Title: Only When I Fall
Entry Nickname: From Gutters to Galleries
Word count: 80K
Genre: Upmarket Fiction

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

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

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

First 250:
The Museum of Fine Arts was humming. Patrons clopped around on marble tile toward the new Vermeer exhibit, loners sketched landscapes in their spiral pads, and tour guides directed groups between potted ferns from the European galleries to the Americas. An odd tang of coffee and parmesan wafted from the café on the first floor.

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

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

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

Finishing up with her customer, Mia approached.

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

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

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

“Not today.”

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

Title: The Henchman
Entry Nickname:  Stands By Until He Doesn’t
Word count: 97,700
Genre:  Literary Thriller
Rye wants to get through the night without getting his ass kicked, arrested, or shot—after all, he’s in his good suit. As a henchman in a ruthless gang, Rye isn’t optimistic. Contending with bent cops, hitmen, vigilantes, and even the occasional hero usually puts a guy in in the hospital or worse. His best hope of survival is looking the other way and not getting attached. 
Gwen lives in an apartment full of unpacked boxes—the remnants of the normal life she abandoned to search for her missing sister. Spending her nights in bars canvassing for information, Gwen stumbles into Rye at his favorite dive. Despite his doubts, Gwen draws him into her hunt.
As Rye helps Gwen, he sinks deeper into the New York City underworld, where his boss, Brian King, jockeys for power and pursues a troublesome young hero. With each body Rye helps King bury, Rye puts another piece of his humanity into the ground.
When Gwen’s quest puts her in King’s sights, he abducts her. But before Rye can act, he’s confronted with the gang’s darkest scheme—a crime so heinous, he can’t look away. Now Rye must choose between saving innocent lives or the woman he’s come to love.
First 250:          
I should’ve worn a different suit. But it was an important meeting, so I wore my best one. Now I was standing in a drizzle, among the dumpsters in a dark alley strewn with trash, hoping it wasn’t getting ruined. If they had told me that I’d be out there with the garbage, I would’ve worn something that would blend in. Maybe something off the rack. But there I was in a thousand-dollar suit. So were Vlad and the two Korean guys that Ko had out there with us. Four guys, in a back alley, in thousand-dollar suits. If a cop looked down that alley, he’d have all kinds of probable cause. Probably because one of the Korean guys was carrying a submachine gun. And wearing sunglasses. At night. In the rain. Then again, any cop who passed this alley was probably on the take. Maybe he’d even have an umbrella he could lend us.
Vlad lit a cigarette, then held it in his cupped hand so it wouldn’t get wet. Water beaded on his shaved head. He held the pack out to the rest of us, but I waved him off. The guy with the sunglasses took one.
“You guys know how long this is going to go on for?” I asked.
Nobody answered. Sunglasses took a drag.
“If this is going to be a while,” I said, “we should put someone at the street end of the alley. Right now, an entire SWAT team could be down there and we wouldn’t know.”
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    • Both entries are strong!

      From Gutters to Galleries:
      -Great plot, clear conflict, clear stakes… very intriguing!
      -The phrase "help people throw away their dreams" sounds poetic but seems confusing.
      -The sentence starting with "A posh art dealer" is too wordy (I think); I'd tighten it up.
      -Overall, query is good!
      -The first 250 is great! It communicates to the reader what's happening right away and sets up the storyline well.
      -I think the transition between "a different kind of customer stepped into the cafe…" and " She saw Tris…" is a bit awkward.

      Stands By Until He Doesn't:
      -Excellent writing!
      -Love the sentence "With each body Rye helps King bury…"
      -Clear stakes and plot in your query
      -The last paragraph of your query might need one more phrase/transition between the first and second sentence. It doesn't quite seem to fit to start the second sentence with "but."
      -Overall, query is good!
      -Your first 250 is good. I'd like to see a little more emphasis placed on why we should care about the main character. I know it's really hard, but I feel like there's more of a focus on setting than on quickly endearing us to the MC, which is important.
      -I'd say "Now I stood" instead of "Now I was standing" but that's up to you!

      Victory to From Gutters to Galleries!

    • From Gutters to Galleries:
      Query: Sounds super intriguing! Great synopsis, with plenty of fascinating details and a story that's obviously been intricately planned. Very Jean-Michel Basquiat! �� My only concern is that there is a LOT going on here for a pitch. For the sake of brevity and clarity, you could lightly streamline the descriptions of the various nemeses in the 2nd paragraph.
      1st 250: I'm not as drawn in as I could be by the "zoom in from above" type of description in the first paragraph. It might create more intrigue to start the story with the main character's POV, and reveal the location after that—then you get two moments of surprise, the reveal of Tris buying drugs and the reveal of him doing it in such a posh location.

      Stands By Until He Doesn't:
      Query: Lots of good noir-ish action is hinted at here! Since the story is presented from Rye's viewpoint, I find myself wanting to know a little more about what makes him different from "just another henchman"—a quick clue as to why I should care about him as a character. "a troublesome young hero" threw me because it's a little vague. Clarify, maybe? Another quick suggestion: vary your sentence structure just a bit more: there are a lot of sentences with similar length and rhythm (e.g. "when X happens, Y does this.")
      1st 250: Definitely sets the tone and makes me want to read more. Good details, and the narrative voice is coming through well. My main suggestion is that the descriptive details in the first paragraph could be sprinkled in rather than front-loaded—making that change would put more emphasis on the action and move things forward a little more quickly.

      Victory to From Gutters to Galleries!

    • From Gutters to Galleries:

      Query: The first line really grabbed me—nice work! I wasn’t sure what drug she was selling at the cafe until the end though, and think it might have a bigger punch if it's named earlier. The second paragraph had great info, but there was almost too much packed into one particular sentence.

      First 250: I wasn’t as drawn into your 250 as I was the query. It wasn’t until the end of the 250 that I got excited to keep reading. I agree with one of the other judge's suggestion about revealing the location later.

      Stands By Until He Doesn't:

      Query: Another query with a great first line! The end of the query didn’t have the same punch though and I didn’t feel as excited as I had in that first sentence.

      First 250: The first 250 was definitely stronger and I felt dropped into the action. The tension was high and I wanted to keep reading!

      This is a tough call! For me, FGtoG had the stronger query, but SBUHD had a stronger 250. That being said:
      Victory goes to: From Gutters to Galleries

    • From Gutters to Galleries—

      Query: Great opening! It makes me want to know more, and gains my sympathy right away for the main character, even though she’s a drug dealer.
      In the second paragraph, the sentence starting with “a posh art dealer” tripped me up. It was long and tricky to follow. I would delete the phrase “and his sights set on his next mark” to clean things up a bit. We don’t need to know that much about the posh art dealer—the fact that he’s got a trail of disappearing protégés is enough, and adding the second bit is too much since you’re going on to describe two more people in the same sentence. You also might consider rewording so that it’s clear at the very beginning of that sentence that we will be getting a list. For example, “But not everyone searching for Tris means him well. There’s a posh art dealer … required to evict the homeless. And they’re all closing in on the abandoned…”
      I like the stakes as listed in the third paragraph and how you’ve stated what Mia has to do. In the final sentence, however, it seems like the perspective shifts. In that sentence, it’s Tris who must shake the heroin in his veins, and not the MC Mia who is saving the day. If this is a dual POV story, make sure you mention that. If it’s not, I would try rewriting that last line so it’s clear what Mia’s role in the resolution will be. Something like, “With pursuers closing in … Mia must convince Tris to …”

      First 250: I love this! I like the scene you’ve set, how you’ve showed me Mia’s hidden tattoos and her pink hair. And I love, love, love the description of Tris’s hair and how you’ve compared it to a neglected houseplant. Also the last line is great. Really well done!

    • Apparently I'm too long winded and my word count was not allowed. 🙁 So here is part 2 of my comments…

      Stands By Until He Doesn’t—

      Query: Killer first line. I laughed out loud at the bit about the good suit. It would be really cool if you pulled the last line of the first paragraph (about Rye not getting attached) back in at the end of the second paragraph. Like, “Despite his doubts, Gwen is able to draw Rye in, causing him to violate his number one rule of survival: don’t get attached.”

      Regarding the third paragraph, is Rye being pulled deeper into the NYC underworld as a direct result of helping Gwen, or is this just happening simultaneously but not as a result of? Make sure that distinction is clear. You might want to consider starting this paragraph with “Deep in the NYC underworld, Rye’s boss, Brian King, jockeys for power…” That way we have an intro to Rye, an intro to Gwen, and an intro to the sinister forces driving your story. Also, the “troublesome young hero” line is pretty vague. Is this referring to Rye or some other hero? And if it’s some other hero, give us a reason to care about him. If he’s just some random guy, then the reader doesn’t care that King is after him. I love the way you’ve ended this paragraph, with the bit about Rye burying a piece of himself with each body. That is fantastic.

      The final paragraph ties things up nicely and leaves us with clear stakes. Good job. It would be even stronger if you hint at what King is planning to do to Gwen after he abducts her, but I wouldn’t add too much in the way of new information here. A hint is enough. Overall nice job setting up the story and the stakes here. I’m intrigued.

      First 250: Great atmosphere you’ve created here. I love the conflicting images of the thousand dollar suits and the garbage. And the line about how he should have worn something off the rack is priceless! I like the guy in the sunglasses, and the casual way they are hanging out, even though they’re clearly up to no good. My only little note is in the first paragraph, with the line “So were Vlad and the two Korean guys that Ko had out there with us.” Saying “out there” pulls the reader out of the story a bit, because Rye wouldn’t say “out there”, he’d say “out here”, since the guys were there with him at that moment. Reword to fix this. One option: “So were Vlad and the two Korean guys Ko had sent.” Same comment goes for the line “If a cop looked down that alley.” He should say “If a cop looked down this alley,” since he’s there too.

      Overall great job. I want more!

      This is a really tough choice! I’m going to have to go with the entry that, for me, was a bit cleaner in the flow of information in both the query and the 250. But I want to read them both!!

      Victory to From Gutters to Galleries!

    • From Gutters to Galleries
      You have a fascinating premise here, and I enjoy the dark element you’ve woven into your query. I like how Mia doesn’t come across as an ordinary hero, but a character caught up in a bad situation, forced to support her daughter by also enabling the drug addictions of others, including her former lover.
      Your first 250 words start off at a good pace and immediately grabbed my attention. However, I would have liked a little less description concerning Mia’s appearance. While I enjoy knowing what the protagonist looks like, I think you can wait until later into the chapter to describe her. At this point, I just want to find out what happens next.

      Stands By Until He Doesn't
      Query: Good query, with a strong premise and intriguing story. Overall, I thought it was well written and presented the conflict well. However, I didn’t really understand how a “troublesome young hero” played into the novel. Instead of intriguing me, it mainly confused me and forced me to read back through the query, trying to figure out if this hero had been mentioned before. I think it would be better to focus mainly on Rye and Gwen at this point.
      First 250: Your writing really grabs me. I liked the way you began the story by talking about Rye’s suit. We know right away that he’s wealthy, and the way you reveal the situation also aids in explaining his occupation and character without getting too telly.

      This is a tough one. I really enjoyed the query for Gutters, but the first 250 words of Stands drew me in more.


    • From Gutters to Galleries


      This is an intense story. Your query has a great first line and holds my attention through out. It stays strong, and then the last paragraph throws me a bit, because I wasn't expecting the love, and the stakes seem like they are all about what Tris has to do. So I'm a little confused on who's story this actually is. Since it's been Mia doing everything through out the query, I expected the stakes to be for her, not for him. It still sounds like a great story, but if the query is all about Mia, I expect the stakes to be as well.

      First 250:

      You've got great description going on. Beautiful sentence syntax. I almost wonder if the second paragraph should be the first though. Generally, it's nice to have a good mix of action and description, especially in the first 250. The interaction with Mia and Tris flows really well, and I like the way you end it.


      Stand By Until He Doesn't


      Dual POV queries are super hard. The stakes don't encompass both of them, it's only about what Rye must do, so I would think about making the query just from his POV. You can still give the necessary details, and possibly do it in a stronger, more concise way. Also, I would dig a little deeper into the stakes. Saving innocent people vs the one you love is a common theme. So what makes this different? I think you can be more specific here to tell us what Rye has to do.

      First 250:

      The voice is engaging. It draws me in, but I don't think the first paragraph needs to be so focused on the suit. There's all this going on, and all I can really focus on is the suit because it's so repetitious. I think you have the opportunity to use the voice to engage the reader in a very interesting moment. I want more of that moment and the suit can be there, just a little more in the background.

      Awesome job guys.

      Victory:From Gutters To Galleries


      QUERY: Loved the query. Gives me some Breaking Bad feels but in a different way. Nice and succinct, though I think it could be a little shorter and it might be more impactful to the reader? Maybe work on combining two and three together or shortening them a bit?

      TEXT: The text was good. I'd say the dialogue felt a little forced, which was the biggest problem for me and I think (i know) it feels a little 'showing and not telling' more like you're narrating a story. I'd work on putting more emotion and description (the first paragraph actually to me was good, but loses that umph as it goes through).


      QUERY: LOVE this query. My only note is that it feels a little clunky with the back and forth about each character. Format wise, I'd see if you could weave them both together to make it flow better? I don't think you need to change any of the content in the query, just make the flow work a little bit better and more feel like the characters are connected, rather than two lines that happen to meet.

      TEXT: I think the same thing above can be done here–blocking, clunkiness and syntax. The syntax is a little clunky and the dialogue to me could be a little more convincing when it comes to the henchman's voice. I think your atmospheric writing is great though, and it did set the setting well, but the dialogue and word choice could use a little more work.

      VERDICT: I did like them both but I think one is more polished than the other and hooked me better.


  1. Hi there! Fellow Kombatant, here. Take my advice with a grain of salt. 🙂

    From Gutters to Galleries


    Oh wow. Just lovely stakes. Seriously. My only complaint is that a handful of these sentences are reeealllly long. Is there anyway you can possibly restructure/rework for easier flow? Tough ask, I know.

    First 250:

    Some really cool descriptors here. I particularly love the hair described as an overgrown house plant. Honestly, I don't have much to add here (guess that means you've exceeded at crits and feedback, haha). I'd probably see if there was a different way to handle the transition from "As she rushed to take an order … " to "She saw Tris …" Saw is a telling verb. You might even be able to cut that sentence.

    "… a different kind of customer stepped into the cafe.

    Dirty blond hair matted and drooping like a neglected house plant. Errant tendrils winding through his overgrown beard …"

    Just a thought. Your story, you decide! 🙂

    Stands By Until He Doesnt


    I mean … c'mon. I'm so glad I'm not a judge for this entry, haha. Amazing job. The voice is there, the stakes are there, everything is there. I really don't have anything to offer. You probably could mesh those last two paragraphs together, but writer's choice.

    First 250:

    I don't normally read thrillers, but I would be ALL over this in a heartbeat. It's the voice. You sell it with your voice. Kudos. We get a feel for his environment through his eyes rather than an info dump of the setting. The only thing (and this is a big if for me, because this could just as easily come in the following sentences) is that I would like to know a smidge about him instead of the suit. Hard to do, I know, especially right off the bat. But is he pissed he's meeting with these guys? Or does he really not mind since it's a product of his job? Again, this could just as easily pop up in a few sentences, so take it or leave it.

    Honestly, both of you killed it. Good luck!! <3

    • Fellow Kombatant here!

      From Gutters to Galleries- Great query! This looks well-plotted with plenty of twists and turns, definitely a story I would to read. Couple of grams, was vague to me, adding "of heroin" is an easy fix. In the last line, you switch the stakes to Tris, when it needs to be on Mia.
      250 Not the most attention grabbing first line ever. I wonder if you could start with the image of Mia and drop in those other details here and there throughout the first few pages.

      The Henchman- Really interesting premise. Nice voice in the first paragraph, but I'm not sure I get much of Ryan's motivations. He's in a ruthless gang, but why would he help Gwen? Is he in against his will? I loved your description of Gwen! Is this story a dual POV? If so, you should mention that somewhere.

      Love the voice in the first 250! Not much to say, other than the first paragraph is a little long. You could probably split it in half, and do some tighetening.

  2. From Gutters to Galleries:
    I read this query in Round 1 and now I'm reading it again–what an improvement! I love what you've done here, and how you've really honed in on the focus of the query. The opening 250 is great, too, and connects to the query.

    Stands By Until He Doesn't:
    The stakes here are interesting, definitely something I'd be interested in learning more about. In the first sentence, it sounds like he's trying to avoid getting his ass arrested or shot. This could be clarified by puttng "his ass kicked" at the end instead of the beginning. Also, there's a typo in the first paragraph (two "in"s in a row).

    I really liked the stuff about the suit at the very beginning of the first paragraph, but then it kept getting mentioned and it felt very repetitve. I suggest cutting out parts of that first paragraph. I would be easier on the reader's eyes to have a short first paragraph anyway. Otherwise, I like this opening!

    The judges are going to have a tough call to make! Good luck!

    I can see the immediate conflict of the MC and her guilt in what she has to do. But the fact that she's selling drugs and that Tris is doing them with no given justification makes them both unlikable characters to me from the start. I'll admit that this is completely subjective as someone with a strong distaste for drugs, but it's probably worth keeping in mind that this will be a turn-off for some people.
    That said, I do find the setup compelling. I especially like the art dealer with disappearing protégés, especially since Tris' situation makes him a very easy target. I'm not sure I feel the urgency from the social network moderator or even the evicting groundskeeper though. Mia needing to fix her own life before she can help fix Tris' is a nice touch, and I am interested to see how this all works out.
    While I like the narration of the museum environment, it might be better to start right away with Mia in action. I like the descriptions of Mia, Tris, and their interaction, and you end on a very strong note. I think this is pretty well done, although I might suggest pushing the museum description in the first paragraph down further to give a little more internal dialogue or characterization of Mia so we can relate to her more quickly. I think it's crucial to do this before we realize she's a drug dealer and not a very good person.

    I like your voice here, particularly in the first paragraph. It definitely establishes what sort of guy Rye is, but on the other hand, it establishes him as a guy I'm reluctant to root for at this point.
    Gwen, on the other hand, interests me. I'm intrigued as to how their paths manage to interact, and particularly how Gwen manages to draw Rye into the investigation. It isn't until the last paragraph that we find out Rye falls in love with her, so it might be good to add in a little extra description as to how Rye falls in with her.
    I like that Gwen's investigation crosses with Rye's underworld boss. It's definitely a nice setup, and I really like the description about every body buried putting another piece of his humanity in the ground.
    I really like your voice and descriptions here. I do have much to critique, other than to say it might be nice to end on a note teasing the reason for them being out there in the first place. Otherwise, nicely done!

  4. From Gutters to Galleries
    Query: I think this is a beautiful balance of info and emotion. I love it.
    First 250: Goes well with the query. I like the descriptive detail.

    Stands By Until He Doesn't
    Query: This is great! Reminds me of a book's back cover copy, in a good way. Nicely done!
    First 250: Good. I think you're bordering on too much time spent on the suit, but that's subjective. I don't think Rye needs to say the very last sentence; suggesting a lookout makes sense, so he doesn't have to explain why he's suggesting that.

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