Jun 1, 2015

QK Round 1: Paper Girl in the Land of Yesterday v. Who Will Be Winter

Entry Nickname: Paper Girl in The Land of Yesterday
Word count: 63K
Genre: MG Fantasy


On Monday, eleven-year-old Cecelia Dahl’s sorrows aren’t turning her into paper. Her little brother is alive, and her mother doesn’t blame her for his death then run off to The Land of Yesterday in search of his ghost. Cecelia has a pleasant house in Hungrig, Norway that doesn’t come to life, kidnap her father, or try to kill her. She has a soul she can’t see, not a small blue one that literally strolls out of her body, abandoning her like everyone else. That is Monday. Then Tuesday sweeps in with its terrible claws and rips her life to shreds.

Moments before Cecelia’s house—a dark and crooked thing called Widdendream—absorbs her father and tries to swallow her whole, a pair of mischievous gnomes arrive at her window in a hot-air balloon and carry her away. Outside, question marks rain from Norway’s sky, and Cecelia’s world no longer makes sense. Thank goodness the balloon’s keepers claim to know how to find The Land of Yesterday and save her father from Widdendream’s doom. Cecelia must survive the harrowing voyage over land, sea and stars, in order to find Yesterday and bring her mother and ghost-brother home. If she doesn’t, Widdendream will never give her father back, and Cecelia’s transformation to a Full Paper Dahl will be irreversibly complete.

First 250:

On Monday of last week, Cecelia Dahl understood the world. She resided in Hungrig Norway, in a crooked house called Widdendream. Daisies that bloomed in both grass and snow circled the shimmering lake outside her window. Sharp mountains loomed over her town. Dogs barked. Cats meowed. Cecelia’s midnight blue hair grew long and fast and cantankerous. Her skin was dark and bronze and oddly freckled, just like her mother’s. Widdendream loved her family, as all good houses should, and her family loved her the same way. Indeed, on Monday of last week, these were all hardboiled facts.

Then Cecelia did the bad thing. And just after midnight of Tuesday last, she understood only one fact: Tuesday hated Cecelia and Cecelia hated it back.

“Cecilia,” Miss Podsnappery asked while pushing up her horn-rimmed glasses. “What ever do you call that instrument in your hand?”

Every eye in class turned on Cecelia. Expressionless gazes traced her charcoal sweater and the black-and-gray striped dress beneath it, judging her frayed tights and scuffed boots too, no doubt. Her teacher, bewildered as always, loomed over her desk far enough to cast shadows. Cecelia forced a smile. She must keep her answer as succinct as possible, forgoing any miscommunications. Teachers were simple creatures, after all, and one had to be succinct, especially since Tuesday last week. Ever since, understanding had gone straight downhill.

“Miss Podsnappery,” Cecilia answered, speaking with extra care as not to confuse the poor woman, for she did try exceedingly hard to please.


Entry Nickname: Who Will Be Winter?
Title: Winter’s Breath
Word Count: 42K
Genre: MG Fantasy


WINTER'S BREATH is a MG fantasy of 41,000 words, exploring the mythology of nymphs and the seasons.

Teresina wishes she could do more than spin spidersilk or gather berries. Fall lingers on, bringing illness and deprivation to the land, and Rezka, Teresina's cruel mother and the nymph of Fall, has become sharp as the dry thorns of the overgrown brush. Suspecting a crystal she found is more than Winter's plaything, Teresina runs away, hoping to persuade Bruma, nymph of Winter, to restore the natural cycle of the seasons - and to teach Teresina her place in that cycle.

Losing her way in the ice forest, Teresina's first encounter with human folk leads her to rescue Gidon, a young boy enslaved by banditti. Grateful, Gidon vows to help Teresina find the way back to the path of ice. The two make their way to Winter's Castle only to find Bruma - dead. More discoveries - about herself and about others - soon follow, and Teresina must overcome ignorance and self-doubt to claim her place in the cycle and bring winter to her land.

First 250:

"Just what do you think you're doing?"

 Mother's voice was colder than the slick of ice glazing the mud puddle. Teresina palmed the crystal, sliding it into a fold of her skirt. Had Mother seen it?

 "I was playing." Teresina looked up. "I -"

 "Playing? When herbs need sorting for tea and the meadow bower needs tidying - we're half buried in dead leaves - and worst of all, the moss of my bed is parched and scratchy? Bad enough that lazy witch of a nymph Bruma hasn't brought winter yet and I'm exhausted!" Mother scowled, prodding Teresina with her foot.

 Teresina looked down at her lap. "I just wanted to see if I could make it snow. I kept a few of the snow seeds Bruma gave me." She willed her hands to be still, to not clutch at her skirt.

 "You? Snow?" Mother laughed, and the cackles startled the nearby sparrows into flight. "Foolish child. You know nothing."

 "I could do more if you taught me!" Teresina's cheeks grew hot. "It's not fair!" She clenched her fists in the folds of her skirt. Her legs ached with wanting to stand, to hold her ground before Mother. But if she should see the crystal…

"Fair?" Mother gestured toward the woods, thick and dark and deep beyond the meadow. "Is it fair the wolf devours the rabbit? If life were fair, you would not be here.” She bent, her face close to Teresina's, her breath dry on Teresina's cheeks. "You will never be a true nymph of the seasons."


  1. Judges, reply here with your comments and votes.

    1. Excellent fantasy worlds in both of these. Both sound original, and inventive. Love both settings. Way to go, people.

      Paper Girl:
      I had to read your query twice to understand the first paragraph. It's written in the negative (on Monday she was NOT etc). I had to unpack it, but I don't know if you want to start your pitch with a sentence that has to be read more than once to be understood. Your style is literary, but I would simplify your query so that agents can get it the first time out. They may not read further if you don't hook them quick. Great concept. Great, vivid descriptions.

      Beautifully written, but watch the vocabulary in a MG. I have middle grade readers in my house, and they have great vocabularies and are enthusiastic readers, but they can give up if they're hit with too many unfamiliar words too frequently. "Cantankerous" would trip up a lot of 8-year-olds, and "succinct" cannot be understood from context here. Be aware of that. But beautiful writing. I'd rather the first paragraph were moved down some, so that you can begin in a scene: with Miss Podsnappery in a classroom. But bravo.

      Winter's Breath:
      First sentence of the query is unnecessary. You don't need to tell us that your book is "exploring" anything. Just state the genre and the word count and launch into the next paragraph. Love the concept. Great visuals, even in the query. You go a little cliche towards the end: "More discoveries - about herself and about others - soon follow." Try to rewrite that to be more specific.

      Such great visuals. Love the birds flying. I can see her hand in the skirt. Read your dialogue out loud. It will help make it more real, and can help a lot with how to punctuate it. You do have a great MG voice. I would absolutely keep reading.

      Both of these present intriguing worlds, already clear from the first page of both. Excellent visuals. This was a really tough one for me.


    2. Paper Girl:

      This is a really interesting concept, but I need to know more about how or why she's being turned into paper. I get what you're trying to do with the first paragraph, but I think it's unnecessarily complicated. Just start with all the bad stuff that happens on Tuesday instead of all the bad things that didn't happen on Monday. That gives you more room to add detail and clarify what's happening. What's the Land of Yesterday? How does one get there? Why does she need to go there? How does a house kidnap a person? Why? This is a good start, but I feel like I've got a lot of unanswered questions.

      I'm having some trouble with the voice in the first 250. It just doesn't sound to me like an 11-year-old speaking, even in a fantasy world. It feels like the vocabulary is a bit advanced for the target audience. I also feel like too much of the first page real estate is spent on the same Monday vs. Tuesday spiel we got in the query - I want to know what bad thing Cecelia did and how it's affecting her. It's not clear to me why we're starting in a classroom (which tends to be an overused opening in kids' books).


      The first thing I notice is that your entry says the book is 42k and your query says 41k. The second thing I notice is that either is a bit short for upper MG fantasy, so I need to know how old your main character is. It can be really difficult to judge a query or first page for MG when the main character could be anywhere from 7 to 13, because I don't know if the voice is appropriate.

      "Winter's plaything" and "Winter's castle" make me wonder if Winter is the name of a person (especially since seasons typically aren't capitalized), and that's a bit confusing. If so, tell me who Winter is and how she matters to the story early on. If not, consider rewording it. You've got space to give us a little more details about the discoveries and the conflict, and I'd like a little more more concrete stakes. What happens if Teresina remains ignorant? Some people are happy that way.

      Some people will tell you to be careful about starting with dialogue. It can be a little disorienting to a reader to fall into a conversation without anything to root us in the scene. A sentence or two more might help. I like the way you've shown the relationship between Teresina and her mother, though.

      The voice in one entry just speaks to me a little more than the other. VICTORY TO WHO WILL BE WINTER?

    3. Defer due to a conflict.

    4. Paper:

      I read the query several times and I still couldn't tell you what your book is really about. I found it much too complicated--the first paragraph especially--but it seems like you've concentrated on crafting beautiful sentences and left out why I should read the book. The opening is nearly identical to the query, so I would recommend going for more of a simple summary in the query and making sure everything is one hundred certain clear. I do like the voice in the 250 and found myself thinking about Laini Taylor a little bit.


      The first paragraph of the query feels like it's missing something. The transition between first and second sentence is nonexistant and I wonder if something got cut there? I do get a good sense of the world and the characters here, though the stakes are somewhat vague. Be more specific than "more discoveries." In your 250, I know right away that the mother is evil and I think MG readers will recognize the tone of a parent chastising them for doing something wrong right away.


    5. Paper Girl in The Land of Yesterday:

      I had to read the query twice to figure out what was going on. And there’s a LOT going on. I really, really like the concept of her turning into paper--although I’m still not sure why it’s happening.

      Instead of saying ‘harrowing voyage over land, see and stars,’ either give specifics or get right to the point: she has to find Yesterday and bring her mother and ghost-brother home.

      Your first 250 starts out with ‘On Monday’ just like query and there’s a bit too much backdrop info—instead jump into Cecelia’s world and let us experience it with her.

      Winter’s Breath:

      There are a lot of names in this query; I would suggest eliminating all but two. Instead of naming Bruma, you could just say: ….hoping to persuade the Nymph of Winter to restore the natural cycle of the seasons.

      It’s unclear what the purpose of the crystal is. Does Teresina believe the crystal will help Bruma? Or is she using it to bribe Bruma to restore the cycle?

      I would eliminate the em dash after Bruma and leave it as: The two make their way to Winter’s Castle only to find the Winter Nymph dead. The ‘More discoveries about herself and others’ (eliminate the second ‘about’) is too vague. What specifically? That she’s been lied to about how nice humans are? Rather than ‘overcome ignorance’ what about ‘must discover’ or ‘must learn’ how to create snow herself (or whatever it is she must learn).

      The first 250 flowed well and the interaction was very tense. But instead of starting with dialogue, perhaps have Teresina jump at the crack of a branch or crunch of leaves as someone approaches—something to orient the reader as to where Teresina is and that she's not expecting company.

      Victory goes to: WINTER’S BREATH

    6. *rubs hands together* Let's do this!

      Query Matchup:
      I love how both of these fantasies are dark, and edgy, and feature young female protagonists I could easily envision my own kids getting into. Good show there, authors! But, as with all things, there's a "but."

      I'm calling it a draw between queries, because both have significant problems with making clear what's going on in the stories themselves. In the case of Paper Girl's query, the first paragraph uses an intriguing technique of "coulda, woulda, shoulda" to show how things DIDN'T go in an effort to emphasize how badly things have gone. But the mental double-negative the reader has to maintain to understand the paragraph will probably necessitate more than one read for many agents, and frankly, there ARE some agents who won't give a query that kind of time. Leading with the suckiness of Tuesday directly may be wise. I'm also really puzzled by the plot events laid out in the second paragraph. I'm not sure we need to know about the question marks raining from the sky (literal or metaphorical) so much as we need to have some sense of the house itself as antagonist. Clarify that this is what Widdendream is (American agents may not be aware of the distinctly European flair of naming family homes) and build from there.

      Who Will Be Winter? has so many character and place-name drops in quick succession, I found it difficult to keep track. The query format is pretty unforgiving for fantasy and sf, where very often complicated worlds and character relationships predominate. (You have my sympathy, authors. Truly.) In any case, limit yourself to just two character names and one place name in a query. Avoid too many titles. Focus on conflict, and specifically stakes for your MC. Overcoming self-doubt is a good start. Overcoming ignorance, less so. We hope that every MC finishes their story less ignorant than they were of SOMETHING, compared to how they started. That won't help set your story apart. Can you get specific about WHAT she must learn, prove about/to herself? Dig in.

      250 Matchup:

      This one was very hard for me, but I give the laurels in this category (and therefore overall) to Paper Girl. Here's why.

      The first 250 for Paper Girl's entry oozes narrative style and fleshes out the personality of the world, how the MC sees her world, and even embraces a lovely, whimsical touch of the Dickensian with its addlepated Miss Podsnappery. It's writing that won't appeal to everyone, but it's rich and whimsical, like Stefan Bachmann's THE PECULIAR.

      Winter's Breath is by no means a weak 250 -- indeed, the characters get turns of phrase that sound unique to them, and which fit nicely into the world and relationship that the query has promised us. However, the conflict is exactly what I expected from the query, and the writing hasn't show me more than that (the voice and style of Paper Dahl, for example). It's solid, readable, and moves right along, but it doesn't feel as unique as the setting itself might be.



      I admire the writing in this first paragraph, but as others have said, it is perhaps not the best way to open a query. It's a little confusing, especially when you consider the mindset of someone who has just read fifteen of these in a row (and will read fifteen more after yours). The writing is a little thorny, and it's not the best approach.

      I also am a little confused about where we are temporally. The 250 suggests that the inciting event has already happened (which would maybe account for the backward-looking first paragraph.) Usually when you're offering the the critique that you're starting the MS in the wrong place, it's because you're starting to early. But this is the rare case where you may be starting too late. Alternatively, if this is a choice you believe in, the query needs to plainly suggest it, and justify the choice.

      Despite all of that crit, I do like this entry and find the idea and otherworldliness of it very arresting.


      Speaking of a thorny query, I found this one a little challenging as well. There were too many named characters, to my ear. I count four: T, Rez, Bruma, and Gideon-- and six if Fall and WInter are characters as well. Their capitalization leaves this as an open question. I also feel like the world building is a little thin here (and my usual tendency is to complain that there's too much of that in a query.) Mentioning things like the 'bandititi' amidst all these names is a little tough.

      I like the 250, but I don't feel immediately drawn to it, and wonder if it's a little overstated. It's solid, but needs punching up.


      It's a very close call here, but for its intriguing concept:
      Victory for PAPER GIRL

    8. Note: For round 1 since there's so many entries, I'm judging based on the query only!


      This story sounds really interesting, definitely something unique!

      The first sentence confused me. One word of caution with writing a query for a fantasy novel -- everything has the potential to be taken literally OR figuratively, and while I'm reading the first paragraph, I have no idea which way you mean it. Be careful with your metaphors!

      In fact, with the whole first paragraph being presented in negative, it makes it hard to wrap my head around. Paragraph 2 basically ends up revisiting these things, which ends up feeling redundant, so you might rethink that opening.

      Also, if she's carried away in a balloon, how is the house trying to swallow her whole?



      I love how you tie in mythology and magic in this story. It sounds absolutely magical.

      As a general rule, a query should only have 2-3 named characters. This one has quite a few names and titles that make it a bit of a muddle.

      Also, this reads a bit like a synopsis: THIS happens then THIS happens then THIS happens then THIS happens -- particularly in the second paragraph. In fact, all the necessary information is already in the first paragraph: the main character (Teresina), the conflict (her mother is somehow preventing the seasons from progressing as they should and Teresina wants to restore that?), and the stakes (eternal fall?)


    9. As a tie breaker (if still needed), my comments will be slightly abbreviated.

      Paper Girl in The Land of Yesterday

      I’m really sorry to say this, but I have ZERO idea what this query is saying. I’ve read the first paragraph 5 times and I am still at a loss. The 2nd paragraph is a bit more, but is still pretty hard to follow. You need to FULLY revise this query ASAP. Read other queries and while you don’t have to be a total cookie cutter (doing so is equally bad) you need to give us some idea of what is going on.

      250 words:
      This is much nicer, but honestly, I find the first paragraph a lot of telling and the rest of the text much better “showing.” I think you could properly cut the first paragraph entirely and start with either the 3rd or modify the 2nd a bit and then proceed. After that it’s perfectly charming.

      Who Will Be Winter?
      “Nyphs and the seasons?” Are seasons people? Are they Nyphs OF seasons? It seems an odd phrase. The rest of the first paragraph is very charming/well executed. You probably need to define “banditti” (and possibly capitalize it?).
      I like the query, you don’t need to tell us any more plot than you do, but maybe give us a stronger sense of character? Try to add Teresina’s flavor (like you do in the first sentence) to the rest of it.
      250 words:
      I like your content, but you have to many dialogue tags/text between the bits of dialogue. You need to let the characters breathe. You don’t have to dictate every action. Actions should be used to compliment the scene but what you’ve got here is more like stage directions. Cut that back, and I like what you’ve got.


    10. OK, I want both of these to be published, so my daughters and I can read them!

      Paper Girl in the Land of Yesterday - I LOVE the voice in this, and all the weird dreamy details, and the worldbuilding. Wonderful! It grabbed my attention and swept me away. I definitely want more.

      I would suggest avoiding the “On Monday” repetition between the query and first 250. I think it works better in the first 250; the first paragraph of the query is full of awesome things, but the negative format is potentially confusing on a quick read-through and I’m not sure it adds to all these wonderful details to invert them.

      Love the second paragraph of the first 250. I think the first paragraph probably could stand some light trimming... you may have one or two too many details in the “before” paragraph.

      Who Will be Winter? - I love the twist with her finding Bruma dead! The world also sounds wonderfully fairy tale-ish without seeming derivative. Great job!

      I think the query falls into vagueness at the very end. You give us the great twist of Bruma being dead, but then instead of presenting us with a sharp choice or conflict at the end, we get vague generalities about making discoveries and overcoming doubt. Can you give us a more specific conflict that will leave us burning to see how it resolves?

      The first 250 is nice and clean, with a classic mother/daughter conflict. I might like to see a bit more sense of setting, and maybe give us a little more about the crystal BEFORE she’s fighting with her mom about it so we’ll have more investment in the argument and understand why it’s important that she’s trying to hide it.

      These are both wonderful, but...

      VICTORY TO PAPER GIRL IN THE LAND OF YESTERDAY! The voice is amazing, and I love the odd, dreamlike details. They carried the day for me.

  2. Not a Jude Just a KombatantJune 1, 2015 at 10:00 AM

    Paper Girl
    The first paragraph of the query is convoluted with the way you turned it around. It might even be a little gimmicky. I wish I could see a straight forward version which I suspect you had at some point. If you do keep it turned around like this, I'd shorten the second and fourth sentences considerably. Once I get past that I do love the concept and the 250 is excellent.

    Who Will Be Winter?
    I don't have a lot to critique here. I will say I instantly dislike the mother character and certainly that's what you were going for. You've nailed it. The mother is coming off a little one-dimensional to me, evil for the sake of evil which probably is more common in MG (not a category I'm super familiar with). I'm not sure how close the POV is that you use in the manuscript, but here it feels a little distant to me and I'm dying to get just a little closer and feel more of what Teresina feels.

    These are both stand-out MG projects. Good luck to both of you!

  3. These are both so interesting and so far from my style of writing. It's so fun to see all the diversity out there.

    PAPER - I already love you (PW 2014 forevah). I think I agree with the ideas about the first paragraph of your query. I actually really love it, BUT you do go over similar ground/style in your first 250. I wonder if you could maybe just focus on one or two of Cecilia's problems in your query rather than getting overwhelmed with all of them? The narrative voice in your 250 is awesome. It definitely reminds me of "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairy Land in a Ship of Her Own Making."

    WINTER - You're topic is totally intriguing. I don't know much about nymph mythology, but I can tell you do! However, probably most agents are like me, and I didn't know what some of the words in your query meant and that kind of pulled me out. Can you briefly explain, in-query, who the banditti is? I also don't get a great idea of the stakes. You kind of mention death at the beginning, but bring it back at the end of the query. What will happen if winter never comes?

  4. I agree with the comment above in that this genre is so far from what i write that i bow down to you both, seriously, for your imaginations:)!

    PAPER: Your story itself is really intriguing and well written. I could see and feel what I needed to as reader. But your query to me was hard to follow. I felt weighed down by the level of fantasy detail that the story thread itself seemed to be missing. Can you work on creating a pitch that mimics your story a bit more? When you peel away the layers of make-believe in a fantasy read, what needs to stand out IMO are the same elements in any story: a solid character and story arc. Give me just a glimpse into Cecilia's story instead of mapping it out in your query...does that make sense?

    WINTER: What i love about your piece so far is your character development. I feel like I am drawn to Teresinia right from the opening scene of your novel. I feel like your characters come alive on the page and keep me in this story. The tension you create is palpable between T and her mom...really solid stuff. I think you can tighten your query a bit to make your characters direct it like they do the book itself.

    I'm a sucker for character development, so WIN to WINTER for me!

  5. Paper: I love picturing this crooked little house and this blue haired girl! Beautiful imagery, right from the start.

    Winter: I got a little tripped up with all the names in the query. If you can think of any way to streamline that, it might help.

    Both are excellent MG ideas, and your writing is hella good!

  6. I agree with the above comments that both of these entries sound very intriguing and the level of creativity and imagination is impressive!

    Paper Girl: You sucked me in with your query and 250! However, (I know others have mentioned it) the first time I read through your query, I was a little confused by the first paragraph. BUT, when I read through it again, I got it. Once I got it, I thought it was so interesting and unique how you wrote it explaining what Monday wasn't and therefore showing us what Tuesday was. With that being said, I don't know how an agent would feel about it. I'm wondering if you can still keep the voice and quirkiness of your query but reword it so it's less confusing? I really like your 250, and even though you use large words at times, I think it works. It fits the voice and I can picture this girl who looks down on teachers and thinks she's untouchable until Tuesday rolls around. Great job!

    Winter: This is also a great entry! I agree with the other commenter who mentioned that maybe you should give us a hint what banditti are. I think you can make your query even stronger if you remove the last line completely and do something like this instead: "Now Teresina must find a way to claim her place in the cycle and bring winter to her land." Or something like that. But you get my drift? Definitely take out the "More discoveries - about herself and about others - soon follow" because it's too vague. And after revealing that someone is dead, I think you should just wrap it up neatly. Hope that makes sense...Good luck!!

  7. Super Flynn (fellow contestant)June 1, 2015 at 6:57 PM

    Both intriguing, promising concepts, but here's how I'd look at revising your queries...

    Winter: I got really confused due to names/characters. Especially since they're untraditional ones, they're hard to keep track of. But even if they weren't, there are just too many for a query in my opinion. I think you could pitch and tease your story by introducing just your MC and one, maybe two others.

    Paper: I love the idea of this and the Norwegian setting, but starting with negative statements tripped me up. Why not say something more straight-forward, like, "One day MC's life changed overnight from X to Y when Z happened," and then elaborate of course.

    Good luck to both.

    Query: I just love this. Something about the voice in your query reminds me of JK Rowling. What a great premise! 250: Wow! Great voice. I can picture your MC clearly and feel connected right away. Great job! ☺

    Query: Just my personal opinion, but I prefer to dive right into the story. Interesting premise. I think your second sentence is too long, but I follow your query with ease. 250: Ooo! Good job pulling us into your story. You do a great job mixing world building with your MC’s sass.

  9. Paper Dahl

    Query: This query makes for an intriguing story. The second paragraph is a bit smoother than the first, however.

    Here's another take on the first paragraph: Last Monday, Cecelia Dahl's sorrows had not started turning her into paper. Her little brother was alive, and her mother didn't blame her for his death, before running off to The Land of Yesterday in search of his ghost. In fact, 11-year-old Cecelia lived in a pleasant house in Hungrig, Norway, that hadn't yet come to life, kidnapped her father or tried to kill her. And she had a soul she couldn't see, not a small blue one that strolled (I would change the verb "strolled" to something mean and purposeful. "Stroll" is leisurely.) out of her body, abandoning her like everyone else. That was Monday. Then Tuesday crept in and ripped her life to shreds.

    You have a good concept, but it's complicated. So keep your query sharp and clear and you will be in good shape. Best of luck to you! I can see this on a shelf already!

    First 250: Your opening paragraph offers a good setup, but this line doesn't keep with the tone of your book: "Indeed, on Monday of last week, these were all hardboiled facts." "Hardboiled" brings to mind an old detective novel. Try to use language that mimics your book's setting or keep it simple; hardboiled is colorful in an odd way.

    Things get confusing here: "Then Cecelia did the bad thing. And just after midnight of Tuesday last, she understood only one fact: Tuesday hated Cecelia and Cecelia hated it back." I am confused because the query makes it sound like the house has the power to ruin her family. Now the day of the week has power, too? Are you being facetious? I am sorry, but I am not reading it that way. Perhaps if I had not read the query, I would not think that.

    One other point of confusion: Why is Cecelia in school if all of these things happened? Shouldn't she be out setting them to rights?

    And don't use "succinct" twice. Take advantage of the second use to define the word for readers.

    Hope this helps.

  10. Winter

    Query: This is a decent summary that doesn't give everything away, but perhaps it doesn't tell enough. Here are the questions that come to mind: How old is the girl? Why is fall lingering? Why is the mother cruel? A little more context in a tightened query would help.

    In the second paragraph, what are "banditti"? Bandits?

    In general, I would advise a bit more drama for the query. The story is intriguing, the summary flat. You might try playing up the everlasting fall, its source and consequences before setting Teresina on her quest.

    First 250: Well, I get that the mother is awful. But the dialogue is stilted. Perhaps try pruning it, starting with the mother's speech after "Playing?".

    Here is one way: "Playing? When herbs need sorting and the bower tidying — we're half buried in dead leaves. Worst of all, the moss of my bed is parched and scratchy. Bad enough that lazy Bruma hasn't brought winter yet. I'm exhausted!" Mother scowled, prodding Teresina with her foot.

    You can add "nymph" back in to describe Bruma when you get to the next paragraph. Play with this a little. It just needs some massaging. Reading aloud all text is a great way to hear your words anew.

    Good luck. This is a cute concept.

  11. PAPER GIRL IN THE LAND OF YESTERDAY: Your query gives me a taste of your beautiful, playful prose and lush, imaginative world. The premise is very original and the promise of an adventure-filled quest is an enticing one. I’d recommend simplifying the last paragraph when you explain that to free her father from Widdendream Cecelia must first find her missing mother and brother. Also, if the “bad thing” Cecelia did somehow brought about the changes in her life, I’d suggest mentioning it in a query.

    Your first 250 do some heavy lifting: they give me the voice, show the world, introduce the character and hint at the conflict! Your prose is lovely and literary with just enough whimsical touches to keep your readers engrossed. Well done!

    WINTER'S BREATH: You do a great job fleshing out your fantasy world that brings to mind Hans Christian Andersen’s darker fairy tales and your MC’s stakes are clear and compelling. I think you could mention Teresina's home forest, just to orient us in her world. Otherwise, your query is rock solid.

    First 250. Your story pulls me in from the first line. It has a Cinderellaesque vibe to it and I love your MC’s longing to learn how to be her best self. I find the fact that the villain is denying Teresina knowledge very intriguing and will definitely keep reading to see if your MC finds a way to claim her powers.

    Best of luck to both of you!

  12. Paper: Your query confused me at first, but it made more sense after the second paragraph. I love the idea and think it sounds extremely original. The one thing that worries me about your first 250 is the complicated words you use. "cantankerous" and "succinct" and "hard-boiled." I'm not sure that these words are fitting for a MG audience. Otherwise, great query and concept!

    Winter: When I read your query, I couldn't tell if Winter was a person (or being) or just the season. Since your novel is a fantasy, I assumed that Winter was the personification of the season. Perhaps clarify that?

    To both of you, great stories and good luck!

  13. Paper Girl:

    I haven't read any of the other comments, so know that going in. When you start a story with something that happened before something else, or something that once was, but now isn't but I'm not sure when that maybe happened, and I'm lost. And I'm not coming back because your story telling is too much work to follow. I had to read things three and four times just to figure out what day it is and what the rules are for today versus tomorrow (or was it yesterday???). It felt like having everything on fastforward then rewind. I recommend doing away with the whole the world made sense yesterday (or was that tomorrow??) motif. Unless you're using the out of order story telling through out your whole book, I'd change it. Then again, I'm just one opinion in a big pile of opinions at this point. Having said that, I like your concept and I would be interested in reading on, but I'd never get past the first page because of what I perceive as a time issue.

    Winter Breath
    I like your concept, but I get worried when the stakes are so low. What's going to happen if she can't overcome her ignorance and self doubt? Also, what are her self doubts and ignorance? Why are these her key obstacles? I feel like you overgeneralized in the end of the query to get out with what felt like a good query, but it could be much stronger with specifics. Also, I get really worried when I see that the thing someone has to overcome is self doubt and ignorance because that makes me concerned the story is didactic, and that's not usually fun. Having said that, your concept is great, and I enjoyed your first 250.

    Good luck to both of you!

  14. PAPER GIRL: This is such an original idea. It really intrigues me! While I think the 1st paragraph is creative, I had to read it a few times to understand. It's kind of like that old thing about "you can't prove a negative." Speaking in the negative is interesting, but also confusing. The first 250 are great -- don't really have anything to say about them other than that I enjoyed them!

    WINTER: Great stuff, with good stakes and delivery in the query. For this contest you don't need the first sentence. When you do use it in queries, just state the name, genre, and word count. Let the rest of your query explain what the book is about. First 250 also really good. Watch your use of hyphens -- you use them a lot. :)

    This is a really, really hard pick and I can see why the hosts needed to call in extra judges. Sigh. Congrats and good luck to you both!

    Victory to PAPER GIRL