Tuesday, May 28, 2013

QK Round 1: Too Many Legs versus Jungle Vendetta

Entry Nickname: Too Many Legs To Play Baseball
Title: Roger Mantis
Word Count: 35,500
Genre: MG Fantasy


Roger McGillicutty, 12, wakes up one Saturday morning and finds out he has unexpectedly transformed into a five-foot praying mantis. His parents seem to be coping with it fairly well, and his dog Lou is okay with it, but how will the rest of the town of Highland Falls handle it? Roger has school on Monday, the carnival’s coming to town next week, and his Little League team is playing their biggest rival Centerville next Saturday. Being a giant bug will seriously cramp his style!

Or maybe not. It begins when Roger performs a spectacular rescue of his classmates from a broken Ferris wheel.

Is Roger just a six-legged freak, or does he have what it takes to be a superhero?

First 250 words:

As young Roger McGillicutty awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

Aw, geeze! he thought.

There was no mistake about it. The drapes in Roger’s bedroom were closed, but the Saturday morning sun was shining brightly outside and the drapes glowed, illuminating the whole room.

Roger stared at his hands, which had been replaced by vicious yellowish claws at the end of spiked, emerald-green arms. Clumsily, he kicked off the covers using a lot more legs than he used to have, and looked down at himself. It was worse than he thought. He was lying on his back. Below his shoulders his middle was a narrow, hard, green cylinder leading down to where four long, spindly jointed legs wiggled aimlessly toward the ceiling. The legs were green too, except the ends, which were more yellowish. Past his legs was a long, narrow, greenish-yellow wormy-looking thing that was apparently his butt.

Roger remembered that this was called an “abdomen” on an insect, and his narrow middle part was called a “thorax.” That was all he could remember right now from that insect chapter last month in his hated seventh-grade biology class. Well, at least “abdomen” was a better word than “butt.” As he looked at his...abdomen, it squirmed and bent as though that end of him was waking up separately.

“Eww! Gross!” he said involuntarily. His own voice startled him. It was a little buzzy, like his art teacher Mrs. Clancy, who talked through her nose.


Entry Nickname: Jungle Vendetta
Word count: 60K
Genre: MG Science Fiction


Twelve-year-old wimp and self-designated videogame pro Kreith Briggs has just gotten the scariest birthday gift of his life: A wild safari with his Uncle Tonas through an alien jungle. The jungle’s got seven of the ten most exotic—and most lethal—animal species in the whole universe. That includes the super-sneaky electrocat and the ginormous, well, giant land squid. The tour’s real fun, if not a bit creepy, until Kreith discovers he and his uncle have been set up. Wilmur Banx, the host of the tour, holds an old grudge against Uncle Tonas and the other twenty-four safari guests. Not to mention he strands each pair of victims in separate places in the jungle with zero protection from the universe's fiercest beasts.

Kreith and Uncle Tonas head toward an old research facility where they can call for help and get off the planet alive. Only Kreith gets separated from his uncle and now he’s got no plan at all. Armed with a trusty new guidebook and his knack for all things techno-nerdy, he and his uncle’s survival—not to mention the lives of any remaining safari guests—rests squarely on his puny shoulders.

First 250 words:

I rip the wrapping paper off the present without removing the bow, lift the lid off the large cardboard box, and peer inside. A small chip rests on the bottom.


“It’s a book,” Uncle Tonas says, eyes wide in his thick-jawed, tightly muscled face. “Go on, download it.” He leans forward, monstrous broad shoulders and all, a cigar between his pointer and middle finger. The total opposite of me. Sure, I’m only twelve years old, but my overly large black sweatshirt and baggy jeans hide the fact I’m as skinny as Uncle Tonas’s pinky finger.

As I pick up the tiny chip and insert it into my Multipurpose Bracelet, I feel his gaze as my parents look on from the couch. My MB registers the chip, and asks if I would like to download the book The Top 200 Most Treacherous Creatures in the Universe.

“Yes,” I say, and it starts to download. I turn to Uncle Tonas and force out, “Sounds val.” Slang for “valuable resources,” they’re all anybody cares about these days now that humans have explored every planet in the universe.

But don’t get me wrong. The book really will be a val read, especially since I live on the most boring planet in the universe. But I’m confused. Uncle Tonas usually gets me the coolest presents. Last year for my eleventh birthday he got me a fluorescent slug from planet Zambor in the Orion Arm.


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

    1. Victory to Jungle Vendetta.

      To Jungle, your query is solid. I really enjoyed it and it intrigued me. Your first 250 words are also solid. I love how we find out about the book. And your description of the character, in comparison to the uncle, is fantastic. My only concern is your word count. I've read that 60K is on the rather high side for MG, even a high MG. Now, there are always exceptions to this rule. But it may be good to keep in the back of your mind to check for the pacing of your story.

      To Legs, I liked that you kept your query short. You conveyed voice and plot succinctly. Well done. The reason I didn't choose yours right away was that I didn't get a chance to know any bit of "normalcy" for this character before he became a bug. I didn't get that opportunity to connect. Also, I feel like his reaction to his new body could be bigger. "Eww, gross" doesn't seem to really capture the impact of the moment.

      Good luck to you both!

    2. Victory to Savege Jungle

      Both had intriguing premises, wonderful MG voices, and great writing. But in the end, it was the query and the fact that one of the premises hooked me more.

      Too Many Legs To Play Baseball, I'd work on your query. Get rid of the questions -- agents hate questions. Usually, I'm complaining that queries are too long, yours is too short. Add some meat to it and give us more of the conflict and stakes. Sounds like an awesome story from what I read. Hope this helps.

    3. Victory: Jungle Vendetta

      I have to go with SAVEGE JUNGLE (is the misspelling intentional?) because I'm intrigued with the premise of Jurassic Park for the MG crowd. Cute opening- I like where you've chosen to start. watch out for filter words (kind of my pet peeve- I find them really distracting and they slow the action down and starting two sentences with "but" in last paragraph. In the query, I would capitalize Giant Land Squid so the ginormous quip makes more sense. Also, the sentence should read: "his and his uncle's survival" to make it grammatically correct. Minor stuff: I'm sold!

      Too Many Arms
      Great voice (though I wonder if many 7th graders would say "Aw, geeze") in the first 250. I love the first paragraph of the query and the humor in having Roger be "Well this is inconvenient" versus completely freaked out by his predicament. The other concept just grabbed me a little more...

    4. Too Many Legs: I don’t usually like such a brief query, but this one sets everything up nicely. I get a sense of the mc’s personality, voice, and the stakes are well explained. It didn’t matter to me that you broke the rules and used questions. And if his dog is okay with it, how can anyone else complain.

      I love that you jump right into the action. Many books require some set up first to explain the situation and show the characters, but I don’t think that is needed here. I think your premise is so wildly crazy, but the reaction to it by any reader is so universal, that it doesn’t require starting three chapters back.

      I would like to see more reaction to his circumstances in the first paragraph of the opening page and more of it done in real time. Maybe pulling back the covers, then seeing himself as a bug, then the reaction, instead of telling us he is a bug, then describing it. I do think the description in the fourth and fifth paragraph is amazing. Very detailed and just the sort of thing a MG reader would like.

      Jungle Vendetta: I love the twists you throw into this query. You set up the jungle trip, then give us a change of direction with the grudge-bearing tour guide. You do this with a minimum of wordage, yet the result is so direct and to the point. It wasn’t the least bit confusing or off course. This is one of the sharpest queries. Well done.

      Your first page left me feeling just the tiniest bit flat. I think because the reaction from Kreith about the present wasn’t as strong as I’d like. I was expecting a stronger sense of disappointment from him. His personality is maybe too understated.

      Another really tough choice. I’m going to give the edge to Too Many Legs. Victory: Too Many Legs!

    5. Victory to Jungle Vendette

      To Too Many Legs: I love to laugh and your first page made me do just that. Your query should definitely be longer, encompassing more of the plot, but it's effective as is. I was really drawn in by your voice. Great job. I think it will be very interesting getting to know who your MC was as a human while he is in his current state. I didn't choose your entry because the description in the first 250 was overdone. So much description took me out of the story and left me thinking "I already know what a praying mantis looks like, get to the story.'

      I think the query and first page for Jungle Vendetta is very strong. I did have to reread the last sentence of your first paragraph a second time to get it. Starting with 'No to mention' threw me. Other than that, I think this was a great entry.

    6. Victory to Jungle Vendetta

      Love the world building in this story. The query and first 250 are easy to read. The stakes are clear. Wonderful voice. This looks like it will be an exciting read.

      Too Many Legs: I guess I’m confused on why he would turn into a praying mantis, and how anyone would cope fairly well. I know it’s a fantasy, but I need some grounding in reality to suspend my belief. The idea sounds cool, but perhaps you could add some more information to explain this fantastical occurrence. And his reaction to being a giant bug and less description. It must have been a total shock. Otherwise, I really enjoyed your voice.

      Good luck to you both.

    7. Victory to Jungle Vendetta

      Legs: For MG Fantasy, I feel like 35K isn't doing it justice. But, I could be wrong. My biggest concern is the beginning of your 250. That first sentence is all TELL. Plus, agents are not very keen on a wake-up scene beginning a book. Personally, I'd love to see Roger blink his eyes a few times and FEEL like something's wrong, before squirming around and THEN realizing what's happened to him.

      Jungle: I love the imagery in your query as you describe Keith. (You do have some misspelled words, but I'm hoping those were just mistakes.) And the immediate world building in your 250 hooked me right away. You've done a great job, and this is a book I'd definitely love to read!

    8. Victory to Jungle Vendetta

      OK, gotta say I laughed at the premise of ROGER MANTIS. Kafka for the MG crowd! For me, though, the premise sounds more fun than the execution, mainly because it kind of sucks everything out of "The Metamorphosis" that makes it a classic and makes what could be a wonderful retelling for a younger crowd a tad too close to esoteric. The 250 becomes a bit too descriptive and too forced. IMO, to work as entertainment rather than philosophy, the dial has to be turned back a bit more. The emotion of discovering you're a bug needs to come through more, as well as the thoughts of a 12 yo.

      The query for SAVEGE (?) JUNGLE devolved at the end into a couple of big questions for me: why does Kreith have no plan if he's merely separated from his uncle - wouldn't they both simply make for the facility on their own - and how does everyone's survival rest on his shoulders if everyone has the same chance to make it to the facility? Unlike The Hunger Games, this seems to be a "game" where anyone who wins makes it a win for all. Or perhaps I'm misunderstanding the rules; in which case, maybe make them a little clearer? The 250 read a bit flat to me. Aside from a lack of real emotion coming through, it suffers from what a lot of first draft SF stories suffer from, over-explanation of concepts the MC in their daily life wouldn't think to over-explain. For instance, we wouldn't think to explain slang and point out it's slang in a contemporary narrative. We'd ease in the definition subtly. We wouldn't give a play-by-play of downloading a song. And we wouldn't say "city Orlando in Florida" when telling someone where our pet alligator came from.

  2. I love me some MG and these both sound like a blast to read!

    Too Many Legs: The premise is really fun! And I know we writers always hear 'start as late as possible into the story' but I think there's a lot to be said of some good set up before the action really hits. Perhaps it just comes down to personal taste, but I think having Roger wake up as an insect is almost jarring. Of course that may be what you were going for and, if it is, you nailed it. I think as long as we find out why in the world it happened the reader won't be left scratching his head.

    Jungle Vendetta: I really enjoyed the first 250. I think SF is hard to pull of without it sounding a bit forced and eye-rolly. And this doesn't. Nicely done. Just a couple of thoughts. When Kreith says, "Sounds val," and then you have "valuable resources" quoted as well, it looks like it's additional dialogue that got separated out. Maybe you could just put it in italics instead. The only other thing I'd nitpick on would be download vs upload. I'm no tech savant, but I think he may be technically uploading the book into his bracelet? And, yeah, that should totally be read as a question there because I really don't know for sure.

    Awesome job, fellow MG writers and best of luck!

  3. Too Many Legs: I really enjoyed the humor in your title. I felt I *had* to read the query and first 250 words after seeing “too many legs” – it totally drew me in! I also like how your first sentence starts with the problem. Bam! He’s an insect. You didn’t waste time with back story or a normal day – you jumped right in. While it is interesting for us to “see” how Roger looks, the repetition of yellow and green (both used 3+ times in one paragraph) distracted me. Are there other colors you could use, or perhaps give an overall description of his body’s color without going piece by piece? Very cool pitch. I’d read this book!

    Jungle Vendetta: First, I really like the premise (great hook). Your query is a terrific summary of the MC and his world. Seven of the ten most exotic animal species? I already want to know what they are (and about the *missing* three)! Second, your opening lines provide both great insight and mystery. Kreith sees the chip and his uncle says, “It’s a book” and I’m all, “Oooooh, want to know more now, thanks”. :) My only question: is “SAVEGE” in your title misspelled (supposed to be savage)? That just might be a host error, I’m not sure. Good luck!


    "Roger McGillicutty, 12, wakes up one Saturday morning and finds out he has unexpectedly transformed into a five-foot praying mantis."

    I hate it when that happens.

    This concept is hilarious. I love the idea of Metamorphosis for the MG audience. And the query is pretty spot-on. It's nice and short but it gets the point and the conflict across. Roger's non-reaction is also a nice nod to the inspirational material.


    I love this concept too. And the judges are expected to pick between these two entries!? I don't even you guys. My one nitpick for the query is that the safari is introduced as the "scariest" thing ever, but when it goes on to explain that it's fun until it TURNS scary, it feels a bit disjointed.

    I like how the 250 starts right away with some action. The way he (a twelve year old boy) seems so self-aware about his clothes and size seems a little bit authorial to me? (ie the author and what the author wants us to know are coming across a little stronger than what the main character might think) But I think this sounds really fun!

  5. Congratulations to both entries and I wish you luck!

    TOO MANY LEGS: I can see this being a big hit. It's quirky and the voice is great. This is just a personal preference, because I've seen some like it and some not, but it does feel a little jarring to have him wake up and BAM he's a bug. While you want the beginning to be exciting, I think there could be a little more added here to not have a lot of the conflict action happen right away. You also might want to give a little more of a hint in the query as to why this is happening (maybe this comes later or maybe you don't explore the reason at all), but that was the first thing that popped into my head. "Why is this kid turning into a bug?" Very unique entry and I enjoyed it a lot!

    JUNGLE VENDETTA: When I was reading this, I kept thinking mash up between The Hunger Games and The Most Dangerous Game for some reason. Very fun and engaging read. I would suggest taking a look at the last few paragraphs and just rework them a little. Why does he have to "force out" his answer to his uncle? Give us more information on what an MB is. I tend to notice when the same words are used close together and in the last paragraph you start 2 sentences with "but". That last one is really just something that sticks out to me, but overall probably not a huge deal. See if you can find another word or sentence structure for that area. Great job! Definitely something I would want to read.

  6. What fun MG concepts! I don't envy the judges who have to choose here.

    Too Many Legs: I love the Kafka-MG mashup. I'd love to read the Ferris wheel scene. This sounds super cute. If I'm being really nitpicky, I wonder if you could rework the questions in the query since it seems they're a turn-off for agents.

    Jungle Vendetta: I adore this sci-fi safari idea. I loved the animals in the query and the adventure your MC faces. I also like the names a lot. If I'm being super nitpicky, I'd say your MC seems a little too self-aware in the line about his baggy clothes. It just felt a little telling vs showing in that line.

  7. Too many legs- I'd like a little more explanation as to WHY IN THE WORLD HE'S A BUG. I mean, it's cool, but as is, there seems to be no reason for it. Mom and Dad and the Dog are fine with it, and now he's just gotta deal. You have a great voice and cute story, you just gotta deal with that suspension of disbelief thing.

    Jungle Vendetta- This reminds me of a MG Jurassic park minus the dinosaurs. You know crazy dangerous safari/theme park goes rouge and characters must find a way to get out alive? Pretty cool.

    1 small thing first-
    "Wilmur Banx, the host of the tour, holds an old grudge against Uncle Tonas and the other twenty-four safari guests. Not to mention he strands each pair of victims in separate places in the jungle with zero protection from the universe's fiercest beasts."
    Line 1, is Wilmur holds a grudge, line 2 is what he does about it. "Not to mention" doesn't really fit because the second line isn't really an add on. just doesn't really go together the way it should.

    Might just be my preference but this line "eyes wide in his thick-jawed, tightly muscled face" feels like one big mouthful of description. Little much for me.

    And lastly- I think you could have a stronger opening line. Maybe taking a step back and showing us how excited he is for his uncles present and wondering what awesome thing it could be. Opening a present and finding a chip just isn't as extraordinary as I feel like it could be.

    Good luck to both of you. These are some awesome MGs!

  8. Oh, love both of these! I think I'd like to see a little more description of what Roger sees when he wakes up, rather than the summary/conclusion, but awesome job on jumping in where the story starts!

    But I seriously love Jungle Vendetta's query and the matter of fact presentation of off the wall creatures. Excellent and sounds like a ton of fun.

  9. Hey, I love both of the ideas. It's like introducing the MG group to Kafka and Michael Crichton. Taking elements from these wonderful stories and combining them into stories kids will understand and love is fantastic. Good job to the both of you!

  10. Roger Mantis, I love the humor in this. Really. And the query is perfect, simple, understandable and all the stakes are clearly outlined. I like how you've cut back the descriptions para. I'd also cut the paragraph about the drapes right after '...brightly outside.'

    Jungle- cool idea.Watch for little awkward things like the sentence "As I pick up.....as my parents look on...."

    Good luck to the both of you.

  11. Too many legs: "Eww! Gross!" sums it up pretty well for me, lol! This is a great concept for MG and it sounds like a fun story. I agree with many of the other comments, maybe just a tiny bit of story leading up to his transformation would be good. I was a little thrown that, BAM!, he was a bug already. Your query is short, but I like it. You got right to the point and the concept and stakes were clear to me, I'm not sure you need more. I'd just lose the question at the end. In general, agents don't like questions in queries (or so I've been told).

    Jungle Vendetta: Yay, MG sci fi, I'm sold! :D I like the sound of this story, I want to read it. I'm not sure I can swallow the claim that humans have explored every planet in the universe, no matter how far in the future this takes place, but never mind that now. What planet are they on exactly? I'm not sure that's mentioned and it might help, even if it's a place we've never heard of. Kreith only says it's "boring", but if he means earth, that would be good to know. I like how your first 250 sets up some good, futuristic sci fi elements right off the bat with his bracelet, that's pretty cool. I also like your query, but it might help to break up that first paragraph into two. One last thing, is "Savege" an intentional misspelling, an accident, or a typo? Just wondering.

    Good luck to both of you!
    ~The Little Red Head

  12. Victory to- Too Many Legs - Ultraviolet
    Jungle Vendetta - I thought your 250 read well and clearly your story would have lots of exciting action. There were no major issues for me with your query, other than I don't know why you spelled it Savege. In making my choice (which was difficult) I just kept seeing yours as Jurassic Park in outer space and it didn't feel quite as original to me as your opponent's idea.
    Too Many Legs - If you read what I wrote above, you know why I voted for you. I'd be interested in reading how a boy copes with life as a mantis (if I read MG). OTOH there were things that I felt were problematic. Why are his parents okay with this transformation? Why does he have such a ho hum reaction to waking up and finding this has happened to him? Your setting seems to suggest "small town USA" and there's no indication that a new normal is in place, so a boy becoming a bug overnight should be a BIG DEAL. Also in your query when you say "It begins when Roger performs..." what exactly does "it" refer to?

  13. The back story on "Roger Mantis" is that I had been working hard on selling my first book, a 147,000 word fantasy. I wanted to come up another book to get out into the market, something that would maybe be shorter and easier to sell. Middle grade, maybe.

    Looking for inspiration, I found a website of “greatest first lines in literature” or something like that. One of them was the first line of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis:”

    “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”

    Now, there’s a story dropped right in your lap! I’d read the book a long time ago, and found it depressing and pointless. Kafka is not my cup of tea. But what if somebody turned into a giant insect and it turned out to be kind of fun? What if that person was a 12-year-old boy? (Look on the bright side: at least my MC's name isn't "Ishmael.")

    The beginning deliberately follows Gregor’s “Metamorphosis” awakening fairly faithfully--the examination of the room, Roger’s weirdly-mundane thinking, the difficult opening of the door. Then I took off with it and had a great time. First draft was done in a month, although it was under 30,000 words. All that’s really left of “Metamorphosis” is that first line, and a couple of inside jokes later in the book.

    I picked Roger for a name (Gregor spelled backwards, sort of) and picked a silly-sounding last name for him. That, and the immediate “aw, geeze!” signals the reader that this is going to be fun, not depressing or pointless. Roger's main hobby is Little League, so I made the title a takeoff on ballplayer Roger Maris.

    Roger lives in the 70s. The story wouldn’t work in an age of Everybody Has a Camera and worldwide internet communication. It also wouldn’t work if it was too realistic. In real life, Roger would probably go nuts, and the town would chase him up a water tower with torches, pitchforks, and rifles. End of story, no fun at all.

    I’ve pared back the description and retuned the anatomy lesson (good calls, thanks!) Keep in mind that although the query says right off he’s a praying mantis, the reader isn’t told this. Roger doesn’t realize it himself until he looks in a mirror, so a bit of description is appropriate.

    My full query is basically the same as the one I submitted, but has this at the end:

    “Roger’s story takes off from the famous beginning lines of Kafka’s 'The Metamorphosis,' and then flies in an entirely different direction. Behind the adventure and the humor is a story about accepting who you are--your talents and limitations--and learning how to make the most of it.”

    Anybody interested in the first five short chapters can check out my "Roger Mantis" page here:


    Feel free to head upstream on my website and see what other books and things I’ve written.

    Thanks again for all the help!

    As for “Savage Jungle” (which I commented on back in the May Secret Agent contest) congratulations! I’d better see you in the middle of that bracket chart someday!

  14. Too Many Legs To Play Baseball– the nickname for this is hilarious and I find the story itself very charming but the query definitely needs to be fleshed out more to bring it to life and get a feeling of Roger's voice. But I love Metamorphosis and assume that's what you were referencing with this book. Still, he seemed too calm when he woke up as a bug and for middle grade I didn't quite buy it (yet, at least, maybe the rest of the scene explains it)

    Jungle Vendetta- I thought your query was great and your book will definitely have a lot of exciting action and creative creatures. Your 250 did a great job of world-building smoothly and I loved the touch of humour, especially " as skinny as Uncle Tonas’s pinky finger."