Title: The Mortal Coil
Entry Nickname: Hero by Default
Word count: 80K
Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
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. With a brilliant mind, extensive disciplinary record, and grudge against the team, he’s marked as both the likely perpetrator and an ideal recruit for The Orphion Circle, the rumored anarchist group the police are investigating. Guilty until proven innocent in the principal’s eyes, Aiden knows he’s one misstep from expulsion and being thrown back into foster care — 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 conspiracist breaking into the world of journalism, Jessie drags Aiden into a mystifying investigation of mounting coma incidents around the city. When bloody symbols appear at the scene of the attacks, Aiden begins to believe Jessie’s theories about the mysterious Orphion Circle are true — they’re not an anarchist group but a coven of dangerous witches.
Stopping The Circle and clearing his name become one and the same for Aiden. Every move he makes jeopardizes his innocence, and with a detective all too eager to lock Aiden up, 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 was in the principal’s office. Again. And, for once, he wasn’t sure why.
He hadn’t skipped any classes. This week, anyway. And Ms. Maynard seemed more resigned than mad when he corrected the electron assignment in her molecular formula during Chemistry yesterday.
He sighed and stared down at Covington Academy’s infamous hot seat. He’d half-expected his name to be inscribed on it by now. He craned his neck to glimpse the back of the stiff wooden chair. Nope, no plaque. Shame, really.
“Mr. Milligan.”
Aiden straightened up as Principal Hadley entered the room and sat behind his impenetrable oak desk.
“Sir,” he muttered.

After two years at Covington, Aiden and Principal Hadley had become very familiar with each other  — in the way a lion becomes familiar with a straggling wildebeest. Aiden was a problem that didn’t want to be solved, and Hadley took that as a challenge. The man was determined to churn out the future world changers for which the academy was renowned, like it or not.
 Aiden begrudgingly admired that resolve. Or would, if it weren’t laser-focused on him.
 Hadley ran a hand through thinning, dirty-blonde hair. “Thank you for coming, Aiden.”
 Aiden raised an eyebrow. Like he had a choice?
 Give me my slap on the wrist and hollow lecture and 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. “This morning, there was an incident.”
 Incident? Oh, damn, not good…


Title: All Intents and Purposes
Entry nickname: Alternative Facts
Word count: 68K
Genre: YA Contemporary
Seventeen-year-old Adrian understands that genderqueer isn’t exactly an acceptable identity at her western Pennsylvania high school—never mind trying to explain why sometimes she prefers he/him, but mostly prefers she/her. That’s why she’s stoked to discover she can blend in as a boy with a group of friends she met online. Which is more than she can say for hanging out with her basketball teammates, who only see her as that girl who gets dressed in a bathroom stall. But when a rape scandal involving one of her teammates is plastered all over the news, Adrian and her fellow players find themselves swept up in the turmoil.
Escapism meets reality—and Adrian’s stomach drops into the sub-basement—when the accused rapist, Hunter, arrives at an out-of-town party. Hunter knows who Adrian is under her masculine appearance; he could out her with a single pronoun. Likewise, Adrian could reveal Hunter’s disreputable identity to their new friends. With both Hunter and Adrian holding aces, they hit a standstill.
Yet Hunter doesn’t seem all that interested in outing Adrian’s born sex. In fact, he seems captivated with Adrian exactly as she is, genderqueerness and all. As his trial date approaches, Adrian second guesses everything the media’s been saying about Hunter—and about the accusations against him. With her gut and the media sending conflicting vibes, she’s unsure whom to trust. She needs to figure it out soon, before her heart decides for her.
First 250:
The bass thumped in Adrian’s ears, pulsing her temples to the beat of the overplayed top-40 hit. She would’ve crawled into bed an hour ago if the music—and Katelyn—hadn’t demanded her attention. Or if she weren’t so far from home.
A pang crept from her temples to her forehead, but she pushed on. Like hell would she waste this opportunity to pass as a guy for the night. Even if it meant feigning interest in a girl she met online.
She jerked her hips to the music as Katelyn popped her chest. Katelyn wrapped an arm around Adrian’s shoulder and brought their heads together, huffing shallow breaths into Adrian’s ear. They swayed, enclosed by the heat and sweat of the others dancing around them.
Adrian side-eyed the clock on Katelyn’s living-room wall. Almost one in the morning. She blinked slowly as her body danced on. One more song. She could do this.
Her head bobbed, more out of tiredness than to the beat. She reached around Katelyn’s waist to regain her bearings, grasping the flesh at the top of her hips. Katelyn whimpered in reply, and an uninvited spark shot up the short hairs on Adrian’s neck. Katelyn dropped a hand between their torsos, resting her fingers at the top of Adrian’s jeans.
Shit. No.
Adrian hunched her shoulders forward, her pelvis back. No way could she let Katelyn shift her hand two inches down or six inches up. One wrong move, and Adrian’s number-one, very-important, do-not-violate-under-any-circumstances partying rule would be broken.
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      Hero By Default:

      -This is a really intriguing entry! I think the query needs a little more work in tying the plot together, especially in the last paragraph. The stakes don't quite make sense to me, but that may just be me.
      -Your first 250 words are excellent and exhibit a great voice! You draw in the reader really well. I want to read more! My only suggestion would be to make sure you're expressing in the query what you want to express in the first 250. For example, in the query, it seems like Aiden's future is really important to him. But in the first 250, he seems more resentful of the principal's interest in him. It still makes sense; it just seems like there's a slightly different focus that you may want to consider. Overall great job, though!

      Alternative Facts:

      -Good query! I might take out "Escapism meets reality." That seems a bit vague and doesn't seem necessary in the query.
      -I would try to show a little more clearly what the stakes are in your query. What will happen if she makes the wrong decision on who to trust? How will that affect her? What is the point of tension for her in the plot?
      -Your first 250 are excellent! Great voice! Your intro clearly shows the MC's dilemma.

      Victory goes to Alternative Facts

    • This one was a really hard decision–honestly, I'd read both of these books! 🙂

      Hero by Default:
      Query: I'm already super intrigued by the premise! This is a well-written query. One thing that struck me is that it isn't clear Aiden is the POV character until well into the first paragraph. I think that's easy enough to resolve with a tweak to the wording of the first sentence. A quick note: I'd keep an eye on sentence structure in the first 2 paragraphs and vary it up a little with a few shorter, punchier sentences. Also, I was a little confused by "thrown back into foster care" because it made me wonder where he is right now—in a group home? Living on his own? Good stuff overall, though.
      1st 250: I liked this! I have a drastic suggestion, though. Maybe cut the first few lines and start with the principal asking "Mr. Milligan?" In part, this is because I was thrown by the "hot seat" moment—at first, it wasn't entirely clear to me that he was actually sitting in the chair, and then I got distracted by trying to imagine how he'd physically contort himself to look at the seat and then the chair back. Ultimately, I think the character info is successfully conveyed by the rest of the first page and doesn't need that intro part.

      Alternative Facts:
      Query: You do such a good job in the query of showing how the main character's sexuality is inseparable from the plot developments, and intertwines with the story throughout. I did have some confusion regarding the second paragraph, though: is Hunter one of the online group of friends, or the basketball teammate? In other words, how does Hunter know who Adrian is? What does an out-of-town party mean—and is Adrian there on her own, with the team, or to meet the online friends? It was a little unclear. My other moment of confusion was with the final phrase "before her heart decides for her." I wasn't sure what exactly that entails—what the stakes are for the main character in the end.
      1st 250: This is a sexy and provocative beginning that clearly lays out the gender identity part of the story as well as establishing a sense of danger/fear of discovery along with the excitement. The reader doesn't yet know who Adrian is beyond this moment, but I was definitely tantalized and would want to read on. The writing was strong—nice work.

      Victory to Alternative Facts.

    • Hero By Default–

      Query: I have chills, this is so good! You have excellent stakes and a fantastic setup. I have no feedback on this. Nice job!

      First 250: This is well-written, with a nice flow. One question—how is Aiden top of the class and also a slacker who skips school? You addressed this contradiction in his nature a bit in the query when you said that his academic record is the only thing that sets him apart from every other “parentless screw-up”, but I’m wondering how he actually pulls this off. It doesn’t seem believable that he’d be able to maintain top-of-the-class grades while also skipping class all the time. This contradiction is highlighted again when you talk about the principal being like a lion, trying to solve a problem that doesn’t want to be solved. This implies that Aiden resists the principal’s efforts to turn him into a good student. But Aiden is already a good student, clearly, because you mention he has the highest GPA. Overall, something feels off here in Aiden’s personality. But the writing itself is awesome, and I really like the story set-up.

      Alternative Facts–

      Query: The info here flows well and is easy to follow. Your writing is strong.
      In the second paragraph, with the out-of-town party, I feel like I need bigger stakes. Are these out-of-town “new friends” ones who Adrian and Hunter expect to be in contact with for a long time? If it’s just a one-night, out-of-town party, getting outed (for either of them) doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. Sure, it would ruin the evening and be super embarrassing, but they’re out of town. Are they more worried that the info will get back to people that they actually see all the time?

      I like where the third paragraph takes the story, and how it shows that pull for Adrian between the desire to be accepted as she is, and the idea that she shouldn’t be accepting Hunter because of what he’s been accused of.

      First 250: When the scene opens, I’m assuming they are at a dance club. But then you mention the clock on the living room wall. Make sure it’s clear from the beginning where they are. Also, I’m not sure why she’s pushing herself to keep dancing if she’s not interested in Katelyn. Other than those two things that pulled me out of the story a bit, the opening is well-written.

      These two pieces are both very well-written, polished entries. But one felt like the stakes were a bit higher, so …

      Victory to Hero by Default!

    • Hero by Default:

      Query: A strong query with an interesting plot. I’m curious how every move he makes jeopardizes his innocence and would like a little more detail about how, but the stakes are clear and I’d definitely request pages!

      First 250:

      I like the first few lines–I’m sucked in. Tension is mounting from the get-go. I like the way you show he’s both a delinquent and brilliant. Consider getting to the meat of the incident in this first 250 by trimming up other lines. Or even just something that hints more about the basketball team being in the hospital instead of the inner thought at the end.

      Alternative Facts:

      Query: The first line could use more punch, but it’s well written and I’m drawn in. I love that they’re both holding aces and want to see their interaction as it makes for lots of tension! And the twist with the possible love between them… yep, I want to read more!

      First 250: You do a great job jumping into the action and presenting the internal struggle the MC faces. Well written and engaging.

      Very difficult choice! Both queries and 250 were so strong. I wish I could choose both!

      Victory: Hero By Default

    • Hero by Default
      Your query is intriguing. I love the idea of a secret coven of witches causing their victims to fall comatose, and two high school students striving to discover the truth behind the coven before it’s too late. One thing I would recommend is clarifying Jessie’s gender. You never use a pronoun for Jessie in the query, and I’m not sure whether they are a boy or girl.
      Your first 250 words are enjoyable, too. I would definitely keep reading to find out more about the incident that occurred. Yet I can’t help but wonder why his relationship with the principal is so strained. I would imagine that a school principal would try to redeem a high GPA student, but instead, you describe their relationship as being like a lion against a wildebeest.

      Alternative Facts
      I really like how you are writing from the POV of a genderqueer character here. There is a shortage of LGBTQ+ characters in fiction, and I think that Adrian’s character will definitely appeal to readers. Once I reached the part in your query about her encounter with Hunter, things got a little confusing. I assumed she was meeting her online friends at the party, but it wasn’t clear. Is Hunter also part of that group of friends, and if so, had she met him over the website as well?
      I liked your first 250 words a lot! You really threw the reader into the moment, and held my attention. When I reached the end, I was disappointed there wasn’t more.

      This is a hard one, but ultimately I feel like Hero by Default’s query is a bit more polished.


    • Hero By Default


      Very strong hook. The query itself is really strong. It gives the details necessary, we know what the stakes are. You've got a couple of super long sentences (like the second one in the first paragraph) that can be tweaked to make them stronger, but all in all, this is a really great query. Awesome job!

      First 250:

      The voice is strong, but watch out for the overuse of italics for inner thoughts. Since I see it three times in the first 250 words, I'm already wondering how much is in the rest of the manuscript. There's a lot of telling going on and also becareful using conjunctions to start sentences. It's done a few times. I think you started in the right place, but I think it can be a stronger opening, giving us more action as opposed to just Aiden's thoughts on the Principal. I do like where it leaves off and I want to know what the incident is.

      Good job!


      Alternative Facts


      I like the concept, but the query has me a little confused as to what the actual plot is. There's a lot going on, and it's got me a bit confused. If Hunter is all over the media, how do her new friends not know who he is? How are they both holding all the aces in this situation? If this rape is everywhere, I can't imagine that just because they're out of town no one recognizes him. I'm also not sure on the actual stakes. I understand trying to figure out who to trust, but I don't understand the part of her heart choosing for her. I think you need to dig a little deeper and give us the consequences if Adrian doesn't figure it out.

      It sounds like a great story, but the query can be a bit stronger.

      First 250:

      This is well written. It puts us in the moment, let's us feel Adrian's angst. Where you left off definitely has me wanting to read more. It's almost got a sort of Cinderella vibe, being at the ball under disguise. I would take out the 'blinked slowly' line however. That's generally an overused term and I feel like you can find a better action there.

      Two great entries. Hero By Default has a stronger query, where Alternative Facts has a stronger first 250. I would request pages from both.

      Victory: Hero By Default


      The main thing I'm tripping up on is in the last para of your query–not sure how "every move he makes" would jeopardize his innocence? He would make moves to prove his innocence, so I think I'd rather know how his own investigation could hurt him.

      Good 250.


      I really like your query. I think the conflict is clear in that at a moment's notice, each could make the other's life real difficult. Solid 250 too.


  1. Fellow Kombatant here, not a judge. (Thank goodness. I don't envy them on this matchup. Both of these are very strong contenders.)

    Hero by Default

    Very strong query. I have only minor concerns. I got a bit tangled in this sentence: "With a brilliant mind…" It almost sounds like the police are the ones recruiting for the Orphion Circle. I think what you mean is that the police suspect he's been recruited into the Circle. Might want to re-phrase to get rid of the confusion there.

    In the second paragraph I did wonder why, if Aiden is the one in trouble with the police, is Jessie the one dragging Aiden into the investigation and not the other way around.

    Your first 250 are great. My only quibble there is the description of the principal's hair as "dirty-blonde." I'd expect that description of a teenage girl's hair, but for a principal it doesn't seem right to me somehow.

    Overall, really great. This is definitely something I would read. Good luck in the Kompetition!

    Alternative Facts

    Very strong query and first 250.

    A couple nitpicky comments: In the query, the sentence, "With both Hunter and Adrian holding aces, they both hit a standstill," I'm wondering if you could take the card playing analogy further. Right now it reads a bit clunky to me since you start with aces – so I'm picturing cards – and then you switch gears in the sentence. I'm not a big card player so I'm not sure where to go here, but what happens when both players have equally strong hands? Is there a word that captures that which continues the card playing language?

    Also, I had a bit of confusion in the following sentence: "As his trial date approaches…" I think naming Hunter there would ease the problem. "As Hunter's trial date approaches…"

    In the first 250, I suggest re-wording your first sentence. As it is now, you've basically said "the bass thumped/pulsed her temples" which is passive construction. (I understand it's actually a bit more nuanced than that, but I'm parsing it because the phrase "pulsing her temples" really clunks in my ear – which is a very bad thing for a first sentence to do.)

    Also, you use the word 'temples' twice in two paragraphs. I'd replace it the second time to avoid repetition.

    Finally, the sentence which reads, "enclosed by the heat and sweat of the others…" I'm not able to visualize how one is enclosed by the sweat of others. I think you could take out "and sweat" and the image gets stronger.

    Overall, very well done. I'm intrigued and itching to read more. Good luck in the Kompetition!

  2. Hero by Default
    You do a great job of identifying the stakes Aiden faces, from both The Circle and the authorities. I did have to read the first sentence a couple of times to make sure I read it that the entire basketball team is found comatose. The one thing I didn’t see in the query was the possibility of saving these people who are comatose. I would think that would be one of the forces driving Aiden as well, if he is a truly decent guy.

    First 250:
    I think your passage was good, but I am having a little bit of trouble understanding Aiden. What trouble is he causing other than skipping classes? Is he just a bored genius? It probably is explained more further into the story, and is probably just me, but I just didn’t understand why he would be a trouble maker. He doesn’t want to lose his academic future and he doesn’t want to be thrown back into foster care, so why would he purposefully cause trouble?

    The actual interaction with the principal is very good. I like the mounting tension.

    Alternative Facts
    I think your query is good. My only confusion is when Hunter enters the picture. Does he part of those friends she met online? I think the answer is yes, it just wasn’t crystal clear. The conflict sounds very interesting with both knowing something about each other.

    First 250:
    I think your first 250 was very strong. It made me so curious about Adrian and what her goal is in this interaction she is having with Katelyn. I would definitely read more to find out what happens next!

  3. Hero by Default


    I like your first paragraph quite a lot. It's nearly serviceable as a query by itself. MC, conflict, stakes. My only real quibble with the query is I can't tell if magic is real in your world. Maybe that's a core mystery in the story. If so, that should be emphasized. I think 'scene' should be 'scenes', unless all the attacks take place in the same spot.

    1st 250

    Nice job establishing Aiden's attitude early, and his relationship with Hadley. I can see the scene. There's a lot of internal dialogue. I don't mind it, but some readers find that exhausting. Just something to think about. I recommend reexamining your use of 'and' at the beginning of sentences. There's two in the first two paragraphs, and it could be argued neither is needed.

    Alternate Facts


    Wow you say a lot in that first paragraph. Not in a bad way. Interesting conflict at the party. I think 'disreputable identity' is too soft for someone accused of rape. 'all that' also softens 'interested'. "Yet Hunter doesn't seem interested…" is stronger. If you could get 'seem' out it would be even better, since you use it again in the next sentence.

    1st 250

    Nice job setting the scene. I can see young people dancing in a living room. I get what Aiden's doing, but I don't know a lot about her. I'm OK with that right now because I get the feeling I'll learn more in a few moments. I don't like 'this' in "She could do this." Rings like a tense shift in my head.

    Well done, both of you!


  4. These were both wonderful entries! Just a few comments… 🙂

    Hero By Default

    Query: I thought it was super tight.
    First 250: The only bit that gave me pause was the lion simile. A lion would attack and kill a wildebeest, yes? I don’t see Hadley wanting to solve the problem of Aiden with disciplinary action comparable to hunting prey.

    Alternative Facts

    Query: Is Hunter from the group of friends Adrian met online? I couldn’t figure out if he was or wasn’t when you wrote “Hunter knows who Adrian is under her masculine appearance.” How does he know that?

    Also, when you mention “escapism vs. reality” I immediately assumed there was something more fantastical going on… would be good to frame this differently or take it out for clarity.

  5. Fellow Kombatent here!

    Hero by Default

    Query: Love this so much! Honestly, I have no comments on this query. Stakes, backstory, emotions and action are clearly and compellingly outlined. Well done!

    First 250: This is good too! I love it! Couple of questions, but I suspect they would be answered if I kept reading. Why would the kid with the highest GPA be in trouble so much? I used to work in a high school and the high achiever kids usually got away with so much behaviour-wise, and the school didn’t want to jeopardise scores and awards. I’m hoping there is another reason the Aidan is targeted by the school admin. Anyway, fabulous job, and good luck with it!

    Alternative facts

    Query: Ooh, a gender-queer MC. I love it. I wonder about this though. Many gender-queer people I know don’t really want to pass as either boy or girl completely, but consider themselves to be gender fluid at all times, thus I wonder about Adrien wanting to pass as a boy with his/her friends. However, I get that these are teenagers, and their gender identity is not yet fully formed, and I love that you wrote a YA book about this difficult time for non-binaries. There is no ‘correct’ way to be gender queer, and as I am not, I am sensitive to the fact that I don’t understand the nuances of this identity. One piece of advice— I am not sure if this is #ownvoices or not, but if it not, I suggest you have the book read by a sensitivity reader who identifies as gender queer to ensure you present the identity in the best possible light. Other than that, I liked this query. Love the contrast between school and outside of school friends. I think this is something that more books should be about. Many teens have separate lives, school and otherwise, and some even develop separate identities in the different parts of their lives, as they try to work out who they really are. This sounds like a compelling story— I’d read it!

    First 250: Great job on developing tension already. I can feel Adrien’s anxiety about her secret being discovered. I am wondering about the sexual tension though. Is Adrien dancing with the girl to pass as a boy, or passing as a boy to dance with the girl? Either way, I’s have liked to see a little conflict in her emotions as the girl touched her jeans— like she’s turned on, but scared at the same time. Very good opening, though. Good luck!

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