Jun 20, 2017

QK Round 3: Book Boys Gone Wild vs Nowhere Land

Title: Paper Seeds
Entry Nickname: Book Boys Gone Wild!
Word Count: 109K
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy

Query: 

When seventeen-year-old Harlow Jackson gets dumped at her grandma Minny's wake, she's devastated, pissed as hell, and without an escort for the debutante season starting the very next day. But then Harlow finds something Minny left her: paper seeds. Minny always told her that if you place a magical paper seed in a book, and plant it in the ground, you can grow anything you desire from its pages.

In a fit of desperation, revenge, and, okay fine, a little too much funeral punch, Harlow grows teenage versions of Mr. Knightley, Sherlock Holmes, Dorian Gray, and Dracula to be her and her friends' debutante escorts. Because everyone knows there's only one thing better than a handsome, well-groomed, drawling Southern beau... an English gentleman. Harlow is tired of feeling second rate in her small Southern town, and vows to use the boys to beat her ex, and the mean-girl debutantes, at their own game. Frankly, she'd love to burn their perfect curls off their pretty little heads, but that would just be gravy. Instead, she'll settle for winning the debutante crown and the accompanying cash scholarship prize, which she badly needs.

Harlow passes the boys off as four rather eccentric foreign exchange students, and everything goes according to plan until the book-boys discover their own origins and run amok. At the same time, the town witch, Madame LeRoux, comes after Harlow for the paper seeds, claiming that planting them will have dark consequences for Harlow and the people she loves. Harlow must uncover the origin and twisted history of the paper seeds to discover a way to undo what she's grown. But as generations of town secrets and lies begin to unravel, Harlow discovers it was her beloved grandmother Minny who may have been hiding the biggest, ugliest secret of them all.

First 250:

If I hadn’t been standing in the middle of my grandmother Minny's wake, I would have whacked that boy in the man parts so hard, people would be looking at pictures of his children in years to come and say—see the funny ear that kid has? Harlow Jackson did that.

But Jonathan took my hand and squeezed it, like he was bestowing some sort of warm comfort on me. He wore the gray shirt I'd saved up a week's wages for, the one that was the exact color of his eyes.

Now, I wanted to rip it off him.

And not in a good way.

I took a deep breath and tried to be civil. “Your parents will get used to the idea of us. I have a way of winning people over, you know.” I smiled my most becoming smile and flashed my dimple. Jonathan loved my dimple. Everyone loved my dimple.

He closed his eyes. “It’s not that, Harlow.”

“Then what is it?” I said, too loud.

Madison Pace cocked her ear in our direction as she scooped bean dip onto her plate at the food table. Nosey was not an adjective in this town, it was a given.

I tugged Jonathan’s hand, and he followed me out onto the front porch. The sky was gray, just waiting to burst open, the air heavy and thick. October in Georgia was not a cool, crisp autumn. It’s more like standing over a pot of boiling pasta. Or maybe more like being the pasta.





Versus




Title:  FOLLOW THE SUN
Entry Title:  Nowhere Land
Word Count:  75K
Genre: Historical YA (#ownvoices)

Query:

In 1969, Rett syndrome is unheard of. But come hell or high water, Jackie is determined to discover the reason why her four-year-old sister, Evie, suddenly lost the ability to speak and control her hands.  Her parents find it easiest to accept their small town doctor’s generic diagnosis that Evie was born with physical and mental impairments. Jackie doesn’t buy it. Evie wasn’t born that way; she regressed just before turning two.  So, Jackie spends months secretly mailing letters to various doctors around the country. She’s convinced that if she can find one expert with a possible explanation for Evie’s symptoms, it will force her parents down a path toward determining the cause.

That’s a lot to handle for a seventeen-year-old, though, and no amount of getting drunk with her flower child friends, flirting with a guy who’s caught her eye, or bickering with her June Cleaver-ish mother keeps Evie’s condition from constantly gnawing away at the back of Jackie’s mind. When she finally hears of a doctor in Austria who might have an answer to the riddle that is Evie, Jackie’s world begins to brighten.  But, Evie’s disability becomes too much of a hassle for her self-absorbed mother and father, and they make plans to institutionalize her in another state.

Devastated by the idea of separation from Evie, Jackie makes a rash decision:  she’ll take off on a planned trip with her friends to the Woodstock music festival, and she’ll never come back. If Evie won’t be in Everton anymore, Jackie doesn’t want to be either. But she can’t shake the feeling that the best place for Evie is with her family.  As Woodstock ends, Jackie must decide to either find a new life elsewhere or return home to reveal the information she discovered to her parents and convince them that Evie is capable of more than they believe.  If only they’ll listen.
 
First 250: 

Woodstock Music & Art Fair, August 1969
Day One – Late Afternoon

I inhale the scents of lost inhibitions disguised as weed and booze. They’re so thick it’s as if I can reach out and touch them; literally get a contact high. It’s a pretty killer scene, and after hours of waiting, the music’s finally starting. For most, time has no place here. You simply exist. You are here. It is today. The time is now. And it’s all good. But my mind flickers like the flashes of a camera between photos of the before and the after. The past and the present.

Between Evie and this field full of strangers.

The odors surrounding me vanish, replaced by the memory of more comforting aromas: cookies and apple juice. I smile, in spite of myself. But those thoughts angle my mind toward others that curdle my stomach, like Evie at the supper table with my parents, her hands tying themselves in knots. I’m not in my seat next to her, and she doesn’t understand why. The image of her face in my head pushes each beat of my heart one notch higher on the threshold of pain in my chest. As if some great chasm has cracked along my sternum, leaking a burning fire through the rest of my body.

I ache to see her, but I can’t go back home. Not after what I found out. Not after what I learned.

I swear I’ll never go back to Everton.

22 comments :

  1. Judges, please leave your comments and votes as a reply to this comment. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Book Boys Gone Wild
      Fantastic voice in both the query and 250. One note: "dark consequences" is a bit vague.

      Nowhere Land
      Wonderful voice here as well, and the story sounds compelling. In the query, the only thing I would note is a seeming contradiction: How can a "planned trip" be a "rash decision"? I'm also still a bit confused as to why the MC seems to leave *before* her sister is sent away. *After* I could understand, but I'm having trouble processing her leaving before, if family is as important to her as the query implies.

      These are both strong entries, with strong voices, and it's a difficult choice, but for me it's going to be victory to Book Boys Gone Wild!

      Delete
    2. From CatAttack

      BOOK BOYS GONE WILD
      The query has a terrific voice -- I feel like we know Harlow before we get to the first 250. The 'gravy' line doesn't quite work for me, but if I'm alone in this -- ignore! The first 250 opens with a wonderful paragraph. Harlow practically jumps off the page (pretty fitting, considering!)

      NOWHERE LAND
      The query seems to be describing a physical journey as well as a journey of the heart, but I'm not quite seeing the intersection. Some pieces seem to be missing. Like, when the information from Austria arrives, what does Jackie do with it? Why does she think she'll be better able to convince her parents post-Woodstock than beforehand? In the first 250, I was surprised the story stars at Woodstock; from the query, I thought Woodstock was a climactic moment. I like the way the opening paragraph contrasts the 'now-ness' of Woodstock vs Jackie's being pulled back to the past by thoughts of her sister. Suggest trimming: 'The image of her face (in my head) pushes each beat of my heart (one) a notch higher, on the threshold of pain (in my chest).' Love the idea of a book partially set at Woodstock.

      Both of these look like engaging stories, but since I have to pick just one...

      VICTORY OF BOOK BOYS GONE WILD

      Delete
    3. PAPER SEEDS

      Ooh... Southern setting, old-town and family secrets and magical book boys! This sounds delicious. I like the voice in the query and how we get a sense of who Harlow is right away--and the idea of the mysterious paper seeds is totally original and intriguing. There are just a couple of things (subplots?) that seem to distract and create more questions than they answer: the mention of winning the debutante crown and scholarship because Harlow "needs it," for example. I'd really leave that out completely from the query. I'm sure it works fine in the book, but I found it sent the query into a bit of an unnecessary segue. You have already an amazing main plot here, with the paper seeds and the book boys and how it all comes back to Minny! No need to distract from it! :)

      As for your first 250, it's fast-paced and voice-y and shows us a lot without telling us much, so great job there! I'm feeling useless here, because I really don't think I can offer any useful feedback... You've got a good, strong beginning, IMHO.

      FOLLOW THE SUN

      I love the idea of your protagonist being motivated by trying to help her baby sister, while at the same time trying to distract herself by being a sixties child. I did find her decision to go to Woodstock a little jarring, though, because the first two paragraphs were so focused on helping Evie. It also made it hard for me to believe she really would consider not coming home from Woodstock at all--this seem at odds with her obsession with helping her little sister. I think maybe if you link the Woodstock trip with the other stuff you mention loosely in the second paragraph (getting drunk with her flower-child friends, etc...), it might smooth things out. I think it would help us to better understand how a character so devoted to her sister would actually consider giving up on helping her--especially after all the effort she's put into it in the first place. I think it might give further validation to the choice you leave her with by the end of the query.

      I love some of the writing in your first 250--the descriptions are very vivid and I like how you involve all the senses. However, I found the beginning at odds with the query--this is probably totally subjective, and I realize you're probably going to be writing two separate timelines (or using flashbacks), which is totally fine... But reading your beginning right after the query felt a little jarring because you're starting where the query is ending. My suggestion would be to maybe start with "I swear I'll never go back to Everton," just to provide a link with the Before stuff. Another suggestion would be to punch up her mention of Evie, or bring it in earlier. You mention the scent of apple juice and cookies and then cut to Evie at supper... Can you perhaps insert a memory more related to cookies and apple juice in particular? I'd also suggest adding more of a description of Evie's symptoms within the context of that particular memory, but I'm not versed on Rett syndrome, so I'm not sure if this would be possible.

      Good, strong entries, again. Hard to pick one, but...

      Victory to BOOK BOYS GONE WILD!

      Delete
    4. Replying as Chief Doodler!!

      Book Boys Gone Wild:

      What a fun concept!! I got pulled in with the query—though using the "gravy" feels out of tone, character and a bit...dated? That's my one gripe.

      The 250 words was well written, and I love the voice!!

      Follow the Sun:
      This is a great title, and I think the idea and heart behind this story is really evident. However, I'm having a hard time with the main character's decision to up and leave her sister, who seems to be the key element of the plot. If Evie is going to be institutionalized then why would her sister leave, before she's sent away? Why not have that time with her? It just feels very thin, and a little unbelievable that the main character would up and leave her sister who she loves so much. Especially leaving her with parents who don't understand Evie, who are giving up on her, essentially.

      For me my decision was based on concept of story...WINNER GOES TO BOOK BOYS GONE WILD!

      Delete
    5. BOOK BOYFRIENDS: You can cut the last 2 sentences of the query, which makes for a more dramatic ending and leaves the reader wanting more. Love this concept. Really unique and fresh. In the 250, I don’t think I love the joke about ruining someone’s children right away. Watch your tenses. Voice is good, I like her sass.


      FOLLOW THE SUN: The revisions here have really made a huge difference! The query is clear, the 250 makes a lot more sense.

      Here my vote is for the one that is the most ready to move on (thought I would totally read both) – victory to FOLLOW THE SUN!

      Delete
    6. BOOK BOYS GONE WILD

      OMG, this is fantastic. You really had me at Dorian Gray. Anyway, the only thing that pops out at me in regards to the query is the overly vague "dark consequences" and "…as generations of town secrets and lies begin to unravel". If you are able to elude or hint what the dark consequences are and the town secrets that would pique the readers interest a bit more than cliché statements like these. What sets this story apart from the rest? The 250, I laughed out loud. Superb!

      NOWHERE LAND

      This sounds like a powerful premise. However, I do feel the sudden trip to Woodstock throws off what I thought was her motivation—find an explanation for Evie's symptoms. I think if you clear up her motivations and downplay some of the sub-plots in this query, it should help readers understand what the core premise is. The 250 is great!

      VICTORY TO BOOK BOYS GONE WILD

      Delete
    7. Book Boys Gone Wild

      Query: Overall I think this is really strong, and I’d definitely read this. Book boyfriends come to life! What an awesome concept. I’m wondering if you need the “Because everyone knows” line since I’m not sure it’s really contributing anything and we already know why she wanted to them, so they can be escorts for her and her friends. I’m curious what game she’s trying to beat the mean girls and her ex at. That was a little vague for me. The third paragraph gets a little convoluted as well with the introduction of the witch. I wonder if you could simplify and just mention the consequences of growing her boy toys?

      250: This opening is fantastic. Great voice, love the intro. My only nitpick is that I believe it should be “his” man parts rather than “the.”

      NOWHERE LAND

      Query: Another strong query, great job. Some suggestions: consider streamlining the sentences “Her parents find it...” through “Evie wasn’t born that way.” Since you already mentioned this happened when she turned four it seems a bit repetitive. Maybe something like, “Her parents find it easiest to accept their small town doctor’s generic diagnosis, but Jackie doesn’t buy it.” The second paragraph loses me a little—the first sentence specifically. The way it’s phrased reads a bit odd, and I’m not really sure if the drinking or the guy have any significance to the story. The third paragraph takes a turn I wasn’t expecting at all. It seems very odd that after finding a doctor who might have the answer, Jackie would abandon her sister in a mental institution to go to Woodstock? I honestly thought this was headed toward her taking her sister to Austria. I’m also curious what information she discovered at Woodstock? With a little smoothing I think this can be a little clearer and this can be a stellar query.

      250: I was really surprised to see we started at Woodstock since that’s all the way at the end of the query, which leaves me wondering if the query needs to be restructured. And the way she mentions she can’t go back after what she found out really seems to out of place after the way you portrayed her character in the query. The writing here is great and I’m drawn into the story, I’m just feeling a disconnect between this and the query.

      VICTORY TO BOOK BOYS GONE WILD!

      Delete
    8. BOOK BOYS GONE WILD
      I love so many elements of both the query and the first page here. I tend to agree with Moonstone Dragon in that there might be one too many elements in the query. While there was a lot to love (Southern setting, literary characters, paper seeds), by the time I got to the scholarship money and town witch, I felt there was a lot going on. I loved the 250 and would have kept reading.

      NOWHERE LAND
      I think the revisions on this are great and this entry has gotten really polished - particularly the 250 words. I still feel like there's a bit of confusion in the query. I still find myself wondering why Jackie's solution to her heartbreak over Evie is to run away where she will never see Evie.

      This is a really, really tough match but for me VICTORY TO BOOK BOYS GONE WILD!

      Delete
    9. Critique: Book Boys Gone Wild!
      ----
      Query:
      ----
      This query is charming, but too long. You can trim some in the 2nd and 3rd paragraph. My only big question is…WHO GETS DROPPED OFF AT THEIR GRANDMOTHER’S WAKE?! Are her parents monsters? Did neither of them care about that woman?
      ----
      First 250 words:
      ----
      Beautiful writing. If you trim some of your query, I’m more inclined to go with this page. As of now, my concern is both are a bit long winded (your word count is pretty high for your genre, it almost sounds like you could split it into two books.) So my main concern is that this needs a hard edit, but the story sounds so good, if I was an agent or publisher, I’d likely be game to help the author. The best thing you can do here, is prove you can take a critique well, and trim some stuff.

      ===================================
      Critique: Nowhere Land
      ----
      Query:
      ----
      This query has improved, but it is still a bit long and a bit rough. I found this sentence both awkward and very long:
      “That’s a lot to handle for a seventeen-year-old, though, and no amount of getting drunk with her flower child friends, flirting with a guy who’s caught her eye, or bickering with her June Cleaver-ish mother keeps Evie’s condition from constantly gnawing away at the back of Jackie’s mind.”
      It just took me right out of the query, and, honestly, if I was an agent I’d likely stop there. REVISE and you still need to cut this down. The 3rd paragraph shocked me. I assumed Jackie was running away to get the doctor to ultimately get Evie the help she needs to be a family together. I’m not sure how her running away like that will look like anything short of abandoning her sister. The query is a bit unclear whether she is leaving forever or going on a journey to get everyone what they need to resolve the conflict.
      ---
      First 250 words:
      ---
      This does not appear to be changed at all, therefore, I must simply repeat my original thoughts:
      Agents tend to hate prologues. I don’t mind them, but agents do. So I’d likely cut this and start at the inciting incident, which I assume would be the doctor’s diagnosis (or lack thereof) of Evie?
      ===================================
      Verdict: I’m afraid that Nowhere land just isn’t quite there for me. Winner goes to Book Boys Gone Wild!
      ===================================
      WINNER GOES TO: Book Boys Gone Wild!

      Delete
    10. Two strong entries here... congratulations to both.

      BOOK BOYS GONE WILD
      Great premise, and I absolutely love the ending line of the query. However, I almost wonder if some reordering would give the synopsis a better flow: she gets dumped before the ball, really wants to show up her ex and her enemies, and *then* bring in the magical seeds she inherited from Minny. My only other comment is that the voice feels a little younger than I'd expect for YA.

      NOWHERE LAND
      Here's a story in an interesting era, and I like how you reveal what the sister has and contrast it with what was thought about her condition then. That being said, the second half of the synopsis changed direction -- the plight of the sister takes a backstage to running off to Woodstock. I don't see how that's going to help anything, and a teen running away in rebellious fashion is a giant cliche. However, a teen fighting for her little sister's future is a story that grabs me. Focus on that.

      (A more minor side note, most of your target audience won't get the Cleaver reference).

      Both Kombatants have done well.

      Victory to BOOK BOYS GONE WILD!

      Delete
  2. BOOK BOYS GONE WILD

    Love the voice in the query and 250! The query’s third paragraph is a little hazy. 1) How exactly does the book-boys’ discovery/running amok mess up her plan? 2) Does the witch realize she’s already planted the seeds (are there some left over)? 3) “Harlow must uncover the origin…and discover a way to undo what she’s grown…” before what? What are the consequences if she’s not successful?

    The pasta line made me burst out laughing. So true!


    NOWHERE LAND

    I was a little jarred by the opening at Woodstock since that’s where the query ends. If the story is told via through flashbacks in the journal, I’m wondering if it’s possible to frame the query differently. Perhaps open with something like, “Seventeen-year-old Jackie is trying to forget her cares at Woodstock, but that’s impossible with a four-year-old sister she loves at home—a sister with Rhett syndrome that her parents want to institutionalize.”

    I love all the senses incorporated in the 250.



    VICTORY TO BOOK BOYS GONE WILD

    ReplyDelete
  3. Lovely job both of you!

    Nowhere land: There is so much heart in your writing. I really appreciate you sharing your own voices story. I think the query could be tightened a little. I think that could help make your stakes and conflict extra clear as previous judges have said.

    Book Boys Gone Wild: I love the juxtaposition of the debutante life with dark magic and humor. I'm totally hooked. I call dibs on Dracula.

    VICTORY TO BOOK BOYS GONE WILD

    ReplyDelete
  4. Book Boys Gone Wild

    Query

    Great first paragraph. Second paragraph is long, as is the whole query. You want it all, plus intro, closing, and contact info to fit on one page. You're over 300 words now, so that will be tough. In the second paragraph, I think you can stop at '... own game.' The third paragraph could end at '... she's grown.' That'll save you some words.

    1st 250

    Voice for days. Love it. I can see the dimple and the building anger behind it. The boiling pasta analogy is awesome.

    Nowhere Land

    Query

    Also good, but also over 300 words. Well written and interesting - I like the idea of an older sibling getting so upset they just want to run off - but you should look to trim. I think you can drop sentences 3 & 4 in the first paragraph, and jump right to 'Evie wasn't born that way...' last sentence could probably go, too.

    1st 250

    Glad you left in 'killer scene'. It adds a voice of the time. I don't mind flashbacks or being told when/where we are outside the narrative like some do, so it works for me. I don't think 'As' starting a new sentence feels weird to me. I'd go with a comma there.

    Good luck to both of you!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've liked both of these from the beginning. The only thing I can think to say is that I think both queries are reading on the long side. Can I tell you what to cut? Uh, no. Sorry.
    I think these are both strong entries with good voice and concept!

    ReplyDelete
  6. BOOK BOYS: So creative. Like a Jack & the Beanstalk meets Bette Midler's "Hocus Pocus" in the South. Love it. The only line (literally, the only one) that didn't sit well with me was about burning the curls. To me, any girl who would kick a boy in the man parts at a funeral wake would either a) rip out the curls or b) cast a spell to make them all bald. But that's just me, and this isn't my typical genre. So go with what you know and BEST of luck!!!
    NOWHERE LAND: Your first 250 is amazing. Especially the opening paragraph -- exactly how I've pictured Woodstock to be. I can't quite equate the insanity of Woodstock to diagnosing a complex medical condition in a 4-year-old, but I'd love the opportunity to try as I'd LOVE to read the rest of this story!!
    You do an excellent job of ramping up Jackie's desperation as her parents seem to all but give up on Evie. Great voice; powerful premise.

    Both of you -- amazing work!!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi all! Fellow Kombatant here. Basically I'm here to comment on how amazing you are, because really, you are. Just sayin.

    Book Boys Gone Wild

    Killer opening line in your query. Honestly just killer voice overall. I devoured the excerpt and I would so one-click buy this. I love the concept and the setup you have going here. Fantastic.

    Nowhere Land

    After reading your query I immediately got the REMEMBERING SUMMER vibe, which was a book I devoured time and time again. I love books that touch on sibling devotion! This is an engaging entry. I was a little surprised to see your story start in Woodstock after reading the query -- are you using flashbacks? Timeline shifts? If not, then maybe the first part of your query could be lighter, because otherwise it makes me think that Woodstock is the turning point, not the beginning. Just a thought! That's the hard thing with these contests -- we don't know what happens in the next chapter. :) Either way, lovely descriptions!

    Amazing job to both of you! Seriously. Singing praises all day. And I apologize for inadvertently spiking your blood pressure by adding another non-judge comment, haha. :) Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Kombatant here, with praise! Book Boys: I love this concept and your voice! Harlow seems like someone I would want to be friends with! Nowhere land: I've seen this before and still love it! You've made some revisions that keep the lyrical quality of the writing while making the scene clearer. Love!

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  9. I agree with the rest of the feedback that the queries for both entries could be tightened a bit. However, I just want to add that when/ if you revise them, don't trade a shortened length for a less poignant query that pulls all the emotional strings it's supposed to. *Sometimes* you need that extra sentence or two or even three :) I would stick to it not going over a page long though.

    My vote: Paper Seeds

    ReplyDelete
  10. Fellow Kombatant loving these entries!

    Book Boys Gone Wild:
    What a great concept! I'm already thinking about what book boys I'd want to grow! (Ignoring the evil consequences of course). Your query and 250 have great voice. What I'm curious about is how the town witch knows Harlow has the seeds.

    Nowhere Land:
    I loved this when I read it the first time and I still love it. There's so much emotion in the query. One thing I would tighten is the reasoning for her decision to go away and leave her sister. Starting at Woodstock took me by surprise but is well-written.

    I'm looking forward to reading both these books! Congratulations for having two amazing stories.

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  11. Jess GulbrandsenJune 22, 2017 at 3:44 PM

    I have no suggestions for the first 250 of either book, they are both strong. The queries could be shorter, but I don't know what I would cut.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Books Boys Gone Wild

    Query - This is such an amazing idea, especially appealing to anyone who's ever fallen in love with a fictional character (hello, Gilbert Blythe!). My only quibble is probably a story concern rather than a query concern: Dracula? Really? Because if we're talking about the original Bram Stoker vampire, I don't get the appeal. I'm assuming you've tweaked the portrayal toward a more romantic interpretation, and the query is so strong and so confident that you've earned my trust to find that out.

    250 - The voice is amazing. I'd definitely keep turning pages. Well done.

    Nowhere Land

    Query - I've commented elsewhere about the changes you've made, so I won't repeat myself here. I think you're on the right track, and I appreciate Jackie's concern for her sister.

    250 - When you surveyed, I voted for starting without the Woodstock frame, but you know your story better than I do, so I trust you know what's best for it. I admire your resolve to trust your own instincts. Good luck going forward.

    ReplyDelete