Jun 19, 2018

QK Round 3: GG: Found Family VS I Wish I Was White

Title: EXP
Entry Nickname: GG: Found Family
Word count: 52,000
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary (#OwnVoices)


Fourteen-year-old Sai is one of the highest-ranked gamers on the Shadows of Shinobi circuit…but he can't go out in public without having a meltdown.

As a teenager with Autism, Sai battles crippling anxiety and underdeveloped social skills. But when Team Komodo asks him to become the reserve player on their semi-professional eSports team, those social skills are put to the test as he turns online acquaintances into real-life friends.

Thankfully, each member of Team Komodo is just as much of a fringe-dweller as Sai. They include a transgender jack-of-all-trades, a dating sim addict, a hyperactive community college dropout, a fake psychic and a thorny military reject. To earn his keep, Sai begins analyzing the team’s competition to increase their chances of winning. And as the team climbs to higher divisions, they’ll have to face stronger opponents.

Every member of the team knows that they can't afford to let their internal struggles get in the way of victory as they brave a grueling series of tournaments. If they win, Sai and his teammates inch closer to breaking into the pro scene. If they lose, it’s back to social isolation and working dead-end jobs. In order to keep the family together, they’ll have to beat not only the competition, but the fiercest opponents of all: themselves.

EXP is a contemporary YA novel complete at 52,000 words. This “found family story in an eSports setting” features neurodiverse characters, LGBTQ+ characters, as well as characters of color and is #OwnVoices for all three categories.

First 250:

A dim candle wavered in the summer heat, illuminating all Psy needed to know about his new employer. The low-level crime lord in his dirty brown robe gave an almost toothless yellow grin that looked orange in the light. The wood on the sliding doors rotted with mildew. Psy could smell the high definition of the effect. In this new expansion, Meiji truly outdid itself with adding in more sensory details to gameplay. It was hard to believe that this alternate version of Tokugawa Japan was constructed from ones and zeroes.

Psy fingered the sickle and chain holstered at his hip that his real self had tied to hot keys. In this world, he was a competent ninja and master poison maker. For a few hours, he could forget about the cold oatmeal and empty friends list he had waiting for him in the real world.

Through the near-total darkness, Psy could see his randomized teammates, the ones who would be completing this NPC slimeball’s mission for him. In addition to a Sumo and Assassin, there was a master and apprentice Monk duo. Psy narrowed his eyes as he thought of all of the times the master could legally switch out with the apprentice in order to train her. Did they have to keep summoning and sealing the same spirit over and over? He turned up his nose as the greenest envy washed over him when he imagined the apprentice learning everything her master knew while he was all alone.


Title: East of Maplewood
Entry Nickname: I Wish I Was White
Word Count: 80K
Genre: YA (#OwnVoices)


The day Adam Hollander, the only black kid in a predominantly white, upper middle-class school, has his first kiss is both the best and worst day of his life. That’s because Adam’s father, a white teacher, is accused of molesting one of his students, and the perfect day becomes a nightmare for the Hollander family.

Flash-forward two years. Adam, now sixteen, has relocated with his family to the extremely poor, urban neighborhood of Irvington, where interacting with other black teens at his school for the first time triggers an identity crisis. As a heavy-metal-loving film connoisseur and self-proclaimed “Oreo,” Adam knows he doesn’t fit in when he sees other students calling each other the N-word or throwing up gang signs. He wants nothing more than to go back to living a normal, happy life—meaning a life amongst white people, which is where he feels a sense of belonging. But that’s not in the cards.

When he meets some kids in a journalism club who actually look like him and have similar interests, things start to look up for Adam. His new friends help him through a rough transition, showing him that color doesn’t define a person. But when word of his dad’s prior accusation finds its way to Adam’s new school by way of a hostile classmate, their house is spray painted with the word “rapist,” neighbors work to put his dad on a pedophile watch list, and Adam’s mother has a heart attack from all the stress. This pushes Adam’s father, who has grown unhinged over the past two years, to suffer a mental breakdown. Still reeling from being railroaded for a crime he claims he didn’t commit, he threatens to go to the school and kill the student who spread the rumor—as well as many others—and Adam’s world is rocked once again. Hurting for his dad, and yet terrified of what might happen, Adam must stop him from carrying out a mass shooting before dozens of people are slaughtered—including his new friends.

First 250:

“Aren’t you worried about her dad finding out?” my best friend, Anthony, asks me. I’m sitting beside him on his bed while he plays The Evil Within on his X-Box. He gets a new game every week and shrugs it off like it’s nothing. “You know he’s racist, right?”

You see, this is why I wish I was white. Then Anthony wouldn’t say dumb stuff like this to me on a regular basis.

“Who told you that?” I ask.

Anthony’s eyes remain locked on the game, so he can’t see me biting my nails.

“Well, her dad’s a Republican, and my dad says that Republicans hate black people.”

“That’s not true. My mom’s a Republican, and she’s black, so…”

“Your mom’s a Republican?” Anthony nearly drops his controller and his eyes go wide like I just said my mom’s Emperor Palpatine. “I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

“Alright, fine. It doesn’t mean anything. But anyway, how’d you kiss Jessica today? You get tongue?”

Just my luck Anthony turns his head at the exact moment that I’m blushing. But this is one of the few instances where I like being black. He probably can’t even tell. When he blushes, his whole face turns raspberry red, and he even looks like a raspberry with all that facial hair. “I gave her my Christmas present.”


“Annnndd she kind of looked at me like—I imitate Jessica’s expression, squinting through imaginary strands of hair.


  1. Judges, please respond here with your votes.


      I love me some gamer stories, so this sounds right up my alley. For the query, I'd like a tiny bit more specifics on how their social hangups are impacting their tournament performance, but otherwise, well done! My only suggestion for the 250 is a nit-picky one: that it feels like there's a touch too much filtering (could smell, could see). An instance here or there is fine, but two so close together jumped out at me. Nothing a rewording can't fix.


      Congrats on making it to the next round! I like that you added more about his father's breakdown (as that seems to be central to the plot), but now there might be a little *too* much info. I think cutting down the list in the final paragraph (classmate, rapist sign, neighbors, mom's heart attack) to one or two points will help. As is, it takes the focus a little too far toward his dad instead of keeping it on Adam. (And yes, I'm aware this is counter to my advice from the previous round, and I know that's frustrating. Sorry! It's all a balancing act.)

      Victory to GG: FOUND FAMILY!

    2. Congrats, writers! A lot of improvement in your work from previous rounds. I'm proud of you both! I have to say that I wonder if FOUND FAMILY starts in the right place. I thought the query is very compelling, but I didn't get the same immediacy in the 250.

      I agree with previous judge that some of the details in the query could be slightly trimmed in I WISH I WAS WHITE, but it's still such an awesome query and 250 that I have to say VICTORY TO I WISH I WAS WHITE.

    3. Love and SqualorJune 20, 2018 at 9:03 AM

      Congrats to both writers! Both these books have great hooks that I think will appeal to the YA market. In the end, though the writing in the sample is great, I found some of the plot points in I WISH I WAS WHITE a little far-fetched, so I decided to go with...


      The nickname is a little odd, but the actual title is downright nonsensical. A teenage protagonist with autism (which shouldn't be capitalized BTW) who finds escape in video games is a promising start. And I love the idea that gaming brings together this found family. That said, the obstacles and stakes all come across as vague. I come away with the sense that the MC's primary goal is to play video games for a living. I sure hope that's not what this is about.

      Wow. A book that features three hot-button, divisive issues in today's world (racism, harassment, and school shootings) all at once. That's... brave. In the query, I'm confused at why it starts talking about school 1, and then jumps two years later to school 2. It (and probably the book) may not start in the right place. And that relates to my main critique of this query: most of the words are wasted on backstory that lead up to the main conflict. Cut everything up to: Just when Adam's starting to find a way to fit in at his school, his dad threatens to go on a shooting spree. And then, make us care not just about Adam, but his dad and their relationship. Do that, and this will be a query no one can ignore.

    5. Whoops, I forgot to add:

      Yay! Another #ActuallyAutistic character! I'm so happy about this. (And yes, Autism is something we capitalize if we wish. It is an identity. Any agent who wants to argue about this with you might not be an agent you want.)

      This is good writing. People who play a lot of video games might disagree, but I’d suggest only having one paragraph describing the game – and why Psy is so immersed in it (the “cold oatmeal” and “empty friends list” irl), then get on to some other action.

      This version has a whole hell of a lot more tension than the version I read in Round 1. This is INTENSE.
      This is a good enough opening, though I wonder if we need some more grounding in the midst of this. It’s a lot of dialogue about people we don’t know yet, and stuff we have no context for. But I think it’s still hooky. I follow it, and I’m getting a great sense of your MC (and his complex inner life and struggles) already. I’d keep reading as long as we have some grounding and some action right away after this.




      I love found family stories, and this totally sounds like a family I’d love to spend some time with. Is Psy Sai, or is it a different character. It threw me a bit, but obviously this isn’t a major issue. Just curious. I love the setting and the details.


      This story sounds super intense and I’m already very invested. The Query could perhaps be scaled back just a bit, as it’s almost bludgeoning. You don’t want to make the reader emotionally exhausted before the book even starts, do you? Heh.

      The first 250 has some great dialogue and commentary and I feel like I could read several pages before I even realized it. Great job.

      Both of these sound bittersweet and I really, really want to read both and/or give them a hug. They might be my two favorite entries so far. Both are relatable with just an extra punch to make them out there. I wish you both the best of luck.


    8. GG: FOUND FAMILY: This is my second time seeing this entry, and I can see the tweaks you made in both the query and the first 250. They’re subtle but there. I really have not suggestions to improve this. You’re right on track!

      I WISH I WAS WHITE: This is my first time seeing this one and I really love the concept. It’s fresh and interesting. The voice in this entry blows me away. I don’t have many suggestions for you either.

      It figures I would get ANOTHER set of amazing entries that I have to CHOOSE from… since both of these seem ready for submission, I can’t go with my previous judging style… so I have to do the next best thing and judge based on the entry with a stronger voice in both the query and the opening scene.


      ~Red Ink Slinger

    9. GG: Found Family
      For the query, I love the improvements you did here. Great job! If it’s possible though, it would be nice if you can incorporate a bit of how their internal struggles get in the way. Does it pose a challenge to their working as a team? Or will totally break their team apart? Just a bit of specifics here would be nice, so that the challenges to the goal resulting from their internal struggles won’t come off as too vague. For the 250, great job too! But as with the previous version, I struggle with the second sentence. It’s just too laden with descriptive words for me.

      I Wish I Was White
      This is a very well-written query! Great job on that! I loved everything—the conflict of being an “oreo,” not fitting in… Up until the point where the dad becomes “unhinged” and threatens a shooting spree. I haven’t read your book so I can’t tell for sure if it involves the dad dying in the end, but you might want to consider implying that the dad is not beyond help. Mental illness is often “villainized” in stories, so it would be great if you can add a bit more sensitivity on the wording of this part. Because even if we are #ownvoices for some aspects of our stories, we must remember that intersectionality exists, and we must be careful in dealing with this. I hope this is something you’ll ponder on, as I strongly believe your book is hooky and your voice is amazing. I won’t be surprised if agents get on a bidding war over it. As for your 250… I love this a lot, as I totally feel for Adam. And like I said, I love your voice. But you might want to indicate that Anthony is white (wait, is he white?)… That way, it’s clear and Adam’s comments will have more impact.

      Of all the match-ups on here, this is the hardest for me. So I’ll just base my vote on something very, very subjective: Voice.

    10. Discount Wonder WomanJune 21, 2018 at 12:09 PM

      I remember I WISH I WAS WHITE and was thrilled to see it again! The query is much better, in my opinion. It's now clear why Adam's dad can go on a shooting spree, which I thought was one of the main problems before. Now, however? AMAZING. So are the first 250. I was pretty sure I was going to vote for this, but then... then GG: FOUND FAMILY came along.

      I love the query. I love the premise. I love the opening. I love how the protagonist could be me, and the diversity of the team, which is in-line with how diverse gamers are. Perhaps because this one feels almost personal to me, like it could BE me, and my group of internet friends (that has all those kinds of people) could be that one, I'll give VICTORY TO GG: FOUND FAMILY!

      Please forgive me, I Wish I Was White! If it counts for anything, I think you'll do very well on sub and wish you both the very best!

    11. Mrs. Will HerondaleJune 21, 2018 at 12:15 PM

      I've read and loved both of these queries before, and really hope to see them published some day.

      I Wish I Was White-- I remember your query needed more clarity/fleshing out, but I think this version is a little over-corrected. When you revise again before querying, see if you can find a happy medium of giving us enough info to connect the dots, but no more than need. This one reads very play by play. It could be simplified a little more, like "Adam's dad becomes unhinged, and threatens to take revenge of the student spreading the rumor he's a rapist, by shooting up the school. Adam must..." I'm sure you could write it better than that example, but just so you get what I mean. :)

      Found Family: Overall the query works well, but maybe up your stakes just a pinch. Tell us what going pro would mean specifically. Maybe swap those two sentences, too? If they lose it's back to their old, sucky lives, but if they win... Give us just a detail or two.

      Since the premises are both so interesting to me, I'm going to go with the entry that I think is in the strongest shape at this point.:

      Victory to FOUND FAMILY!

  2. No one of consequenceJune 19, 2018 at 4:36 PM

    I love the premise for both of these books. I'm hugely invested in things related to autism, and normally I'd go that direction, but the prose in I Wish I Was White just grabbed me too hard to let go.

    Victory to I WISH I WAS WHITE

  3. The Red CardiganJune 19, 2018 at 8:24 PM

    Wow, I love the premise of found family, and I am thrilled to hear about a story with neuro-diversity, racial diversity, gender identity diversity and sexual orientation diversity. I am concerned that your word count is a little low.
    As for wish I were white, this is a tricky topic, and I really hope the author is biracial. It is labeled as ownvoices, so I'm hoping for the best. My issue here is that the character seems to have some negative thoughts about the black part of his identity, and I am afraid this will be an uncomfortable read for black readers. I see that he is redeemed at the end and he comes to accept this part of his identity, but the narrative before that point still has the potential to do harm. That being said, this is very well-written and fantastic voice! I do recommend a black sensitivity reader, though, even if this is own voices. Also, a great deal of the query revolves around his father's accusation of sexual assault (another tricky topic!) so it leads me to wonder which is the main conflict here.

    Victory to FOUND FAMILY!

  4. GG: Found Family
    I love this premise and I love the diversity of your characters! I’m a little concerned the word count may be too low for YA though. Also, I don’t think autism is capitalized. Finally, and I’m being picky here, you may want to consider combining your first and second paragraphs to have four strong paragraphs instead of five. I really enjoyed your 250, but I felt a little detached from Psy because of some wording like “could smell”, “could forget”, etc. But that’s an easy fix.

    I Wish I Was White
    This story sounds incredibly interesting and the first two paragraphs of your query are so strong. But there just seems to be way too much going on in the third. I think you could easily remove a couple of things (like their house being spray painted, his mom having a heart attack, etc) and still get a good feel of the story. Also, I’d consider removing “and Adam’s world is rocked once again” because it’s definitely implied with everything else going on. As for your 250, I love the voice!