Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mystery Honorable Mentions

As I mentioned yesterday, Jessica and I found that we had fairly different tastes when it came to our judging. I guess that’s why we all complement one another so well at BookEnds. In terms of category we all overlap quite a bit in what we represent, but we each gravitate toward different types of writing. We each see different strengths and establish relationships with editors that we know are looking for those same qualities. It makes for a well-rounded agency. It’s also one of the reasons we would recommend actually reading books represented by agents you are interested in. Not only will you get a sense of the types of books they represent, but also the voice they gravitate toward.


First of all, I need to say that I was really impressed. In the end I had to narrow down my list of favorites from about 12 or 15 to just 5 (since that’s what Kim and I had decided on), which means that beyond these honorable mentions there were quite a few others that grabbed my attention. I think one reader mentioned that 100 words was an interesting contest and that in a lot of cases you couldn’t really judge what the book was based on that. And you were right. But 100 words is enough to grab any reader’s attention and leave them wanting more, or not. I also know that 100 words won’t always give the flavor of the book that the author wants the reader to end with. In other words, with a cozy mystery, for example, the first 100 words might be spent introducing the sleuth and have absolutely nothing to do with the mystery, while a thriller might open with the killer and give you no insight into your protagonist. In the end, though, 100 words is enough to let us know whether or not we want to read another 100 words.

I had read somewhere that when talking about our pitch critiques someone said it was an easy way to be rejected by BookEnds. I hope that those who entered do not feel this way. A lot of these 100-word entries intrigued us (as did a lot of the pitch critiques), and just because we didn’t pick you as a winner, runner-up, or honorable mention doesn’t mean you should rule BookEnds out as someone to query. There were a lot of great ideas in there and I can’t wait to see what the rest of you have to say in other genres.

Okay, so that being said, here are my honorable mentions . . .


I’ve always known, ever since I was a little boy, that one day I would kill someone. I never told anyone this, however – not even my mother – or any of my psychiatrists. That’s why I’m telling you now from this strange place in which I find myself. Such a very strange place; not at all what I expected. And what a surprise! Life is full of surprises, but death is full of certainty.

Let me begin my story – for I desperately need to tell it – at the Metropolitan Opera, New York City. It was the second intermission of Wagner’s Parsifal –

This is my kind of writing. I liked the dark, suspenseful feel and you hooked me from the first sentence. Who isn’t intrigued by someone who has always known he would kill? I love that and I love your setting. The Metropolitan Opera gives it a spooky, Phantom of the Opera appeal, and I’m not even a fan of musicals. Very well done. Great tone and voice.

Mercy Me — Denise McDonald

“He did what?” Sophie Gallagher stopped halfway through the office door, her cell phone gripped so tight her fingers ached.

“Dad said Ray put an ad in the Pennysaver.” Sophie’s mother hurried on, “He advertised as a mercenary for hire.”

“Lord.” Sophie ran her free hand over her face. When she’d moved five hundred miles to take the job with her Uncle Ray four years ago, it had been as a favor to her father. To help keep her scatterbrained uncle’s PI business solvent. Not to babysit for the ever-addled uncle who fancied himself MacGyver and Magnum rolled into one.

It’s funny how very different this pitch is from the one before. While that one was dark and brooding this is clearly light and funny. Just goes to show what a split personality I am. This pitch made me laugh out loud. I love the Pennysaver ad and who can resist a man who thinks of himself as MacGyver and Magnum rolled into one. I definitely want to see what else this book has to offer.

The Myth-Chaser — Suzanne Perazzini

I was born intense, with a purpose, with a steadfastness that no man can unsettle. As a child I knew which path to take through the woods to find the otter in the stream and as an adult, if I listen closely enough to my heart, I know where to look for the answers, even those which have defied generations of seekers.

I grew up to follow an unusual career path.

This pitch intrigues me in a different way from the others. It leaves a lot of questions and I like that. Of course, I also hope that a number of those are answered shortly. But I’m interested to know more about this intense person who listens to her/his heart and obviously I want to know what the unusual career path is. I like the dark, mysteriousness of this pitch and I like that the author discusses an intense hero and shows us intensity in the writing.


In the bedroom, dark except for the cool blue moonlight slanting in through the blinds, Ronan brushed his hand over his wife's bare thigh.

He crawled into bed and with one arm, held himself over her, admired her laying beneath him. Her long, auburn hair fanning out across the pillow.

Settling in between her legs, he heard her soft giggle, followed by a sigh. Her hazel eyes danced.

He smiled down at her and trailed a finger slowly up the inside of her leg, higher and higher, until her mouth parted and her back arched.


I know this pitch doesn’t sound anything like a mystery, and that’s exactly why it appeals to me. It doesn’t have the obvious opening and it allows my imagination to run. I could assume that she’s saying “yes” in ecstasy, but is she really? And how is this going to end? Is it just a great erotic sex scene or, since it’s a mystery, is it going to end badly? Either way I want to know.


CASE ONE — Keri Ford

I hadn’t been raised a dummy and knew trash talking coupled with charm, fit body, and skimpy clothes equaled large tips for a bar waitress. Momma thought my work to be a bit degrading, but not me. Not when I had my own air conditioned home, with cable. At the moment I poured a cosmo as I had every other one, but this time an unfamiliar man watching me made my knees knock. He was a pleasant upgrade from the usual types looking for my number since he was physically fit, dressed nicely, and had all his teeth.

The voice is terrific. The narrator speaks to us in a way that seems familiar and casual — as if we’ve known her for years. She’s street smart, witty and interesting. Even though the mystery part of the story hasn’t become evident, I’d love to see this narrator stuck in the middle of a complicated crime.

CONFLUENCE POINT — Anonymous 5:22 pm

The guard unshackled the kid outside of my cell, saying, “Another cop killer for you, Warren.”

After eleven years in Corcoran State Prison, I’d had my share of new cellmates, none of them as young as Nick. Slight and smooth-faced, Nick acted as though his long rap sheet and conviction for triple homicide made him tough. That first night, he used my mattress as a stepping stool to get to his bunk. Either he was testing me or he was stupid. The result was the same. I bounced him off the wall.

Again, great voice. I’m intrigued by the notion of a mystery that begins from a convicted criminal’s point of view, but it’s more than that. The guy is tough, observant and funny. The reader knows that he’s incarcerated, and sees that he thinks he owns the joint, but yet there’s something likable about him. I want to get to know him better.

FIRST CALL — Liz Mugavero

Luther Trott could smell death.

He knew because he’d smelled it before, more times in his thirty-eight years than he cared to count. Over time, he’d learned the scent did not overpower; in fact, most people traveling this road at this moment would not notice anything amiss.

But Luther was trained to notice when something, or someone, was amiss.

This smell, this vibe, promised a painful death: The pungent aroma of blood mixing with earth, the faint stench of gasoline right before a fire erupted to life, both evident despite the heavy scent of the ocean simmering in the background.

I loved this setup. Who is Luther and why is he able to smell death? Is it some sort of paranormal ability or something much simpler and less literal than that? I’m also fascinated by the idea that different types of death have different smells. I’m thoroughly intrigued and was hooked by the very first sentence.


At first glance, the young mother and baby looked as though they were sharing a peaceful nap. Until you looked closer, and saw the single clean bullet wounds in their chests.

“Why would he do this? He looks like he adores her. It just doesn’t make sense.” My partner Jen was looking at a recent picture, taken on Christmas day, showing the husband smiling down at his wife and baby.

“This happens more often than you’d think,” I said as I lightly traced an old scar near my collarbone. I was lucky, my ex-husband hadn’t been very good with a gun.

I liked this entry, because it surprised me. It opens as any police procedural might, but then we get an unexpected glimpse into the narrator’s life. Right away I feel an intimacy with the narrator that I’m betting a lot of the characters in the book don’t have with her. All of a sudden, it’s not about the crime scene, it’s about her past.

Congratulations to all of the honorable mentions. We hope this gives all of our blog readers a glimpse into our heads, so that you have a better idea of what each of us looks for in a submission. Looking forward to the next round!


Kimber Li said...

This has been a fabulous. I've read so much about the essential first page, but doing this really solidified what's necessary and goes into making it. Thanks!

Mark Terry said...

When I read through the entries several those caught my attention as well. The one that stood out for me was "Mercy Me." The set-up just worked for me.

Karen Duvall said...

Wow, these runner-ups are fabulous! I want to read every single one of these books. I was really amazed at the quality of so many entries in this contest. Who'd have a meager one hundred words could be so powerful? Bravo! 8^)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jessica! Here's a link to the rest of the chapter, if anyone would like to see it:

Have a great full moon!

Anonymous said...

I agree, a lot of these runner ups were the ones that I remembered. And that, I found was the key. Out of over 100 entries, only a few made me remember them.

I think the top one on my list was Kim's about the guy in jail. I thought having a mystery set within the confines of a prison would be really interesting. I don't know if that is where that story is going, but the promise that it might made me sit up and take notice.

Anonymous said...

I am glad to see Green Ray's entry in the honorable mentions. I loved that it evoked a Phantom of the Opera feel as well.

Kudos to everyone!

Jean said...

Thanks so much this wonderful lesson on catching the reader!

I'm looking forward to the rest of the genres!

Jessica Nelson said...

Wow! All of those were really good. I would've kept reading had they been books.
Great job guys.

Anonymous said...

So, if you have different tastes, if one of you requests a partial and it doesn't quite suit you but you think it would suit another BookEnds agent, do you pass it to them?

Thanks for discussing the entries that worked for you. It's very illuminating, and it comes across so much better, IMO, than critiquing what doesn't work. That's useful as well, of course, but it's just so refreshing to see comments on what works.

Anonymous said...

I thought there were some very nice pieces of writing in those selections you guys made.

At the end of your critique pitch challenge I made a document with all the ones regarded as winners or a good maybe. There were 15. And not one of them just one sentence as I recall!

It looks like some of the mystery offerings (if the entire book cut the mustard) would be considered by Bookends. But I wonder how many of those you would chuck on the junk heap if they didn't give you a good one or two sentence pitch? And we're only part way into the contest. said...

Every one of the runners up intrigued me. Congratulations to all those winners for being excellent writers with what sounds to be fascinating stories. I'd read 'em (and Jessica and Kim think they're picky ...).

Keri Ford said...

Thanks, Kim! You hit it right on the head. When I write this character, I try to keep the mindset that she’s sitting down with a cup of hot chocolate telling this story to her best friend, so that’s why you feel like you’ve known her for years. Glad to know I pulled that off!

All the other entries were wonderful and I’m having fun reading them. Thanks for doing this!

Corinne said...

These are great! The ones that really made me yearn for more were Mercy Me, Case One and Confluence Point.
My work isn't in a suitable genre for these contests but it's great seeing the results, and I'm looking forward to more!

Aimlesswriter said...

This was great. Definately gave us a clearer idea of what style fits each of you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jessica & Kim, for the insight and the education. This has been great! It's so rare to be able to get this kind of feedback without it “counting against you.”

I was worried that my opener was perhaps too provocative for commercial fiction, and it's not meant to be at all. It's just the best way I knew how to introduce the reader into the internal world of Ronan Doyle.

All the entries here were so compelling and well written, but particular props to MERCY ME and CONFLUENCE POINT. Mercy Me had me laughing out loud and Confluence Point sounds like a story I absolutely couldn’t put down.

~ Jackie B.

Unknown said...

I just stumbled on this blog, and I am so glad I did:).

Would be looking forward to reading the rest of the entries, and thanks for making me realize (all over again) the importance of the first 100 words of a work.

HollyD. said...

I thought this contest was for unpublished writers. Am I wrong?

KATZ said...

Wow -- you ladies are great! What a wealth of information on your blog!
Looking forward to the contemporary genre...

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


We have no rules that you need to be published or unpublished to enter. We would hope however that you aren't giving us already published material as contest entries or as your critique. Why are we open to both published and unpublished? Because getting published is no guarantee of staying published and I'd hate to rule out someone who has hit a bump in the road and is looking to revive a career or just anyone looking to learn more.

And while there is a prize, because prizes are more fun, ultimately we hope that people learn something from the contest and so far I'm thankful. It seems that people are learning more than I would have imagined.


Josephine Damian said...

While I don't alway like the openers with a line of dialog, I too liked the "Mercy Me" entry. Glad to see that writer got a mention.

It's interesting to see how the agents within the same company can have such different taste in the same genre - I think querying writers need to learn as much as they can about an agent's reading taste before they send their letter.