Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Eye Above You versus One-Eyed Cat

Entry Nickname: Eye Above You
Title: Tree Roper
Word Count: 26,000
Genre: MG Contemporary


Born with one eye, twelve-year-old Jimmy Parker spends more time climbing trees with a rope and saddle, than hanging around with people – after all, trees don’t tease. Even though his prosthetic eye looks great, it is smaller than his good eye and sits lower on his face, attracting unwanted attention. Since money is tight, Jimmy works with his professional arborist father this summer to help pay for the cosmetic surgery that will soon fix his face – and his life!

When his family moves across town for his mom’s new job, Jimmy meets cute and candid Sam Fulton, and local loud mouth Jared (whose attitude stinks worse than his breath.) While helping his father during a routine limb removal in the new neighborhood, a climbing line breaks, sending Jimmy’s father crashing onto the roof below. With his father recovering in the hospital, Jimmy and Sam conceive a plan they hope will save the tree business, and keep Jimmy’s summer goals alive.

First 250 words:

It was the third day of summer vacation, and I was hanging in a tree. Perfect. Well, almost. But at least I was having fun and making money at the same time. My client stopped pacing as I glanced down at her tired face and the untidy nest of white hair below me.

“Please don’t walk right under me, Mrs. Murphy. It’s not safe!”

“Oh, of course. Are you okay up there? Maybe you should come back down and I’ll try again with the food.”

“I’m good. I’ve done this many times. Besides, I don’t think your cat’s that hungry yet.”

I was anxious to show her I could do this. Not just for the money she promised, but because of the way she had stared at me three days ago when my mom introduced us. Mom had noticed too, but had gone on about how moving to this side of town was going to make things so much easier for our family—mainly being able to walk to her job and the better school for me and Ethan. Like Mrs. Murphy, most people didn’t even realize they stared. But I knew.

Even while Mom was talking, Mrs. Murphy kept staring at my face. She couldn’t have known then that the right eye was a fake, though. Mom probably told her later.

As I hung from the rope above her yard, my arms throbbed and my stomach burned from the workout. I relaxed into the canvas and leather loops that formed my climbing saddle. It was Dad’s old one, and it fit me okay. Well enough that I could use it this summer to help out with the tree business. I leaned back and felt the freedom of empty space all around me. What a deal. Climbing trees—and getting paid for it!


Entry Nickname: One-Eyed Cat
Title: Ghost Farm
Word Count: 33,000
Genre: Middle Grade Mystery


By the time twelve-year-old Rebecca Kincaid is dragged by her mother to visit relatives in rural Iowa, her summer is already being ruined by terrifying nightmares. Then, the second she arrives at the old family farmhouse, an eerie feeling comes over her. A creepy one-eyed cat appears out of nowhere. Doors creak open without explanation. A ghostly apparition materializes, then vanishes. And that's just in the first ten minutes.

Adding to Rebecca's misery? Her mother, a widow, starts dating an old flame, and his conniving ten-year-old daughter Kelsie is definitely up to something suspicious. Then there's this cute boy named Nick whose attitude—friendly one minute, dismissive the next—baffles Rebecca. Her recurring nightmares about dark, thrashing woods in a fierce storm plague her every night. Her days are stalked by the unsettling apparition, which utltimately leads her to an abandoned farmhouse. A farmhouse she discovers is linked to her family's past.

Rebecca is determined to figure out what the increasingly desperate ghost wants from her. But with mother self-absorbed, Kelsie causing trouble, and Nick unreliable, she is on her own. After finding an old trunk, a hidden diary, and a tiny scrap of a map, Rebecca begins to piece together the strange, sad puzzle and uncovers a tragic, long-buried family secret. Finally, during a violent thunderstorm, her haunting nightmares become reality, and she must confront her personal demons—and the ghost itself—head-on. Or a life will be lost.

First 250:

Rebecca winced as she peeled her sweaty legs away from the hot leather seat of the car. Out the windshield ahead she saw only a two-lane road and rolling green cornfields. Her mother's favorite eighties music pulsed from the speakers. The smell of french fries lingered in the air.

She hated car trips.

"There in two minutes!" her mother chirped from the driver's seat, blazing July sunlight glinting off her sunglasses.

At least this part's over, Rebecca thought. She and her mother were at the end of the long drive to her aunt and uncle's place where they'd be staying the rest of the summer. The summer before seventh grade. The summer she'd wanted to be with her friends at camp. Rebecca slumped down in the seat.

The car slowed and turned down a long gravel driveway. Ahead was a sunny yellow frame house with a wrap-around front porch. Tall trees stood over flourishing flower beds. An old red barn towered in back. Just as Rebecca began to appreciate the picture-perfect scene, a shadow flickered past the window next to her, so close she jumped. She turned, expecting to see a bird flying off, but there was none. The blue sky was empty, hanging over acres of harmless corn. Strange. A shiver skittered down her spine.

Her mother stopped the car in front of the house. "Thank goodness," she said, yawning and stretching her arms above her head. "This is going to be fan-tastic."


  1. Eye Above You: Just the query was tugging at the ol' heartstrings. The idea reminds me of Palacio's 'Wonder' which is a good thing because I truly believe we need more MG that deals with the issues of acceptance and diversity. I think that both the query and first 250 are very solid and well done. Other than wondering what plan Jimmy and Sam come up with (which I think is good that you left a mystery to give the agent even more reason to move to the pages), I honestly don't have any critiques to hand out.

    One-Eyed Cat: I love MG Mystery! And this one sounds really good. The query builds that tension nicely and leaves us with a great cliffhanger at the end. Nicely done. Other than just tightening up a sentence here and there, I think it's golden. I LOVE the first sentence of your 250. Who hasn't felt that leg-stinging pinch when they get out of a car? The rest reads very smoothly and we already get a hint of what's to come with the shadow. Exciting!

    Best of luck fellow MGers!

    1. Thanks for the positive comments Brooks! Wonder is one of my comp titles. God I loved that book. I found it only after I had finished the rough draft of Tree Roper. Go MG! -Rob

  2. Eye Above You - I love the title. And everything about this is original, quietly moving. Very nicely done query - simple, easy to understand. I suppose Sam is a girl - maybe just for the query use the name Samantha? I'd tighten the par beginning "I was anxious." cut the bit about moving neighborhoods, that can come later and move onto the next par. Very nice MG voice. My only worry would be if 26,000 words is too short??

    One-Eyed Cat - MG mysteries are go. I'm thinking the query might be a tad too long or maybe it's that a lot is promised but in the end I feel like I want to know more. I know you don't want to deliver too much but something solid could make this perfect such as what her personal demons are. Why can she see ghosts? What has happened in her past to give her these special powers. As for the first 250 you are very strong on setting, you've got all the senses in there, you bring in the creeps immediately. All good. I feel maybe your protag is a bit world-weary. Is there something a bit more positive she can think or say? Good look to both of you.

    1. Elizabeth- Thanks for the insight about Sam and possible gender confusion. The suggestion to ax the new neighborhood bit is great and I will see about tightening the "I was anxious'' part. Thanks for the comments! -Rob

  3. Victory to Eye Above You.

    Eye Above You-- I loved your query and first 250. The first 250 really sold me, how you described knowing that she looked at his eye hooked me. My only advice is making sure the last line of your query really pops. Saving the family tree business is strong, but using the wording of his summer goals just doesn't have the same pop. Good luck to you.

    One-Eyed Cat-- I feel like you need to rework the opening of your query. It's great you described everything she saw, but including the first 10 minutes in the query, isn't what a query is all about. You could easily summarize that, and tie into the nightmares in the second paragraph. I really think that element is strong. You did a great job presenting the stakes. Well done with that. Your first 250 were strong, just like Eye Above You's. It came down to the query for me. Good luck to you!

  4. Eye Above You: Regarding the query, a nitpick: I don’t think you need the phrase “attracting unwanted attention.” The bit about trees not teasing gets that point across already. Other than that, very well done, and a quite moving piece, it looks like.

    One-eyed Cat: Regarding the query, it’s a bit too synopsis-y. I think you’re cramming too much info in it. Stick with Rebecca’s main problem and what she has to do. I don’t think you even have to mention Nick and Kelsie. The ending of the query sounds like the main problem of the novel—when she must confront her demons and save somebody from dying. Focus on that, as it sounds like the real meat of the story—rather than all the other extraneous stuff. And be specific—who does she need to save and what demons does she need to defeat? Don’t hold back on info like that. So, overall, I think it’s a matter of focusing on the right details here—the ones at the heart of the story. The 250 is very nice, though. Has some nice tension and foreboding with the shadow. I’d read on there, so focus on revising your query.

    1. You picked up on a phrase that I debated on for a while in "attracting unwanted attention". It could be deleted but I decided to leave it in to help add "voice" or "tone" to the query. Not convinced it really works though. Will wait to decide about it. Thanks for your comments! -Rob

  5. Eye Above You - I think your query and first 250 are quite solid (although I'm not so keen on the exclamation mark in the query - but that's a minor nitpick).

    One-Eyed Cat - I enjoyed your first 250 and your title. Like Chris V said with regards to your query, I think you're maybe throwing too much in there. I'd probably cut the bits about the mother's old flame and his daughter.

    Good luck to both!

  6. Eye Above You - this sounds very unique, not only the one-eyed boy, but an arborist too. For the query, you might put tree saddle vs just saddle? As a horse person, I was busy imagining hauling a big ol' horse saddle up a tree to maybe turn it into a tree swing! Figured it out with the first words, but I didn't know that harness thing was called a saddle. I love your character. He seems a little mature for MG, but I suppose his circumstances would do that.

    One-Eyed Cat - I think I wanted more in Rebecca's head right then, than backstory, so wasn't quite connecting to her yet. But I am intrigued by the setup in the query and would read on. I'm not entirely sure everything in the setup of the query leads to a life in danger, especially w/o knowing whose, so that felt a little disconnected. Love the rest of the eerie stuff.

    1. I really appreciate your comments Marlene. Thanks! -Rob

  7. Eye above you: love the premise, especially the unique details (e.g., arborist). I love how you kind of build up to the fact that he's rescuing a cat in the first 250, rather than just coming out and saying it. I agree with GSMarlene - I was thrown by the "saddle" reference and was also thinking about horses (and I am NOT a horse person) until I read the first 250. Couple other minor things: the "Well almost" in the first line threw me - cause we don't know yet that the woman was staring at him rudely (I assume that's the reason for the "Well almost?"). Also, would a kid that age say "my client" (in first paragraph)? Or would he always think of her as "Mrs Murphy?" Overall, great job!

    One -eyed cat: I absolutely LOVE your first 250. love love love. The first sentence is brilliant. Your book reminds me of dozens I used to read as a kid about the (begrudging) summer-away-from-home. I would have read this book as a child, and I'd love to read it now to my own child. Good luck!

    1. Thanks for giving your time and suggestions! You help me think on aspects of QL I hadn't considered. Thanks! -Rob

  8. One-Eyed Cat, Mentor Rebecca here!

    Okay, query-wise: Your first sentence is passive "being ruined by..." Consider changing up your wording to use active voice and snag them at first sentence! Reading through the whole query, you have a ton of passive (remember, if you can end the sentence with "by zombies" it's passive). Take a peek and get aggressive, well active. ;) I have to say, the grammarian in me cringes at the fragment at the end of that paragraph too. I know it's voice, but I still cringe. Can't help it! =) Watch your use of "then," it could be throwing off your flow. And that first paragraph is a bit too much summary of what happens in your first 250. In your second paragraph, those last two sentences could be easily combined, especially since the last one is a fragment (Yes, throw the book at the grammarian, I'm ducking NOW). Watch your adverbs, those little guys will get you. Also, your third paragraph feels like it gives away too much. I like that you named your stakes, but maybe make it more about the struggles, the inner-demons, and less about the process.

    As for the 250: Good imagery in your first line, good voice throughout! Second sentence, you can save WC by cutting out "ahead," it's already implied by "Windshield." Your second paragraph, you might want to peek at "she", it's referring back to the last person, which would be her mother. You'r also fragment heavy in your first 250, which interrupts your flow a bit.

    Great job, what a fun premise!

  9. Eye Above You: Super query. Gives me a very clear idea of the MC’s motivations. One nit-pick in the query: “this summer” in the first paragraph hit me wrong. Why ‘this’? He doesn’t plan to help anymore after this summer? And why mention Jared when he never comes back into play? I do enjoy that your first page is right into action and you use that vary up the information you give.

    One Eyed Cat: You query got rather vague at the end of the last paragraph. I was with it up until then. On the first page, I love how you show with Rebecca slumping in the seat. And a nice piece of foreshadowing with the shadow.

    This is tough. I love the concept behind Eye Above You and the whole tree trimmer/arborist idea. Not sure 12 year old boys belong in that sort of job however and the word count is low. I’m attracted to the first page of One Eyed Cat. It’s deliciously creepy.

    Victory: One Eyed Cat

  10. Two entries with one-eyed characters facing off! Sorry...I'm easily amused. Moving on...

    Eye Above You: Your query is good. I could get very nit-picky about some of the wording though. In the second paragraph, each of your sentences start with "when", "while", and "with". Try using different words there to make it sound less repetitive. Your query did make me interested in your story though. I like your first 250 because Jimmy just seems like a cool kid.

    One-Eyed Cat: Very nice query, but I got a little confused with everyone's name. I figured it out after re-reading it a few times, no problem. The end seemed a little over dramatic, "a life will be lost", I didn't get the sense that there was anything that dangerous going on until that point. You might want to hint at that sooner. I liked the shadow in the first 250, that got my interest. Sounds like a good story!

    ~The Little Red Head

  11. Victory to Eye Above You

    Love both premises. Middle grade is all about voice, so I chose the one that got closest to that voice. Both could use some revision to get a better MG voice. It's all about attitude and word choice. In places each one sounded too old to my ear. How would a middle grader view the world around him or her? Would they notice a two-lane road or would they notice a dog in its front yard chasing its tail? Would he think an old woman tired and her hair untidy or would he notice she looked like a ghost with white tendrils of hair reaching out like snakes? Or something like that but more creative. What words would a middle grader use? Make sure to use ones that fit that age group.

    Eye above you, love where you start the story, just work on that voice. If you mention a character in a query we need to know why they are important to the plot. If he's part of sub-plot, don't mention him by name just by his relationship to the character. Focus only plot, stakes, and what your main character is up against to fulfill his ultimate goal. Also, the word count for MG is 25K - 40K with the sweet spot being 35K, so you have room to add some voice and inner thought to bring out the MG voice more.

    One Eyed Cat, I love a good ghost story with a cat! The stakes are clear in the query. Who's life will be lost? Any life? Hopefully it's your main character or someone close to your main character to make us care. In the first 250, capitalize 'mother' in that last paragraph or add 'a' before it. Avoid sentences that slow down the pace.

    Like this one: "Just as Rebecca began to appreciate the picture-perfect scene, a shadow flickered past the window next to her, so close she jumped."

    You could do something like this: Rebecca only saw picture-perfect scenes like the one staring back at her in movies--the Disney ones. A shadow shadow darted across the window beside her and she jumped several feet back, her heart jamming in her throat."

    Of course, do it in your voice and probably better than I did. I hope this helps.

    Love both premises!

  12. Victory to - Eye Above You - Ultraviolet
    One-Eyed Cat - Generally I am an easy mark when it comes to ghost stories, haunted houses, family secrets. Unfortunately nothing really jumped out at me (pun intended) in terms of originality w/regard to plot or voice. There may be unique things in your story but your query didn't reveal them. Cats, prophetic disturbing dreams, creaking doors, old diaries are all fairly standard fare. My advice would be to find the things that are more unusual in your book and draw attention to them instead.
    Eye Above You - you swayed me with both the fake eye and the arborist elements because they are original and fresh. (I had no idea what you meant by saddle in the first line of your query and it kept distracting me so you might want to say "arborist's sling" or something more recognizable for the query and then give us the professional terminology later.) The voice was also great and I really enjoyed what I read. Good work!

  13. Victory to Eye Above You: you did a great job of laying out the stakes. I enjoyed where you started the first 250.

    One Eyed Cat: I think once you trim the first two paragraphs and remove the echoes it will be much tighter.

    Good luck.

  14. Eye Above You- I don't feel sure of which conflict is central to the story: helping his dad's business or dealing with his eye/appearance. I can totally see that it would be both, but the first part of the letter made me think it was going to be about him making friends and accepting himself etc etc. I like condensed letters-so I don't know if you need to mention all the characters that you did. Echoing lots of the other praise though: I think it's great how you capture how his eye makes him feel different.

    One-Eyed-Cat - I think you've gotten a lot of good advice about cleaning up the language of the query. And I think cutting to the chase that she's having a terrible summer, with nightmares, and apparitions and it all starts to get too real...way creepier than spending time on some of the other details. I found the first 250 really relatable. (I hate car trips too...and the sticky thighs are the worst!) and I'm glad you added just a bit of creepiness to an otherwise sunny description.

    Good luck guys!

  15. Eye Above You - well done on the original premise! I think you can tighten some of your sentences up, some. Period on the outside of the parenthesis. Might want to rethink "cute" for describing Jimmy - smack of romances (unless there is romance, then leave it). Your 250 are great. I'd take out "well, almost" because we don't really hear what would make it perfect. Also take out "My Client" and leave it at Mrs. Murphy - that way there's no confusion about who you're referring. The fact that she's his client is inferred as he's in a tree earning money and talking to her. Great stuff - very unique.

    Cat: Your book sounds spooky and just the right amount of scary. Your query is way too detailed, I think. It feels more like a synopsis. You might be able to tighten it up and give us the main thread and more about Rebecca's character. I love how she slumps into her seat in your 250.Consider starting with the line "She hated car trips." A fun scary summer read.

    Good luck to you both.

  16. Eye Above You - This sounds like a great story! I love the voice of the MC in your 250. Although I wonder if a 12-year-old would call his client a "client?" That seems like such a grown up word for a 12 year old. Otherwise, this sounds like a great MG contemporary read!

    One-Eyed Cat - What a fab mystery story! This sounds great. Your query is tight and I love the voice in your 250. I think MG readers will be able to identify the your MC's situations - dating mom, sneaky step-sister, complicated boy. Sounds great!


  17. Victory to One-Eyed-Cat. This one came down to personal preference for be.

    Eye Above: I love your query. Your 250 sound a little too old for a MG novel, but that might just be personal preference. Also, even for MG that word count is low. But, overall it sounds like a cool deal and your writing is strong, so great job! Also (as the other judges have mentioned) throwing Jared in there feels weird because he doesn't come up again. And I'd like to see more punch at the end of the query.

    One-eyed-cat: In the query, after "she is on her own," you get very detailed, and it's kind of anti-climactic. At that point, just tell me she discovers a family secret and has to face the ghost or so-and-so will die. But tell me HOW they'll die. Is the ghost threatening to kill someone? That's what I'd assume, but it's not my story ;) 250 - The voice sounded too old here too, but I love the imagery you've got, and your writing is smooth. Love it!

  18. Victory to Eye Above You

    This pairing didn't have a clear, off-the-bat victor for me, and the call came down to the flow of the queries.

    The query for TREE ROPER sets up a nice, clear storyline for an on-the-short-side MG. What could be strengthened for me in both query and 250 is the writing structure. There's a missed opportunity for parallelism, for instance, in the first line of the query where Jimmy could spend more time hanging in trees than hanging around people. In the 250, there's the redundant message bookending the passage about having fun and getting paid for it. When you're only working with 26K words, they need to all do a lot of heavy lifting.

    The query for GHOST FARM is likewise clear, but it does read rather listy. I think it could be tightened, too, with more judicious wording. For example, the two mentions of time - "the second she arrives" and "first ten minutes" - in the first paragraph don't really both need to be in the query. "Her mother, a widow" becomes "Her widowed mom"; the "her" is unnecessary in "Her recurring." The terrifying nightmares in P1 are repeated in P3, and the same ghost appears in P1, 2 and 3. No need to repeat "farmhouse" in P2; combine to "...leads her to an abandoned farmhouse linked to her family's past." The 250 is well-done, starting in the right place with just enough scene-setting leading right into the first eerie thing.

  19. Victory to Eye Above You.

    It came down to what felt like more of a MG story to me. I must be honest, I don't know if the voices of either entries really meshes with the MG voice (but I don't read much MG, so take my comments with a grain of salt!).

    Eye Above You accomplished that with the query, and the characterization was great.

  20. Victory to:

    One Eyed Tree: Good query ! I think you have room to add in more voice- I especially love that this is a story about something realistic but that will also be totally foreign to many kids and that's great for MG. In the first 250 the voice fluctuates a bit from MG to older (the phrasing of "I've done this many times" isn't how a 12 year old would say it. Also, some of the word choices seem out of the MG voice. While "I relaxed into the canvas and leather loops that formed my climbing saddle" is a beautiful sentence, it doesn't sound like phrasing a kid would use. Of course, it would be fine if this were third person, but to write in first person, every line of dialogue AND every description
    has to sound authentically tween.

    One-Eyed Cat: I had to laugh reading yours because an agent today was just tweeting that she didn't want to see any more "buried family journals" in MG. Uh-oh. Obviously, she is just one person, but it does seem to be a common trope and you might want to be aware of that, so you could rethink that plot point if possible. Your 250 is good- I think you can take out a few repeating facts- we don't need to be told the car trip is long because we see it in the details you've shown us. Same thing with not needing to state that the seat was hot because you've already told us her legs are sweaty so we know the seat is hot. Just a little tightening needed.

  21. Eye Above You– I think both the query and the 250 could do with a tad more polishing (would he really call the lady his client? and how can his prosthetic eye both look great and attract unwanted attention?) but overall I think you have an emotional story, it reminded me a bit of Wonder which was great because it worked across many age groups even though it was MG and I think your story could do the same.

    One Eyed Cat- I think your query is a bit too much "telling" in a way that gets in the way of really hooking me into the story because of all the details. You don't have many words to work with so I would really make all of them count. But your 250 really sold me, I think there could be some more varied sentence structure as it felt a tiny bit list-like at times but there is some great imagery and the it seems like a really good opening that would certainly keep me reading.