Jul 9, 2018

Query Kombat Champion: Dionna Mann

Dionna Mann

Dionna is a longtime member of SCBWI who has placed nonfiction kidlit work with Highlights for Children and Cricket magazine. As a work-for-hire author with Spooky Cheetah Press, she’ll soon have two non-fiction books for the youngest of readers published—one about killer whales coming out from Scholastic Press. (WOOT!) While attempting to master the kidlit craft, Dionna has penned a slew of children’s book manuscripts—from picture book biographies to middle-grade novels, from those that are sheer fun and silly to those that tackle serious themes. Her favorite pastime is front-porch sitting while squirrels frolic in her front yard and mourning doves seize the day through song. You can find her at dionnalmann.com and on her blog, where she celebrates kidlit writers, illustrators, editors, agents, and their lovely books.


Ten-year-old Allie’s anger can be a hot-comb sitting on the flame of a stove. Sometimes that copper pressing comb of emotion turns red hot and she does things she later regrets. She wants to stay calm. But emotions are hard to handle, especially when people think your mama’s an improper woman. Allie knows—it’s not Mama’s fault she isn’t married yet has a child. The only reason Allie’s breathing is because of that no-good man who forced himself on Mama. Why Mama didn’t leave her on the steps of the A & P when she born, Allie isn’t sure. But one thing’s certain. Allie’s full-up with empty inside because of it, and she’s going to fill it by finding Mama a decent husband.

That’s why she and her cousin Julius Caesar create a daddy map and hunt for potential suitors for Mama. When they find good prospects—men who like to sing, have a kind smile, and most importantly love Mama's chicken and dumplings—Allie draws a red crayon heart above their names. Before long, Allie and Caesar fix their mind on Mr. Rawls, their band teacher. He must be the one! But when Allie discovers that Mr. Rawls is related to Gwen—that thumb-sucking bully—she covers over his red heart with black crayon and throws out his jar of chicken and dumplings. Now, with her plans ruined, Allie wonders if she'll ever have that perfectly drawn family that others have.

Mama’s Chicken & Dumplings is a 38,000-word, middle-grade novel with a colorful backdrop of Chicago's South Side’s better days of the early 1940s.

First 250:

I’m sitting on the stoop of our brownstone, brushing my old doll’s hair when the fat man comes, smiling his fat smile. He’s come to collect the rent. But I ain’t worried. Whenever Mama comes home from cleaning, she goes straight to her coffee tin and in goes her money. Clink. Clink. She ain’t spared not even a penny, not even to me, though I shed me some tears.

“Please, please,” I’d say. “Let me run down to Mr. Malone’s store and get me a Mary Jane.” Mama’s real tight with pennies, so I’m sure she’s got enough. Least, I hope.

The fat man rings the bell. Ring. Mama will know that’s for her. If he’d rung it two times together—ring, ring, like that—loud-mouth Miss Zelda in her housedress with shout-out colors and a scarf round her head would’ve come from the second floor. Had it been three times, old Mr. Potterfield, who’s up on the third floor, would’ve opened his window and hollered “Who!” And if it wasn’t anybody he knew, he’d grumble like the back of a garbage packer squeezing down trash and slam the window.

One ring is all, and Mama will be at the door, letting the fat man in.

Course, I could let him in, but since he’s acting like he can’t see me sitting here, right up under his feet, I decide I ain’t paying him no mind at all. And I ain’t letting him in. He’ll have to wait for Mama.

Query Kombat Adult Champion: Tessa Pacelli

Tessa Pacelli

Tessa is a recovering finance nerd and the professional wrangler of one short, human-like creature known as "the child". She has a couple of fancy degrees (Harvard, Stanford) which really just translates to "I am smaaahhht" and "I can handle things!!!" As you may guess from this quote, Godfather II is her favorite movie. In books and art, she's drawn to the tragic, the sad, the honest and the heartbreaking, because she believes that Crying Feels Good (TM). She writes woman-centric thrillers that feature strong, smart female protagonists who have their feet on the ground and their eyes on the prize. 

Currently, Tessa can be found online at @tessa_pacelli 

Query Kombat YA Champion: Jessica Olson

Jessica Olson

Jessica currently lives in northern Texas, where she spends the vast majority of her time huddling next to AC vents. Whenever her two deliciously squishy children are sleeping, she can be found typing away at YA fantasy stories or voraciously tearing through the latest bestsellers. She eats way too much peanut butter (Skippy on a spoon, thankyouverymuch), is obsessed with Insanity workouts, sings her guts out at every opportunity, and doesn't think there's anything more satisfying in the world than a well-placed comma. Having earned her Bachelor's degree in English with minors in French and editing, it's safe to say she's a lover of words and doesn't see that stopping anytime soon.


Eighteen-year-old Alora Delattre should have been burned at the stake. Her power to possess others’ bodies is an ability condemned by scripture as the deepest form of corruption. Her father, the head of the church that would execute her, should have been the one to set her aflame. Instead, he hid her.

Then her mother is murdered by a heretic rebellion, and suddenly death by fire seems like a small price to pay for revenge. She takes over the body of one of the rebels, determined to hunt the killer down and make him bleed. But what she finds in their camp changes everything. For the first time, she sees her benevolent father through the eyes of the people whose blood he has spilled and whose families he has torn apart in the name of righteousness. And then there’s Chet, the quiet, passionate, maddening leader of the rebellion who she swears can see right through her even though he’s blind. She’s risking everything letting him get close—especially while she’s wearing another girl’s skin.

But Scythe, her father’s young, magical tracker, is on her trail and closing in fast. Alora must choose: get the revenge she craves by hauling Chet and his crew to the execution stage, or lead the crusade against the most terrible dictator her world has ever known—her own father.

SONG OF THE VULTURE is a YA fantasy complete at 96,000 words. It is a multi-POV novel with chapters from Alora’s, Chet’s, and Scythe’s points of view. The possession aspect hearkens back to Stephenie Meyer’s The Host, while the father-daughter relationship and the romance will appeal to readers of Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse.

First 250:

You will burn, little vulture. Your secret will be discovered, and your body will crumble to ash.

Alora knew the pyre couldn’t speak, knew the words were in her own mind, and yet the threat still raised the hairs on her arms.

The pyre’s great pole shone white as a bone over the housetops behind her. Every time she and Kirsi snuck out of the temple like this, that pole watched her dart from shadow to shadow, followed her around every corner, waited for her to slip up so she could finally meet fiery death at its feet.

Alora glared over her shoulder, aimed an obscene gesture in its direction, and continued on her way.

Hooves clattered on the cobblestones behind them, and Kirsi shoved her into the nearest alley, cursing. They ducked out of sight an instant before the guards rode past. Alora’s heart thundered in her ears.

Kirsi’s dark eyes flashed as she tugged her hood to shroud her pointed nose and deep olive skin. “How in ash do you manage to talk me into this every stupid time?” she hissed once the hoofbeats faded.

“Come on,” Alora replied, breathless. “Dodging them is half the fun.” She pulled Kirsi back down the road. Faster now. The sooner they got to the Frosted Vulture, the better.

Keeping to the darkest parts of the city, they reached the slouching remains of an abandoned shoemaker’s shop a few hours after midnight.

Query Kombat Mid Grade Champion: Ryan Black

Ryan Black
Ryan James Black is a husband, dad and writer from the flattest part of Manitoba, Canada. Ryan has been obsessed with writing and art from a young age, and commends his family for constantly encouraging him to persue his dreams. When Ryan isn't writing Middle Grade adventures, he can be found exploring the wilds around his house or tending to his pampered chickens. You can track Ryan's writing journey on Twitter @ryanjamesblack.