Jun 1, 2014

QK Round 1: Licks the Dandruff vs RV Arya

Entry Nickname: Licks the Dandruff

Title: Sara and the Stepps
Word count: 40,000
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
When a wise, talking lizard invites ten-year-old Sara into the haunted BookHouse on Sour Grapes Lane, she doesn’t hesitate to go in. Spending time in spooky houses with chatty reptiles is way better than spending time at home with her awful new step-brothers. Seven of them. Se-ven. Not to mention that Dad and step-monster, Lottie, have just left her alone with the brothers while they honeymoon.

So, when Randalf the Lizard shows her a magical library with books that hold the key to helping anyone with any problem they have, she wonders if diving into a good story could be the escape she’s been looking for. Of course, she’d miss her dad, even if he did remarry an awful woman without her permission. She hesitates to accept Randalf’s offer until her stinky brothers play one too many pranks and break her favorite street-hockey stick.

Sara runs away to the BookHouse, in tears, and accidentally falls into the twisted, “Alex in Danderland” book. Now she must navigate the wrong story for the help she needs and deal with the crazy Queen of Parts if she wants to get home. Rumors say the Queen might have just the right part for getting rid of pesky step-families, but the price for it might be more than Sara’s willing to pay. Of course, all the right parts in the world won’t matter if Sara can’t find her way out of one particular storybook.

First 250 words:
Sara pressed her fingers gingerly against the back screen door and tried to open it as quietly as possible. As she slunk through the smallest opening she could fit through, she raised her eyes to the sky. The sun hovered just above the fields to the east of her house. It was still early and, as far as she could tell, she was the only one awake. Gripping her roller blades in her left hand, it was the last part of her body outside before she turned and closed the screen door behind her with a soft ‘clink’.

She sat down on the porch to put her blades on. As she started lacing them up, she glared up at the sun and the blue, blue sky. She stuck her tongue out at the fat robins tweeting away in their trees. A tawny cat strolled by, minding its own business, and Sara hissed at it. The poor thing jumped about a mile high and scurried away once it landed on solid ground again.

“Ah, Kit-Kit! I’m sorry. I didn’t really mean it.” Sara called after him, but the cat had disappeared beneath the raspberry bushes next door.

She blew out a big, long puff of air and shook her head. It was her Dad’s wedding day today. And Sara had wished for thunder and bucket-loads of rain.

She wobbled up onto her feet and glided over to the garage to fetch her purple street-hockey stick, helmet and safety pads.


Entry Nickname: RV Arya
Title: The Raven Queen’s Revenge
Word count: 40K
Genre: MG Fantasy


Forced to move into a stinky RV with her pesky sister and her Louisiana campground supervisor mom, eleven-year-old Sylvie wants to be back home with her own bed, her own stuff, and her dad. Ticked off and lonely, one day Sylvie and her sister follow a fox into the woods, only to meet Lowell, a local kid whose dad is a park ranger. He insists he can help Sylvie and her sister find the fox he scared off, but instead he loses the trail and inadvertently leads them into an alternate world—Nyrandia. Frustrated with herself for following an annoying boy she hardly knows, Sylvie smashes an old, blue bottle against a tree, freeing hundreds of ravens . . . and their queen.

Having spent the last seventeen years planning her revenge on those who imprisoned her, Raven Queen Keres seals all the exits from Nyrandia, confining her enemies and trapping Sylvie, her sister, and Lowell in the crossfire of a battle for power. With the help of a talking fox, a pair of cheery goblins, and a childlike druid, Sylvie and her companions struggle to return to the one place Sylvie wanted more than anything to escape: her home.

First 250 words:

Sylvie patted more dirt, wet her fingers in the plastic bowl, and sculpted the muddy mound in front of her. She looked back and forth between her creation and the laminated pamphlet. 

Not quite

She squished and smoothed, then reexamined. 

Ha! Nailed it! Best fox scat replica yet.

Sylvie snapped a closeup with her iPod, and stepped back for a group shot. Louisiana black bear, nutria, eastern cottontail, Virginia opossum, white-tailed deer, Northern raccoon, and now red fox. This had to make her some sort of campground expert on the subject.

She packed the replicas in their box, except the fox one. It had to bake in the sun a few hours before she could move it. She’d been considering some sort of museum setup and charging admission. She was sure a few weekenders would swing by, if only to check out the weird girl and her sun-baked mud poop museum. She didn’t care. Not if she could get a dollar out of each of them.

As Sylvie carried her box up the wobbly RV steps and through the flimsy door, she held her breath to avoid the stinky, moldy nastiness of their home sweet home. She tucked the box into the cabinet with her name taped on the door and grabbed her spelling workbook, a pencil, and her green messenger bag. The only remaining items were a math workbook and her homemade field guide, the one she’d started with her dad a couple of years ago.


  1. This space reserved for judge feedback and votes.

    1. Sara and the Stepps: Your query is fun and intriguing, although the first two paras repeat themselves a bit, so I’d edit it and polish it up a bit so it reads more smoothly. Magical libraries and falling into story books are a bit overdone in MG, but overall I do like the sound of this. And I laughed out loud at ‘Se-ven’ :)

      Nice opening page. I’d like it if you made it clear in one of the first two sentences that she is sneaking *out* of the house, not into it, as for some reason I pictured her going in and was slightly thrown by the mention of sky. Also, if she’s trying to be really quiet, I wouldn’t have thought she’d call out loud to the cat.

      I like ‘It was her Dad’s wedding day today. And Sara had wished for thunder and bucket-loads of rain.’ which makes this day something special and tells us how she feels about the wedding in a nice sideways manner. I think overall you could tighten up some of the wording, ie ‘she started tying her laces’ can just be ‘as she laced them up’, and the beginning could remove a few surplus words, perhaps: ‘Sara pressed her fingers gingerly against the screen door and slunk through the narrow opening as quietly as possible. Safely outside, she raised her eyes to the sky.’ Three of your five paras also begin with ‘She’, so try to mix that up to avoid repetition.

      RV Arya: Even more than magical libraries and falling into books, portal stories are pretty overdone in MG. Having said that, this sounds fun and your query explains the characters, story and the stakes nice and clearly, so well done, I wouldn’t change anything.

      I don’t quite understand what’s happening on your opening page – she’s sculpting animal dung into statuettes? Or she’s just preserving animal dung? I’m not at all an outdoors type, so it might just be me, but I still think it needs clarifying. And if it is dung, wouldn’t that stink like hell inside a trailer? Close-up and set-up should be hyphenated. Be careful of repetition, most of your paras begin with ‘Sylvie’ or ‘she’. The problem with this opening is that whilst it introduces us to your MC and her surroundings in an interesting enough way, it isn’t that gripping because it doesn’t really throw up any story questions. I’d think about whether there’s a more compelling place where you could begin.

      Victory to Sara and the Stepps.

    2. Allusion AssassinJune 1, 2014 at 8:18 PM


      Cute premise. Love the voice in this. The query is a bit wordy, especially in the back paragraphs. Look for ways to tighten it. The opening page is okay, but seems to start a bit slow for me. Where’d that great voice go? I’d keep reading, but I’d need the pace to pick up soon. Is there another place with more action that you could start? The opening didn’t live up to the polish of the query. It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t grab me. Overall, though, this is a nice effort. Good job!

      RV ARYA
      You almost have a hook, but it doesn’t quite get there. You need another sentence after the first one that sums up your hook. The current second sentence should be the first sentence of paragraph two, your main query body. Good stakes here, but I feel like it needs more voice. It seems almost too Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, but I’d peek at the pages anyway.

      The poop scene is funny, but I’m left wondering why would she do this? If the couple of bucks is for her escape fund, that would make sense. As is, it just makes her weird. The workbook stuff is slow, but I’d keep reading to see what happened next. I like your MC. Overall, this is a good effort.

      Both of these concepts feel overdone to me, not as fresh as I think you need in MG. This was a tough call between a promised talking lizard and a promised fun evil queen. Sarah and the steps had the stronger query but RV Arya had the stronger opening.

      In the end, I’m more intrigued by Sylvie than I was Sarah. The opening page in Sarah just moved too slowly for me and Sylvie won me over despite a chunkier query.

      Victory RV ARYA

    3. Dandruff: While I wasn't a fan of some of the names in this query (Sour Grapes Lane, BookHouse), the awesome voice (Se-ven, step-monster) ultimately won me over! I adore magical libraries (like the one in Garth Nix's 'Lirael'), so your concept resonated with me. Falling into the wrong story is a spin I haven't seen on the magical library trope, and I think it sounds promising.

      You could omit the "Of course, she'd miss her dad..." line though, which is a bit repetitive since we know how she feels about her father and her stepmother from the first paragraph.

      Your first 250 were well-written, and I wanted to keep going. As OmarComin suggested, the page could benefit from some tightening and trimming of certain phrases. Be sure to vary your word choice/sentence structure, as your prose will flow better if you do!

      Arya: My first thought upon reading the 'alternate world' part of your query was uh-oh. Portal fantasy! There are so many of these that it might be tough to make your story stand out. But! The concept of the Raven Queen felt fresh and exciting, and this query is strong. You definitely made me want to read your opening scene!

      In your first 250, I wasn't sure you were starting the story in the right place. The scene about the animal dung statues is funny, and you write very well, but a common problem I've noticed in portal fantasies is taking too long to get to the alternate world. Consider starting your story with something relevant to the main plot, and closer to Sylvie being lead into the other world. It seems like you might want to start with Sylvie and her sister chasing the fox, for instance.

      This was a really tough decision for me. I sat here reading and re-reading these entries, and I do believe both have serious potential. Still, I can only choose one, so by a hair--

      Victory to RV Arya!

    4. These are two very strong entries!

      Licks The Dandruff: This is a very succinct, tight query. I immediately know who the players are and the dilemma. My only question is what is at stake if Sara can't get out of the book? Will she be doomed to live in the fairytale land? Will her family be cursed? Id like to see something in your sinker that reveals what it will cost her if she doesn't get out of the book.

      Sara's voice really comes through your query, and I liked how you added the small bit of info about the street-hockey stick to allude to what type of girl she is.

      Your first 250 are equally as entertaining, but I'd caution you on using too many adverbs in your first line. I think you can lose the word "gingerly" and still have an effective sentence.

      RV Arya: From reading many agent comments on social media, I know that MG Portal stories are getting more difficult to sell. What is it about your story that makes it different from the others already in the marketplace? I would encourage you to make this clear in your query.

      As far as your overall query, I feel it is really strong. You've done a nice job of weaving voice in with setting and stakes. This is definitely a book I'd like to read.

      I loved the unique set up for your first 250. Who knew people sculpted animals out of scat? Gross, but interesting :) One thing that did not make sense though was Sylvie's comment about the stinky trailer. Would she really have an aversion to this (and smell it right away?) if she'd just spent time sculpting animal poop?

      Victory to: RV Arya

    5. Girl with the Golden PenJune 4, 2014 at 3:15 AM


      The query- This is a cute idea with a really dark side to it (in that the MC wants to 'get rid of' her step family and that is actually one of her goals). I like the dark side. But I do feel the query is a little muddled. It could definitely be cut down in length by combining and shortening sentences which would make it that much stronger.

      The first 250- You have the same issue with too muddled sentences in your first words. You can definetily trim some adverbs and other nessasary words to give it more punch. That said, the character's voice does shine through and you have some very nice sensory details.

      RV ARYA-

      The query- This is a fun premise (and the mere idea of a talking fox makes me excited). Its definitely in the vein of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, so of course I enjoy that. Also: A Raven Queen. Awesome :) You hit a lot of nostalgic points of my childhood with this query. I feel like your MC could have another motivation besides 'get home'. How is she involved with the Raven Queen. Is there something she'll have to do? And will your MC have any more goals while in the world. If so, I'd stress these in your query.

      First 250- These made me laugh because you immediately establish Sylvie as unique and fun. Who makes sculptures from animal poop. I don't know, but its cool! I love her voice and this opening sticks in my head.

      This is really hard because I love the Alice and Wonderland tone to LICKS THE DANDRUFF and I love the Narnia tone in RV ARYA. In the end, it boils down to character and I think RV ARYA captured me a bit more on that front. So, Victory to RV ARYA!

    6. ghostbuster_extraordinaireJune 4, 2014 at 10:41 AM

      Licks the Dandruff:

      Intriguing query. Love the play on Alice in Wonderland; however, the genre says Contemporary Fantasy, which is confusing because the query reads like MG. Is it MG? Great use of voice throughout.

      Great voice in the 250 words! This comes across as a fun read, and I'd like to see more.

      RV Arya:

      The query confused me slightly. Where does she find the bottle? It's definitely a key factor to the story, but it's glossed over. Add a bit more about it to ground the reader into the story. I loved Chronicle of Narnia as a child, and this has that same flare. I'd just be careful that it isn't too similar.

      What's a fox scat replica? That pulled me out of the story. Overall I enjoyed the 250 words, but wasn't completely hooked. Tightening it a bit in order to get to her main goal (her dad) would be helpful to ground the reader. Be careful with including details that aren't fundamentally important to the story.

      Victory to Licks the Dandruff

      Very cool. Love the concept, and the query is clear. I'm definitely intrigued. It might be worth it to cut out the "Of course, she'd miss..." sentence and "She hesitates..." sentence, just to tighten it up a bit.

      The story sounds good - very "Alice in Wonderland"-like, and I like the idea of the Raven Queen :) I was a little confused though about where the blue bottle came from - was it really just sitting out there in the open for anyone to break apart?

      Victory to Licks the Dandruff

  2. Licks the dandruff: Cute story, and I feel like I'm already getting to know Sara. Love the Queen of Parts word-play. Very fun. I agree that the second para of your query is a lot of repeat -- Could you cut that down and make room for a little more description of what happens in Danderland? Your 250 are fun and I liked them a lot. There is room for "trimming" un-needed words, such as it was her dad's wedding day "today." (could cut today) or the cat jumped a mile "high" (could cut high). Also, experiment with taking out the "tried" in the first sentence, so it's just "she opened it as quietly as possible." Stuff like that. Enjoyed your entry. Good luck!

    RV Arya: Loved your first 250! This idea of sculpting the dung is hilarious! Love it. I feel like your first 250 are very strong. Not really any suggestions for those.

    The query one small thing would be to use the name "Lowell" instead of "he" after the sentence that ends with "park ranger." The first time I read it I thought Lowell's dad had led Sylvie into the alternate world. Also, were the ravens and the Queen trapped inside the bottle, or inside the tree? Great stuff, and good luck!

  3. I'll echo the earlier comments both about things I liked and things I thought could be tightened. I also had the same concerns as OmarComin about the premises of the two stories being not as fresh as they might need to be. Is there something about each story that makes it unique and sets it apart from others like it? If so, bring that into the query to make us sit up and pay attention.

    Both first pages were well written, but they shared the same problem--lack of tension. Licks the dandruff started out by making me worry that Sara might get caught, but as soon as she was out the door, that evaporated. Instead of getting away quickly and quietly, she sits on the porch to put on her skates and yells at the cat like she doesn't care who hears. I like her wishing for rain on her dad's wedding day, but then I don't know if she got her wish (and whether she's glad or maybe feels guilty) or if she didn't and she's mad.

    Overall, I'd say that both first pages need two things--a sense of what the MC wants and is striving for in this moment that makes it worthy of starting the story here and a closer connection to the MC, what she's feeling about her current situation.

    Best of luck to both of you.

  4. SARAH AND THE STEPPS: I adore stories about magical books and libraries. As I read your query, I kept flashing images from The NeverEnding Story. This isn't anything new, but the query needs to be tighter. The "wise, talking lizard" part caught me. I know what you mean, but I read it as wise-talking (which would be fun too!). You could leave it as talking, and let the reader find out he's wise. The line about not getting her permission to marry stopped me. Again, I new what you meant, but it could read as the bride married against her will. Little thing like that. I enjoyed your 250, but my thoughts are the same as the other commenters.

    RV ARYA: A portal in the woods? I'm intrigued. I am curious about the blue bottle though. Did she just happen to find it lying in the woods and decide to smash it? Also, maybe give a reason why the queen didn't let them go back home, as a reward for setting her free. It could create more stakes. I think you're off to a great start on your 250.

    Good luck to both of you!!

    1. "knew" not new. and things. Sorry, my trackpad stopped working.

  5. Both of these stories are too cute! I don't know how the judges could possibly decide between them! I will definitely be on the lookout for their publishing dates, my niece will love them :)

  6. Licks the Dandruff

    Haunted Bookhouses with magic books on Sour Grapes Lane...this is a book my girls and I would LOVE to read!

    On the query: I think parts of paragraph one and two could be put together and tightened up. There are some overlapping ideas..

    Can you give me a hint of what price she will have to pay the queen for the right part? That might be more powerful.

    On the 250: There’s a lot of description, and it feels a little slow. It seems like set up telling me about Sara’s personality and what’s going on. Could you start with more action? A fight with the seven stepbrothers and no parents around to break it up because their gone on a honeymoon? Her storming out and heading to the BookHouse, wishing they would all disappear?

    I’d like more of the query voice in the 250.

    Nicely done! Can’t wait to see this published.

    RV Arya

    This is a really good query, other than it seems that some voice shifts here and there (“inadvertently” stopped me for some reason)

    Love the 250 too. The mud poop museum is awesome! You tell me who Sylvie is, what’s going on, and made me laugh. Well done!

    Super job! Good luck!

  7. Licks the Dandruff

    I love your query - it pulls me right in and I readily understand why she would be interested in escape. Love the name Sour Grapes Lane. There's good voice in here (Se-ven) and the stakes are well laid out. The only part that gives me pause is your explanation of the story she falls into. All the rest is familiar territory and the fantasy story world is not, so it might need a little more clarity.

    This is very nicely written. There is one grammar point that I stuck on (The only subject that can follow "Gripping her roller blades in her left hand" is "she".) You do a nice job of setting the scene and bringing in a major plot point - the dad's wedding. Sara is already a great 10 year old character. My only suggestion would be to have the 250 end somewhere a little more interesting than just heading off to find her skating gear.

    Well done!

    RV Arya
    Cool premise - I think you've done a great job building up the character, the plot and the conflict. I wonder if the name Nyrandia isn't too close to Narnia, especially given this is a portal fantasy. And since there's an evil queen. I love Narnia, so it's not a show stopper.

    250: Cute opening. I loved it when the "group shot" ended up being of her sculptures and not, as I expected, of kids at the camp. I think you do a great job of contextualizing where Sylvie is. Like with the other entry, the only real nitpick I have is that the 250 stops short. Given the nature of your story though, I'm not sure what I would suggest you do differently. Maybe something that gives us more of a sense of Sylvie's dissatisfaction? Wish I could offer something more concrete. But good job overall!

    I do not envy the judges here. These are both terrific entries and I struggle to find anything to critique.

  8. Miriam Vos PerezJune 3, 2014 at 10:12 PM

    Licks the Dandruff: I agree with the others who thought the second paragraph in your query was not as strong as the other two. The first paragraph had such a great voice, but in the second paragraph it got lost. Bring it back! The 250 had too much description at the beginning for my taste, but you caught me with these lines: "It was her Dad’s wedding day today. And Sara had wished for thunder and bucket-loads of rain." Great sentences. I'd like to see them move up so that they'd catch my attention even sooner.

    RV Arya: I love the stinky RV and the Louisiana park. Those are distinctive settings that I think could help your story stand out from all the portal fantasies out there. Make the most of them! The animal poop sculptures grabbed me attention all right, but also confused me a bit. Do people really pay money for fake animal poop???

    These are entries with tons of potential and I'm glad I'm not a judge. I truly have no idea which one I'd pick.

  9. Licks the Dandruff
    This sounds like a fun story. The query already has me sympathetic towards Sara’s plight, and I’d happily turn to the book. Based on the overall voice and the age of the main character though, I think this one deserves a Middle Grade label somewhere. Not sure if the parallels to Alice in Wonderland are necessary. They didn’t intrigue me more, but neither did they turn me off the story.

    I like the 250, but there’s a playfulness in the query that isn’t quite coming through here yet. I’m certainly willing to read on, but I’d be hoping to encounter a stronger voice soon. The query promises a girl with a bit of spunk in her, and I’m not quite getting that yet.

    RV Arya
    The 250 made me smile. It’s a cute scene, and tells us a lot about Sylvie’s character. I would suggest a stronger opening line, but thought the rest worked pretty well.

    The query has all the elements, but for some reason felt a little clunky to me. I think the writing could be smoothed out and made a little snappier. Also, every time I saw “Nyrandia” in my head I read it as “Narnia,” especially given the whole “alternate world” scenario. Would seriously suggest changing the name unless it plays some super-secret role in the story.

    Best of luck to both entries!

  10. Wanted to give a HUGE THANK YOU to the judges and fellow kombatants who stopped by to crit our entries. You've given me some great stuff to mull over, which I know can only make my query and 1st 250 SO much stronger/better! I really appreciate all of you!!!

    As to my worthy opponent: I can totally see why they matched us up ~ :) The basic setup of our stories were scarily alike, lol. What I really loved about your entry was the quirkiness of the premise and of Sylvie's character. "Nailed it!" Ha! She had me laughing and I've just got to give props to an enterprising girl who hopes to make $$ off her animal-scat mud sculptures. Awesome! I'm really hoping that much more of her RV/Louisiana charm is shown throughout the story. I will say (like others did) that it had a real Narnia feel to it. I also love the Chronicles of Narnia - so I didn't mind that - but, the suggestions to change the Nyrandia name of your magical land might be something to consider. I also wondered if the way they get into the land and the smashing of the blue bottle were a bit too random/convenient? Just a few nit-picks that jumped out at me, but otherwise, this is a fun story that I'd love to read someday. Best of luck with it and the contest as you move forward! :)

    Your first paragraph really sets up the MC well. She’s just the right kind of girl readers of this age will want to follow throughout a book. Falling into books has been done, but if you have written your story well it can be done again.

    First 250:
    Your first 250 is equal to your query. You have continued to keep me with your MC. I want to know what happens to her and go on her journey. I did get lost in the last long sentence of your first paragraph. I just want to know she went out the door. Nice start though and good detail adding that it’s her dad’s wedding day.

    I love your premise. There are so few books of children who live in RV parks. It is the perfect setting to blend nature into your world. I questioned why you added her home as the last word. I got the feeling your MC didn’t think of the RV as her home.

    First 250:
    I like this. I know what she’s doing and I’m right there with her. I do have to ask, is there room for a box of mud poo inside the RV? Space is limited in those homes. Could your scene still work with the box being stored outside? I like how you ended it with a subtle hint on the first page that her dad is out of the picture.

    Best of luck to both of you.