Thursday, January 23, 2014

SVS 14: DREAMWALKER, YA Fantasy/Retelling

Genre: YA Fantasy/Retelling
Word Count: 86,000

My Main Character is most uncomfortable with: 

Being born and raised in Atlanta, Alice is used to the heat, but hates the cold. Hatehatehatehatehates itTo her, 40 degrees is long-johns and parka weather. Yes, she’s aware that’s still above freezing, but gives no damns. She thinks snow is beautiful, and playing in it looks fun, but no. Do not want.


While everyone else get to sleep, Alice Kingston spends her nights fighting creatures known as Nightmares. These fugly beasts threaten to plunge the world into chaos and misery. When the tall, dark, and annoying Addison Hatta charmed Alice into this life, she expected things to be less guts more glory. Instead, the battles grow bloodier, the days darker, and Hatta a little mad…—der.

His deteriorating mental state builds into fits and rages, and Alice crosses into his home world of Wonderland to find out what the fel is going on. She’s intercepted by The Black Knight, whose sharp wit and sly compliments disarm her better than any weapon, even though he’s an ass. The bastard plans to unleash a cataclysm that’ll devour Wonderland from the inside, and Hatta along with it. Countering the spell will save his life, but the backlash could shatter the bridge between worlds, throwing them off balance, and casting both into eternal terror

First 250 words:
This is stupid, Alice decided. If someone Googled stupid they’d find a picture of her doing this. Hatta and his dumb ideas. Try live bait, he said. Won’t take long, he said. Ass.
Sitting in the dirt, waiting to be attacked, the cold of the ground seeped into her jeans and numbed her skin. A shiver shook her and she wrapped her arms around herself to ward off the nighttime chill.
As time stretched, shadows filled the forest. Tangled branches, leaves and vines choked the canopy, keeping the moonlight at bay. The smell of damp earth mingled with the sharp scent of moss and fresh water. Creatures chittered, calling to one another, no doubt mocking her. She felt incredibly mockable.
This wasn’t just stupid, it was crazy, but after trudging through the woods for hours, exhausted and starving, who wouldn’t be somewhat unhinged?
Something croaked a low moooooooron.
“Oh, come on!” Alice’s shout swept outward in echoing waves, silencing the forest save the whispering wind. “Fine. Fine! S’fine.” She pushed to her feet and dusted off her butt. “Guess we’ll do this the hard way.”
She’d backtrack to the Gateway. Hopefully the trail hadn’t gone cold. As she walked, an odd sort of pressure slid along her limbs. Goose bumps prickled her flesh. She paused. Everything remained still, quiet enough for her to hear what she believed to be the wind more clearly, which became a low, heavy pulsing rush. Whuush. Whuush.
Not wind. Breathing.
This plan was stupid, but it worked. 


  1. This query's got humor and voice. Which is awesome (win!), but build off that and get some specifics in there. Right now, for me, it feels too vague. Your query is peppered with a lot of phrases ("chaos & misery," "less guts more glory" and "the days darker" "eternal terror") that just leave me wanting more detail and insight into the real story and character's objectives. Who are they? What do they really want/need? Why?
    Please don't think I'm telling you to get rid of all or even any of those phrases--I'm basically just saying to tell me more and be more specific because that's what makes your story unique!

    Well written and humorous first 250. I'd recommend going through again to see where you can be a little clearer about what she's doing. You want your reader to read through, wondering what comes next. Sometimes when things aren't clear, your reader will have to go back a time or two to re-read to see what they might have missed.
    Note: Won't take long, he said: should be italicized or in quotes.

    Wishing you much success with this! : )

  2. Ack! I love the voice! "She gives no damns" seriously cracked me up.

    I agree that you did a great job incorporating voice in the query letter which is so hard and makes it really stand out! Nit picks: "fugly" sounds really humorous, but I'm not sure it is in line with how serious they are if they could cause that much chaos. I seriously yukked at "fel" and "tall, dark and annoying." So well done. Now I'm wondering if "fugly" fits. It just stood out as possibly making the stakes not feel as high. But this is me looking for nits to pick. ;) Things are clear and the stakes are high.

    I loved your first 250. Like seriously I want to keep reading. The only image I had a little trouble with was the odd sort of pressure on the limbs. I actually wondered if something was squeezing her. (I mean, it was obvious that wasn't the case, but it took me out of the story a bit to figure that out.)

  3. Hey there, author of DREAMWALKER! Mentor Sarah Marsh here. I love Alice in Wonderland retellings, and hope my comments will be of some help before the agent round!

    Your query has great voice. I was really digging the sarcastic terms like "fugly" and "tall, dark and annoying" and the play off Hatta's name. There's an 's' missing from 'gets' in the first line, but otherwise things are lookin' good! You also have excellent stakes at the end--nice and clear. My only comment on something you might want to revise is that the overall tone of this query reads as older (maybe NA?) instead of YA. Of course, this is just one opinion, and I think the older tone could easily be remedied by showing more of how Alice will grow during the story. Does that make sense? Show us that she's still a teen figuring things out while leading this crazy, Nightmare-fighting life :)

    In your first 250, make sure you italicize the lines where Alice is reflecting on things Hatta said to her. What I'd actually recommend doing is starting with your second paragraph instead of your MC's thoughts. I think what is now the first paragraph should actually be after the paragraph that ends with "She felt incredibly mockable." Just something to consider! You could put the first paragraph below the line I mentioned, and join it with the paragraph that starts "This wasn't just stupid."

    Nitpicks aside, I love the tension and descriptions in your opening. Well done! Wishing you tons of luck and agents requests in the next round!!

  4. Mentor of Team Snow, Copernicus Nerd here! It's all subjective in this grand 'ol writing world of ours, but I hope whatever I have to say helps out at least a little!

    And I'll say this straight up - the fact this is a twist on Alice in Wonderland, you've won a reader. It has been my favorite story since I was a wee lad so I DEMAND to see this on shelves!

    Let's kick things off with the query. You've got the voice down pat, and you've done a great job just introducing the hook (which happens right off the bat!) and the stakes. It's really hard for me to find anything wrong with the query as its doing its job perfectly. Of course, I'm probably biased due to my obsession with Alice, but seriously, this is good stuff!

    In your first 250 it was commented before that you should just watch your italics. Make sure you're using them when there is any internal thought or reflection since your narration is right inside Alice's head.

    Excellent job on the use of your descriptions, and even some of your word choices are spot on. They fit the mood of an Alice and Wonderland "trip". I'm loving your voice, and I'm eager to keep on reading. So do me a favor and SEND ME THIS lol. Seriously - loving it!

    Great work and good luck!

  5. Hi, Snow mentor Kate Brauning here, of Month9Books!


    What an interesting concept! The voice had me grinning the whole time, and you do some really clever things with words—especially the swearing. 
    You have quite a bit more room in the query you can use to expand. I’d like to see a bit more about each of the problems. Is Hatta a friend, enemy, complication, or love interest? Why? What about The Black Knight—what’s she up against there? Who is countering this spell, and if it would save the Knight’s life, why would she do it? It sounds like you have a great concept and tons of stakes and conflict, but the relation of one thing to another was a bit confusing for me. I’d just clarify, and you’ll have an awesome query here!


    Your opening lines are great. Funny, modern teen, intriguing. :)
    The second paragraph starts with a line that grammatically means the cold of the ground was sitting in the dirt, waiting to be attacked. We need the noun after “attacked” to be her.
    In the third paragraph, I love the descriptions, but I would try to blend them with the action. We have 4 descriptive sentences in a row with no action, so it pauses the scene. I’d mix action with description for a blend that keeps things going.
    Otherwise, this is a very solid opening back. We’re not bogged down with exposition or backstory, we have a great active scene going on, and plenty of suspense to keep us reading. Awesome stuff here! I’d keep turning pages.

  6. Hi -- TEAM SNOW mentor Vicki Lemp Weavil here.

    Okay, I love everything to do with Alice in Wonderland, so that already wins me over. But lets see if I can provide some helpful advice.

    Query --
    While everyone else get (gets) to sleep, (I might suggest just saying "While everyone else sleeps...") Alice Kingston spends her nights fighting creatures known as Nightmares. These fugly beasts threaten to plunge the world into chaos and misery. (How? A detail or two would help here). When the tall, dark, and annoying Addison Hatta charmed Alice into this life, she expected things to be less guts more glory. (I think you need a comma after guts). Instead, the battles grow bloodier, the days darker, and Hatta a little mad…—der. (Not sure I like this for the end of the sentence. Just saying "...Hatta a little madder." would work just as well for me).

    His deteriorating mental state builds (not sure builds is the right world here. I don't think of building going along with deteriorating. Maybe "disintergrates", "explodes", or something like that?) into fits and rages, and Alice crosses into his home world of Wonderland to find out what the fel (??? I know you're using this for voice, but I'm afraid agents reading this quickly might think it's just a typo.) is going on. She’s intercepted by The Black Knight, whose sharp wit and sly compliments disarm her better than any weapon, even though he’s an ass. (I think I would drop this last phrase. End with "weapon." You say he's a bastard in the next sentence.) The bastard plans to unleash a cataclysm that’ll devour Wonderland from the inside, and Hatta along with it. Countering the spell will save his life, (whose, Hatta's or the Black Knight's -- need to clarify) but the backlash could shatter the bridge between worlds, throwing them off balance, and casting both into eternal terror. (I don't know about this last sentence. I would play around with ending the sentence at "worlds" and then putting in something more about how this is tied directly to Alice -- her stakes as well as the worlds', because the ending right now is more about the two worlds and less about what might happen specifically to Alice as well as Wonderland and her world.

    First 250 words:

    Very nice. Only a few nitpicks --

    Try live bait, he said. Won’t take long, he said. -- This should be in quotes or italicized, as others have mentioned. Also, since "he" said this in the past, should this be "he'd said"? (Someone else chime in here -- I'm not sure on this).

    I actually also think that you could start with your second paragraph and then insert the first paragraph after "She felt incredibly mockable." I think that might work better to set the scene before we get into Alice's head, and also tie the comments made by Hatta with Alice's thoughts about how stupid the idea was.

    The "odd sort of pressure" description threw me -- not sure what that means. Maybe find another way to describe the feeling you want to evoke.

    Otherwise, very good! I look forward to reading the revision.

  7. Team Snow mentor Kat here!

    Query: I'm a sucker for an Alice retelling, and I'd like to see you show in the query what makes this one really stand out from the others. You have the stakes laid out, but I wasn't sure why the Black Knight would want to unleash a cataclysm - can you make that clearer? The foundation is good, you just need to tighten this up with more detail, I think.

    First 250: There is great voice in your excerpt, and I get a feel for your MC right away. There are 6 or 7 uses of 'stupid' (or a synonym) in the section, though - maybe claw that back a little, as it leaned toward being whiny. Apart from that, a great opener!

    Good luck!

  8. Team Snow mentor here!


    I was a bit confused by your query. I simultaneously need more information and less. The first paragraph needs a hook -- something to succinctly tell me who Alice is and what she's in for. I think you're focusing a little too much on introducing the characters at the expense of the pitch.

    From there, things get even more confusing. I'm not quite sure I understand the world of this story, and there might be too many plot-related details clogging your query up. I'd suggest breaking your story down into a simple set of bullet points and really analyzing what's important. From that bare bones analysis, find your main thread. If Alice is the star of the book, she needs to be the star of the query. You're injecting a lot of voice into the query, but I'm not getting a sense of the book itself.


    LOVED. The voice is strong here. Maybe too strong...there are some areas where it feels forced, so maybe go over it and see if there are places you can tone it down so that her frustration/sarcasm isn't distracting from the rest of the scene. I think you just have to strike a balance between conveying Alice's voice and working in your descriptive prose.

  9. Absolutely love your answer.


    Love “tall, dark and annoying”.

    I think you need a comma after guts.

    I’m confused about who the LI is. tall, dark (without annoying) implies LI, yet I wonder how his deteriorating mental state keeps her interest. Then you introduce The Black Knight and I think (maybe) he’s the LI. But he’s an ass and planning a cataclysm, so maybe not. And then the Hatta is brought back, like his loss is part of the stakes.

    Not that either has to or needs to be a LI, but if not, why are we talking about them like they are? Why not focus instead on Alice and what she wants?

    I’m not keen on the “throwing them off balance,” or “casting them into eternal terror,” only because they’re vague for stakes. I definitely see where shattering the bridge could be important, esp. if Alice hopes to return home. You mention her countering his spell, but this is the first we’ve seen of her having magic, so I’m left wondering how she plans to do this.

    What role do the Nightmares in the first paragraph play? They’re introduced, then left behind.

    All said, however, the obvious wit and your excellent writing will be enough, even without clarifying the above, to have agents beating down your door for pages.

    Your 250: Love it. My only suggestion is to consider toning down the snark a slight bit. While it's funny, I don't know the MC at all and I need a chance to sink into her world before my eyes are popping. If this makes sense.

    Best of luck in the contest!

  10. I loved the premise and the voice. I do agree with some of the other comments and I also find it interesting that some believe you have a great hook and she don't see it at all. I think you have a great hook and hope that you have great luck in the next round!

  11. Hi there, this is your teammate from #15 adding my 2 cents!

    I love the voice and the concept. The mentors have all made great suggestions.

    Your answer to the question showcases her character-wouldn’t change it

    Query: I would just say “sleeps” instead of “get to sleep. I like the “fugly” and “tall, dark, and annoying” descriptions, but can you be more clear about what Nightmares do (are they embodiments of our real nightmares?) and whether Hatta is a love interest? I think “Hatta” instead of “his” in the last sentence would be better, and while part of me likes this consequence sentence, I think “eternal terror” is a little vague. Will the Nightmares take over both worlds? Also, is Alice in danger of being stuck in Wonderland if the bridge is shattered? And why would the Black Knight want to destroy his own world? Overall, though, your query is great and I would want to read your book!

    First 250: Your writing is easy to be drawn into and this excerpt is effective. I agree with those suggest starting with your second paragraph and inserting the first one later, maybe even working that paragraph into your third one to break up the descriptions. Now, maybe I am just slow, but I had to reread “moooooooron” before I realized it was moron. So funny, BUT it did pull me out of the story. I agree that maybe rewording “an odd sort of pressure” might make what she is sensing more clear. Also, I think you can delete “what she believed to be.” You’re telling us it isn’t the wind, when it will be more creepy and exciting if the reader finds out along with Alice that it isn’t the wind. Great spot to end and I would definitely read on!

    Tweet me (handle is my name, no spaces) if you need someone to look at a revision before Wednesday. Good luck to you in the agent rounds!

  12. The premise of an Alice in Wonderland retelling is fantastic and I love the title.

    Query: I might just be careful using words like fugly and bastard too often in the query. They give it voice, but too many lose their impact. The voice is fantastic and we really get a sense of who Alice is, but you don't want to lose that in too many curse words.

    250: Again I love her voice. I teach middle school and would love to meet this kid. Just make sure her thoughts and dialogue mesh together in a cohesive way.

    Good luck in the agent round!

  13. Hi!

    Mentor here! I'm gonna disagree with the mentors who want more details in your query! DON'T DO ITTTTTTTTT. No but seriously, I think you've hit the nail on the hit with that query. It gives enough details to be interesting while keeping enough back so as not to be over-encumbered with backstory. That 'fugly' was wonderfully timed, by the way.

    I do wonder: is 'fel' a typo or a play on words? Either way, I'd nix it. Likewise you're punctuation on 'mad...-der' doesn't really work. Maybe just 'madder?'

    I liked the 250, but I'm a fan of being chucked in head first.


  14. Hi, fellow Team Snow member here. Following are my suggestions, for what they are worth.

    " While everyone else get to sleep" — Should be "gets to sleep"

    By the end of the of your first 250 words I can only guess at what "this" is. Do you mean using herself as live bait?

    I agree with the mentors, great voice.

    Good luck in the agent round!

  15. Just a reminder to take the feedback that works for you when revising for the agent round. It’s a lot to take in, but you’re the expert on your story and know best. If you have any questions about the next round you may ask here or on twitter.

    Thought you’d like to know why you were picked. You have nice voice in the query, but the first 250 knocked my socks off. This MC has moxie and grit. Not to mention you end it on a cliffhanger. I already care what happens to her. I love fugly and fel! Give me more!

  16. Hello fellow Team Snow member!

    Um, hello VOICE! Your query and 250 drip with it!

    You've already received some great feedback, and as you can see, there's not much to fix (the pressure on her limbs was my only time of pause), so I'm only going to extend my wishes of luck to you. Can't wait to see how the agent round goes for you!

    Best of luck!

  17. Hi! Fellow Team Snow member, here, commenting despite the fact that I don't have too much to add beyond what's already been offered up by others. I saw your first 250 in another contest--loved it then, still love it now. Personally, I would've liked to see a few more details in the query (specifically about the Nightmares and what they are/do and also the "eternal terror" as the stakes--why would there be eternal terror? what would cause the terror?), but the voice is so strong that it'll probably attract attention as is.

  18. Funny, funny voice. Love it!

    Good luck in the agent round!

    #TeamSun Leader Amy