Jun 1, 2016

QK Round 1: Where's Will Smith vs. Cement Gargling 101

Title: There's Something About Earth
Entry Nickname: Where’s Will Smith When We Need Him?
Word Count: 83,000
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Query:

Clover Martinez – a 17-year-old pilot who dreams of being the first Latina to explore space – returns from a cave trip in Montana with her boyfriend to find both her hopes and the human race destroyed.

It took three days for the aliens to wipe out most of Earth’s population, but not Clover. After a close encounter with the spider-like species with human heads, she finds she’s invisible to their eyes – though her boyfriend isn’t as lucky. After six months on the run, believing she’s the last of her kind, Clover discovers the self-entitled ‘Last Teenagers on Earth’ hiding in Area 51. Finally there’s hope – with more of them, they can fight back.

What Clover isn’t expecting is their unwillingness to take on the enemy. The aliens are an unstoppable force, and no one wants to put their lives on the line in a hopeless endeavor. As Clover uncovers redacted archives, an old spaceship and strange science experiments, she needs answers to convince her friends to fight.

Every evidence points towards a dead end – and if Clover can’t finish the puzzle before the aliens strike, they’re all dead and humanity with them.

First 250:

My abuelo used to say there were people that belong to the Earth, and others, like us Martinez, belong to the Sky.

There's nothing like the feeling of rising in the air, feeling the wings of the plane accelerate beneath you, and the sinking of your stomach on the excitement of getting off the ground. Adrenaline rushing through our veins, laughing blindly to the sun. Dreaming about the day I wasn't going to fly a plane, but see the dark space beyond the International Space Station.

All that gone from the day the aliens spaceships landed on Earth's backyard and never left.

I watch one of them now, standing by the side of the road. They were shaped like pears, all smooth iron surface, closed up like oysters. No sign of life from beyond it, the roads near the mountains completely empty.

"Cheer up, Clover," Noah says by my side, hands on the steering wheel of his red pick-up truck. "We've spent a nice weekend."

He puts one of his hands on my knees, squeezing it. I'm used to the gestures — the small touches of reassurance that he needs. I nod, not in the mood to talk. I tear my gaze away from the shiny ship, alien among the trail of the mountains. I look at my cell phone, but there's no sign of any calls or any bars. By now, the satellite signal should be working.

"They'll call," Noah continues as if I had answered him. "And so will my parents.”

VS

Title: The Siren Episode
Entry Nickname: Cement Gargling 101
Word Count: 82,000
Genre: YA Fantasy

After the myths destroyed San Francisco twelve years ago, the Myth Slayers TV show climbed to number one in the ratings. Now the show’s stars want to retire and force the reins upon their son. But at seventeen, Arlen doesn’t want to kill anyone. He especially doesn’t want to slaughter monsters on primetime TV like his parents—he just wants to survive high school, where a terrible genetic curse makes his life unbearable.

Imagine being famous, but unable to approach girls without making them sick. Worst curse ever. So when Arlen finds a girl who’s not getting sick, he finally sees a chance at a normal life. Problem is, she’s a siren. And she hides a secret: the location of a safe filled with evidence that Arlen’s parents destroyed San Francisco instead of the myths. Arlen’s parents would kill to keep this secret buried, leaving Arlen with an impossible choice: murder the siren to protect his family, or seize this opportunity at freedom, journey with the siren to the safe, and expose the truth to the world.

First 250:

Arlen Boggs hopped his neighbor’s fence and sneaked past the protestors. They’d camped in front of his house again, picket signs raised. He tried to keep his footsteps light, but the deep rain puddles didn’t help his cause.

Trees rustled on either side of him. He looked up at the sycamores and saw nothing but windblown leaves.

Two more blocks, he thought. You can do two blocks.

The morning air gave him a chill, and he buttoned up his father's trench coat, too big for his lanky frame. He wore it to keep himself hidden, though it never helped. Arlen stood out wherever he went.

Head down, he followed the dotted yellow lines along the center of the street. Another rustle. This time he stopped and stared into one of the trees. Still nothing.

A woman’s voice came from behind him: “There he is.”

Arlen turned to look at the protestors, five houses back. “Great,” he said.

Two of their billboards read, “GO AWAY, MYTH SLAYERS!” and “MYTHS HAVE RIGHTS, TOO!” Despite the wet September morning, the crazy zealots wandered onto the road and shouted at him.

A few months shy of his eighteenth birthday, Arlen still didn't have his driver's license. His parents didn't have time to teach him, always out filming their TV show. Otherwise, he would have driven himself to school and avoided the morning hate-fest.

Another tree rustled and a branch snapped.

Could be a monster.

The protestors sped up, chasing after him with their hand-painted signs.

16 comments :

  1. Judges, please leave votes and comments as a REPLY to this comment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. VICTORY TO TICKET TO RIDE
      Another set of great entries! I wish you could both go on to the agent round 
      Will Smith:
      I love the fact that we understand the main character’s overarching desire to be the first Latina in space. I think the query can be a little streamlined. I’d combine the first and second paragraphs. I don’t think, for instance, we need to know they were in Montana on a cave trip. You get the boyfriend in later, which works. Although it was unclear that he was killed. You did a nice job of setting up the stakes as well.
      The 250 is good and clear and the perfect mix of action, dialogue, and tension, nice emotion as well. You managed to hit all the important points in one page. Congrats!

      Cement:
      This is a fabulous, unique premise! I’d be very interested in reading it. That said, there’s almost too much going on in the query. I’d stick to one main conflict and then one subplot, at most. I’m having a hard time getting a handle on everything going on.
      The 250 is very intriguing. I love the conflict that you set up from the start. The voice is very convincing. I don’t know from reading the query or 250 what exactly you mean by myth. Are they all Greek myths or Roman myths? A little world building could help.
      I went back and forth on this decision. I think Will Smith is closer to ready, but I have to say VICTORY TO CEMENT, based on the fact that it stands out a little more.

      Delete
    2. WILL SMITH
      Query: Perfect first line. I think you should change “self-entitled” to something else, because when I read it, I thought you were talking about self-entitlement, not that the ‘Last Teenagers on Earth’ is what they call themselves. Unless you did mean that. If you did, disregard this advice. Aside from that, great query. It really catches my interest.
      First 250: In the phrase “aliens spaceships” aliens should be possessive. Noah’s reaction to the spaceship catches me off guard. I’d expect him to be more frantic. Also, it seems like Clover isn’t surprised to see the spaceship, if indeed this is her first time seeing one. How does she know it’s a spaceship? If I saw something like that, I would assume that it was an art sculpture.

      CEMENT GARGLING
      Query: Great stakes, and an excellent pitch. I know right away that this story takes place on modern times, in a damaged city where creatures roam freely. Arlen’s curse adds another layer of intrigue, and that part about how his parents might have been the ones to destroy the city makes me want to keep reading. I want to know more about what these monsters are and why they’re called myths, but otherwise, excellent query!
      First 250: I think you should change “billboards” to something else. Posters? Posterboards? Cardboard signs? Aside from that, your first page really catches my interest.

      VICTORY TO CEMENT GARGLING

      Delete
    3. WILL SMITH:

      Query - Wow, so I dislike almost all sci-fi but this really jumps out at me. I have some questions reading though. Why are the only people left on earth teenagers? Does it have something to do with why Clover is invisible? The sentence that begins “As Clover uncovers…” doesn’t make sense, needs maybe a few more words for clarification. I think you have an interesting twist on the humans vs. monsters story with the lack of interest in fighting.
      250 - I think this is in pretty good shape. Word choice here and there could be smoother—I’d recommend reading it out loud to make sure the flow sounds natural. Example – Noah says “We’ve spent a nice weekend.” I’d probably make it “We had a really nice weekend” or similar.

      CEMENT:

      query - I –think- this could be interesting but I have many questions. If you can clarify a few points, I feel like this will sing. What is a myth-some kind of creature? How does he make girls sick? Are there others with genetic curses—is this a thing in this world? Is the rest of the world in danger? Your stakes are super clear and I already feel for Arlen.
      250 - Nothing to add here. There feels like the right place to begin and you’ve set the stakes immediately. Good work.

      This one was particularly difficult, but I'm going with VICTORY TO CEMENT. I think with a few polishing changes it will be amazing.

      Delete
    4. WHERE’S WILL SMITH has an intriguing query. I can’t help but point out that Ellen Ochoa already beat the MC to being the first Latina to space already. The plot sounds sort of familiar, and I’m wondering what will set this aliens-invade-humans-fight-back story apart from the herd. Maybe try to get whatever element will make this stand out into the query. The hook at the end had what sounded like a redundancy to me: if Clover can’t finish the puzzle before the aliens strike, they’re all dead and humanity with them. Maybe truncate that to: if Clover can’t finish the puzzle before the aliens strike, it’ll be checkmate for humanity.

      This first page actually felt like the last page of the book. It really felt like an ending to me. Instead of getting my blood pressure up, it was sort of comforting. The alien ship lies dormant in the yard. Clover’s waiting for her cell signal, hoping for a call from her parents. I’m missing some adrenaline and wondering if maybe there’s a better place to start this story. I’d love to see the moment Clover returns from her cave weekend and discovers the alien ships, wonders what they are and finds everyone gone. If this is meant to be that moment, I’m missing it. Clover shouldn’t know that the metal oyster next to the road is an alien spaceship. Also, that intro in the first three paragraphs led me to think we’re way past the discovery of the alien invasion.

      TH SIREN EPISODE query outlines a great character with a horrendous problem who’s faced with an impossible choice. Loads to love here. I was a bit confused by the first sentence, and I wondered if there might be a way to describe what the myths are, even if it’s just with an adjective before it. I was thinking rumors destroyed San Francisco at first. Maybe something like: After the myths (tiny monsters in Jimmy Hoffa masks) destroyed San… Something to describe what they are. (I realize they’re not Jimmy Hoffa masked monsters) Or add a hook to the beginning that precedes the synopsis. Something like: Seventeen-year-old Arlen may be a hero monster-slayer, but he’s also genetically cursed to make all girls within a 6-ft radius vomit. <--Then go in to your synopsis. Something like : It’s been twelve years since the myths destroyed San Francisco and for twelve years, Arlen’s parents have starred as…. (that’s just me brainstorming)

      I absolutely loved the first page. The voice could be stronger, but I love the writing and the story unfolds perfectly. I got everything I needed from a first page here, and I loved it. The tone, the setting, the MC, his struggle, the fact that there’s monsters, protesters. That’s a lot to pack into a first page, but it’s done very well. It even ended with a page-turning moment.

      Victory to CEMENT GARGLING 101 (which I think is a brilliant title)

      Delete
    5. Congratulations to both Kombatants for making it this far! The author of WILL SMITH immediately presents us with a character who has a goal. Then Mars Attacks! Killing everyone! I admit, I strongly have to suspend disbelief to buy into this story. Yet the structure of the query is reasonable, with all of the key elements provided.

      Points of critique: the protagonist's name seems a bit over-used, which felt a tad clunky. Also, the details of her discoveries ("As Clover uncovers redacted archives, an old spaceship and strange science experiments") were not unique and compelling enough to really warrant mention in the query letter. If it were mine to rewrite, I'd focus simply on the fact that she has to rally these reluctant teen soldier to have a chance at saving the human race.

      The author of CEMENT GARGLING presents a sympathetic main character in a true dilemma. I like that his choices seem to be between family and love interest. That said, the setup as provided in the first paragraph confused me, and I almost wanted the query to start with the character and what he WANTS first, rather than setup-and-what-he-DOESN'T-want.

      I do love the voice of the query, and the "genetic curse" that makes this siren The One. The end of the query, with the dilemma laid plain, is well done.

      Victory to: CEMENT GARGLING.

      Delete
    6. Where’s Will Smith When We Need Him?

      Query:

      I love this premise. It sounds like it will be an amazing adventure. My only suggestion is regarding these lines: “‘Last Teenagers on Earth’ hiding in Area 51. Finally there’s hope – with more of them, they can fight back. What Clover isn’t expecting is their unwillingness to take on the enemy.”

      So, she found the “Last teenager on Earth,” but in the next line she’s with friend(s). Where did they come from? Maybe make their appearance more clear.

      First 250

      The first paragraph really shows Clover’s personality. It’s beautifully written, and I feel like I know her. But, her narration is forecasting knowledge she shouldn’t have yet. She speaks about her dream being dead. She knows about the aliens. Then we flash from the future to the present and she’s staring at a space ship.

      It might be a more exciting opening for the reader to learn about the alien invasion at the same moment that Clover and Noah learn that the world as they know it is dead. They've just crawled out of a cave after three days and can’t contact their family. There is an alien space ship by the road. This should be a shock. Yet they don’t seem upset or excited. Noah’s telling her to "cheer up."

      Really, Noah? It’s an alien spaceship! This totally qualifies as a freak out kind of situation.

      Cement Gargling 101

      Query:

      What exactly is a myth? Maybe explain what it is and how it supposedly destroyed San Francisco. At first I thought it was his parents, then realized I was wrong. You don’t need to go into a lot of detail, just enough to put it in context, because that’s all I could think about while reading the query.

      Well, I also thought about how much I really want to read this story. I was definitely hooked by the query. Just curious about the myth since it seems important to the plot.

      First 250

      Myths are monsters! Totally makes sense now that I’ve read the first 250. Now I’m curious about what kind of monsters. I loved Arlen’s voice. You ratchetted up the tension level to the point where I’d keep reading to find out what’s rustling branches.

      Oh, how to choose? These are two pretty amazing stories. I’m a sucker for sci-fi. It was a difficult decision, but Victory to Cement Gargling 101.

      Delete
  2. Where's Will Smith when you need them? (My favorite title in Query Kombat, fyi!)
    Query: I love these kind of stories, so I already knew I was going to love it before I read it. You have a great query here with strong stakes. I think the only thing I would change is the last sentence: Every evidence points towards a dead end – and if Clover can’t finish the puzzle before the aliens strike, they’re all dead.
    'And humanity with them' doesn't seem to be needed, as 'they're all dead' implies that their resistance will be wiped out.
    250: Great opening sentence.
    All that gone from the day the aliens spaceships landed on Earth's backyard and never left.
    I would change it to 'All that was gone since the aliens'.
    Overall, it's a very ominous 250 words, I really liked it. :)

    Cement Gargling 101
    Query: Super intense, and one of the most unique queries I've read. And the stakes are very high. I'd love to know how the MC chooses between them!
    250: The opening sentences could be stronger. I didn't feel like there was a strong hook. Other than that, I'd definitely keep reading. Reminds me a little of the show 'Supernatural'. Great job!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Will Smith: Totally love the nickname! Sets me up to love the story - I'm already putting myself in sequel to Independence Day mode...

    Query:
    Somehow it seems like Clover's hopes pale in comparison to "all of the human race" being destroyed. Maybe just leave at "returns to discover the rest of human race has been destroyed by spider-like aliens with human head." NOW you've got my attention!!

    Perhaps you could tighten up the rest a bit? "Clover discovers the aliens cannot see her and she thinks she is the last remaining human until she finds a group of teens hiding in Area 51." (Not sure the name is significant - maybe just get to the ideas?)

    I love, love, love that the teens don't want to fight! Why? Cuz much as I hate to admit it, I'd be the first one killed in any horror movie. I fear i am not that brave - so it would be cool to see how that would play out!

    First 250: I like it all except the 4th paragraph where it says, "no signs of life..." As I start to read that sentence, I think you mean the alien is showing no signs of life, but you switch to scenery, which confused me a bit.

    Can't wait to read and then see the movie!

    Cement Gargling:
    Your writing is amazing! I know this is an incredible book!
    Query: I think my confusion with the whole premise might be solved if it read, "After the myths, DESCRIPTION OF WHAT THE MYTHS ARE, destroyed..." I'd also need a little more explanation of the genetic curse. Does it literally make girls physically ill? Or is it the idea of it that puts girls off? Lastly, you make the statement, "Problem is, she's a siren." But I don't know why it's a problem she's a siren... I know my Greek myths, but I don't get how that works in with the plot you're setting up? Maybe give a little more again, like, "Problem is, she's a siren who could do X, Y or Z to our hero..."

    First 250: Love them. Only thing I'd like clarified - are the protestors "myths"? If so, what do they look like? How does that affect Arlen? Is he motivated to kill them? If they aren't myths, why are they protesting?

    Bottom line, two fantastic entries and two more future books to add to my Goodreads "to read" list! I can't wait!!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Will Smith: Totally love the nickname! Sets me up to love the story - I'm already putting myself in sequel to Independence Day mode...

    Query:
    Somehow it seems like Clover's hopes pale in comparison to "all of the human race" being destroyed. Maybe just leave at "returns to discover the rest of human race has been destroyed by spider-like aliens with human head." NOW you've got my attention!!

    Perhaps you could tighten up the rest a bit? "Clover discovers the aliens cannot see her and she thinks she is the last remaining human until she finds a group of teens hiding in Area 51." (Not sure the name is significant - maybe just get to the ideas?)

    I love, love, love that the teens don't want to fight! Why? Cuz much as I hate to admit it, I'd be the first one killed in any horror movie. I fear i am not that brave - so it would be cool to see how that would play out!

    First 250: I like it all except the 4th paragraph where it says, "no signs of life..." As I start to read that sentence, I think you mean the alien is showing no signs of life, but you switch to scenery, which confused me a bit.

    Can't wait to read and then see the movie!

    Cement Gargling:
    Your writing is amazing! I know this is an incredible book!
    Query: I think my confusion with the whole premise might be solved if it read, "After the myths, DESCRIPTION OF WHAT THE MYTHS ARE, destroyed..." I'd also need a little more explanation of the genetic curse. Does it literally make girls physically ill? Or is it the idea of it that puts girls off? Lastly, you make the statement, "Problem is, she's a siren." But I don't know why it's a problem she's a siren... I know my Greek myths, but I don't get how that works in with the plot you're setting up? Maybe give a little more again, like, "Problem is, she's a siren who could do X, Y or Z to our hero..."

    First 250: Love them. Only thing I'd like clarified - are the protestors "myths"? If so, what do they look like? How does that affect Arlen? Is he motivated to kill them? If they aren't myths, why are they protesting?

    Bottom line, two fantastic entries and two more future books to add to my Goodreads "to read" list! I can't wait!!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Loved both of these! Someday I'm going to be striding through a bookstore, read the back of a YA book, and exclaim, I remember this from Query Kombat! Awesome concepts that sound truly fun, both of you.

    Will Smith: I think you win the prize for best nickname in the entire contest. Check clarity in your query. I was confused. I would cut the boyfriend altogether, since his importance to the story didn't affect a query-size synopsis. Also,

    It took three days for the aliens to wipe out most of Earth’s population, but not Clover.

    I was confused, sounds like clover didn't take three days to wipe out earth. ;)

    I was spellbound by your opening. Check verb tenses and polish some more, but you had me.

    Cement:

    Definitely tell us what myths are! I was confused. Either make the disease clearer or cut it, but I was hooked as soon as I heard siren! It promises danger and humor and complications, and you won me. Your opening was splendid!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Loved both of these! Someday I'm going to be striding through a bookstore, read the back of a YA book, and exclaim, I remember this from Query Kombat! Awesome concepts that sound truly fun, both of you.

    Will Smith: I think you win the prize for best nickname in the entire contest. Check clarity in your query. I was confused. I would cut the boyfriend altogether, since his importance to the story didn't affect a query-size synopsis. Also,

    It took three days for the aliens to wipe out most of Earth’s population, but not Clover.

    I was confused, sounds like clover didn't take three days to wipe out earth. ;)

    I was spellbound by your opening. Check verb tenses and polish some more, but you had me.

    Cement:

    Definitely tell us what myths are! I was confused. Either make the disease clearer or cut it, but I was hooked as soon as I heard siren! It promises danger and humor and complications, and you won me. Your opening was splendid!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Where’s Will Smith When We Need Him?

    *SNORT* Independence Day! Love that nickname. Well written query, allowing us to get to know who Clover is, her background, and what she's up against. It sounds like a "hopeless endeavor" indeed. So much so I came away wanting a wisp of an idea how Clover and the other teens will combat this threat. That would make this great query even greater, I believe. The first 250 is a wonderful introduction to Clover, but I don't get a sense of just how baddies this baddie is in such a short space.


    The Siren Episode

    I love the straits Arlen finds himself in! Interesting idea and well-rendered query. One thing that stuck out in the first 250...if you italicize a line of dialogue I know it's the character thinking. You need not italicize and also include a "thinker attribution" like "he thought." There is an italicized line later which I think comes off quite fine: it's italicized and has no speaker attribution, because being third person limited POV we already know we're in his head. Despite that I enjoyed the opening, portraying Arlen as an ordinary kid in extraordinary circumstances.

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  8. Will Smith - love your nickname :) I also know I'm going to love Clover. She has the kind of moxy every hero needs. I like your query and found it easy to understand. I think you need to tighten up the last sentence. Didn't the aliens already attack? Did you mean the remaining teens Clover has met up with? That could be made clearer. For your 250 - I liked your voice. Your first sentence could be shortened and made easier to read. "My abuelo used to say there were people that belong to the Earth and others belong to the sky. The Martinez's belong to the sky." Or something like that.
    Also, I found her boyfriend's comments weird after the Earth has been attacked. At least we had a nice weekend? It didn't fit in with the panic and confusion I would imagine at finding the Earth has been attacked.
    Cement - I loved this! It kind of reminded me of the premise of "Shatter Me" with two love interests who have genetic anomalies that make having relationships impossible. Love the idea of it. I think your query was great. Your 250 sounds promising. I already get a sense of the dread your MC has with the fallout of his parent's fame. I'm not sure you need to have him think 'two more blocks'- and why is does he need to think this? Is he tired? Is something chasing him? This could be clearer, but maybe it is on the next page :)
    Great job to both of you!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Where’s Will Smith When We Need Him?

    Query – It has Conflict. It has character. It has stakes. It has a touch of voice.

    I was confused by the reference to a puzzle in the last paragraph. Maybe you set up the things they find in Area 51 as becoming a puzzle she has to solve, then it will come together.

    I like the idea and the conflict – I’d hate to have to face down a spider with a human head – but I don’t have any clue about why they can’t see her. It there some fantasy/magic element too? And can they see the other teens? Oh – a minor nitpick – the word self-entitled means something different from self-titled.

    250 – Nice opening. Sets a nice scene. I think the transition from paragraph two to three could be clearer. I was thrown off by the words “All that gone.” I think you mean her dream, but you could just say that, “Those dreams destroyed by. . .” Just a thought. Overall, it’s pretty solid.


    Cement Gargling 101

    Query – It has Conflict. It has Character. It has Stakes, though for the MC they aren’t that terrible. It has bit of voice. Overall, it’s a solid query. I’d maybe add that the Myth Slayers is a reality show. At least, I presume it’s a reality show since that’s the story plot. I’m not sure what to think about the overall plot. The stakes for the MC are presented as either he’ll have to kill Myths on TV and be a star, or not. But I think there are bigger stakes involved too, they’re just not coming through. The relationship with the siren seems interesting, but I don’t know enough about it. Are sirens a bad thing? If so, why doesn’t she puke around him? Does she know he has a genetic malfunction? Why does she want to expose his parents? Is she on the myth’s side? I’m guessing yes, but it’s unclear.

    250 – Love it. Wouldn’t change anything.

    Good luck to the both of you and congrats on being here!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks so much for sharing!! Love these entries, you both write well and have great ideas.

    Where’s Will Smith When We Need Him?: (Query) As a fellow lover of em-dashes, it hurts to say, but I think you've overused them in your query. I would just pick one and rephrase the others. It's unclear to me what the connection is between the items that Clover is uncovering and the need to convince the others to fight. I would just pick one and focus on it. I really like the premise you've set up here, I just want a little more lure into the story itself. (250) I like the voice and the set-up here works well coming off the query. But I'm a little confused about what Clover does or doesn't know at this point. She seems awfully calm about the aliens. Makes it feel like they've been there awhile, but from the query I think that it all happened while she was out in a cave and clueless. Feels like there is a disconnect here between Clover's and Noah's reactions and what she is seeing.

    Cement Gargling 101: I had to re-read the first sentence a few times to get your unusual use of "myth" here. A word or two of clarification would be great. The first line of your second paragraph is a rhetoric device, which I don't recommend. At the end, when presenting Arlen's choices, the construction seems unbalanced (he can either do A1, or B1, B2, B3). (250) I really like these opening paragraphs. I like the recurring rustling of the tree branches adding tension besides the protestors. I did feel like the paragraphs themselves felt a little choppy with a lot of short paragraphs in a row. Definitely drew me in!

    ReplyDelete