Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Alien Prep School versus Dream Pirate

Entry Nickname: Alien Prep School Conspiracy
Word Count: 94,000
Genre: YA Sci-fi


Seventeen year-old Marc Andrews attends an exclusive prep school, but he should be in reform school. He’s stolen a test, blackmailed a teacher, and taken advantage of more girls than he can remember…and that’s just this semester. Then he meets Bethany. Not only hot, she calls him on his usual shit. He respects that. And he’s shocked to realize he genuinely likes her. But after their first date, Marc wakes up in a mental institution. He’s told he killed Bethany after passing out while driving drunk. Marc imagines life can’t get any more messed up…until he discovers the loony bin’s a fake and he’s been kidnapped by aliens.

The aliens can see the future where Marc’s the President who starts World War III. Because he proved himself unable to become a better person, they’ve replaced him to prevent Earth’s destruction. Being an accidental murderer is bad enough, but Marc’s shocked that he attains a Hitler-Stalin level of evil. And with the aliens’ empathy machine, he’s forced to experience his victims’ suffering from the averted future.

Marc’s initially grateful to his captors for preventing him from becoming a monster. That is, until he learns an alien faction, that includes the doppelgänger who replaced him, want Earth for themselves. And they’re conspiring to kick off Armageddon as previously scheduled. Marc can’t let the horrors he’s experienced happen for real. It’s up to him, with help from Bethany (apparently an alien and not dead), to escape, save the planet, and maybe even become a decent human being in the process.

First 250 Words:

When Gil and Lew came to my dorm room with the idea of stealing the physics final, I normally wouldn’t have considered such a dumbass move. It wasn’t that I had any moral objections to cheating or stealing. An “A” in one class, even Jeffrey Taylor’s, just wasn’t worth the risk of getting kicked out of prep school.

But these were special circumstances. I had opportunity, thanks to Gil and Lew. I had motive, thanks to a shitty semester with Mr. Taylor. And I had an ace-in-the-hole, thanks to hooking up with fifteen year-old Heather in Mr. Taylor’s classroom.

It was snowing by the time I reached Maple Street with its tidy cottages. The white stuff powdering the sidewalks and clinging to the branches sweetened the street’s already cloying New England charm and made me want to puke.

I slipped to the back of Mr. Taylor’s small Cape Cod. Gil was waiting for me.

“Door’s locked.” His breath was visible in the cold.

“I’ll open it,” I said.

Gil gave me a classic Gilbert and Lewis vacant look. The two of them might as well have been brothers, both with Nordic good looks, several inches over six feet…and not too bright.

I took out my tension wrench and wide-tipped pick.

Gil’s jaw went slack. “I’ve seen this shit on TV, Marc. You’re going to pick it?”

“Yeah, if you shut up and let me concentrate for a minute.”

The doorknob turned loosely in my hand. Broken, so, I’d only the deadbolt to deal with.


Entry Nickname: Dream Pirate
Word Count: 66K
Genre: YA Crime


Seventeen year-old Lauren has been robbing banks since she was fourteen. In two months, it’s finally going to pay off. She’ll be eighteen and Doc, the man she works for, will give her her share of the savings. That was the plan at least. Now she’s lost everything, her friends, her money, her love, all because she found out Doc plans to kill them. She can’t do this alone, but she can’t tell her adoptive mother and lose her too. The only place left to turn is the F.B.I.

Special Agent Dale Navarro has been working the Doc case since he was a rookie. Nothing much has changed in that time, except for Doc becoming his main suspect. Until Lauren breaks the case wide open, that is. But she’s a spit fire, demanding to be part of everything related to bringing Doc down and getting her friends back.

Time’s ticking. Can Lauren get the team of stuffy FBI agents to loosen up and accept her help? Or will everything she loves be taken from her forever? Well, she’ll have to, or die trying, because she’s not taking the second option.

First 250:

The explosion of red and blue lights behind them sent a wave of tension through the van that was almost palpable.

Lauren’s eyes flickered from the road in front of her to the rearview mirror. She couldn’t see anything past the flashing lights and sun glare.

“What do I do?” she whispered, the needle on the speedometer dropping as she slowed.

“Pull over,” the boy next to her said, his voice deep and calm. Bryan was always calm, like a rock in the middle of a storm. “Jerome, don’t go for the back!”

His sudden bark at the backseat made her jump and look over her shoulder. The three boys back there were all staring with wide eyes, the one light brown boy slowly pulling back over the seat.

“What?” he said, trying to cover how freaked out he really was.

“The cop could see you do that and think there’s drugs or weapons back there, then he’ll want to search the van and he’ll find the money.”

Bernie, the smallest of the boys, hiccupped a yelp and pulled at his seat belt. “We’re going to jail!”

“No one is going to jail,” Lauren said as she pulled the van over. “For all we know, the cop is going to just go right past us.”

“You would find the one cop on this deserted stretch of road, wouldn’t you, Lauren?”

She scowled over her shoulder at Mike, the blonde boy in the middle, after putting the car in park.


  1. This comment is reserved for voting. Judges, please reply here. Thank you.

    1. Victory to Alien Prep School

      I chose Alien Prep School because the concept is intriguing. And morally complex. Also the first 250 drew me in. It had a nice blend of detail about the environment and showcased the main character. I had a clear idea of what was going on and who this MC is. Great voice.

      For Dream Pirates, I really am intrigued by the premise. The query was confusing in some areas. After scrolling through the comments, Mandy and Sarah touched on the same areas I'd highlight. The first 250 didn't hold my attention as much as I'd wish. Rather than getting swept into the story, I found myself stuck on the descriptions of the boys, trying to figure out who was who.

      Both of these entries appealed to me. I love a bad boy/girl MC, who undergoes growth in the book to become a hero. Nice job! Good luck to you both.

    2. Victory to Alien Prep School Conspiracy

      I really loved Alien Prep School, the query and first page is wonderful.

      Dream Pirate, I really liked the premise but my concern was the mention of Special Agent Dale. With him having his own paragraph it hinted to him being a POV character. Then I had to wonder how it would work in a YA to have an adult POV. If he isn't a POV character, then don't structure that paragraph that way. Make sure to keep the query in Lauren's point of view. If you do have SA Dale POV in your manuscript, you might want to rethink it or age Lauren and make this a New Adult novel. I'd also start this story a few beats before this scene to ground us in the story better. This is just my opinion and others may feel differently. But I was intrigued by the premise.

    3. Victory to Alien Prep School. You drew me in, I felt like I was reading a book. Well done!

      To Dream Pirate, great premise but I was a bit confused by your query and felt like you cut out some crucial words that would make your sentences flow better throughout. And, I do agree, instead of being lost in your words, I got distracted keeping the boys separate. If they aren't crucial to the story, maybe make one a girl? Good luck to you!

    4. Victory to Alien Prep School

      GAH! These are so hard to choose!!!!!

      Alien: I literally laughed out loud at the query. It feels a bit long, but I loved the voice, so I didn't mind so much. The 250 felt slow to me, a little too much description and not enough action. Ramp it up a bit ;-)

      Pirate: Awesome premise. I think your 250 is a little confusing with so many characters up front, and it jilted the action. Everything felt rather disconnected. If you can strengthen that, you've got it made :)

      Great job both of you!!!

    5. Victory to Alien Prep

      To Dream Pirates: I loved your premise but I was left with a lot of questions. How did she find out Doc was going to kill her (and is he only going to kill her or her and the rest of the team) and how does that cause her to lose her friends? Who/what is the love she's lost? Also, there are a lot of characters to keep straight in your first page.

      To Alien Prep: Great work. Your query and first page are excellent. Admittedly, your query is a little long and that might hurt you in later rounds. Other than that, nice work.

    6. Victory to Alien Prep School Conspiracy

      With the caveats that my first question after reading the query for BETTER LIVES is, "Why did the aliens bother with such an elaborate ruse and subject Marc to the empathy machine if they're convinced he can't become a better person?" and noting that we have another accidental murder in a query (by definition, murder is premeditated), I like the underlying premise. As for the 250, the voice is good and, most importantly, believable. The exception is how Marc refers to his teacher. Outside of class, I don't think he would apply the respectful "Mr." to Taylor's name - especially after mentioning him by first and last early on. And at least not by the third mention.

      THE DOC IS IN query seems to be lacking in motivation and explanation. The query seems to say in the beginning that Lauren has no card to play, yet she's still trying to play the FBI even though her only goal is to keep her friends alive. I'm not understanding why it's so difficult to get the FBI to act quickly on a string of felony robberies they've been trying to solve for 3 years. As for the 250, I think maybe too many names are mentioned in so short a space during an action scene. It's enough to know there are 5 boys and her in the van, with just Bryan and maybe Jerome named.

    7. Alien Prep School: You’ve got a harder path establishing an anti-hero as someone a reader can connect with. It’s seems you have a strong start on showing off his anti qualities! I can really see a great character arc to this query.

      Dream Pirate: I’m not in love with the questions at the end of your query. I do like that your query had a lot of voice. Again, I don’t understanding why the FBI wouldn’t work with her.

      These both jump right into the action. They are so close for me that I’m going with my taste, the one I’d rather read. Victory to Dream Pirate!

  2. Love Alien Prep School. I've seen this one in other contests, and you've improved the query so much! Fantastic job! It's an intriguing concept, and I would totally read it. My only super nitpicky comment, which probably more than anything displays my ignorance, is the sentence: "I slipped to the back of Mr. Taylor’s small Cape Cod." I though Cape Cod was a place? Is it also a sort of house? Don't judge me too much! I've never lived in the Northeart. :)

    For Dream Pirates, I found the query a little bit confusing. The two most confuisng things were: (1) She lost everything because she found out Doc was going to kill them all? So he just moved up the timeline? Otherwise, it seems like she was always going to lose everything, yes? Doc's basically betraying them all. (2) The second paragraph where you say "Nothing much has change din that time, except for Doc becoming his main suspect." His main suspect of what? You say he's been working the Doc case that entire time, so doesn't that mean Doc has always been his main suspect? But I think you've got a strong idea and your writing is very smooth, so keep it up!

    Good luck to you both!

  3. BETTER LIVES: “the loony bin’s a fake and he’s been kidnapped by aliens” I’m so on board with this twist on the prep school scene. I was a bit thrown off by the casual, almost last-minute insertion of Bethany being not dead / an alien. I like the idea, but it feels like a detail that should have more weight than just tossed in parenthesis. Is there a different way you can work it into the query? So far you’ve built an unsympathic MC. Is the only reason he feels regret and interest in atonement because of the alien’s empathy machine? If there is another reason, it should be in the query!

    Dream Pirate: Your first 250 is a great opener. The reader is plunked right into the action. We don’t know what’s going on, and we can’t wait to find out. Good job. Regarding the query: does the story have any historical aspects? Between the nickname Dream Pirate, mention of bank robbing, and the character name Doc, I got the feeling this wasn’t a modern story (set in contemporary now) but after reading the first 250 words, I’m not sure. Is there a way you could provide clarification of time in the query?

  4. Better lives: I love the premise and the first 250 did a great job of pulling me into the action.

    The Doc Is In: This is a great premise, too. It reminds me of the TV series Alias. In the first 250, the descriptions of the boys is a bit distracting and it pulled me out of the action.

    Good luck to both of you!

  5. Victory to Better Lives - Ultraviolet
    Better Lives - I like your concept and Marc is enough of a wanker (as comes through in both query and 250) to give you plenty of arc in terms of a redemption, while not making the reader completely hate him in the beginning. I like stories with twists and turns, and there's every indication that your story would provide plenty of those. A few minor things stuck out to me, I don't know that in describing Heather "fifteen year old" is the best adjective you could come up with from a teen boy POV. Also in the Northeast we refer to that type of house as a Cape, not a Cape Cod (it's implied and no need to spell it out among locals). I might prefer Cape-style to Cape Cod if you felt the need to explain a bit.
    Dream Pirate - I liked the premise of a juvenile bank robber, particularly a female one. Things that worked against you (in terms of my vote) were the vagueness of the query - for example, how did finding out about Doc's plan cause her to lose "everything"? While I can buy into local law enforcement being incompetent/stuffy etc, the FBI seem pretty slick to me and fully capable of dealing with a teen "spitfire" so I have concerns about the FBI characters being sufficiently believable. Also if she's been robbing banks for 3 years, I'd expect her to have a plan in place in case she gets pulled over by the cops, rather than turn to the boy beside her and ask him what to do. Overall I liked your opening scene but what does tension that is "almost palpable" actually feel like? And rather than telling us "trying to cover how freaked out he really was" show us some gesture that will communicate this idea as effectively.

  6. Alien Prep School- Great hook! Your poor MC, finding out that he becomes evil in the future! I LOVE this concept. And in the 250, I enjoyed your voice; Marc's interaction with his buddies Gil and Lewis was so much fun!

    Dream Pirate- I really like this concept. In the query, though, I confess I got a little confused by the way you mention Special Agent Dale. Does he have a POV in the story as well? I think that needs to be made clearer, but otherwise, I enjoyed this! The writing in your first 250 was engaging and smooth.

  7. Alien Prep School– what a cool concept, I am definitely intrigued! I do think you could maybe make the query a tad more "voicey" but I would keep reading regardless. Your first 250 also drew me in. The bit about saying the girl was 15 seems a bit awkward, I don't know that people refer to somebody by their age, and the fact that he does seems creepy? I don't know, maybe more context, like "I hooked up with Heather [etc] [something about how the teacher was annoyed she was 15? I don't know. Just a thought, overall you're for sure on the right track I think.

    Dream Pirate– love that opening to your query, I was instantly hooked. But I do think the query needs a touch more work. It comes across like the agent might have a POV in the novel since we get so much of his story, which would be a little weird for YA. Your intro is a very intense place to start though and I definitely want to know what happens next.

  8. Alien Prep School - Very intriguing concept, and you explain it very well in the query. I only had one little nit: when you say "Marc's shocked that he attains a Hitler-Stalin level of evil," it might be better phrased as "Marc's shocked that he could have attained...," because it hasn't actually happened yet. In the first 250, Heather jumped out at me, too, but more because she's mentioned and then doesn't figure into the rest of the page. I wonder if you could either end that sentence with "ace-in-the-hole," or give a stronger hint as to what Heather is going to do.

    Dream Pirate - I like the concept here, too, but the query was missing a couple of links for me: why does Doc want to kill Lauren's friends, and how does learning about his plans cause her to lose those friends?

    On the first 250, I agree with others who suggested that you start a little earlier. Give us a sense of who is in the van and what they are doing before the police show up. Five people is a lot to introduce at once. You might think about cutting one or two of them, or at least keeping them quiet, so we only have to track two or three voices in the scene. I would also encourage you to look for a way to describe the boys other than by their physical characteristics. They will be easier to differentiate if they have more distintive personalities. Finally, I have to say the phrase "light brown boy" really grated on me. This sounds like a very antiquated, almost 19th-century way to describe a person of color.

  9. Alien Prep School:

    I like your query's tone but I feel like there's a lot of information jam-packed and I had to read it twice to grasp the many twists and turns. I don't know that a query needs to always list as many plot points to hook the reader, which is all you're really trying to do. That said, it *does* make me want to read pages, so you're doing well :)

    Your 250 words continued in the same voice as the query - spot on! Not everyone manages this so well, and I think you definitely did. One word that feels out of place for me is "cloying". Apart from that, the dialogue made me laugh out loud. Loved it!

    Dream Pirate:

    I think you could lose the questions at the end of the query, as well as the "well,.." which feels a bit too conversational for this query, if that makes sense. Is Lauren the MC? If so, I'd like to know more about her - what's her situation with her adoptive mother? Is she the only family Lauren has? Also, just a minor point but you have both "F.B.I." and "FBI" - I'd stick with the latter in both places for continuity. You've got great high stakes here, I think just a bit of tightening and losing those questions would make this really shine!

    The only thing I would suggest about the 250 words, which wonderfully dropped us right in it, is that there are a lot of names mentioned in a short space. I'm not sure if there's any way to slow down your introduction of the reader to each individual, but if you can manage it, it might make this easier to follow the first time through.

    Good luck to you both!!

  10. Alien Prep-school- Concept is cool, but I personally was thrown by the sudden alien bit. Yes, I know the nickname was Alien Prep school so maybe I should have known- but I was pretty into the idea of this character in the start of the query. I was thinking a bit like Chuck from Gossip Girl (the show, never read the books) which, as cheesy as it might sound, would be freaking cool (guilty pleasure, Chuck and Blair are the only reason I watch lol). You've grounded me in a cool story, contemporary setting and potentially awesome character then "until he discovers the loony bin’s a fake and he’s been kidnapped by aliens." Whoa dude. Like complete turn around.

    So, I mean, if I'm the only one who feels this way then you should probably not worry about it. But maybe just keep it in mind, in case it ever comes up again.

    Dream Pirate- I loved this. But I do think the query needs a little work-

    "That was the plan at least. Now she’s lost everything, her friends, her money, her love, all because she found out Doc plans to kill them." This part is weird. You present this information sort of backwards.
    "In two months it's going to pay off" this is present, like as in right now (change this simply by making it "it'll finally pay off.") then "now she's lost everything". wait what? When? everything was fine and dandy before.
    It's like you have two different "nows". My suggestion here, is to let us see how they found out that "DOC" turned on them. "Then a job goes horribly wrong and Lauren learns that Doc betrayed them and plans to kill them." (Don't use this word for word because it's not very good, lol, just giving you a basic idea of what I mean)

    I agree about the POV switch, always be careful about doing that in a query anyway because you only have 250ish words and it's hard to follow more than one character. Even if Doc does have a POV in the story, I'd still cut it here. You can tell us all of this without jumping out of Laurens point of view.

    Lastly, try to avoid the questions. I like the set up and the last line but can you alter it slightly to more of a "Lauren can either..." Like this:
    "Lauren will have to get the team of stuffy FBI agents to loosen up and accept her help, or lose everything she worked for, everything she loves, forever. Well, she’ll succeed or die trying, because she’s not taking the second option."

    But seriously, I do love this idea. It think you'll do great with it once you get these things sorted out so Good luck! Hope to see you around :-)

  11. Alien Prep School- I loved your query! The only thing that I was iffy about was that you sort of casually throw Bethany back in there at the end and I wanted to see a bit more of an explanation about her role in helping him. I only have a couple of nitpicks in the sample. First, I'd just call the teacher Mr. Taylor and skip the Jeffrey the first time you mention him. 2nd, and this is personal preference, but your sentence about the snow- I would break it up. Make "It made me want to puke" its own sentence. That way it's not such an overlong sentence and the voice comes out a bit more that way. Also, I didn't get, "his small Cape Cod." Are you missing a word? Cape Cod home? That's it though, I thought this was great and I'd totally read it. (Although, I've gotta admit, I like your nickname better than your actual title.)

    Dream Pirate- I loved the premise, but the query was a bit awkward at times. I've got an issue with "her her". Maybe try rewording? Something like, "will hand over her share..." Also, I feel like we need more explanation for "she's lost everything." How? Just because he wants to kill her? I get him not giving her the money, but how does she lose her love and family? The Special Agent para needs more clarification. I think you can cut the line "Nothing much has changed in that time, except for Doc becoming his main suspect." After that, instead of telling us she's a spitfire, try to show us with an example. I feel like it's already obvious that she would demand to help, so what else can you tell us about her working with the FBI, or the troubles of getting them to work with her? I also think you can cut that last line of the query, it's not needed. I liked the sample, I felt the kids fear and worry about the cops, but some of the sentences were also awkward. Try reading it aloud to see if it flows smoothly.

  12. Victory to Alien Prep School.

    Alien -- I thought the query was a bit convoluted and not as well written as the AMAZING 250. That won me over.

    Dream -- Awesome premise (love the possible relationship between the two) but the 250 lost me a little. Didn't draw me in as much as I hoped it would.

  13. Thanks so much for all the helpful comments from the judges and contest participants. I look forward to incorporating the feedback into my query and first page for hopefully greater success in the querying. Thank you judges and contests hosts for your time and so generously giving back to the writer community.

    And to my more than worthy opponent, The Doc Is In sounds like a great book I'd love to read. I look forward to seeing it on the shelf.