Jun 15, 2014

Qk Round 2: Guerrilla Geek VS Star Light, Star Bright

Entry Nickname: Guerrilla Geek
Title: Ellie and the Arborites
Word count: 40K
Genre: MG Fantasy


No matter how many times twelve-year-old Ellie Emerson tells herself that trees and genetics are not cool topics of conversation, that’s kinda all she’s got. She’s seen so many eye-rolls that she can’t even force herself to look anybody in the eyes anymore. And the best defense against bullying she’s come up with is to pretty much stop talking altogether. It’s gotten so bad that the “friend” she hangs out with after school is an old chestnut tree she’s named Cassie (short for its Latin name, Castanea dentata). Sure, trees are great, but a few real friends would be nice. Ellie just has no clue how to even start.

But when Ellie’s out hiking in the woods behind her house and discovers Arborites, little green-haired, bark-skinned elves born from the seed of a tree, she gets her chance. A tree-loving science-geek is exactly what they need. Trees and Arborites all over the forest are mysteriously becoming sick, and they think Quercus Supreme, leader of the Oak Arborites, is to blame. Rumor has it he’s genetically engineering insects and diseases in a secret laboratory to get rid of anyone who’s different.

The Arborites must find out what’s going on and come up with a way to stop it, but they can’t do it on their own. If Ellie can learn how to look the Arborites straight in the eyes, find her voice, and let her geek-flag proudly fly, she might not only save lives, but also learn how to make friends.

First 250:

Ellie’s favorite tree was lying on the forest floor in a tangled heap. The only branch still covered with the yellow leaves of autumn waved in the breeze like it was signaling for help.

I should’ve stayed with her during the storm. There had to be something I could’ve done.

“I’m so sorry, Cassie. But hey, everything’s gonna be fine. I promise. Just like always,” she reassured the majestic century-old chestnut tree. “Wanna read some more Gulliver’s Travels? Or I’ve got a new book, Remarkable Trees of the World. There’s like a whole section on ‘Trees in Peril.’ Maybe some interesting treatments for forest diseases and insect infestations can cheer us up.”

Ellie grabbed her backpack and unzipped the main compartment. As she reached inside for the book, she noticed dozens of ants crawling up her sleeve.

“Eww,” she yelled, her eyes popping wide. She flicked the ants off and ran her hands up and down her body, straining to look at her backside, just to make sure there weren’t any more. And that’s when she saw the massive army of black ants marching along the fallen trunk. No, no, no, no, no.

“Shoo, get off,” she shouted. “She’s not some rotten log for you to nest in. Show some respect. Leave her alone!”

She pulled off her sneaker and beat them like she was trying to put out a brush-fire. Squished segmented bodies with wiry legs were scattered everywhere, but it did nothing to scare off the new arrivals.


Entry Nickname: Star Light, Star Bright
Title: Sadie Scottsdale and the Wasted Wish
Word Count: 40,000
Genre: MG Fantasy


In a world where wishes come true, ten-year-old Sadie Scottsdale wishes they didn’t.

Ever since the international Wishing Council identified her thirteen-year-old sister, Becca, as one of the world’s six Wishers, Sadie’s felt like a big, fat nothing. All everyone wants to talk about is Becca and how Becca’s upcoming Wish is sure to do something spectacular, like re-establish an extinct species or clean their town’s polluted river.

Sadie understands all the attention toward Becca—to a point. Wishes are important. They’re granted only every eight years when the Sister Comets re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. What bothers Sadie is that no one seems to care Becca ruined her awesome summer. Now, instead of movies and the mall, a camping trip, and collecting the local restaurant’s giveaways, Sadie’s stuck in a boarding school in the Wishing Village with other kids unfortunate enough to be related to a Wisher. Worse, the Village isn’t even a real Village—it’s a bunch of buildings on a farm in Nebraska.

Then, as everyone waits for the Wishes to be granted, rumors swirl that Becca broke the rules by making a selfish Wish. Becca swears she didn’t, even as evidence mounts against her. With the Sister Comets rapidly approaching, Sadie bands with her new friends and comes up with a plan to clear Becca’s name and salvage her summer. Problem is, Sadie’s going to break the rules to do it, and if she gets caught, she’ll be joining Becca in the detention center until the next time the Sister Comets return.

First 250:

She had to stop soon, Sadie thought. No one could possibly sing that long, especially about something so stupid.

Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack.

Sadie winced as the sound of her sister’s high-heeled shoes striking the ceramic tile grew louder. Clasping her hands over her ears, she stared at her book. Maybe, just maybe, if she looked like she was concentrating really hard, Becca would leave her alone.

The shutter doors to the kitchen banged open.

“It’s Wishing Day! It’s Wishing Day! Come one, come all, it’s Wishing Daaaaay!” Becca sang, prancing into the sun-drenched room.

Don’t look. Sadie pressed her palms against the sides of her head and mouthed words she pretended to read.

Becca remained undaunted. “Wish-ing Day! Wish-ing Day! Every-body’s com-ing to Wish-ing Day!”

Sadie slumped and lifted her eyes. Becca twirled across the floor, her brand new white-flowered dress swaying as she spun.

“Hurry up, Sade. We can’t be laaaate,” Becca crooned.

Sadie waited until Becca stopped. Making sure her sister was watching, she gave her eyes a good roll and flipped the page.

Becca arched an eyebrow and smirked. “Mooom,” she sang. “Sadie’s not dressed!”

Sadie groaned, knowing what was coming.

“Sadie!” Mom shouted from her parents’ bedroom. “Move it!”

Sliding off the kitchen stool, Sadie grabbed her bowl of pineapple. She tossed a chunk into her mouth and trudged toward her bedroom.

Becca skipped by and gave a light push. “Come on, Slow-mo.”

With a flick of her wrist, Sadie grasped the satin ribbon on Becca’s dress and pulled.


  1. Judges, reply here with your comment and vote.

      Well-written query, but feels a bit "wordy" for MG. I think you might consider using contractions wherever possible -- "aren't" for "are not", for example. That will make the query feel more informal and (in my opinion) younger. This section -- " She’s seen so many eye-rolls that she can’t even force herself to look anybody in the eyes anymore. And the best defense against bullying she’s come up with is to pretty much stop talking altogether" could be tightened a bit. Consider cutting excess, unnecessary words like "that" and "even". Not sure you even need the next sentence -- I understand the desire to get the bullying mention in the query, but that first paragraph is rather dense for a MG book. This sentence -- "
      But when Ellie’s out hiking in the woods behind her house and discovers Arborites, little green-haired, bark-skinned elves born from the seed of a tree, she gets her chance" could also use a trim. We don't really need to know she's hiking behind her house, consider -- " But when Ellie discovers Arborites--little green-haired, bark-skinned elves born from tree seeds--she finds a tree-loving science-geek is exactly what they need."
      First 250 words:
      This is actually more engaging than the query, in my opinion. Again, maybe tweak a bit to make it sound less formal. Example -- "She’s not some rotten log for you to nest in" could be something like "She's not some rotten log you can nest in." But overall, well done, and certainly a great concept.
      Another solid query. I really love the hook -- definitely a keeper. However, again -- in my opinion -- a little wordy for MG. I think you could tighten this a bit more. One example -- "All everyone wants to talk about is Becca and how Becca’s upcoming Wish is sure to do something spectacular, like re-establish an extinct species or clean their town’s polluted river" could works just as well with a few words removed -- "All everyone talks about is how Becca’s upcoming Wish is sure to do something spectacular, like re-establish an extinct species or clean their town’s polluted river."
      Also, after "...instead of movies and the mall" I don't know that you need to detail the other things before continuing with "Sadie's stuck..."
      First 250 words:
      You do a great job of setting up the sister dynamic, and giving us a sense of Ellie (and Sadie's) personality traits. The dialogue sounds right for a MG too. I think this sentence needs a tweak -- "“Sadie!” Mom shouted from her parents’ bedroom. “Move it!” -- because her mom isn't shouting from HER parents' bedroom, it's HER bedroom (in reference to the mom shouting).
      Another tough decision -- you guys have no mercy! Knowing that both of these deserve agent attention, I still must make a choice, so -- based on the sense of dynamism and forward motion in the first 250 words --

    2. Guerrilla Geek:
      Query: I think your first paragraph goes on a touch too long, and buries the unique bit that I really liked (her only friend is a tree). In my opinion, you could cut or rewrite most of the first paragraph to start out stronger. Also, I'm wondering why trees and genetics are all she has--does she just love those topics? Do her parents work in those fields, so that's all she knows? I also wondered why looking the Arborites in the eyes and finding her voice was so important--I would have liked to know more about what she actually has to do. "Finding her voice" and "letting her geek-flag fly" are a little too vague to be exciting, I think.
      First 250: The first few paragraphs made me think "awwww!" I love the image of the autumn-yellow leaves signalling for help. But I was a little startled when I got to the end--she squishes those ants with quite a bit more violent vigor than I was expecting from a compassionate girl who cares for trees. I was also confused as to whether the tree was recently fallen and Ellie was just now finding it (in which case I would expect more shock/surprise from her, on finding her friend "dead"), or if it had been fallen for a while. You've definitely got some great MG voice in here, though!

      Star Light, Star Bright
      Query: What a neat, original premise! This drew me in pretty quickly. It feels a little wordy, so I think you could trim a bit (maybe a few sentences), but it did its job in intriguing me to read on.
      First 250: The first line made me smile, and already sounds pitch-perfect for a middle-grade novel. "Clasping" felt like an odd word choice to me, since with that I usually picture something locking together (like clasping a necklace). Perhaps "clapping her hands over her ears" might be better? Absolutely adore the voice, though, and the characters feel real and well-rounded and like people I'd want to spend a book with. Well done!

      My decision: This one is tough! Both of these entries have great voice, but I'm going to have to go with the one that I feel is more polished, so I say VICTORY TO STAR LIGHT, STAR BRIGHT!


      Query: Great voice, clear stakes, and easy to follow. I think you could get rid of most of the “that”s in the first paragraph, but I have no other real suggestions. Nicely done!

      250: More fantastic voice. Just a couple of suggestions – her reaction to the tree falling doesn’t quite feel big enough to me. This is her favorite tree/best friend and now it’s dying, right? Maybe give us a little more of her emotion here (you don’t want to overdo it obviously, but a little more would make us more empathetic to her right off the bat).


      Query: Nice hook in the beginning. You’ve done a good job of taking what sounds like a lot of complicated world building and condensing it down to a query. However, this is still pretty long, and I wonder if there are ways to trim it further. For example, although it’s funny, I don’t think we need to know the village is a bunch of buildings in Nebraska. (If you do keep that line, don’t capitalize the second “village.”)

      250: Although this is well written, the scene didn’t grab me as much as I wanted it to. I think the issue could be that there is a lot of back and forth between the sisters but it’s very repetitive. I don’t feel like I learned anything about the story in this page – other than it’s Wishing Day. However, there is some fun voice in here, and Becca was irritating me from the very beginning (in a good, you’ve given her a great voice kind of way.)

      Great job to both of you! Victory to GUERRILLA GEEK

    4. Princess PrimroseJune 17, 2014 at 9:28 AM

      Ahh, I remember Star Light, Star Bright from round 1! My thoughts...

      Guerilla Geek:

      Query: Your query is strong and humorous, and I LOVE the idea of a science girl geek role model for MG-age-level girls. The premise, too, is fresh and upbeat, and I can see this becoming an editor's pet project.

      250: I had to go back and re-read when one of the judges said the tree had actually fallen because I didn't get that either. I thought she was just resting against it because her reaction definitely isn't strong enough to her tree dying. For someone who only has arboreal friends, this would seem like a death, wouldn't it? Or at least a serious hospitalization? ;) I DID like her reaction to the ants, but perhaps you could show her as more grief-stricken right off the bat?

      Dear Sadie Scottsdale,

      I won't re-do my comments as I've already given you detailed feedback in my first go-around. Lovely premise and lovely writing, though I do feel Becca's voice is a bit stilted.

      Gosh, this is a tough decision, but ultimately I'm going to go with... VICTORY TO GUERILLA GEEK.

    5. Guerilla Geek,

      This is adorable. I used to talk to trees when I was little so I can totally relate (I had a friend with me though, so we seemed less weird together ;)

      I wonder if you might do better starting off with Ellie in a more normal situation though. Like she's hopping off the bus to see the tree mangled. This way we can see her interaction with kids her age, even if briefly. I think this would help the readers understand why she cares so much about the trees, because they're her only friends. We'd also get a rush of emotion as she sees the tree mangled for the first time.
      I worry that a middle grade reader will pick up this story and not understand Ellie and just think she's just weird. I don't say that to be mean but this is a hard age group, an age where they're still trying to figure out who they are and what's "cool". They don't want to be the loser. So starting off with Ellie talking to the trees with no frame of reference as to why she talks to them like they're her friends, I just think you'll run the risk of losing some readers, especially the older ones.

      Star Light, Star Bright

      I don't like the "In a world" line because it just makes me think of that cheesy super deep movie trailer voice. It's a bit cliche, honestly. Try switching that tag line to something a bit more original. Even something like "In Sadie's world wishes come true, only she wishes they didn't"

      Otherwise I agree with the others that it can be tightened. You use some of the same words a lot, be careful with too much of that. Like you says Beccas name a lot in here. Try switching it up every once in a while even if it's just "Sadie's sister." or "her sister"

      Victory goes to: Guerrilla Geek

    6. Allusion AssassinJune 17, 2014 at 12:59 PM

      What a terrific query rewrite. Way to take a ton of feedback from the last round and work it out. Now that you've gotten all the kinks worked out plot wise, you need to condense. It's too wordy for MG. Other judges have given you great advice on that. Also, agree that you have some cliche's running about.

      I still love your opening but agree with whatever judge that said the ant thing seems a bit harsh. Maybe soften.

      You also did a great job taking feedback. I agree with the judge who said to change the "in a world" line (and now I have movie trailer guy in my head). You could trim a bit still and keep an eye on Becca's tone so as not to end up stilted and cliche.

      These are both great entries and I'd be surprised if they each did receive their share of agent request. While I feel Guerrilla Geek really brought her query a long way, it still has a bit further to go to be ready.


    7. NOTE: Since I focused on queries in round 1, this time I'm focusing on the first 250 words.

      It took me a moment to work through what was going on in the opening sentences. It might help to make the sentence active instead of passive -- focus on Ellie's actions (maybe "Ellie knelt down beside her favorite tree, which was now lying on the forest floor...")

      I think it's kind of cute that she's trying to cheer up a fallen tree, but then for her to freak out about a few little ants on her sleeve seems strange - is she outdoorsy or not?

      The "like she was trying to put out a brush-fire" analogy doesn't really work for me - I just kept picturing her trying to put out a fire with her shoe.

      The opening sentences draw me in. I want to know who Sadie's talking about and what that person is singing and why.

      "Mom shouted from her parents' bedroom" - Mom's parents' bedroom? Or Mom's own bedroom?

      I love the sibling interaction here. It's realistic and relatable. I'd keep reading.



      Query: This is a fascinating concept. You have a great voice. The stakes are clearly laid out. I think some of the sentences could be tightened in a few areas.

      For example: (delete-can’t even force herself) (add-barely) or leave as (can’t look anybody).
      Delete (pretty much).

      It’s gotten so bad that the “friend” she hands out with (delete-after school). Just go through the rest of the query and trim it down a bit.

      The first 250 has wonderful detail. I can see the setting and have a feel for the character’s personality.


      Query: Overall, fairly solid query. I can see the stakes and get a sense of Sadie’s voice and motivation.

      I think the second paragraph can be tightened. There is more detail than you need. Ex: delete (seems to) care.

      You don’t really need “instead of movies and the mall, a camping trip, and collecting the local restaurant’s giveaways” maybe choose one.

      The first 250 was fun. I don’t have any suggestions.

      These are two great queries and first 250. They are both unique and intriguing. I wish you both good luck.

      Victory to STAR LIGHT, STAR BRIGHT

    9. DivaDeconstructedJune 17, 2014 at 7:01 PM


      Query: So this Query is pretty adorable. I'd consider saying "Ellie just has not clue where to even start" instead of "how." Though I suspect "how" is her actual problem. The first paragraph could be condensed a tiny bit, but other than that, job well done.
      First 250 pages: This gave us a good idea about who Ellie is, and it pretty much matches the Query. The fact she kill a bunch of ants is kind of disturbing, but it is understandable given what the ants infestation means. I think it might be more interesting to see her do something more restorative than protective. However, perhaps Ellie needs to be protective given the plot of the story. The query indicates that insects are one of the things she has to stop, so in that regard it's good, but I feel like her knowing a way to block ants (for example laying down ground chalk) might show her to be able to fix the situation without resorting to violence.



      Query: My only problem with the query is the sentence " Now, instead of movies and the mall, a camping trip, and collecting the local restaurant’s giveaways, Sadie’s stuck in a boarding school in the Wishing Village with other kids unfortunate enough to be related to a Wisher." I'm not sure you need to mention all those things. Other than that, you've got me interested. It might be nice to know earlier that Sadie makes friends with other non-wisher kids. It might also be nice to get a handle on what "rules" are being broken.

      First 250 words: Ah, sibling rivalry. You've nailed it! You've rendered an experience so many children have in full color. I'm definitely intrigued to read more. I do think you could probably insert a tiny but of Sadie's distaste with the whole wishing thing in general. Thanks to reading the query I knew what Becca was singing about, but without it, I'd be less informed. So consider giving the reader some clues to the context.



      Both are excellent queries/first pages, but I was more interested in the conflict/plot of STAR LIGHT, STAR BRIGHT.

      The victor is STAR LIGHT, STAR BRIGHT.

  2. Guerrilla Geek - I like the query, but it feels a little wordy. Maybe get rid of "that" and "anymore" in the second sentence. There are ways to tighten this even more. I really enjoyed your first 250. Very nicely written, good voice. Maybe some tightening in the writing and I would add some urgency in her voice.

    Star Light - Great world building in the query, though I do agree that this could be shortened some. The first 250 are well written, lively and with great voice, but nothing much is happening. Maybe take out some of the banter and get further into the story?

    Great job on both of these. Again, I feel sorry for the judges having to choose!

  3. Guerilla Geek: Wow! Your query changes are fantastic! Your beginning paragraph is super, and I love that you still kept the geek flag line. :) Your 250 are also great, and I would definitely read more about Ellie and her trees. Great job!

    Star Light: Again, this is so fun! I love your 250, and would definitely read on. The query is super, as well. A couple nit-picks, if you don't mind: I would suggest you use "Sadie has" instead of "Sadie's" in the second para. Would be a little clearer. The other little thing is that isn't attention "on" someone rather than "toward" someone? Just something that caught my eye. Otherwise, fantastic! Good luck!

  4. This is the first time I've read these entries and they are both great with very unique concepts.

    Guerilla Geek:
    I think the first paragraph of the query could be a little shorter. You only need a couple of sentences for us to get that your MC is more comfortable with trees than with people. It's quirky enough to intrigue the reader. For the first 250, I'm not sure I buy her initial reaction to the ants on her. I would think she would be more interested in protecting the tree as a first response. Otherwise, I think it's really good. I would absolutely buy your book for a child.

    Star Light: Another wonderful story. I love the sibling rivalry and the high stakes. The query is great, especially the fabulous hook, but I agree with a few of the judges who said it could be a tiny bit shorter.

    The only comment I have on the 250 other than it is terrific, is that I'd like Becca's voice to sound very different than Sadie's and older. There is a big difference between 10 and 13, and I would think an older sister would point that out as often as possible.

  5. This is the first I've seen of either of these entries, and I loved both of them! The judges have a tough pick here.

    Guerilla Geek: I love your premise. However, I think your query is a bit long. I think if you tightened it up just a bit, this query could be even better than it already is. You certainly grabbed my attention! I think the voice in your 250 matches your query really well. Ellie is an adorable loner, and I found her love of trees and knowledge endearing. I agree with someone above when they say the violence against the ants is unexpected. For some reason, I just expected a person so in love with nature(trees) to love all of nature. I would have the same reaction to ants though, and don't blame her for freaking out on them.

    Star Light: Your query drew me right in. It has a few spots that could be trimmed (such as the bit about the 'Village' being in Nebraska. The reader will find that out in the story, so it doesn't really need to be here). Your query hooked me more than your 250 did. I'm a sucker for sibling stories, especially sisters since I am one. I agree with someone above about the sister's voices though. They sound very similar. Becca is wearing heels, which makes her seem so grown up, but she sounds a lot like Sadie when she speaks. I think you've given us some great insight into Sadie's personality in this first passage though.

    I really liked both of these, and would buy both. I'd like to say I'd buy them to give to a kid as a gift, but that would be a lie. I want to read them myself.