Jun 19, 2018

QK Round 3: Planet Panic VS Shiver Me Timbers

Title: My Best Friend Runs Venus
Entry Nickname: Planet Panic
Word Count: 45K
Genre: Middle Grade Science Fiction


At 12.9 years old, number-obsessed Kade Walker has never heard of death. Literally. But neither has anyone else he knows. Kade is one of hundreds of kids "living" across the solar system through robotic avatars while their real bodies sleep in pods on Earth. Nothing can hurt him this way; the adults all said so. They just never said how to survive middle school with only 1.0 friends.

Kade's friend Princess Tamika would rather plot their next prank than expand their social circle. Lucky for her, his newest scheme covers both their goals. They're taking a diplomatic joyride across the solar system using an old teleportation machine that he's reconstructed. Tamika will thank him later. He's 63.1 percent sure of it. Unfortunately, the machine's not rigged for current use, so when Kade fires it up, he unwittingly kills a major security wall and releases an infamous hacker. Panic rating: ten times infinity.

First the hacker shuts down all communications with the adults. Then she devastates the security walls protecting Tamika and the other royal avatars. If Kade doesn't want to see his best friend used as a puppet, he needs to stop the hacker fast--even if that means waking up on Earth to fight with a body he never realized could be hurt.

MY BEST FRIEND RUNS VENUS (45,000 words) is an MG science fiction novel combining the virtual setting of READY PLAYER ONE with the adventurous planet-hopping of JACOB WONDERBAR. Thank you for your time and consideration.

First 250:

It wasn't the first time Kade had hacked the Venusian maintenance system, but it was one of the best. If he had to put a number on it--and there was very little he didn't put a number on--he'd give it a 9.7. He checked the cable leading from his tablet to the blocky computer box embedded in the burnt orange mountainside. Connection: serviceable.

Tamika leaned over to inspect his work. "Hey," she said. "What do you think our real bodies look like?"

Kade tightened his grip on the cable, causing a nearby rock to flicker. The dust around it swirled to match. "I... imagine you look the same, and I look like a person instead of a gargoyle," he said. "But, hey, no complaints. I hear Mercury's princess designed her social companion to be a purple unicorn."

Tamika blushed, and Kade's gaze dropped to his tablet. He flicked his right wing, bringing an overlay of glowing text into view. Ninety-eight more seconds for the code to run. Current time: 17:03:34. He'd checked the time twenty-three seconds ago, but whenever he wasn't reading data, he felt lost. The overseeing adults called it unhealthy. Healthy people could watch a sunset without calculating its luminosity every thirty seconds.

Healthy people sounded boring.

"Kade," Tamika whispered. "Something's coming."

Kade froze and scanned the area. His sensors detected a deep clunk-clunk echoing across Venus's stone-hard surface. Low volume, maybe twenty to thirty decibels. He hoped it was just a patrol robot, but it was coming too fast.


Entry Nickname: Shiver Me Timbers
Word Count: 48000 words
Genre: Middle Grade, Adventure/Fantasy


Twelve-year-old Ollie Bancroft is a kid genius and engineering prodigy, but in his sleepy coastal town of Deadmen, Newfoundland, people couldn’t care less. Ollie is a Bancroft after all, descendant of William Bancroft: the man who killed the infamous pirate Black Bart and ended his reign of terror. No matter what Ollie does he can’t escape the legendary pirate connection, and to make things worse, he’s the only one in Deadmen who doesn’t believe it. As far as Ollie’s concerned, the legend is nothing more than a fairy tale to attract tourists to a dying town.

When Ollie stumbles upon a supposedly cursed compass with the power to bring Black Bart back to life, he sees his opportunity to finally stop all the pirate nonsense once and for all. Like a serious scientist he conducts an experiment to prove the curse is bogus, only to prove that the curse is very real. Black Bart and his crew of rotten goons return from the dead — just in time to spoil the town’s annual pirate festival — hungry to wreak revenge upon Deadmen, especially anyone unlucky enough to be named Bancroft.

With the help of his best friend Emma, his sea dog grandpa, and his reluctant mom, Ollie must use his wits and considerable knowledge of booby-traps to thwart Black Bart before he resurrects his entire pirate army and plunders the seven seas.

OLLIE BANCROFT AND THE UNDEAD PIRATE PROBLEM is a MG novel complete at 48,000 words. It is fast-paced and jam-packed with adventure, combining S.T.E.M elements with actual history into fantastical, spooky fiction.

First 250:

“You know how you’re always asking why kids think you’re weird?” Emma whispered in Ollie’s ear.

Ollie’s shoulders slumped. He scuffed his boot against the glossy convention center floor. “Yeah,” he sighed.

“This, Ollie,” Emma said, patting him on the back. “Stuff just like this.”

A girl stood before them, crying so hard a snot bubble inflated unnoticed from her right nostril. Just behind her loomed her science project, a bright diorama covered with glitter, out-of-focus poodle photographs, and the title: ‘RUFFLES: EVERYDAY POODLE, OR MUSICAL PRODIGY?’

Moments earlier, the girl had enthusiastically given Ollie and Emma a sneak-peak at her presentation. She hadn’t even been a minute through before Ollie criticized it in a dozen ways, causing her freckled face to burst like a ruptured dam.

“I’m sorry,” Ollie pled with the girl. “I’m really sorry, okay?” He awkwardly put out his hand and patted the air above her shoulder. “I could be wrong. I’m probably wrong. Maybe it is a real science project? Maybe … your dog barking along to boy band songs is science, after all?”

With a whimper, the girl wiped her eyes and stopped crying. Her snot bubble burst.

“Of course,” Ollie said more to himself than to her, “a person’s musical taste doesn’t really factor in the scientific method, so I don’t see why Ruffles, would matter to any —“

“Ollie!” Emma said, smacking him on the arm.

“Ouch,” Ollie winced.

Beneath the table, Ruffles — easily identifiable by the sparkly letters on his name tag — growled ferociously behind the bars of a pink kennel. 


  1. Judges, please respond here with your votes.

    1. Oh man, both these stories sound absolutely fantastic! Fun stakes, interesting characters/plots, and amazing voices in the 250s. Robots and pirates! Hackers and ghosts! Wish I could vote you both through, but alas, rules!

      Victory to PLANET PANIC!

    2. No one of consequenceJune 19, 2018 at 5:19 PM

      I'm not a MG writer, or really even a reader. But I'd buy both of these. Fun! I'm going to go with the premise that I think really jumps out...but it would have been just as easy to vote the other way. It's close.

      Victory to PLANET PANIC

    3. Wow! You both nailed the MG voice, which is really hard. I really want to get to know both of these main characters and live in their pirate/space worlds.

      Since this is a really close match up, and the queries and 250 are both really strong, I had a very hard time choosing. I ended up choosing the entry with a little more voice, as that really gives us a hint of what the book is like.

      VICTORY TO PLANET PANIC (but I love you, both)

    4. Love and SqualorJune 20, 2018 at 9:25 AM

      These are both strong entries, but I absolutely fell in love with the writing and voice in one of the 250s. Congrats to both readers, and my vote goes to...


      I still love this concept, and this query is WAY better than when I saw it in Round 1
      This has a lot more tension than the 250 I remember from Round 1. I like it. I am having a little difficulty visualizing some of the things you’re describing – flickering rocks, and “dust swirling to match”…why flicking his wing would bring an overlay of glowing text into view. I just don’t have the context yet to truly know what’s going on. It wouldn’t stop me reading, though. I’d keep going to figure out whether they’re in a simulation, and why he looks like a gargoyle. But if you can make us more grounded without much telling, it would help.

      Wow, this sounds fantastic! In the first paragraph, I’d make it clearer that Ollie is the only one who thinks his connection to Black Bart isn’t cool. Like, “He’s an engineering genius, but all anyone cares about is his family’s connection to the infamous pirate Black Bart…” Worded better than that. I just got slightly confused thinking that no matter how many contraptions he designed, no one liked him because he’s a descendent of William Bancroft. Although, perhaps that’s the case? Maybe they idolize the dead pirate?

      I think the very last sentence: “It is fast-paced…” isn’t needed. You will show that in the pages (and hint toward all of it nicely in the query).

      Really great voice here! Love the image of the snot bubble!

      Both great entries, but one hooks me just slightly more.



      Yay! I loved this one the first round. It’s great to see you still in the game. I also really like the edits you made, particularly to the first 250. It feels more natural and I love that you put in more of Tamika. Their friendship is now something I can invest in from the word go.
      Improvement level: 9.8


      Ah man, I love Middle Grade queries. They’re honestly the best. They always sound so fun and have such great voice.
      I loved “her snot bubble burst”

      I’ve reread both of these like four times now. They have such cute friendships and great plots and characters. Sci Fi vs. Spooky. Planet Panic has more fleshed out world building, but I responded a bit more to the Shiver Me Timbers as far as story goes.
      (I think. Honestly I can’t really decide)


    7. The Red CardiganJune 21, 2018 at 7:43 AM

      Planet panic: I still love this entry. You've done an amazing job with characterization in the query and first page, which is no easy feat in sci-fi since the technical jargon can sometimes bog down the narrative. I think the query is tight and the stakes are clear. Well done.
      Shiver me timbers: Ah! A sci-fi with pirates! What a great concept! This query is tight and clear, and the first page has fabulous voice. I feel like I know Olie already. And I love the Newfoundland setting.
      Tough call. These are both great entries, but Victory to SHIVER ME TIMBERS!

    8. The thing I hate about voting in later rounds in Query Kombat, is that entries are just so soooo soooooo good it’s hard to pick one. I WANT BOTH! But, rules *cries to infinity*

      So, I’m gonna go with the one whose voice I connect with more (which is by no means an indication of quality, mind you!): VICTORY to SHIVER ME TIMBERS.

    9. PLANET PANIC: This is my first time reading this entry, and OH MY GOSH I’m in love. The voice is SOLID throughout both the query letter and opening scene. The only hang up I saw was the first sentence of the second paragraph in the query letter. I think the structure of the sentence and the pronouns threw me… for some reason I thought we switched POV. (Could have just been me though.) You also did a great job of leaving us in suspense at the end of the 250 words. Overall, a great entry!

      SHIVER ME TIMBERS: This is also my first time reading your entry and I have to say that this is fantastic! A great premise, wonderfully written query and first scene, and voice out the wazoo.

      These two entries completely show all the elements of a well-written middle grade novel and highlight why I love writing middle grade as well. I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to choose a winner here…. Both are ready to submit and snag some professional attention.

      I seriously just took an entire day to think about it. You both are so talented and this is the part of judging that is SO. FREAKIN’. DIFFICULT! Usually I judge on readiness to query, then voice. But you both are there. It literally came down to which opening scene I enjoyed just a smidge more.

      VICTORY to (and I hope I make the right decision) PLANET PANIC!

      ~Red Ink Slinger

    10. Mrs. Will HerondaleJune 21, 2018 at 1:52 PM

      UGH...this match-up is so hard to choose a favorite! Basically, I echo the other judges love for both entries. MG voice is there, queries are clear and ready to go... so hard to choose. I really enjoyed both first 250s, but I just fell in love with one of them a few rounds ago and I'm still feeling it because the character's voices just shine through.


    11. I LOVE both of these entries and I think that both the queries and first pages are incredibly strong. The concept of Planet Panic sounds so original and fun. But Shiver Me Timbers had me at Undead Pirates.


    12. Both are awesome entries, and I hope to see your books in print soon. I think Shiver Me Timbers has a concept that will be highly appealing to kids. I mean, pirates! And Planet Panic's premise is unusual and creative. I'm not sure I've seen anything like it for MG before. But this is Query Kombat, so I've got to vote.

      Victory to PLANET PANIC!

    13. Two fantastic entries here! Congratulations on making it to round 3.

      I like the number quirk and the escalating tension presented in the query. My main issue with this one is that I just don't buy it. Why would anyone let children spend their youth as robotic avatars? If there are only "hundreds" then how/why are they chosen? And who thought it would be a good idea to set up colonies in a monarchy system? I mean, the major threat here is that the released hacker has removed the protections around some other, more-important-than-Kade people. Who gives a shit if something happens to their avatars? I'd rather learn that the children are physically threatened, which would make the consequences seem more severe. It could be that the world is set up such that all of these things make sense and empower a powerful story. I just don't have enough information from the query to understand how.

      Oh, I love this one. Fantastic query with a strong MG voice that shines through. I'd cut "fast-paced and jam-packed with adventure" as that feels like overselling. But I get just enough details about the team and their strategy (booby traps!) to know this will be a fun book.

      These are both strong entries I'd want to read. Well done, both of you.

      Victory to SHIVER ME TIMBERS!

    14. I loved the voice in PLANET PANIC, but there were a lot of unanswered questions I had about the query that disrupted the flow, such as why the kids are living in virtual reality, how long they have been there for, and what is the political system like down below. I loved the first 250! Super engaging! My only question was, if the princess programmed how he appears, wouldn't she know what he looked like in reality?

      Great query with clear stakes! Ollie came across as slightly unsympathetic in the first 250, but I don't mind that, especially since he has a great voice!


  2. Nathaniel GlanzmanJune 20, 2018 at 6:42 PM

    Planet Panic:

    I love how you set up the stakes and the humor—you somehow managed to make the stakes serious without losing what makes it funny. (The 1.0 friends part got me because would it be possible for him to have 1.1 friends?) The only way I could see this being stronger is if I knew what exactly could hurt Kade once he enters his human body, besides the hacker. I’d imagine there are smaller threats along the way. Your 250 is haunting—I had no idea they didn’t know what human bodies looked like at all! That’s fascinating! I also love how it ended—you ended on a good cliffhanger there.

    Shiver Me Timbers:

    I love the last two paragraphs of your query—especially finding out HOW exactly Ollie wards off the zombie pirates—but I’m having a harder time latching onto your first. I think you could make the first paragraph a bit more succinct—it’s all about how Ollie is a Bancroft and doesn’t believe in the legend. I don’t necessarily think that warrants a whole paragraph, especially considering all you’ve got going on in your other ones. But MAN, am I IN LOVE with your 250! I love how you set up the scene with anticipation as to what Ollie could possibly have done, and I love your immediate characterization of Ollie. What a nice kid! I don’t think *I* would have set aside listing scientific reasons for why the Ruffles project might not be science if I were Ollie’s age. It makes him instantly likable! Well done!

  3. First off, congrats to you both for making it this far. And I can see why! These stories have everything a query should have: great stakes, great voice, the desire to grab that story with both hands and hang up a sign that says, "Go away, I'm reading an awesome book..."

    I'm here to break a tie and my vote goes to....

    Shiver Me Timbers