Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Head Scarf Jazz versus Red Dryad

Entry Nickname: Headscarf & Love Jazz
Word count: 25k
Genre: YA Contemporary


25,000 worded collection of two short YA stories.

Yasmeen recently started wearing the headscarf and she faces problems like an atheist teacher with mis-information and unwanted attention from a boy. She struggles with finding her place at school. Yasmeen meets a faithful Christian girl named Jenna and she has questions about Islam. They try to explain it to Jenna's parents, but they are making it hard for themselves to understand and let her to be herself. Jenna finds strength in her new found faith and family.

Hala is starting her second semester of her junior year and it's hard for her to adjust. Her adjustment lasts longer than usual. In the middle of it is not endless darkness, but a challenge. As a Muslim she only has girl friends. She is not allowed to be friends with boys. That challenge is having her first crush. Usually she just says hi and goes on with her day, but this one becomes a friendship. She tries to not let him get to her, but soon enough she doesn't know if he is flirting with her. She doesn't say anything at first; slowly she does. She questions her faith.

Yasmeen figures out how to deal with the next level of faith while Hala gets her first crush and figures out whether to fall for her desires or stay strong in faith.

First 250:

I remember as a toddler I always go to the mosque with my mom and sister. It is another Friday, yet we are rushing. My mom didn't get anything to keep me busy or put on my headscarf. At the mosque while everyone is listening, I wander around the room. I like seeing all the women and girls in their scarves. They are colorful.

Getting bored, I go to my sister. I pet my own hair. Then I touch my sister's scarf. She understands what I want, but doesn't have my scarf, so she sends me to my mom. I do what I did to my sister to my mom. She gives me my scarf. I go back to sister to help me put it on. After that I sit down patiently.

We didn't stay in the community too long. We moved a few cities away and then to a new state. Finally, in the end of eighth grade my family settled in a small town. We've been to this community before while my parents look for a house. The day we officially move in they throw us a welcome party. At the mosque is a dinner and cake. They decorated with a sign, some balloons, and streamers. We pray the sunset prayer and then get our seats and food. It was simple, but great to properly introduce each other and meet others before Ramadan comes. I'm Yasmeen and I start high school in a few days.


Entry Nickname: RedDryad
Title: A Dance of River and Tree
Word Count: 78,000
Genre: YA Paranormal Fiction


Thuja is a 145-year-old Western Redcedar: anchored to the earth, holding up the sky, and always looking to the horizon. Until a boy speaks to her in the forest’s language – something humans can’t do – and acknowledges her wanderlust. From him Thuja learns the truth: she is dryad, a tree spirit, and can choose human form just as the boy’s mother did.

River has returned to his mother’s birthplace in order to find a way to put down his roots – quite literally. He’s done with wandering without connection, and knows there must be some way to access his half-dryad nature that would allow him to anchor to the earth and hold up the sky.

They strike a bargain: River will show Thuja the world, and in return she will speak to the eldest dryads on earth on his behalf. A simple, mutual partnership. Except Thuja already knows males can’t be dryad, and River knows the particular difficulties – and murderous tendencies – of a dryad in human skin.

Though burdened by their lies and half-truths, Thuja and River discover peace in each other, and their love story begins. But there are only two ways their story can end: in tragedy laced with blood, or in the tragedy of goodbye.

First 250 Words:

She was 133 years old the day her predictable life irrevocably changed.

A small human boy ran up to her and placed a tiny, pudgy palm on her trunk. She didn’t pay any attention to him at first; his touch was the flit of butterfly wings, insubstantial and fleeting.

“You’re a grumpy tree,” he said, and at that she took notice.

Some called her Western Redcedar, others just called her “tree” if they bothered to call her anything at all, but once, decades ago, a bespectacled man with a clipboard and calm smile had called her Thuja plicata. Divinity in the form of a grey man with hiking boots, he walked among her friends with surety, naming each one, and she had accepted her baptism.

This boy was the very opposite of the grey man. Absolutely nothing about him looked divine: shaggy black hair fell in his eyes, the back of his scalp was a gnarl of tangles that rivaled lichen, and he had a smear of something on his cheek. And yet he’d placed his palm on her with intention, as if feeling for a pulse beneath the bark, and his brown eyes had looked up into her slightly swaying branches, as if searching for her breath.

And, most remarkable of all, he'd spoken his thought in the language of the forest, not in human words.

“Yep. You’re a grumpy tree,” he repeated, this time out loud in his native tongue. He nodded, agreeing with himself sagely, and the absurdly self-confident gesture stifled Thuja’s argument.


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

    1. Victory to RedDryad. The concept grabbed me and the voice pulled me in. Great job! My only pointer is to slide in River's name as the boy that speaks to her in that first paragraph. Other than that, great.

      To Deciding Faith, this seems best fit for a competition for novella's. I loved the concept, but I think the voice needs to be a bit more apparent and sentence structure and style should be evaluated in both first 250 and query. Just to make it flow better. But fantastic concept. I really think people would be interested in these stories.

    2. Victory to RedDryad

      RedDryad, loved the premise of this and the voice is great! I'm so curious to how this all plays out in the manuscript.

      Headscarf & Love Jazz, is this a novella? The word count is definitely too low for a novel, so I hope it's a novella. Loved the premise. The prose in the opening page seemed too stilted for me. There's too much exposition in the opening. I'd sprinkle this in during action and dialogue in smaller doses. Vary your sentence lengths and structures, it reads kind of blandly as is.

      Great job, guys!

    3. Victory to Red Dryad: I loved the query and first 250. This feels magical.

      Head Scarf Jazz: The query and first 250 needs to be tightened. I was confused by it starting out with her as a toddler then moving to her being in 8th grade. It made it feel jerky. Still, this has a lot of potential.

      Good luck to you both.

    4. Victory to: Red Dryad

      Head Scarf: This is a very unusual organization for a YA novel. First off, 25K is VERY short, so short that I think most agents are going to pass on just that, thinking it's a novella. Second, the fact that it's TWO stories in so short a work is, for me, a deal breaker. Both stories feel deep enough that they could be expanded upon to fill 50-60K words. If you decide to keep it the way it is, my advice is to tighten the query, and vary your sentence structure in both query and 250.

      Red Dryad: I Love this premise, it sounds so fun. I worry that it takes so much explaining in the query to get to the point where they're interacting, that we don't hear much about the interaction. Also, the tree calls River a "boy" (which, to her, I'm sure he is) but then they fall in love? In the 250 I pictured a LITTLE boy, not someone the tree could fall in love with. I guess there's 12 years between her first meeting and when they actually change, but it definitely threw me off going from one to the other. I guess I wasn't expecting it.

      Good luck to you both!

    5. Victory to RedDryad.

      Head Scarf—Personally, I feel an incredibly connection to the characters in your query. I felt and can feel their pain. But it is all telling and no showing. I’d suggest rewriting your entire query to make it more showy and not all telling. The 250 hints at good writing, but there are a few grammar mistakes and some clunky sentences throughout.

      RedDryad—I kind of love the 250. I love the boy already, and I LOVE the contrast between the aged dryad and the innocent, happy boy. There’s a great relationship there. The query, however, should reflect more of this, since I thought there was (don’t hurt me!) going to be some love relationship between them, by the query! Make sure we know the ‘boy’ is not a ‘boy’ meaning ‘male’ but literally a child. And I’d love to see this amazing relationship reflected more in the query :) I feel it’d make it stronger.

    6. Victory to RedDryad

      To be honest, I'm a little surprised that DECIDING FAITH being two short stories made the cut for this competition as most agents don't rep short stories and most single-author collections will have more than two stories. My first thought on reading the query and the 250 is that English is this author's second language (apolgies if this isn't the case, but that's how it reads to me). While I think a novel that explores how modern Muslim girls learn how Islam fits into their lives amid all the other pressures of growing up a US teen - including boys, crushes, and the inevitable clashes of faith - could be a wonderful read for teens of any faith, I don't think the writing here is professional quality- yet. A little more practice, though, could get it there, Headscarf!

      The query for A DANCE OF RIVER AND TREE read a bit dry for me. It "feels" like a long, slow story, yet doesn't feel like there's enough to be 78K worth of words. There seems to be a lot of discovery and not much action. The query didn't prepare me for the lovely prose of the 250. Well done there! But I'm not sure I would have made it to the pages from the query if I were hurriedly reading through submissions.

    7. Victory to Red Dryad

      Headscarf- I really love the concept and the idea of exploring other cultures through fiction so I was immediately grabbed by this, but I echo some of the other comments that the sentence structure was a little clunky and the verb tenses are out of place in several instances. I think you might have more of a shot at attracting an agent's attention if you can include a third short story in this collection. Usually two pieces would not constitute a collection. Three or four stories would up the length to a more standard YA word count. Good luck!

      Red: This word count seems very high. In the query, I'd like to know how old the boy is- is theirs a romantic love or is he a very young boy as he is at the start of the story? I'm confused there- she's quite ancient and he seems very young, so I'm a little weirded out by the idea of romantic love. If it's something different, I'd like that made clearer in the query.

    8. Head Scarf Jazz: The premise of your query made me sit up and take notice. Like others have mentioned, I believe you need a little work smoothing out your sentences. You need to vary the lengths more so reading it is not so jerky and singsong. The same goes for your first page. I would love to know more about a world that is so different from my own and yet so much alike. Best of luck to you.

      Red Dryad: A boy and his tree. I had to stop and take in the fact that the choices given in the query are all unhappy endings. I can almost taste the bitter sweetness of this. You have a strong first page, interspersing action with memory.

      Victory to Red Dryad!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. With DECIDING FAITH, I find some of the sentences need more polishing to flow easier. They can be a bit abrupt or short. For example, "I remember as a toddler I always go to the mosque with my mom and sister." would be smoother if you replaced the "go" with "I always WENT" because the sentence is in past-tense. I do like the idea of more Muslim characters in YA and I definitely don't think I've seen these issues tackled before, so that got my interest.

    With A Dance of River and Tree, I was instantly drawn to this idea of a story told from the perspective of an ancient tree how I found the query a tad confusing and I'm not sure how I feel about the "quite literally" bit. It's funny, but seems out of place in an otherwise very serious query. I do like the description/imagery in your opening words.

  4. For DECIDING FAITH, great premise and I can see a lot of potential and interest here. However, as Zoe above me mentioned, I think the sentence structure and flow need some polishing up in both the excerpt and the query (which felt a bit choppy). I'm also finding myself wanting more voice in those opening lines. That aside, both stories sound like original concepts with promise.

    For A DANCE OF RIVER AND TREE, I am totally and completely in love with the premise of this story. The query is busting with tension and the stakes (oh the stakes!) are clearly stated yet keep the intrigue going. The excerpt pulled me in from the first sentence and my only complaint is that I couldn't keep reading!!! A tree as your MC?! Brilliant.

  5. Victory to RedDryad - Ultraviolet
    Headscarf & Love Jazz - I think there's definitely room in YA for religious diversity and so I would encourage you to keep writing. Your writing needs some work, both in terms of polish/flow and in terms of developing a more engaging opening. Your 250 felt rather sluggish. I'd also be cautious about making an atheist the "bad guy". Atheists are often quite well-informed about religion, they've simply chosen not to participate.
    RedDryad - AWESOME. Both concept and writing. I adored pretty much everything about your query/250and although fantasy is not a category I read much, I'd read this.

  6. "Headscarf's" query reads more like a synopsis, although the last paragraph works nicely. I don't know if the short sentence style is deliberate or the writer's natural method, but it's a little distracting. More complex prose might read better, but that's just an opinion. The subject of the book is one that has a lot of market potential nowadays, so you should keep working on it.

    "Red Dryad" has a great premise. The query is good, and the writing sample is excellent. I wonder how many trees you looked up before you found one where the Latin name made a really cool name for a person! A red cedar can be over 200 feet tall fully grown. I'm curious about why she'd be "bloodthirsty." Maybe it's natural for trees to look at animals as mostly fertilizer.

    Between Thuja's age given in the query and her age in the first scene I gather that the boy first communicated with her as a small child 12 years before the actual story starts. This might be clarified a bit.

  7. Deciding Faith: I would really love to see a great novel that stars a Muslim girl. As someone who went to a High School where a large portion of my graduating class was Muslim, it's a culture I'm fairly familiar with that I wish would get more representation. However, as others have pointed out, the writing needs a little work. So keep working hard! Because I know there is a place for this in today's market.

    Red Dryad: I love dryads. I think they're a highly underutilized fantasy creature, so I love this! And dryad's have murderous tendencies?? That definitely caught my attention and I would keep reading just for that. And your 250 is superb. I would definitely pull this off a shelf and read it.

  8. I *think* the problems mentioned in HEAD SCARF's query may be due to English as a second language? My guess is that why it reads more like a synopsis: choppy and to the point (but with several problems with tense). As one reviewer suggested: keep writing and honing your craft! The concept is a good one but the query and sample just aren't at the querying stage yet.

    RED DRYAD, your query is SO STRONG and well-written. But the last line is clunky and unclear -- very different in quality and tone than the rest of the query.
    I do love the concept of Thuja seeking freedom (movement) and River seeking grounding (permanence). One nitpicky thing: I think you can delete 'mutual' before partnership.
    Like Ultraviolet, I've not read in this genre but your amazing excerpt makes me want to read YOUR book.

  9. These entries are SO different, it seems like a hard one for the judges to choose.

    Deciding Faith: I love your concept, and I'd love to see a novel featuring your characters. I'm not sure if there's a strong market for a short story collection, especially of only two stories at 25K.

    Red Dryad: I enjoyed your piece. The combo of a cool concept and the unique tone make this entry stand out. My one tiny bit of criticism would be that I didn't see anything in here that made it jump out as YA. That said, I'm not a huge fantasy reader, so I might be off-base there.

  10. Headscarf: I think your concept is great but I do agree with some of the other comments that the 250 needs a little more voice and the query is reading more like a synopsis. I think with a little work, this can be something really great.

    RedDryad: I love this! I was literally enthralled by your first 250. I want to know more. Your writing flows beautifully and seems effortless. The query even held my interest even though paranormal is not my thing. But the 250...golden. You've got something great here!

  11. Headscarf - I saw your call on Twitter, asking for advice on how to make your query sound less like a synopsis. The big thing about a synopsis is, that its sole purpose is to tell someone the entire story, point by point, not worrying about voice or anything like that. At the end, there are no questions about what happens in the story. This way an agent/editor can read the quick 1-2 page breakdown of the story and know where it's going. In a query you want to give them the character, conflict and consequence of the story, without telling them the ending. In a query you want the voice of your manuscript in there. At the end you want to let the reader know that if your character can't accomplish x then y will happen. So basically, not all questions are answered in a query, leave us wanting more so we'll want to read what comes next. I hope that helps.

  12. Both very intriguing! Head Scarf and Jazz, I agree that these should probably be developed into longer works; if they are only 25K words total, I think you'd need three more stories to fill out this project...and yet I really believe that the world needs and could benefit from more stories from a Muslim girl's perspective. With additional stories I could see this getting picked up for Scholastic or an educational company, although the writing needs to be polished a bit. Alternatively, you could develop each story into a full length novel--generally 60K or more. Ask yourself at each moment of conflict...what's the WORST thing that could happen now to make this harder for my heroine? That can generate LOTS of plot.

    Red Dryad, I would like the query to show us action in your characters' quest. What foes will they face? What dangers? Is there going to be an element of sacrifice to prove that love is more than desire or fancy? And why do dryads in human form become bloodthirsty? Love the voice and the premise!

  13. Hi! RedDryad here.

    I'd like to thank everyone for their comments and feedback. There has been so much support all around! Headscarf, your premise really draws me in. There's so much room in the world for books that celebrate diversity and also manage to educate along the way. It's always been my belief that through reading and storytelling the world gets bigger and prejudices get smaller, so stories such as Deciding Faith would be relevant for both Muslim girls to relate to, and others (everyone else!) to learn from.

    As for my entry... looks like I have some work to do on my query. I'll definitely have to add more about their journey (because yes, there's a good one there!) - my strategy to set up the characters and irony rather than get bogged down with plot maybe didn't work as well as I wanted. ;)

    But just to clarify one thing that sorta bothered me from a few of the comments: there's nothing icky about their relationship. It IS a love story, most definitely, but their first meeting when River is a child is brief. The vast majority of the story occurs after he's returned as an adult; and, as far as redcedars go, 145 is really young(!) so their maturity levels balance each other. Anyway, it all makes sense in context and I need to make sure I clarify it so there isn't any misunderstanding.

    Thanks again for the comments and support. I read every entry and tried my best to comment on most of them, so I know there is a wonderful group of writers here. Good luck to everyone and no matter what, keep writing!