Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Strongarm Odyssey versus Zombie Barbers

Entry Nickname: Strongarm Odyssey
Title: The Unusual Odyssey
Word Count: 51,000
Genre: MG Fantasy


When Anatolia Strongarm (“Call me Ana”) marches into thirteen-year-old Michael Pacer’s school hunting for crew to help her sail a stolen ship in search of untold riches, he can’t believe she’s for real. But Michael’s time to decide whether to trust the enigmatic stranger is short. Ana and her posse of misfits are returning to her Queendom, a parallel world hidden just off the Washington coast, and they’re going now.

Michael’s mother is depressed and grieving over his father’s death. What would help her more, he wonders – staying safe at home, or risking his life to come home with a boatload of treasure? Could he be a hero like his dad without getting himself killed?

To survive the mythological monsters on the path to riches and glory, Michael will have to find the confidence to face a cyclopian gourmet with an abiding love for dishes made of passers-by, a feathered witch with a twisted game of truth or edges, a deadly trio of siren sisters and hungry ghosts in the land of the dead. Bravery won’t be enough. To return home again, Michael will have to realize that being a leader isn’t about reckless daring, but about using your strengths and finding the courage to protect the people in your care.

First 250 Words:

Michael startled as the school's heavy steel and glass front doors crashed open, crumpling like soda cans. A stranger stood there with her hands on her hips like she owned the place. He knew he’d never seen her before. She was unforgettable - wiry, with almond colored skin and tiny red braids sticking out all over her head. Her dark eyes sparkled in the school’s fluorescent lighting.

Despite her size, she strode down the hall like a lion tamer, anticipating a possible attack at every turn. Her thin black t-shirt asked, “Do you feel lucky, punk?” Other kids had noticed her too, and stood, slack-jawed and staring as she passed. Behind her, students leaned out of the classrooms whispering to one another. Michael glanced over his shoulder. If Principal Tester spotted her there was bound to be trouble. He should warn her.

She stomped towards him in her steel-toed work boots, barreling to a stop a few feet away in the exact middle of the hallway. “Attention adventure seekers!” she hollered. “My name is Anatolia Strongarm. You may have heard of me. If you haven’t…consider this your lucky day.”

Michael cleared his throat, trying not to blush. “Sorry to interrupt,” he began. “I just wanted to…”

“Ah-ha!” Anatolia grinned, grabbing his arm and holding it up in the air as if he’d just won a boxing match, “My first fearless volunteer! Adventure! Treasure galore! Never another dull day! What’s your name, kid?”

“Michael, but…”

“Who else will join Michael on the adventure of a lifetime?”


Entry Nickname: Zombie Barbers
Word count: 51,000
Genre: MG Comedy


Twelve-year-old Duke Wellington would rather get into a mud war or a dig a hole to China than worry about washing his hair or clipping his nails, so when the mysterious Madam Roza opens a new salon in town, he could care less. His time is better spent plotting ways to undo his arch –nemesis, eleven-year old genius Maddie 'Mad Scientist' Burns. When their rivalry escalates into an epic school-wide mudball assault, the fallout lands them both in parent-mandated community service.

While serving tea to the town bigwigs, Duke and Maddie notice something fishy about Madam Roza. A bunch of high-school girls, including Duke’s sister, are tripping over themselves for the chance to clean her shop. The town council has handed over an abandoned mansion that Madam Roza plans to turn into a massive day spa. And – oh, yeah – she's using magic potions to brainwash her clients into being her mindless zombie servants. With all the grownups convinced that magic doesn't exist and that zombies aren't real, it's up to Duke and Maddie to work together, load up on dirty mop water (it's a witch's only weakness, you know) and save the town before everybody gets BRAINWASHED!

First 250 words:

"Is she looking?" I scooped up a fistful of mud and patted it into a ball. Next to me, Ryan mixed sand into our mud patch so our ammunition wouldn't fall apart as soon as it left our hands. At the edge of the school yard, on the other side of the PE track, tufts of bright yellow and brown hair moved through the overgrown grass as the girls peeked out from their base. There were five or six Harpies this time. They outnumbered us. We needed to press the attack soon, or they would have way more mud balls than we did. 

"She just moved off for the swing set." Paul stood guard on my other side, scanning the yard for Mrs. Hammish, the recess monitor. He had been smart enough to wear his bright orange raincoat today. I should have thought of that. It made him look like a traffic cone, but it would keep him safe from the mud carnage about to go down. My own clothes were going to get demolished.

"Her back's turned," Paul hissed, grabbing my shoulder and shaking. "We're good. Go, go go go!"

"It's morphin' time!" Ryan's favorite Power Rangers battle cry rattled my brain. He exploded out of the ditch and hurled the first shot across the track. The dirt clod soared like an eagle and smashed into enemy territory, sending a rain of brown goo smattering across the girls' heads. A flurry of high-pitched shrieks rose to the sky.

That was why we called them Harpies.


  1. For Strongarm Odyssey, I like the query but want to know more about Michael before the action begins.

    For Zombie Barbers, the query was ok for me, but I really like the 250.

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  3. I'm so excited to see so much MG on here!

    Strongarm Odyssey: I love this premise and the first 250 was great! Just a couple of thoughts: in the first 250 where we read "Michael startled", I think 'startled' should be 'started' (and, yeah, I did have to look that up on a grammar website). The only part of the query I'd consider revising would be the last paragraph. Only because the first sentence in it is really long and an agent's eyes may gloss over some seriously awesome stuff in it looking for the period.

    Zombie Barbers: Holy cow the query for this is spot on! I feel like I was reading a 'read how this query got 23 requests and 19 offers' blog post. Seriously good! The first 250 didn't disappoint, either. I'd definitely read on. And on... and on. The only thing I'd suggest would be to see if you can think of a way to not use the word 'mud' so much in the first 250. I know that's what they're using for ammo, but I think it'd more smoothly if you varied the word choice a bit more.

    Awesome job and best of luck fellow MG writers!

  4. Strongarm Odyssey - I love the premise, it reminds me of The Edge Chronicles, which I loved. But that middle paragraph, where Michael is wondering which choice would help his grieving mother more? That's a bit off for me. It doesn't seem logical; she just lost her husband, why would her son taking off on a dangerous adventure help her? Know what I mean? And the voice of your Narrator seems a little mature for MG, coming across very adult in tone, but that could just be me.

    Zombie Barbers - Love your premise too - but I'm confused about your genre choice. If there really is magic and potions and witches and zombies, shouldn't your genre be, MG Fantasy? I know you want people to get that this is lighthearted and funny, but you have fantastical elements throughout the query, the genre should reflect that.

  5. Strongarm Odyssey: You had me with Washington coast! Being a native WA – I’m interested to see what you’ll do to fantasy-up the pacific northwest. The first 250 words read like a fun blend of contemporary and fantasy. Ana doesn't just stroll into Michael’s world – she barges into ours too. In the query, I found the line “hero like his dad” slightly confusing, because you did not mention how his dad was a hero, only that he’d dead. Is there a way you can sneak in that info? Also, is the only reason why Michael chooses to go on the adventure is for money to help his depressed mother? Are they also financially in trouble (this isn't mentioned)? Some clarification of the stakes would really help me connect with Michael’s decisions.

    Zombie Barbers: Witches, and zombies, and mops – oh my! You've created a fun and unique world here. Duke already sounds like a strong MC. In the query, I’m a little confused as to why the middle school kids were given serving tea as community service – that is an unusual punishment, no? Personally, I’m wary of direct references to pop culture. Mentioning Power Rangers is a sure way to date your novel. But I like how you open with a mud fight. You begin with a minor, though amusing, conflict – putting the reader right in the action. Well done.

  6. Strongarm Odyssey: What a fun concept! I loved the 250, but I would suggest introducing your MC and the normal day he's having before Ana strolls in. I think it would create a nice contrast and have even more of a WOW impact when she does.

    Zombie Barbers: Nice way to bring the zombie genre (which is normally not so kid friendly) into a kid friendly type of story. Love your concept, I totally wanted to be gearing up for that mud fight with them.

    Good luck to you both!

  7. Strongarm Odyssey: Regarding the query, I’d make it clear that Michael chooses to go in search of treasure rather than put it in the form of a question (I’m referring to when he wonders which he should choose—stay at home with Mom or go looking for treasure), especially since it seems obvious to me that it’d be better for him to stay home, since his mom (and himself, I take it) is grieving over the dead father, so you’d think she’d need her son’s support. However, if his mom needs the money since the father is dead, that would make it all clear to me and would establish stakes as well (though I don’t know if that’s your story). At the very least try to establish the stakes here.
    Regarding the first 250, I was a little confused with the setting at first—I wanted you to establish that Michael’s in the school hallway (and doing what? Going from class to class or to the bathroom? As is, it feels like he’s just floating there) so that I felt grounded. Other than that, this sounds like a fun read!

    Zombie Barbers: Regarding the query, I think it can be tightened a bit. I don’t think you need to explain the history between Duke and Maddie (even though it’s interesting and guaranteed to be fun in the story). Also, rather than just tell us what Madam Rosa is up to, perhaps show us how Duke and Maddie make that discovery. The 250 are fun and funny.

    Nice job to both entrants! Good luck!

  8. Victory to Zombie Barbers.

    This one was one of my hardest match ups yet. Really, both of you have solid queries and your first 250 are written well. Zombie Barber's query made me laugh, which I loved, and it sounded like a really fun story. I leaned towards Zombie Barber because I didn't get a sense of any normalcy for Michael in The Unusual Odessy (Though I did like that Anatolia kicked butt!). It was a bit jarring starting the book with her walking in. Maybe give us a page of him sitting at lunch, having a conversation with his friends where we can learn about his relationship with his Mom? Or how he gets through the school day while still dealing with the loss of his father.

  9. Victory to Zombie Barbers

    I loved both of these premises, but Zombie Barbers' query and first page was near perfect and so much fun.

    Strongarm Odyssey, I'd get rid of the questions in your query. No questions or wondering in queries - it's frowned upon and considered gimmicky.

    Both of your 250 could use a few beats of introduction - I did feel dropped into action without knowing where I was or who's head I was in. But that could just be my opinion and others may feel differently.

    Great job by both! So close!

  10. Both of these rock.

    Strongarm I think you should go with a stronger title. Something about treasure and pirates but that hasn't been seen before. It feels too generic to me at the moment - and Ana is not generic!

    I'd re-phrase some of your sentences in the 250 - the ones that you have in clauses. eg. saying Michael startled with so much going on is superfluous and you need to get the soda cans (so good) in right away. I'd start with the doors crashing open like soda cans. Insert Michael's POV simply with "To Michael she was unforgettable.' Beware of describing emotions - just say what he's seeing and we get it.

    Brainwashed - starting with a mud fight. What can I say? So MG.

    Go for it both of you!

  11. Strongarm Odyssey: Nice query, I especially liked the last paragraph. I'd only work on the second paragraph and lose the questions. The first 250 was fun, Ana rocks! But her appearance is a little abrupt. Tell us a little about Michael first. Overall, good job!

    Zombie Barbers: All of this made me laugh, this is fun stuff you have here! :D The "that's why we call them harpies" line is the best, I love it.

    Good luck to you both!
    ~The Little Red Head

  12. Strong Odyssey: When first reading your query I was trying to figure out why Ana wants Michael. It completely led me to believe that she sought him out and I couldn’t help wondering why. Did he have special power or something else? Not until I read the page did I realize my mistake.
    I think I need more information about the Dad in order to make a judgment of how this trip will help Michael be the same kind of hero. It’s Michael’s motivation and you shorted it a bit.
    Love the Greek connection and also how he gets drafted in the first page. It made me smile. I would like to see some reaction from the other students in the scene. I’m wondering if you didn’t cut it out in order to reach the great cliffhanger of an ending line. Your first page is wonderful.

    Zombie Barbers: This reads like a really fun story. Brainwashing people in a beauty shop. Marvelous. But I’m not sure that 12 year olds watch Power Rangers anymore. I like the detail of the recess monitor. It makes me sure you’ve done your homework about school procedures.

    Very tough choice, I love both of them, but Victory to Zombie Barbers!

  13. This is a VERY difficult matchup, but Victory goes to Strongarm Odyssey.

    I love everything about both these entries (Go Go Power Rangers. Na na na na na:). Seriously, they're both perfect. But the utter ballsyness (probably not a word but who cares) of Ana sold me.

    Great job to both of you. I will definitely be seeing both of these on shelves someday.

  14. Stronarm Odyssey- Love the premise and love Ana—both seem like a ton of fun! In the first sentence of the query, I'd change around the order so it reads, "When Anatolia Strongarm (“Call me Ana”) marches into X school hunting for crew to help her sail a stolen ship in search of untold riches, thirteen-year-old Michael Pace can’t believe she’s for real." It flows better and puts more focus on the main character... also maybe take out "at stolen ship" to shorten it. Also think you should briefly detail why the dad is a hero and if/why the family needs money. I think you need a bit more world-building in the 1st 250 before Ana bursts in with the main conflict of the story—it's certainly exciting, but its very abrupt and we need to know a bit about Michael first so we can identify with him. As it is we know way more about Ana right away. Easily fixed with a couple new paragraphs!

    Zombie Barbers- Really like the first 250. I got right into the MC's head and saw the scene/situation very clearly. In the query, it should read, "he couldN'T care less" (nitpickly, but, hey!). I also wondered why Maddie was his rival (is he obsessed with science, like she is?). Also, the beginning of the second paragraph, they notice something fishy and it's that high school girls want to clean her shop? No, it's revealed a couple sentences later, that she's making a magic potion. Think you should put the magic potion sentence right after the something fishy sentence :)

    Really love both of these as middle grade stories. Such great ideas! Good luck!

  15. Strongarm Odyssey: So that's what happened to Pippi when she grew up! Good query. I'm not as worried about questions in a query if they get the point across. They're the character's questions, not rhetorical ones.

    I'm a little puzzled why an adventurer picks a school full of kids for recruits instead of say, raiding a Marine base, but I'm assuming that'll get answered along the way.

    Zombie Barbers: "Duke Wellington." Don't you hate parents with a sense of humor? I like the boys versus girls war, especially as it's going to wind up with the "generals" being allies. Be careful: "hissed" is a sore spot for a lot of editors, and "smattering" should be "spattering."

    Both of these sound like they'd be a really fun read, and in my opinion there's way too little of that in books for kids now.

  16. Victory to - Strongarm Odyssey - Ultraviolet
    Zombie Barbers - I thought your query was fine, although there was a typo in sentence #1 and people go to barbers to get their hair and nails done for them, so the way you said he couldn't care less about washing his hair/clipping his nails didn't really make sense. Maybe something more like- he didn't care whether or not he had the trendiest haircut... I'm also not sure how they'd notice the girls tripping over themselves to clean the barber shop while they were serving tea - were the high school girls also serving tea and was Madam R one of the ones being served? I enjoyed your 250, liked your writing style, starting off with a mudball fight, the humor. Not sure how much market is left for zombies but your title was super clever :)

    Strongarm - I thought your query and 250 were very um, strong, and had a very genuine MG tone with both humor and an appealing quirkiness. However I think your 250 needs some editing. Here are some examples - obviously if she's a "stranger" then he's "never seen her before" and "Other kids had noticed her too, and stood, slack-jawed and staring" you could easily delete the "had noticed her too", it's implied. My one other concern would be that Ana might really upstage your MC.

    1. I must be entirely blind, Anon...Could you please specify which typo you're looking at in sentence #1 of Zombie Barbers?

    2. Twelve-year-old Duke Wellington would rather get into a mud war or (a) dig a hole to China
      There's an extra "a", I've put () around it
      Ultraviolet :)

  17. Victory to Strongarm Odyssey: You made me laugh. Great job!

    Zombie Barbers: I love your premise. I bet your story is hilarious.

    It was a tough choice, but I'm a sucker for an Odyssy adaptation. Good luck to you both.

  18. Victory to: Zombie Barbers

    Strongarm: WOW. That first sentence in your query is a DOOZY. I'd much rather see you introduce Michael and THEN show him meeting Ana. The way it is I thought SHE was the MC at first. Other than that, the end could use a bit more punch, but I like the concept and you explain it well. 250 - FANTASTIC. I love the imagery of her hair in particular. Great job!

    Zombie: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!! This is a brilliant MG voice, in my humble opinion. I kind of feel like Power Rangers are a bit outdated, but I guess they keep making new ones, and there is Netflix, so... whatever. Your query could use a bit of white space, but it explains the concept very clearly and I like it a lot. Fantastic!

  19. Victory to Zombie Barbers

    The query for THE UNUSUAL ODYSSEY needs a bit of a pickup in its saggy middle. As is, the red flag for me is how the author who shirks facing Michael's emotions head on in the query will fare in the story itself. Rather than being quite so preachy in the last sentence, maybe tie it back to Michael's dad and Michael realizing that's what Dad was trying to say about heroics and leadership all these years or some such. The 250 could use a bit of tightening. If Ana is a stranger in the second sentence, Michael doesn't need to let us know he's never seen her before in the third sentence."had noticed her too" isn't needed.

    The query for BRAINWASHED seems to need some rearranging to help pull the reader along in the right direction. There are a couple of places where the action is set up, there's an intervening sentence, then the action is picked back up but only after the thought is lost. The mud war introduced in the first sentence of P1 and then returned to at the end of P1 is one place. The teens tripping over themselves to clean up and two sentences later the reader discovering it's due to the magic potions is another. Opening the 250 with the mud fight is fun and the voice is great.

  20. Victory to Zombie Barbers.

    Unusual Odyssey -- I felt the voice for the 250 wasn't MG enough, and with MG, that's a huge thing :(

    Zombie -- I feel this is a great voice and totally something I could find on an MG shelf!

  21. Victory to Zombie

    Odyssey- Your query is fun and sweet and appropriately middle grade and your 250 was super fun. I pictured Ana as a Pippi Longstocking type. I did want to get a sense about her age. Is she a fellow kid or is she an adult?

    Zombie- adorable concept but for something billed as MG Humor, I wanted to laugh out loud at the query and I didn't find as much humor as I was looking for there. The voice was very good though and I did like the aside about a witch's weakness. I have a kid of middle grade age and I know for sure he wouldn't get the Power Rangers reference. Maybe something more current there- check out Disney XD for a popular karate show that might have some catch phrases you could pilfer for this.