Jun 1, 2014

QK Round 1: Oh Sweetcrabmeat vs A Few Quick Hellos

Entry nickname: Oh Sweetcrabmeat
Title: The Wildness in Mellie Feye
Word count: 65,000
Genre: YA Fairytale Retelling/Magical Realism


Break her curse. Save the bay. Fix her family. Mellie must decide which is more important and which she must sacrifice.

Sixteen-year-old Mellie and her fellow triplet sisters discover that their long absent father betrayed their mother on the day of their birth. But when Mellie seeks revenge, her mother banishes her from their trailer deep in a Florida swamp with a curse that can only be broken by true-love's kiss.

But crabs, what is true love? And when her beloved bay turns septic? Who cares. She sets out to discover what's killing off the fish and oysters, but when her mother gets sick, Mellie realizes fixing what's wrong with the bay and her mother are connected to breaking her curse. Now she must right the wrongs of the past and figure out how to reunite with her sisters without giving up this wild, cursed life she's grown to love.

My manuscript has an ecological tone similar to HOOT and is based on the fairy tale of Melusine.

First 250:

I could be cursed as worse things. I still have the ability to enjoy the warmth of the strong Florida sun on my skin and the silky bay water on my legs. The faint balmy breeze lifts my hair and I smile until jarring vibrations crowd out the soft ones of the scallops I'm hunting.

Standing thigh-deep in Sand Blast Bay, I look behind me. A boat is heading toward my sandbar, the hip-hop reverberating off the water. I grit my teeth in irritation. The music means they're not here to fish. Or if they are, they have no clue. A party boat.

The sapphire of scallop eyes flash in the grassy, brackish water. I go underwater, blinking to clear the salt and sun from my eyes as I push the bay grass aside. The scallop clicks its two shells together, an underwater butterfly fluttering deeper into the mucky bay floor. I grab it.

When I break through the surface, goosebumps race down my arms. I was underwater less than a minute, but in that time, everything's changed. Bruised clouds have swallowed the sun. A menacing wind slaps me.


I glare at the sky, wondering what I did to bring this on as I wring water out of my Fish Shack tee shirt.

The boat slows, I guess whoever is on it sees me. The nearest shore is two hundred yards away. I wade toward the gnarled, twisted pines.

The stereo cuts off as it gets closer.

Entry Nickname: A Few Quick Hellos 
Title: Under the Fresh Turned Earth
Word Count: 56,000
Genre: YA Magical Realism


Nel has friends who are alive, but she spends most of her time with the dead in the Drutherton Cemetery. Her idea of a perfect afternoon is lying in the dirt of the fresh dug graves and listening to the stories of those buried beneath. 

The most recently deceased, a seventy-two-year-old widow, Harriet Murphy, thought her stories died with her. She hadn’t planned on meeting Nel.

To learn more about her, Nel breaks into Harriet’s home and steals her diary. Within the pages she uncovers a secret the whole town of Drutherton has been waiting to hear for more than fifty years. Harriet reveals that she possessed the Carte Dorare, a magical Book of Wishes.

Nel feels certain Harriet held onto the book and that it’s hiding place is spelled out somewhere in the diary. All she has to do is keep reading.

The Carte Dorare has the power to grant the holder one wish and make their deepest desire come true. The book has changed history before. When Nel gets her hands on it, she can change history again.

First 250: 

Peering between the branches of the pear tree in her back yard, Nel watched caretakers erect a tent over a grave in the Drutherton Cemetery. 

“It's a small one,” she called down to her Grandma Dahlia, who sat at a card table on the back patio, working a jigsaw puzzle. “Only two chairs this time,” she said joining her Grandma.

“Poor thing,” Nel’s Grandma shook her head and forced a piece into the jigsaw puzzle. 

“Not there, you can’t force them.” Nel took the piece out and placed it to the side. “Who do you think it is?” 

“Can’t say. No one I know has been sick.” 

“Could be anyone.” Nel held a puzzle piece up to her mouth and fought the urge to nibble it. She stared out to the headstones just past her fence. “Maybe I . . .”

“Go on child.” 

“Thanks. I won't be long. Just a few quick hellos.” Nel skipped across the yard. She climbed up and over the tree, landing on the green grass of the cemetery. 

Walking along the first line of markers, she stopped near the headstone of Mr. and Mrs. Gruver. It read, 'Together in Life and Forever After'. They had died at the age of sixty-three on the same day. 

“Morning. There’s a new grave a few rows over.” Nel spoke to the headstone as if the dead buried beneath were listening. “I’m going to the service. I’ll introduce you after I meet your new neighbor.”


  1. This space reserved for judge feedback and votes.

    1. Oh Sweet Crabmeat: I found your query a bit confusing, I think because it’s so short. Her mother is the one who put the curse on her, but that same curse has caused her mother to get sick and the bay to turn septic? And Mellie is enjoying her ‘wild, cursed life’? In what way? Where is she living after her mother threw her out? How long has it been since that happened? You can happily have the pitch be up to 250 words, so I’d suggest enlarging and clarifying.

      You opening page sets the scene pretty well, I can picture it clearly, though you have a fondness for adjectives that I’d keep an eye on. Try to trim some of them down, it’s distracting to have too many. I like the description of the scallop as an underwater butterfly, and ‘Bruised clouds have swallowed the sun’ is also a lovely turn of phrase. The mention of the curse provides a mystery and the oncoming boat provides what am guessing will be immediate conflict, so nicely done.

      A Few Quick Hellos: First of all, great title, love it! And a fantastic opening line in your query. Overall I think your query is excellent, cleanly written and clear and interesting. (You have a typo though, do watch out for those – it should be ‘its hiding place’ not ‘it’s’ – oh and also you need to tell us Nel’s age.) However I think we need more info at the end – why does Nel need the Book of Wishes? Is there a particular reason, like an ill family member she wants to save, or something? What *is* Nel’s deepest desire? And what will happen if she *doesn’t* find the book? Something bad? We need stakes. Add those and I think you’ll have a really good query.

      Your opening page is also really good. Nice clear writing, sets the scene, introduces us to Nel and her grandma and shortly, am guessing, Nel’s talent for speaking to the dead. I also like how her grandma knows about her hanging out in the graveyard (and maybe even talking to the dead?) and doesn’t mind, which makes a nice change from kids/teens having to keep secrets from the grown-ups in the story. The only suggestions I have are to take out ‘she said joining her Grandma.’ which you don’t need, and to perhaps put in just a sentence of description of her grandma so we can picture her better. But overall I’d be more than happy to read on.

      Victory to A Few Quick Hellos.

    2. ghostbuster_extraordinaireJune 1, 2014 at 10:11 AM

      Oh Sweet Crabmeat:

      I like the set-up of the conflict in the query. The details about her trailer, the swamp, and Florida all help me visualize Mellie's environment. I'm also curious to know why her mother would banish her for seeking revenge on a man who abandon them. Good job. There's a slight disconnect for me on how we get from her mother banishing her to true-love's kiss breaking the curse. What kind of curse is it? I see from the 250 words that Mellie isn't asleep. Maybe add a little more detail to connect the thought.

      I see where you're going with the 'but crabs' statement. It's the character's voice, but I didn't really make that connection until after I went back and re-read it. It may not be a problem for some, but it definitely took me out of the flow of the query. Many times agents are too busy to go back and re-read the query. Just remember you have one chance to capture their attention.

      She's grown to love the cursed life, but we don't know what the curse is. If possible, I would give a tiny bit more detail about the curse itself.

      Love the ecological tone and the use of a unique fairytale.

      The details in your 250 words are wonderful, and I feel like I'm in the water myself. The underwater butterfly fluttering was my favorite.

      Other than tweaking the first two sentences so that only one of them begins with 'I' the snippet is solid. I'd definitely keep reading.

      A Few Quick Hellos:

      Wow, definitely intrigued by Nel's ability. The query read very smoothly for me. It did leave me with some questions that pull me out of the query though. How old is the protagonist? What's her wish? Has the book changed the history of only that town or the world? Also, where's the town located? Also, the main conflict seems to be missing. What terrible thing will happen if Nel doesn't get the book and change history?

      Your 250 words flew by. Love that Nel is so open about her ability. Curious to know if other people know about it? I wanted more!

      Victory to A Few Quick Hellos

    3. Allusion AssassinJune 2, 2014 at 12:46 PM

      The opening hook is good and overall the query is well written/uses language effectively, but the concept/premise seems confusing. I don't get what true love's kiss has to do with anything and I don't understand why if her mother put the curse on her, her mother is now sick because of the same curse. Also, like Omar, I don't get why her mother would care if she sought revenge on an abandoning father.

      Also, consider looking at some of the vague phrases such as "right the wrongs of the past" what wrongs? Be specific or take it out.

      The open page is pretty good. The tense threw me a bit, but that's just a taste thing.

      Your opening hook and premise are terrific. For the most part, I thought your query was pretty good.

      Nit - In YA you MUST include the MC's age.

      I didn't get why the whole town would be interested in Harriet's secret. Also, it was confusing why Nel would think the book is still around and why she would go looking for it?

      Finally, as the other judges have said - what are the stakes for Nel? What does she have to overcome and what bad thing happen if she doesn't?

      Your opening is where you really shine. The opening scene is really fabulous. Loved it and wanted to read more.

      Victory A FEW QUICK HELLOS

    4. Girl with the Golden PenJune 4, 2014 at 1:08 AM


      The query: I found your query concise and interesting. The stakes and main character are clear and it has a nice voice to it. But I do think there are a lot of details that bog down what is otherwise a short and sweet query. For one thing, the sisters. The crux of the plot revolves around the main character fixing her mom and the sisters, at least in the query, feel like an after thought. They don't really tie in with the basic plot (they could be important in the story, but I don't think they need emphasis in the query). I also feel the addition of true loves first kiss, while it will surely lead to some interesting stuff in the story, also feels rushed. As you say 'who cares' what true love is when the real stakes are at hand. Stick to the stakes about the bay and the mother and you'll have a strong enough query.
      THE PAGES- I like your voice and you have some excellent images. Love the scallop descriptions. And I get a good sense of your character's voice from the start. Really, I have no problems with your first pages. Good job.


      The Query- This query is mostly very well written, but I have a problem with the second paragraph. It kind of breaks up the flow of the query and I think it can be integrated into the third paragraph and sound a lot better. I think some of your sentences to be a little bit more concise as well. Read them over and make every word work for its place.

      That being said, the premise hooks me. I love this kind of fantasy. And though I thought the query could use some cleaning, I still got the premise, the stakes and the character.

      The pages- This is where your entry really shined. I just like the tone of these opening lines. Its whimsical and interesting and presented a very clear picture in my head of your character and the beginning action. It gets right to the point which is important in fantasy for a younger audience. You got to hook them right away.

      The verdict: All and all, this was a difficult choice because both of these entries were really well written. So it really had to come down to personal preference to me. Victory to A FEW QUICK HELLOS

      The logline is okay, but doesn't really draw me in like it should. I'd like more details about some of the story elements -- their father's betrayal, their mother's curse are both important aspects that we don't really have enough information about to become invested in. And why has she "grown to love" her curse? Maybe if we knew more about what the curse entailed, we'd care what she might be giving up.

      Grammar stuff - hypenate fresh-turned! "its hiding place" has no apostrophe! Really cool premise, but why does Nel want to change history? I feel like I'm missing something here.

      Victory to A Few Quick Hellos

  2. Oh Sweet Crabmeat: I like the first paragraph of your query a lot, it sets up the story well. But, your "Who cares." line in the third paragraph really threw me off. There isn't a question mark. If you aren't asking us who cares, then you are saying that no one cares, and if no one cares, I, the reader, don't care either.
    The first line of your First 250 confused me and my confusion wasn't abated by the rest of the entry. Consider re-thinking that line.

    A Few Quick Hellos: Love the premise set up by the query. It would be nice to know Nel's age. Your first 250 grabbed me and I can't wait to read more.

    Victory to A Few Quick Hellos

  3. Wow, this was a really tough one for me! These are two beautiful, strong entries in one of my favorite genres.

    Sweetcrabmeat: I love a lot of the images your query brings to mind (the swamp setting, a curse, something killing off the fish), but ultimately, your query left me feeling confused. I didn't understand the part about Mellie's mother cursing her, but the curse being the reason something's wrong with her mother and the bay. I was also thrown by the 'But crabs,' line, though I understand you were trying to infuse the query with your MC's voice. That's a good thing, but be careful with the execution. Also, you mention Mellie's sisters at the start of your query, but then I don't see what role they play in the story. I suggest making their role clearer, or omitting them from the query and using the additional room to tell us more about Mellie's story.

    However...Your writing is absolutely gorgeous. I felt like I was standing in the bay with Mellie thanks to your lush descriptions. As others have mentioned, though, watch that first line- either omit it, or change it, because it's a bit jarring and takes away from the rest of your lovely prose. Another way to fix it might be to elaborate immediately. "I could have been cursed with worse things than ____."

    A Few Quick Hellos: You have an awesome concept here, and your query shows it from the very first paragraph! Be sure to add Nel's age in there somewhere, however. Also, your query left me with some questions I think it's important that you clarify in revisions. For example, how can the whole town have been waiting to hear a secret, if it's a secret? Also, can Nel have conversations with the dead? I wasn't quite sure from the query. If she can, why doesn't she just ask Harriet for the book's location? I also think the stakes need to be clearer at the end. How can the book change history, and what does Nel want to change so badly? I don't think all of these questions need to be answered necessarily, but giving something more specific about the story's main conflict will entice people to read on.

    Loved your first 250, aside from a few nitpicks. You don't need the "she said, joining her Grandma" since we already know Nel is speaking. Then "She stared out to" might read better as "She stared out at." That could just be me, though. Otherwise, this was an engaging and refreshing read!

    And now for the vote. I felt that A Few Quick Hellos had the stronger query, but I preferred the first 250 of Sweetcrabmeat (this is subjective, though! Both entries had strong opening pages). Knowing that some agents will still read sample pages even if the query falls short, and based on my love of mysterious, watery settings...

    Victory to Oh Sweetcrabmeat!

  4. Loved these two entries. Both had very unique twists that piqued my interest.

    Oh Sweetcrabmeat:

    I liked your hook and it made me want to read on. As the other judges have mentioned, I too was confused by the "Who cares" line. I also had a hard time understanding what the curse was? Does the MC get turned into a crab? This was not clear.

    Your opening 250 were lyrical and you painted the setting beautifully which made me want to read on. Well done!

    A Few Quick Hellos:

    Loved your hook! Definitely think this will draw in the reader. Your query did leave me with a few questions though:

    What is your MC's power? Is she a medium? Think that needs to be spelled out a little clearer. The one thing I was perplexed about is what is Nel's motivation for wanting the book of wishes? My recommendation would be to define these stakes in order to make your query more compelling.

    Your first 250 start out strong putting me right into the setting. The only thing I would have liked you to elude to is her connection with the dead.

    Also, be careful with your tone and voice. Although this is YA, the voice is reading very MG to me especially when you say, "she skipped across the yard."

    Victory to: A Few Quick Hellos

  5. Oh, Sweetcrabmeat, I enjoyed reading this! I love the environment you're writing about, and I got a little of her voice, which was fun. I was a bit confused by the query -- in what way did the dad betray them, and why would the mother kick her out for trying to right the wrong? Also, the beginning of the third paragraph -- I like the "But crabs" comment (tells fun voice!) but if you could clear up the next couple of sentences it would make more sense. They don't quite connect.

    Your 250 are lush and enjoyable. You might want to cut some of the adjectives and let the water and breeze and sounds speak for themselves. Good luck!

    A Few Quick Hellos: Love this idea!! Makes me think of Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book (which is a great comp to have!). I wonder if making the paragraph about Harriet be from Nel's POV would be clearer -- as it is, Harriet only has the one paragraph. It would feel more streamlined if it were all from Nel's POV.

    I enjoyed your 250 a lot. I really love the idea of her talking to people in the graves. There are a few places to check your commas -- joining her Grandma (you might want to make this a completely new sentence), poor thing, go on child. Love the idea and good luck!

  6. Oh Sweetcrabmeat:

    The 250 is stronger than the query. The query bounces around quite a bit and I don't get a good feel for what will actually happen in the story. But the writing of the 250 is lovely and paints a clear picture of the water and the bay. I'd like more detail in the first line. It has the feeling of holding back something to tease the reader, but I think you'll get better results with the specifics of the curse. Because until she refers to her t-shirt, it almost reads like she isn't human.

    A Few Quick Hellos:

    I had the same concerns that others have mentioned about the query--what is it about the past that Nel wants to change so much? And also, why can't she just ask Harriet where the diary is? But by the time I got to the point, I was hooked enough that those weren't dealbreakers.

    The 250, on the other hand, is nearly flawless. I liked it so much. Only a couple of tiny concerns. 1) I think you could replace, "she said, joining her Grandma" with a quick description of her climbing down the tree. As is, it seems like she goes from the top of the tree to standing beside Grandma without any movement in between. 2) Without an age stated in the query, I can only guess, and from the tone and voice, I would have guessed Nel is no older than twelve. Is that right? If not, you either need to change the tone to match the character's age or change the age to match the tone. If possible, I'd vote for changing the age because the I love the tone the way it is.

    Two strong entries. Best of luck to both of you.

  7. Hey there! :) And best of luck to both of you!! My thoughts on the two stories:

    Oh, Sweetcrabmeat: I LOVE new twists on fairytales - I tend to do that a lot in my own writing, so right off the bat, this is a story that appealed to me. I especially like that you went with a lesser-known fairytale. I actually had to look it up - not familiar with this one, so I wondered if just a quick intro in your query about Mesuline might be helpful? The query, I thought, needed more. I was confused by why her mother would curse her? I imagine it's meant to teach her a valuable lesson, but "seeking revenge" is so generic and vague. What specifically did she do/try to do that warranted her mother cursing her? Your first 250 confused me a bit, as well. Love imagery, I'll add, but was she not supposed to be in the water? That's kind of what I thought - but wasn't sure. Is that part of her curse? I might be more specific about that as well. But, I did enjoy it. Best of luck!

    A Few Quick Hellos: Another storyline that appeals to me ~ :) I love a good ghost story and have an MC who talks to the dead, as well! Nice! I liked the general premise in the query - but, I kind of wanted a reason for why she preferred talking to the dead. The "lying in the dirt of a fresh grave" part was deliciously morbid, but at the same time kind of creeper-y. And I didn't feel that her conflict and stakes were clear enough. Good stuff, but I wanted a bit more clarification. I enjoyed the 250 as well - love Grandma already. But, Nel felt pretty young to me, almost MG. How old is she supposed to be? Great job and best of luck to you!

  8. Oh Sweetcrabmeat
    Great query opening. I was immediately captivated. My main comment for the rest of the query would be that, although the breaking of the curse hinges on finding true love (thus strongly suggesting a romantic element to this story), there’s no mention of a possible object for Mellie’s affections. I’m just saying…

    The opening line of the 250 left me confused. To me “I could be cursed as worse things” suggests some sort of transformation, but nothing in the rest of the page leads me to believe she’s anything but human. Is the curse a transformation or a banishment? Other than that, I though the opening page flowed very nicely.

    A Few Quick Hellos
    I like the query in general, but was confused on the basic premise: is it that Nel can only “hear” what dead people say, or can she actually interact with them. And I’m left uncertain whether Harriet wants Nel to find this stuff out, or would prefer it stayed dead and buried with her (for me it was ambiguous).
    A few nits:
    Should “lying in the dirt” being “lying on the dirt”?
    Would suggest changing “When Nel gets her hands on it…” to “If Nel gets her hands on it…”

    I really, really liked the opening 250. A nice, breezy narrator, with just the right touch of intrigue. The only thing I would suggest there is perhaps a stronger opening line. It opens okay, but given the premise of the story I think there’s lots of ways to really grab the reader’s attention right off the bat.

    Best of luck to both entries!