Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Interstellar Pez versus Wishwell

Entry Nickname: Interstellar Pez
Word count: 44,500
Genre: MG Sci-fi


While hiding from the school bully, eleven-year-old Mike meets Grimon, a poorly disguised, blue alien who’s been assigned to learn if humans could visit other worlds without turning orange or hiccupping forever.

Dedicated to all things Science and Science Fiction, Mike jumps at the chance to help. Testing super-power infused alien candies could help him defeat his tormentors. After all, he needs his nose in its normal shape and location since he’s pretty sure NASA’s astronaut program requires breathing.

Between flying, belching zoo-animal noises, and hiding from government agents determined to capture Grimon, Mike will have to choose between becoming a bully himself and learning what it means to be a real superhero.

First 250:

Mike Adams crept toward the swings, one eye on Brutus, the keeper of The List of Chumps to Be Pounded After School. Brutus and his two cohorts leapt and hollered on the cement court, absorbed in the bloodiest game of basketball ever. For now, they focused on bruising themselves instead of their usual targets at Grover Cleveland Middle School.

The List wasn’t on paper, of course. It lived in Brutus’ head, the biggest kid in sixth grade. Failing to call Brutus by his self-chosen nickname guaranteed an entry on The List. Even the teachers found it easier to comply, just to maintain peace. Mike landed on The List the first day of fifth grade when he stumbled into a sixth grade classroom and fell onto Brutus’ lap, to the snorting glee of the rest of the class. Other kids rotated on and off The List, but unless someone else grabbed the spotlight, Mike’s name was carved in stone.

Mike peeked through the monkey bars, wishing fifth and sixth graders had different recess times. It wasn’t fair he never escaped The List. He wasn’t ugly, poor, or stupid. It couldn’t be his skin color: Brutus didn’t say a word when Jordan, a scrawny kid with the same dark skin as Mike’s, spewed milk from his nose. Instead of calling Jordan booger-breath, Brutus tagged Mike with a humongous, drippy spit wad.

No one picked on Mike’s best friend Carlos either. But then Carlos was always chosen first for team sports and had two older brothers.


Enry Nickname: Wishwell
Word count: 50K
Genre: MIddle Grade Contemporary


When twelve-year-old Anthony Wish ‘borrows’ the key to Lord Spur’s Scraggfield Manor it's for a good reason: thwarting family disaster. Again.

The bad news is his father’s bankrupt company Wish and Wash Plumbing is being sued for faulty work at the Manor. To pay, Anthony’s family must sell their home and move to Grandpa’s tumbledown cottage in the freezing wilds with no wifi and a pet sheep living in the kitchen. His mother is threatening to throw in the towel and find a life with her yoga instructor. But worst of all Anthony stands to lose his scholarship to Ducksbridge, an elite school that might actually turn the son of a bumbling plumber into a red Ferrari-driving millionaire.

Anthony’s always known money is the answer to life’s problems and with Lord Spur in New York for a week, renting out the Manor for five little days won’t hurt anyone. But it’ll sure put a dent in the family debt.

Anthony invites Matrix, a hotel-trashing MTV rock star to the five-star Manor. He ‘hires’ schoolmate Draguta Dansky and her family’s circus to entertain – the same Danskys who have a slight problem with anger management, illegal residency and smuggled goods. All Anthony needs is to keep the manor intact, the rock star entertained and the entertainment from being arrested. But when Matrix skips town without paying, hot pursuit is in order – destination Venice where nothing short of a mega disaster might just teach Anthony what it means to be a true Wish. Money or no money.

First 250 words:

The good news was I’d bribed my mother to take me to the Ducksbridge Open Day. The bribe was a Fruit and Nut chocolate bar from the local In’N Out. I got it cheap because it was expired. It was expired because only crazy people ate Fruit and Nut which is why it was perfect for my mother.

The bad news was we were stuck in a parking line snaking down the school driveway and my mother’s 1982 Ford Fiesta, Pretty Girl, was smoking out a herd of grazing deer. And a bunch of parents in fancy cars.

I ran a finger round my collar and de-fogged my sunglasses but unfortunately the scene before me was clear as day. The woman in the Range Rover up ahead was coughing and hacking and pretty much overdoing it. A black limousine out our rear window was flashing its lights and sounding its horn like this was a state of emergency. Incredible. All for a bit of muffler smoke, miniscule amounts of carbon monoxide and a few engine rattles.

I risked a glance at my mother. She was swiping on lipstick like she wanted to snap it off. Not good. I definitely needed to move on to Plan B.

“You know, it’s getting kind of stuffy in here,” I said. “I can walk if you want.”

“I’ll stuffy you and that maniac with the horn, “ she said. “You dragged me here Anthony, you will not put a foot outside this car without me.”


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

    1. Victory to Interstellar Pez.
      I loved your first 250, it sent the scene of being on The List so well. Your query was tight and engaging. The voice was there and humor was felt. My favorite part was your stakes, becoming a bully or a superhero. Fantastic. I'd absolutely request and want to read this!

      Wishwell~ I think your query can be tightened a bit. Possibly eliminating the name of the Lord would help curb some confusion. A few too many characters for my person query taste. Your first 250 were good. You definitely get the sense that he's poor and he doesn't like it. Also, you get a good sense of the Mom. Well done.

    2. Victory to Interstellar Pez

      I chose Interstellar Pez for the wonderful voice and opening. I did snicker in places, which is a plus!

      Wishwell, your query brings too many characters on stage. Tighten it up and focus on the main plot - don't include sub-plots. The rule is to only mention two character's name and refer to the others by their relationship to your main character. It's less confusing. Your opening page sounds like it's opening in the middle of something - set up the scene. I'm not sure you're starting the story in the right place. Is there someplace in your story other than this scene that has more of hook? Like maybe start at Ducksbridge?

    3. Victory: HOW TO LOSE A FORTUNE

      Pez: Adorable premise! I did like the voice, and although I'm a little over bullies in MG, I did sit up and take notice of the conflict here, which is Mike having to decide not to become one himself. I think that has some interesting possibilities! I would like to see the Pez dispenser make an appearance in the query since I loved that in the title.

      WIshwell: I agree with the other judges on tightening the query a bit, but the details you did include (the name of the plumbing company, for example) made me love the voice. The potential for funny scenarios within this premise abound! I also really loved a lot of the imagery in the first 250 and you've given us great characterizations. I really enjoyed this one!

    4. Interstellar Pez: I think it’s a cool twist that your MC fears becoming like the bullies that start this whole thing in the first place. Not sure if the choices you give in the last sentence of the query are the only options he could choose. It seems more like false logic. Other than that nit-pick this is an amazing query. It spells out exactly what we need to know.

      Maybe a little more action in the first page. I’d like to see the bullies doing something to someone. But I can sense it coming and imagine it will be cringe worthy. I think the opening scene will resonate with middle grade readers because it is true to life. On the other hand, bullies have been done over and over in books so your concept has to be unique and the writing strong.

      Wishwell: I love the details you work into this query. No wifi and sheep. You have a great sense of voice. I do think you go a few conflicts too many when you mention the rock star running off without paying. You could probably chop off the last two sentences of the query with no problem. And you don’t really need the rock star’s name either. That would be one less name for people to keep straight.

      Your first page made me choke on a laugh several times. Not sure if the voice sounds like a middle grade kid. To me, it felt more YA.

      Victory to Wishwell for making me laugh.

    5. Victory to Interstellar Pez.

      You have an awesome voice and your first page is excellent.

      To Wishwell: You query can be tightened up a bit. There is a lot going on that isn't essential to telling your story. That being said, I was a little confused by your query. You say the father's business is bankrupt and he's being sued, yet your MC is trying to get into an elite school (I'm assuming it's private, and private schools are expensive) and he's traveling to Venice, Italy to pursue the rockstar (unless I misinterpreted that). That doesn't sound like they're short on money.

    6. Victory to Wishwell: Your query could be tightened. It jumps a bit. Just finish off each subject before moving to the next and polish for flow. It was your voice and humor that sold me. I could really visualize what was happening.

      Interstellar Pez: I enjoyed both your query and first 250. I felt you had more information about the bully than was needed upfront. Condensing this description a bit or sprinkling it in with movement/action would capture a MG aged boy's short attention so he doesn’t run back to his video game.

      I think you're both awesome. It just came down to which voice I connected to the most, and which one I'd keep reading tonight if given the opportunity.

    7. Victory to Interstellar Pez

      PEZ: Honestly, you had me at the title. That is a fantastic title. Your query sounds awesome to me, and I love the stakes and the choice. Your 250 could have a bit more action in it, show us Mike walking around more, or hiding, or whatever it is he's doing, AS he's thinking all those thoughts about THE LIST. You kind of drilled that one into us, so ease off on it. We get that Mike's on there for good when you say his name is written in stone, you don't have to go into more detail than that ;) Love the concept and the voice! Great job!

      Wishwell: Wow, I really like the stakes here. The choice feels mature for a twelve-year-old, but you write it so it works. BUT your first 250 didn't grab me until Mom's dialogue. I'm not saying you should start with that, but you've got a lot of info up front there that could be pared down in my opinion. From the query, I love that he's trying to help his family, so I'd like to get a better sense of that up front, that he'd like to better their life somehow, rather than the embarrassment stuff. (Personal taste, though ;) )

    8. Victory to Interstellar Pez

      The query for MIGHTY MIKE did make this feel very early MG. From the first paragraph, I thought Mike would be space traveling not being given superpowers. So the turn the story took for me to the focus on a choice between becoming a bully or a superhero was a bit odd. Maybe elaborate on his fear of becoming a bully some? I'm assuming it's about him not abusing his new powers to get back at his tormentors? The voice in the 250 caught me, but I do think this page needs to be reworked to reduce the number of references to The List. We get it already. And the speculation about skin color being the trigger could maybe be honest still but differently put? Right now, it feels forced - more like the author saying, "Look at me! I have multicultural characters."

      The query and 250 for HOW TO LOSE A FORTUNE, on the other hand, have a voice that feels older than for an MG audience. I can see this being a situation rife for humor, but I'm afraid I'm not connecting with the humor that's here. It doesn't feel like it's meant for MGs but more as a sly nod toward adults.

  2. These are both good, but...

    1) Why is one of Mike's choices becoming the bully? How does he get to that point?

    2) Will Anthony have money to get to Venice?

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  5. More fun MG awesomesauce!

    Interstellar Pez: I really love the voice in the first 250! Very MG and very well done. I think the biggest question I have is what Debra already mentioned. In the query, what would cause him to choose the bully route? Other than that, I think you have a very solid opening and query.

    Wishwell: Again, the voice! It's so good! I love Anthony's descriptions, too. So fun! My only critique would be to make the stakes a little clearer in the query. We know Anthony's family needs money so he decides to make a mini-fortune by inviting Matrix (and other guests I assume) to lay down some cash in the Manor. It just took me a couple of trips through the query to confirm that was what it was.

    Best of luck fellow MGers!

  6. Interstellar Pez - I love your concept and you have a good MG voice in your 250. I got a little tripped up on the "hollered on the cement court" line but other than that I really like your submission.

    Wishwell - you have good MG voice. I was a bit tripped up on "Ducksbridge Open Day" because I'm left wondering what it is and why the MC wants to go so badly.

    You both have great entries, it's a shame only one will make it through.

  7. Wow, these are really great entries. I really don't know how the judges are going to choose!

    Interstellar Pez,
    I loved this concept, but like other commenters I'm wondering why one of his choices is to become a bully. I'm sure this gets cleared up in the manuscript. Consider writing a query letter like a story. You know how your story goes, but others don't, so make sure to include all the logic steps from point a to point b (I'm sure you've heard all this before).

    You have a fabulous voice. I'm a little on the fence about your premise, but that's really personal (some people don't like chocolate). Based on your voice alone, I'd definitely turn the page to read what's next.

    Great entries both of you.

  8. Interstellar Pez: Sounds like a funny, zany adventure, which is awesome! Regarding the query, I think you should try to make it more concrete what Mike’s main problem/goal is, as it feels a tad unfocused. Is it that he’s trying to defeat his tormentors? Or is it that he’s trying to save the alien from the government agents? What big, bad thing will happen if he doesn’t achieve one (or both) of those (i.e., the stakes)? I’d try to incorporate more of that type of thing. And yes—if his main conundrum is deciding whether to go the bully route, I’d be specific about how that problem comes up.

    Regarding the 250 words, I only wonder why Mike is wondering why he’s on Brutus’s list. I thought it was clear that he bumped into the bully, which must’ve made him angry (rather than it being Mike’s skin color or that he’s dumb, weak, etc.).

    Wishwell: Regarding the query—I feel like it can be tightened a bit. Maybe cut out the whole mention of Mike’s schoolmate and family? Nice voice in your 250. A couple parts seemed a bit out-of-voice for an eleven-year-old, though: “miniscule amounts” and “risked a glance.” Could be just me, but they seemed off.

    These both sound fun. Tough choice!

  9. Such fun ideas!

    Interstellar Pez-Love the voice, love the decriptive language. I wonder if you switch the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs in your 1st 250, if that would help connect the reader to Mike more quickly? Just one opinion. Also, tiny quibble in the query- it's not the testing of the candies that will help him, it's the candies themselves right? Maybe clean up that sentence a bit.

    Wishwell- Great names, great stakes. I'd take out 3 word in your query: "The bad news is"- you don't need it (kept expecting a sentence starting with "but the good news..."). The first 250 really brings the characters to life, great job. I was a little confused about the muffler/smoking out deer and had to read that sentence twice, but then I got it...maybe change it to "a nearby herd of grazing deer."

    Good luck to you both!

  10. Both of these are so good, the judges will have a hard time here! ;)

    Interstellar Pez: Love the first 250, it's so good and Mikes fear is evident. Your query is a bit more confusing. The second paragraph didn't seem to flow well (the NASA bit was out of place) and, like the others, I wasn't sure why Mike would be tempted to become a bully. The query is short, you have lots of room to flesh a few things out. :D

    Wishwell: I also loved your first 250, and it made me laugh. A whole bunch of information becomes clear right off the bat, like how Anthony feels about being poor and what his mother is like. I also liked your query right up to the last two sentences. I immediately wondered how on earth a poor twelve-year-old is going to get to Venice and it's not clear exactly what Anthony is going to learn/do/figure out, etc. I also agree with the other comments about your query featuring too many names. Focus on the MC.

    ~The Little Red Head

  11. Victory to - Wishwell - Ultraviolet
    Interstellar P - I think we can all empathize with a victim of bullying and it's an important topic to write about. However I did have a number of concerns about your story that kept me from voting for it, despite the fact that I did enjoy your sense of humor. The first line of your query sounded like a book aimed at an early reader crowd more than MG and it kind of threw me. Also I think it's more common for middle school to start in 6th, not 5th grade, so at first I wondered if MC was referring to an incident from the previous year. The middle schools I'm familiar with don't have playgrounds with swing sets because kids don't have recess. Bullies tend to pick on kids who either have no friends, or "low status" friends, not kids whose best friends are popular jocks (who would therefore be in a good position to defend a friend). The last line of the query intro'd the idea of MC possibly becoming a bully, but there was no indication as to how or why this would happen. So, while I think there's definitely promise, for me there were kinks to be worked out.
    Wishwell- I loved the premise of your story and the promise it held for high jinks and all kinds of fun "trouble". I adore manor houses, circus acts and badly behaved rock stars. I enjoyed your MC's dry sense of humor and distinctive voice. You ticked off a lot of boxes for me...

  12. Interstellar Pez - This sounds like a great story! I like the voice of your MC. He seems likable and genuinely confused about why he's being bullied. The last sentence of your query confused me when you said: "had to choose between becoming a bully and learning what a superhero is. It doesn't imply that he's making a choice. You may want to word it different, you know he definitely has to make a choice between being a bully or being the good guy.

    Wishwell - I LOVE the concept of this story! I think the voice in your 250 is great for middle school and you can already feel what the MC is feeling. Your query is good but a bit wordy. Since it's MG I would recommend maybe cutting down a sentence or two. It reads long for MG. Add some humor and some of the MC's personality into the query so it flows a little better.


  13. Interstellar Pez here - thank you all so much for the kind feedback. And Wishwell - I love your concept and think our mc's would get along great!

    However this turns out, I've already much improved both my query and first 250.

    Good luck to everyone else entered, thanks all for helping me improve - and huge rounds of applause, chocolate and kudos to our hosts and the amazing judges!

  14. I agree Interstellar. Our MCs would light fires under all those bullies if they were thrown into a playground together. I've received so much invaluable advice. Thanks to all who've taken the time to trawl through our stuff. Thank you judges and organisers.