Jun 28, 2015

QK Round 5: Elephants Never Forget v. Librarians, Curses, and Magic

Entry Nickname: Elephants Never Forget
Word Count: 72K
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy


Only two are yet remaining,
Precious magic ever waning . . .

That’s just part of the mysterious message 16-yr-old Chessie receives when she’s forced to visit her great-grandmother for the summer. Bad enough Gram lives in middle-of-nowhere, Kenya. But when Chessie’s contacted by the spirit of Jhelani, an eons-dead elephant, things take a total left turn toward weird. Communicating with cryptic songs and strange symbols, Jhelani’s message slowly emerges: if someone cannot save the last of her once-immortal tribe, the Earth may pay an unknown price. Freaked out and overwhelmed, Chessie shuts down, breaks communication, and refuses to help.

Meanwhile, Kenyan teen Daniel can’t feed his family when his crops fail. Desperate for work, he’s coerced into a gang of poachers with their sights set on a huge payday: the remaining elephants of Jhelani’s tribe. Just this one job, he swears. Then he’ll find honest work. Hold his head up again.

Chessie finally comes to a decision. She wants to be the kind of person who, as Gram would say, “grabs life by the tusks.” But by the time she finds the missing elephants, the poachers are closing in. With elephants charging and bullets flying, Chessie’s taken prisoner and her world and Daniel’s collide. To survive, Chessie must conquer her fears and seize a dangerous opportunity to escape. And Daniel must decide where he’ll draw the line: thief, poacher, or accessory to murder.

First 250:

When your family falls apart, I suppose you shouldn’t expect anything to be the same again. Not even your mother’s smile.

Mom’s goofy I-love-my-life smile hadn’t been seen in months, and I’d become all too familiar with the distant impostor that had replaced it. But the smile she wore right now? Pretty sure I’d never seen that one before. Like something you’d grab at the mall without stopping to try it on, it was too tight and way too bright.

And she was cooking, for the first time in months. “Mom? What’s going on?” I dropped into a kitchen chair and watched her pull something from the oven.

“Roast chicken? Dibs on the drumstick,” Bent shouted, slamming his scrawny ten-year-old frame into the chair nearest the chicken. He leaned across the table, freckled nose practically up the bird’s butt, and took a deep sniff. “Look, Chessie, mac-n-cheese, too.”

Mom set a tray of steaming cornbread on the table and sat down, still beaming. “Your great-gram has invited us to visit her. In Africa.”

I paused, forkful of mac-n-cheese halfway to my mouth. My stomach felt hollow. I had the feeling no amount of mac-n-cheese was going to fill it, not even one with four gourmet cheeses and a crispy crumb topping. “Can you get enough time off for a trip like that?”

Her smile flickered like the lights during a thunderstorm, right before the power went out for good. “I . . . I can’t go. But you two will go without me.”


Entry Nickname: Librarians, Curses, and Mysteries – Oh My!
Title: The Curious Curse of the Lonely Library
Word Count: 56k
Genre: Upper Middle Grade Low Fantasy


The Pickettsville library has moldered in silence for two hundred years, but Theodore Plumford can sense that it’s special. Not just any library was founded by a madman.

Left with relatives one summer, twelve-year-old Theodore coaxes his reluctant siblings to explore the unusually grand town library with him. Though the rest of Pickettsville refuses to darken its doors, the majestic building and its lively librarians soon enthrall the children. But when they discover that characters from the books are haunting the halls, an investigation into the founder’s mysterious life reveals a curse causing the library’s present predicament.

As the Plumfords and librarians unravel the past, the library’s future seems brighter. But Theodore’s impetuous brother Hugo would rather have an adventure than help the others, even if it throws the library into chaos. With the town clamoring to demolish the building and the characters fighting for their freedom, Theodore’s mettle will be tested when their lives and the library are endangered because of Hugo’s foolish choices. The bookworm who has always lived through others’ stories must learn how to be his own hero if he’s going to save the day.

First 250:

Theodore’s neck prickled when they drove past the building on their way into town. The rest of Main Street was a collection of shabby stores, but this place stood apart like a wild beast among tabby cats.

Six white columns guarded a wide double door, and cold, silent windows rose between the pillars. On top of the building, rosy light streamed through the panes of a glass dome. It looked like a ball of fire upon a mammoth block of ice.

“Mom, what’s that?”

Mrs. Plumford twisted in her seat to follow Theodore’s pointing finger. She squinted into the sun. “I’m not sure. You’ll have to ask your aunt.”

Theodore’s younger sister Lucy squirmed around to look at the building before it disappeared from view. “It looks scary,” she whispered.

“It looks boring,” said Hugo Plumford, elbowing Lucy in the center seat to make more room for himself. “Are we there yet?”

“Almost,” said Mr. Plumford. He turned the car into a neighborhood of prim houses in tidy rows, each so alike they might have been pressed from the same mold.

Hugo squashed his nose against the glass and groaned. “Can’t I go with you? I don’t wanna stay here.”

“No,” said Mr. Plumford. “I’d prefer you weren’t eaten by a crocodile.”

“But I wouldn’t!”

“Hugo, you’d be trying to measure its teeth the minute I turned my back.”

Theodore stifled a sigh and hunkered over his book, determined to ignore the hundredth round of this debate.


  1. Judges, please vote as a reply to this comment.


      Both concepts are excellent. I have issues with both first pages, as mentioned before. I want to read both. But one is a (little) more my speed than the other.

      I hate having to make this choice. VICTORY TO ELEPHANTS NEVER FORGET.

    2. Princess ButtercupJune 28, 2015 at 9:58 AM

      My vote on these two entries is so close I can’t even divide my feedback (what little feedback it is) into individual comments. This one’s tough, for more reason than one.

      Both queries have a few issues with stakes, but I think Elephants does a better job of setting up the conflict. The conflict I imagine based on that query makes my heart ache already, though I do think it could be juxtaposed a bit differently to really ramp things up. The conflict in Librarians is just a tad more ambiguous, in my opinion.

      I also have concerns about the first 250 in each, but here again I feel Elephants has a small edge on Librarians because of its last line. Nothing much is going on in either 250, but we know it’s about to in Elephants. I worry that both entries may have started too early—why not start with each MC already in action? Chessie in Kenya and Theodore standing on the library’s steps for the first time? It feels like both openings are back story that could easily be woven into the narrative in a couple sentences, tops.

      With a serious twisting in my gut because I truly, truly love the premise in BOTH entries and whole-heartedly believe each of these entries could go far…


      I don’t care if it’s only 10:00 my time, I need wine.

    3. Elephants -
      Love this concept, and I really like the changes you've made to your query letter over these rounds.

      Library -
      Again, great concept. It sounds like a lot of fun!

      I'm not completely drawn in by the first 250 of either of these... I feel like with both we're juuuuuuuuuust about to get to the good stuff, but we're not there yet. But there's one where the conflict is much more clearly laid out in the query, and because of that, I'm going to have to vote...


    4. Both entries have commercial appeal, so in that regard, best wishes to both in querying. The LIBRARY query does a nice job of setting up the story. I'm impressed with the changes made to the ELEPHANTS query and how it now reflects the magic element throughout. The LIBRARY opening page starts in a good place, but for me, ELEPHANTS has that great first line, and overall shows more voice. I'm intrigued and want to read on.

      Both entries are solid and show a lot of potential. Congrats to both writers for making it through to the final four!


    5. This is another hard choice. They both deserve to be in the final four and I'm sure someday will both have tons of fans.

      I think they could both use another pass to make sure they are "showing" rather than "telling," and that they are starting the story in the right place.

      Sigh. At this point I can only choose based on which one draws me in more. I admit it's totally subjective, but I'm a sucker for book-centered fantasies and nerdy heroes.


    6. I had a feeling these two would be paired up and I am sad about that because I really like both of them. LIBRARIANS sounds like a fun story and reminds me of The Librarians move with Noah Wylie. ELEPHANTS has been a favorite of mine right from the beginning because of it's unique premise. I like the changes both did but I wish both would've started their stories when they are actually in the action. In the library for LIBRARIANS and in Africa for ELEPHANTS.

      VICTORY TO ELEPHANTS due to its unique premise and because it's set in Africa.

    7. Elephants Never Forget

      This is such an interesting premise. It’s different from most of what’s out there, yet there is the familiar tropes of many YA novels. This makes this query stand out in the best of all possible ways. My only critique is that I feel like it’s not super clear how entwined Daniel and Chessie’s stories are. The first 250 words are solid. I’m ready to read more.

      Librarians, Curses, and Mysteries – Oh My!

      Solid query, but you could probably cut a bit of it down. Some of the phrasing is needlessly wordy, particularly for a pitch of an upper middle grade book, but your basic premise comes across and is very interesting. It’s very “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”


      This one is SO hard to choose. It kills me that they are both so good. I think ELEPHANTS is a real unique gem, but for me VICTORY goes to LIBRARIANS, CURSES, AND MYSTERIES – OH MY!

      Solely because the first 250 words are so perfect, the premise is unbelievably marketable, and really I get the vibe I’m reading something that is going to be a HUGE success in a few years. I feel like not giving it victory would be like this idiots who turned down HARRY POTTER, and I’d rather NOT be in that camp.

    8. Elephants: I love your unique premise. That's what sells me more than anything about your entry. My only concern with your query is it seems we learn most of the storyline from it. I assume there are other conflicts within the MS, however.

      As for your 250, I wish you'd start with her in Africa, because it appears to be where the action takes place. The mother cooking and her smile don't stand out from other stories out there. Africa? A magical mystery about elephants? That draws me in. This is something to consider if you move to the final round. Podunk & Best(iary) don't appear to have that strike against them, and one of them would be your competition.

      Librarians: I worry your word choices come across a little to lofty compared to other MG I've read. Not that kids need stuff dumbed down, but, if I was an agent, it would be my primary concern. You have to appeal to the market.

      Like with Elephants, I think you start in the wrong place. Your 250 almost feels like backstory, and there are too many characters introduced for me to remember. Please consider reworking this if move to the next round.

      Another tough choice. There's a reason both of these entries have made it this far. They're both excellent, books I'd pick up if I saw them in a bookstore.

      But, since I have to choose, VICTORY TO ELEPHANTS.

    9. Another impossible choice! I think both of these are fun and unique and have so much potential. My personal choice is LIBRARIANS because I think the voice is stronger and it just sounds like so much fun. However, I believe the query for ELEPHANTS is stronger and the premise is something so completely different and just wacky enough to grab a lot of attention without pushing it too far.


    10. Oh, my word. This is awful, having to choose between these two. They are both amazing. I love, love, love MG fantasy with a passion and LIBRARIES sounds so fun. I have no doubt an agent will snatch it up, and quickly. ELEPHANTS has a relevant theme to today, with poaching and the reasons it exists, and I can't think of anything else I've read like it. Because of that I will make the wrenching decision to say:

    11. Aaaaahhhh!!!! These are both awesome! How can I choose?!?!

      Elephants - Great revision of the first 250! I can feel the dramatic tension so much more now than last time I saw it! Love it! In the query, something more specific or ominous than "unknown" for the price the Earth must pay would raise the stakes more, and I think you could smooth out the beginning of the last paragraph of the query by rolling the first couple sentences into a "By the time…" or "But when…" kind of statement rather than the clunkier and more synopsis-like "Chessie finally comes to a decision."

      Librarians - This is so cool! I love the premise, and I already want to spend some time inside this library. The query is great (though "mettle will be tested" and lives and library being generally endangered is a bit vague for conflict/stakes). The first 250 is clean and flows well, but the voice doesn't pop quite as much as I wanted it to after the query. It's also a little confusing, since you're introducing a setting, a situation, and a lot of names all at once, and I'm not sure driving in the car is the most compelling place you could start the story. All that said, it sounds AWESOME and I hope it gets published so my daughters and I can read it!


    12. Jackie Jormp-JompJune 29, 2015 at 3:13 AM

      I really dig the concepts of both of these stories, and I’m sure they’ll both find success! Minor tiny tweaky thoughts: I wish that LIBRARIANS had a wee bit more of the MC in the first 250, and less description of the library and interaction with the little brother – to really snag the reader and get them invested in Theodore right off the bat. In ELEPHANTS, I’m a bit overwhelmed by the query’s detail – I feel like the stakes get a little buried in synopsis-like detail.

      This is a very tough choice for me, but in the end I’m voting for the one that I’d read first, so…

      Victory to LIBRARIANS!

    13. I'm happy to see these two in the final four. Both authors should be proud. Having commented on both queries, I'll focus on the first 250. They are close, but I'm intrigued by a trouble-seeking brother who's about to become the impetus for the story.


    14. My apologies for coming to this entry so very late and after the final tally, but this day really got the best of me. I hope the authors don't take my tardiness as a sign of disrespect to their exceptional work.

      I think ELEPHANTS' query gets a little synopsis-like toward the end, and no, I'm still no great fan of the beginning with the sample of verse.

      LIBRARIANS' writing sample could afford to focus on the MC a little more, but I'm a great fan of the concept and do like how efficiently the author gets her characters on stage for us, one right after another, with something distinctive to differentiate between.

      VICTORY TO LIBRARIANS. Best of luck to both these entrants!

    15. WHY are we being tortured with impossible match-ups? It's cruel and unusual punishment. Both entries are really strong. I think Elphants really shines in the query and the first 250 has some of the most gorgeous phrasing that really grabs me every time. On the other hand we have Librarians - what a fabulous concept and the voice is excellent in this first 250. It's so hard to choose! In the end it comes down to uniqueness for me and I feel like Elphants has that extra little something that all the agents are looking for right now.

      Victory goes to ELEPHANTS!

  2. This is a tough one for me. I think both of these entries struggle from the same two things: lack of concrete stakes and possibly starting in the wrong place. While I feel that ELEPHANTS has a more unique premise, LIBRARIES' query (to me) is stronger and I love a cast of characters that includes siblings. Therefore, VICTORY TO LIBRARIES!