, it shows me exactly what type of book to expect, and this is great. Be careful of your verb tenses, since there are many types of past tense. In your last sentence, “He winced…” immediately makes me think that he was right there beside Claire in that moment, seeing a dead bird and wincing. Instead, I’d try something like “he was the type of person who would wince…”.

      Don’t Mess with an Assassin Mom:
      I’m a huge fan of this concept, and your query is really strong. I suggest you remove the em-dash from the first sentence of the second paragraph. I think the sentence reads more smoothly without it and has even more impact. I love the stakes and the way they’re presented in the query. Your comp titles are cool, as far as I know, but you have too many. I’d stick to 2 or 3.
      In your first 250, I think you should work to make your sentences filter free, take out words that aren’t necessary, and make the voice as active and hard-hitting as possible. Ex: Instead of “I have the Minnesota winter to blame…”, try “I blame the Minnesota winter.” Then, try rephrasing the part about Jacob’s hunger and the MC’s breasts. Instead of repeating “I knew” twice, there are a few ways you could give those sentences more impact.
      I like the overall description of mom life. The small details drive home how the MC is feeling. I also like the idea of her cold fingers affecting the way she changes the channel. At the end, when you say “I would have noticed. I would have seen…” I don’t think this type of repetition at the beginning of subsequent sentences is bad per se, but I suggest you use it in moderation. I already mentioned the “I knew…I knew…” earlier, and your query says “They don’t know…They don’t know…” Obviously, the query is a separate thing; I just want to caution you in case that device appears a lot in your manuscript.
      Overall, I really like the situation being set up in the first 250, and the pacing, from what I can tell, is good for an adult thriller.


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

  2. Tequila Mockingbird

    Query: This seems pretty straight forward, but since I knew the genre was comedic mystery, I expected there to be more humor shining through in the query. If you could somehow put some more in, I think that would be a perfect way to show an agent what the manuscript is like.

    First 250: Good job showing humor on the first page! The only complaint I have is with the last line, and it's just my personal preference. I didn't understand what you were trying to say, so maybe it would be better phrased as "He would always wince at the sight of a dead bird."

    Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom

    Query: I seriously couldn't find anything wrong with it. You do such a good job showing the stakes and explaining your concept. I would LOVE to read this novel!

    First 250: You started your novel in the perfect place! I believe these two sentences could be combined: "Five tortured miles later, we made it home. I dragged the car seat into the living room." to make "When we made it home, I dragged the car seat into the living room." And shouldn't you mention what Caroline is doing when they get into the house? Did she stay behind in the car? And in the 2nd to last paragraph, instead of "the cartoon" I would put either the name of the cartoon or just the word 'cartoons'. And by the way, I adore this line: "I felt like a PSA for birth control."

    Good luck to both of you!

  3. Fellow Kombatant comments:

    TEQUILA: "Midsection caved in like a collapsed soufflé" -- egads, LOVE how much that makes my skin crawl-- ewww! It's a great line that pulls you right into the opening, and cues us in that this is a woman thinking about family life in some disturbing way. The writing in both the query and the 250 are crisp and full of voice. I feel like the query is a bit round-about-though... like it's working to be clever rather than to explain what the story is about. E.g., does it need to open with something as obvious as marriage being a terrifying step? Why not just jump in with something like, Claire's wedding would be perfect--if her fiance hadn't vanished like a phantom during San Miguel etc.'s Day of the Dead Festival. Similarly, "not without a fight" doesn't tell us much and is kind of a cliche--can't something substitute that stresses the stakes or delivers some more detail?

    All-in-all, though, this sounds like a fun story with vivid details and a vibrant setting. I like the juxtaposition of the mysterious disappearances mixed with celebratory milieus such as weddings and Day of the Dead. Interesting.

    BABYFACE: Similar thoughts here: The query opens talking about "her family and friends" when they have nothing to do with the story. Also rather than saying "she is embodiment of the word..." just describe her as being the embodiment of that word by describing her life. The whammy seems to come in the later paragraphs when we find out her son is still alive, and it gets better from there when we learn what MaryBeth has to give up for this second chance.

    The 250 starts off with very somber and poetic lines, with a feeling of self-importance It feels manipulative to me. Because from the query I don't buy that the Minnesota winter has a darn thing to do with anything that's going on in this story. So it feels like the writer is trying to be mysterious for the sake of being mysterious, as opposed to giving us any honest information. I like that it right away leads to the moment that she sees the news program where I assume she learns about her son having survived, and I think that might be where the query should start as well.

    I think this could be an intriguing story on the order of a Kill Bill, as long as you get to the crux of the mother-son drama and let the pertinence of the story drive our emotions, instead of looking to inject drama through the artifice of the language.


    I really like the premise here a lot! I agree with the previous poster about your first line... if she's in love and wanting to find her fiance later, why is that so terrifying to her in the first line? I think it could be stronger if that line is reworked. Also, at the end when you talk about the guy dropping dead, I think we need more information because the fear of her becoming the next victim just isn't that strong since we don't know what is happening to these victims. I like your first 250, though! Great voice, and the imagery is fantastic. So well done there!

    I love this query. It's concise and gives me a very clear idea of what this story is going to be about. Also, great comps. It is very obvious you understand your market and have done your research. Your first 250 is great, as well, though I don't quite get how the Minnesota cold has anything to do with the rest of it. But other than that, I love it! And I do love that line, I just don't see how it connects. So if you could show how the cold is responsible better, then it would be gold!

  5. Tequila Mockingbird

    Query: I love how you balance darker subject matter (i.e. disappearing fiancés and mummified bodies) with humor, and that shines through really well in your query. It’s got the right mix of serious stakes and cheek. I did think you had a couple of awkward spots here and there. The third sentence, for example, has a lot going on and it all kind of got jumbled up for me. I had to go back and reread it, and I think you could clean it up a little so it’s a smoother read. I also bumped on the “Not without a fight, anyway,” bit. You had such a strong, punchy line about not losing another person she loves, and I thought that line took some of the snap out of it. Altogether, though, this was a really well-written query. It made me excited to dive into the sample.

    First 250: I really enjoyed your first 250. The voice was spot-on, and you do a good job of setting up who Claire is from the get-go. Gotta love a morbid sense of humor, and the “collapsed souffle” line was awesome. Really painted a vivid picture. One part that I got a little caught up on was the “Danny’s call telling her that his nephew, Andre, was missing” part. I know from the query that Andre is the fiancé, so describing him as Danny’s nephew first and not her fiancé read a little weird, especially since you don’t clear that up before talking about reconciling. Even with that, it was an awesome read, and I can’t wait to see it on a shelf someday.


    Don’t Mess with an Assassin Mom

    Query: Gotta love mamas whoopin’ butt. I liked the juxtaposition of her “wholesome” persona and her brutal past in the opening line. It kind of lost a little steam for me near the end of the paragraph, though. It just felt very exposition-y. I think it might be the repetitive sentence structure. I know that it’s a way to get the info out that fits into your narrative, but it started to feel like a list, rather than a smooth-flowing introduction to the character. You had me at female John Wick, though. All she needs is a dog. (You might consider cutting a comp or two, though. Five feels like a lot. It starts to feel like comp soup.)

    First 250: Your writing is really solid, and this does a good job of setting up what the MC’s life looks like now. I wasn’t really sure I followed how everything was the winter’s fault, though. She doesn’t notice the TV because her kid was screaming and her fingers were in pain, so it’s not just the winter. At the same time, I’m not sure cold-numb fingers are enough of a distraction not to notice the TV (especially not compared to a screaming child), so I feel like you need Jacob in there to make it plausible. Is there any way you could change up the opener so that it encompasses more of what she was dealing with? It was a small nit, but any check you write with the first line, you really want to make sure what follows can cash. Love the tension you set up with the last few lines, though. Definitely made me want to read on!

    Good luck to you both!

  6. Tequila Mockingbird
    Query: I love this nickname! This query has a lot of potential, but currently, it’s full of clichés. I get that the “marriage is terrifying,” is supposed to be funny, but it’s really just a cliché—an old, silly, untrue cliché that’s usually followed by a “ball and chain” joke. I have trouble determining if the “terror” actually relates to their relationship or not, since it is a cliché. If Claire is genuinely scared or worried about something, I’d point out what it is. If not, I come up with an original “joke” or open with, or start with something that specifically relates to their relationship. The second paragraph gives some specific details about Claire, which is nice. But, “not without a fight,” and “drops dead” re also general, clichéd phrases. This is a short paragraph, so you could really go into specifics here. I’d take out “not without a fight...” Altogether, and just go into what she does. I’d make “drop dead,” more specific. Does he actually drop dead in front of her, while she’s holding a knife, or something? Is that how she ends up as the number one suspect? Why does him dying put her in danger? Again, you have the room, so I’d give a few more details.
    Small point: I’d take out the name “Cyril.” Typically, you don’t want to just mention a name once in a query and then never reference it again or tie it into the plot.

    First 250: There’s a ton of voice in your opening lines—I’d love to see more of it in the query. Claire doesn’t come across as the type of woman who would buy into clichés. Though I understand the story is meant to be humorous, I’d make her just a tad more concerned about her missing fiancé. We get more about the mummies than her worry. Also, I see the word “reconcile” in the 250. Does that mean she’s scared to marry Andre because they’ve been having problems? If that the case, and the “terror” is more than a cliché, I’d make your query opening line more specific, or follow it up with a specific detail about their relationship. Overall, the first 250 are really good.

    Don't Mess with an Assassin Mom
    Query: Overall, I like this query. The character is clear, the timeline is clear. The only thing I don’t have a great grasp on are the stakes. I see the drama, certainly, but not the stakes. How is she risking her family? Do they get kidnapped, or do they just find out her secret? How does she risk her new life? By revealing her real identity to the FBI, who would presumably put her in jail because she’s a murderer? Now that I’ve said it, I don’t actually like the MC very much, but that’s not a deterrent. Not every MC has to be likable. Hopefully, the story explores that. It usually takes a lot to feel any sort of sympathy, or empathy, for a murderer.
    Really, I’d just add some specifics to the stakes.

    First 250: The weather doesn’t read like it’s at fault, to me. If she’s lived in Minnesota for a while, she’s probably really used to the cold. The rest of her morning is definitely at fault. Busy life of a Mom on her own. Personally, I’d start the story with her turning on the tv, rather than the long lead-in to it, but that’s just me. I do like the details or her life—they’re very realistic.