Thursday, January 23, 2014

SVS 5: ABOVE EDEN, YA Speculative Fiction

Genre: YA Speculative Fiction
Word Count: 91,000

My main character is most uncomfortable with:

In Eden’s Underground, the temperature is strictly controlled. She isn’t used to discomfort of any sort. Any extreme, either warm or cold, would both fascinate and terrify her. Eden prefers simulations with lots of sun and warmth, however, so the introduction of real snow would freak her out. She would still want to explore it, of course, but it wouldn’t take much time for her to long for warmth again. 


Dear Amy and Michelle,

When 17-year-old Eden Quinn isn’t chatting telepathically with her friends through her virtual reality halo, fighting with her mother over control of the technology in her room, or messing with her preppy younger brother, she’s probably sealed inside one of the Underground’s individual safety hatches, watching vids and waiting impatiently for another false alarm to pass. Intruders aren’t likely. Even if anything could survive Above, the Underground is well-protected.

Eden’s illusions of safety are shattered when she witnesses the abduction of her brother by men who look and act nothing like citizens of the Underground. With few leads, Eden turns to an unlikely source for help.

Kalon Fitch has never been one of Eden’s favorite people, which made it even more surprising when he requested her for a Link Trial, the Underground equivalent of an engagement. Eden has kept her distance from him, but now it appears that Kalon knows more about the strange men than he should, and Eden makes the decision to trust him for the chance to save her brother.

Though nothing is supposed to survive on the surface, that’s where Kalon leads Eden. In a world reclaimed by nature, Eden discovers that not only have people survived, but they have flourished in the technologically barren world Above. Welcomed into the small village of Heaven, Eden begins to question everything she has been taught in the Underground. She also realizes that there may be something far more sinister going on, both Underground and Above, than she could have imagined. Faced with this new reality, Eden must find her brother and figure out if Kalon is trying to help her, or if she will be the next to disappear.

First 250 Words:

Screaming alarms were Eden’s first clue that something was wrong. When the emergency lights in her bedroom blinked on and washed everything in pale orange, she knew it was serious. Minutes ago, she had been on the edge of sleep, but now her heart pounded and adrenaline filled her system as she threw off her covers and ran for the door.

It wasn’t a drill. She knew that. These alarms were never used as practice, particularly not in the middle of the night. Eden pounded through the dwelling, heedless of her bare feet on the cold surface. Underground, all floors were cold. She wound through the living room, leeched of color but for the orange lights, and into her mother’s study. At the back of the room, she punched a button that exposed four individual emergency hatches. Eden could see that two were already occupied, and forced her trembling fingers to punch in the code on the third one. With a hiss, the door popped open, and Eden scrambled inside.

When she was in place, the door automatically shut and latched. As Eden expected, Ilaria’s voice came over the com.

“Eden.  You’re safe.”

“Yes, Ilaria,” Eden replied, rolling her eyes at her mother’s brisk and unconcerned tone.



“He’s here,” Illaria said. “Probably sleeping. Your father is with the patrols. You should try to sleep as well.”

Eden didn’t reply. She wasn’t likely to get sleep here, but the doors wouldn’t open until whatever threat that had triggered the alarm was contained. 


  1. Hi, author of ABOVE EDEN! Mentor Sarah Marsh here. You have a beautiful title, but I wonder about being so generic with your genre. Speculative Fiction covers a great many things, but this story specifically seems to fall under some sort of futuristic sci-fi. Have you considered calling it science fiction? Just something to think about! Being more specific will help agents decide whether your story is right for their lists.

    In your query, I love how your first line sets up so much of Eden's world with just a few phrases. "Virtual reality halo" and fighting with her mom to control her room's technology are some I really enjoyed. The one thing I do wonder from the first paragraph, though, is whether this is a post-apocalyptic world, a future Earth, or some other planet altogether. Is there any way to make that clearer in the first para.? I think that would make your query even stronger. Also, I feel like the transition between paragraphs 2 and 3 is a bit stilted, and I think the easy solution is to combine them. That way, Kalon's name appears right after you talk about Eden turning to an unlikely person for help. In the final paragraph, I was wondering about Kalon's connection to Above, and how Eden and Kalon are able to sneak through the stringent security of the Underground. Not necessarily things you need to include in your query, but I thought I'd mention them in case you want to try to hint at these things. I think what really need to be elaborated on a little is the "something sinister" going on. As is, it feels too vague. Could you hint more strongly at who the antagonist might be? I love the stakes at the end! You've showed me who Eden is, why I should care about her, and what she stands to lose. Great work!

    In your first 250, I think you do a great job taking a common opening (waking up) and making it exciting with your MC's fear and rush to get to safety. The only thing that threw me here was when Eden gets into her safety hatch and calls her mother by her first name instead of Mother/Mom. Is it common in Eden's world to call your parents by their first names? If not, I suggest rewording some of the parts where Eden calls her mother Ilaria.

    Good luck with this!

  2. Hello, I'm Vicki Lemp Weavil, a mentor on TEAM SNOW.

    Query --

    Personally, I feel that you need a hook sentence before the first paragraph -- something that sets up the stakes Your first sentence is interesting (although a bit long) but it feels more like an introduction to Eden's life as the book begins rather than a "hook" for the entire book. I would like to see something that references the dichotomy of Eden living below while there's a "dead" world above. Or is there? Something that sets up that conflict right away.

    The first paragraph is good -- though you might want to consider trimming the first sentence, or breaking it up. I would also suggest combining the second and third paragraphs, and maybe trimming a bit there too:
    "With few leads, Eden turns to an unlikely source for help -- Kalon Fitch -- not one of Eden’s favorite people." Then you could go on to mention Eden being wary of him due to his interest in her, but turning to him because she wants to save her brother. (Not sure I would go into all the detail about the engagement -- it's enough for the query, I think, to know that Kalon is seriously interested in Eden).

    In the next paragraph -- Maybe just say "Kalon leads Eden to the Surface .. " then continue with the paragraph. (You already mention that Above is supposed to be uninhabitable, so I don't think you need to state that again.)

    This last bit gets very generic -- "She also realizes that there may be something far more sinister going on, both Underground and Above, than she could have imagined. Faced with this new reality, Eden must find her brother and figure out if Kalon is trying to help her, or if she will be the next to disappear." I would rather see some specific indication of the sinister goings on, even if it is only one or two examples. Also "figure out" is a somewhat weak action -- it indicates Eden just thinking things over. Try to see if you can punch up this last section with some major stakes. IF Eden doesn't dig up the truth, WHAT might happen? Not just that she might disappear, but that she WILL vanish or be killed or...?

    As for genre, I do think this is clearly YA Science Fiction.

    First 250 words --

    I actually think you can trim the first paragraph to give more of a sense of urgency. Just an example: "Alarms screamed as the emergency lights in Eden's bedroom blinked on and washed everything in pale orange. She'd been on the verge of sleep but tossed off her covers and ran for the door, adrenaline flooding her veins." (Obviously, you want to say this in your own words, but I think you might want to experiment with giving the beginning more immediacy. The following paragraphs do present that urgency well -- I just think the opening needs a tweak).

    Overall, very interesting! I will look forward to reading this again after any revisions.

  3. Team Snow mentor Kat here!

    I'm loving the SF allegory you have going on here, so I'm going to agree with the others and suggest you go ahead and call it YA SF.

    Query: The voice in your first paragraph is quite bubbly, but the rest of the query doesn't have the same tone. When I read your first 250 and went back to the query, the more serious tone of paragraphs 2-4 seemed a better fit. You give details about who abducted Eden's brother, like the fact that they don't act like people from Underground, that I don't think you need. The fact that they're abducting her brother makes them sinister enough.

    In the final paragraph, the 'something far more sinister' feels too vague, and I think this is where you could use that extra detail. What is the threat here, beyond the possibility Eden might not find her brother or might disappear herself? WHY might she disappear? What makes her think that? If you can give a little more detail to make the threat more substantial and urgent, I think that would work really well.

    First 250: I have to say, I really like the urgency of your opening. I think the shorter sentences work well with the pacing (sorry, I know this conflicts with what has been suggested above, but I only offer this as a counterpoint - use whatever works for you). It moved along briskly right up until Eden rolled her eyes. Here, her reaction doesn't quite fit with what's happening, or if it does, I'd like to know why Eden is so relaxed.

    Good luck!

  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!

    Diving right into your query, I think the first sentence is a bit too long. I actually had to stop and look a few times to see if I had missed a break, but I didn't. I think the one thing that is missing from the first paragraph is that hook line (the oh so important hook line!). I see a lot of setting descriptions, and a bit of "background." but nothing that says to me THIS is why I want to read this story! I'm seeing hints, but I want to see more.

    My interest peeks when I hear about intruders and false alarms in an underground world. Let's hear more about that! I think the second paragraph works better as a starting point actually, so you may want to work on developing that one into your hook line and move on from there.

    Also in the last paragraph ( this was said above too ), what is sinister? Don't leave us guessing, we want to know the stakes! What's really going on! Sometimes too much mystery is a bad thing, and it doesn't always work so well in queries. You don't have to tell us EXACTLY, but at least a bit more so we have an idea.

    On to your first 250, I'm loving it. I'm immediately drawn in, and I'm thinking to myself "whoa, whoa, whoa. What the heck is going on here?" It makes me want to keep reading and that is a surefire win. It's only 250 words, and I'm already hooked.

    I was also wondering if you could somehow apply the voice (which is great) in your first 250 into your manuscript. The tone you've set in your 250 seems a bit different than your query, and I feel it's stronger. Use that tone to your advantage!

    You've got an interesting premise, and I'd hate to see it get lost! For now, I think the query should be the focus, as I think your 250 is pretty strong as is.

  5. Minor minor thing I thought when I read your answer to the question: I thought maybe she lived in "Eden's Underground" and then I got that her name was Eden.

    Query: I like the world you create in the first paragraph, but I got bogged down in all the details. The really interesting part is that they have to hunker down for fear of invaders! Give us a taste of the technology, but I think less is more. And I would definitely classify this as Sci Fi. Also, we go from her brother being abducted (like whoa! Surely this is the main conflict!) to her being engaged to someone...which would feel sort of secondary in the stakes. So I would maybe try to start with the fact that she's surprised when Kalon offers to help her, and even more surprised when he asks for a trial link. (Also, a little world-building lingo goes a long way. I think pick a few key items of the world to introduce here so it doesn't get overwhelming.) Also the phrase "questioning everything" sort of pinged for me because there is A LOT of that in spec fic. Focus on what makes this world different.

    First 250: You obviously start with some great action. The dialogue was a little tricky. She calls her mom by her first name? Is the mom not more alarmed since this is not a false alarm? I feel like it was all "danger, danger, danger, now get some sleep." So keep up a little tension in the dialogue if you can.

  6. Hi, Snow mentor Kate Brauning of Month9Books here!
    I agree with the others about being more specific with your genre. If you label it sci-fi, I’d make it clear in the query what sort of world this is. Alternate universe, post-apocalypse, future world? Right now, it sounds dystopian to me, so if it’s not, I’d make that clear in the query so you don’t have agents turning away just from dystopian overload.
    The first line is really long for a first line in a query. I’d go with something clear and punchy, like in your “Intruders aren’t likely” line. I love the world-building you do in the first line, though. Excellent work showing us what sort of place this is. I’d just rearrange a bit so your first line is clear and suspenseful.
    There’s some vague phrasing in the query that really make me want to see details and specifics. Illusions of safety, witnesses the abduction, turns to an unlikely source, kept her distance, knows more about the strange men than he should, reclaimed by nature, etc. These are great opportunities for us to see specifics of the characters actions—in what way does she keep her distance from Kalon? What makes her realize he knows more than he should? What does “reclaimed by nature” look like—has Eden ever seen trees and rivers? Anywhere you can trade a phrase for an image, go for it!
    I do want to know more about the twist—what has she been taught that she’s questioning? What sort of sinister thing is happening? Is there any reason to think Kalon might not be helping her? I don’t know enough to really be invested in her winning, but if you give us a bit more, I’ll be completely hooked.
    Your first sentences have great sensory details. I’d cut her perceptions of them, though, because it seems to weigh down the lines. “Screaming alarms rattled her room. The emergency lights blinked on and washed everything in pale orange”—just an example. We know it’s serious, and we know something is wrong because you did such a great job showing it, so you can cut those phrases.
    I’d cut “she knew that.” Since we’re in her mind, we know she knows it, since she just told us. There’s also a bit of a disconnect with “Underground, all floors were cold.” Since this is her world and she hasn’t ever been out of it (right?), to her they would just be floors. “The floors were always cold” might help get rid of that.
    Your images are really impacting. “Leeched” is such a great image there. I’d get rid of the filter phrase “Eden could see that” and just have “Two were already occupied”—since we are in her mind, we know she’s seeing it, and cutting the phrase gets us closer to the action.
    “exposed” and “occupied” seemed pretty stiff words for the situation, too me. How would she say it? Is she a very technical person, or would she chose something more normal?
    Once she climbs inside, can we get a sense of her fear and uncertainty? She knows it’s serious and wasn’t a drill, so would she be afraid?
    Otherwise, this is a great opening. Your first page has so much action, and your world-building is effortless. I know so much about this place from very little page space, which is really fantastic. You’re starting on the moment that changes things, too, and I can already see this story speeding downhill. Great work with details and senses, too! You've got a razor-sharp focus on this page with absolutely no wandering around. Excellent stuff there.

  7. QUERY: You've got great stuff going on here but this query needs a hook! With such a long winded first sentence, I'd be worried that an agent would just start skimming or move right to your sample. Think fun, suspenseful, thrilling tagline. Something that would be on the poster for the movie or the line written on the back of your book to make me open it up and start reading.
    I agree with above posters--you need a more specific genre. Using Spec Fic makes it seem like you don't know your story. I think it's okay to go with Sci-Fi and later on, maybe an agent will tell you it's Fantasy, dystopian or something else. : )

    I'd love a little more insight into Kalon when you introduce him. Why doesn't Eden like him? What is he all about? The handsome know-it-all? The genius with a heart of coal? (totally corny, i know! Just trying to get you brainstorming). Just give the reader something that will show who he is right away.

    Give the next paragraphs a re-work by adding a little more detail without getting wordy. The relationship stuff with Kalon feels a little too vague for me. also, hat are these people like in this world reclaimed by nature? What does the world look like? Throw in some texture and a dash of color here--appeal to my senses.

    PS. I really like the title and the names Eden Quinn and Kalon Fitch.

    First 250: Feel free to ignore or take from the following what you will. For your first 250, I went through and did a little cut and paste and tweaking to make some things flow better so as not to pull the reader away from the action and suspense you have going on here.

    The screaming alarms were Eden’s first clue that something was wrong. The emergency lights blinked on and washed her bedroom in pale orange. Minutes ago, she was on the edge of sleep, but now her heart pounded and adrenaline filled her system as she threw her covers off and ran for the door.

    It wasn’t a drill. She knew it was serious. Eden pounded through the dwelling, heedless of her bare feet on the cold surface(TILE? WOOD? METAL?). Underground, all floors were cold. She wound through the living room, leeched of color but for the orange lights, and into her mother’s study. At the back of the room, she punched a button that exposed four individual emergency hatches. Two hatches were already occupied, and Eden forced her trembling fingers to punch in the code on the third one. With a hiss, the door popped open, and she scrambled inside.

    When she was in place, the door shut with a thud and latched. As Eden expected, Ilaria’s voice came over the com.

    “Eden. You’re safe.”

    “Yes, Ilaria,” Eden replied, rolling her eyes at her mom’s brisk and unconcerned tone.



    “He’s here,” Illaria said. “Probably sleeping. Your father is with the patrols. You should try to sleep as well.”

    Eden didn’t reply. She wasn’t likely to get sleep here,(TELL SOMETHING ABOUT WHY: ex: Eden knew she wouldn't be able to sleep on the cold tiled floor or she wouldn't be able to sleep knowing that BLANK was probably out there looking for them--some kind of threat. DO THIS TO ADD TO THE SUSPENSE--ESPECIALLY SINCE IT'S THE END OF YOUR 250) but the doors wouldn’t open until whatever threat(TOO VAGUE) that had triggered the alarm was contained.

    Wishing you the best with this as I think it'll do well as long as you can bring the unique details and specifics of your story into the query and sample. Good luck!!

  8. Team Snow mentor here.

    I. Love. This. I love all the things this chooses to be. I want to read this book YESTERDAY.


    It worked for me. There are some parallels with E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" and the short story that Carrie Ryan wrote (inspired by Forster's) in RAGS AND BONES. I love the idea of the underground world where things are creepily perfect. I also like how your query unfolds organically, revealing bits of the story as you go on. I agree with others that the stakes could be presented/made clear a little earlier, but it's almost there (for me, at least).

    I also want a taste of what Kalon is like. What is it about him that rubs Eden the wrong way? Are they personality opposites? Has he done something in the past? I want a clearer idea of why she's not thrilled about him, and why she chooses to trust someone she dislikes.


    LOVE. Literally, my only real complaint is that she thinks of her mother's first name before she's introduced as her mother. But that's about it.

    Have they had drills about this sort of thing before? Because Eden doesn't seem particularly panicked. I'm not labeling this as a complaint/criticism because for all I know this is explained in the next sentence and I just don't have it in front of me.

  9. Hi!

    Mentor here. So, I liked this. I'd read on--which means I won't have a whole lot to say here. I'm a sucker for YA spec. fiction and who doesn't like a bad boy and banter? My one concern is that there's too much going on in that second sentence. And okay, I've only got four hours sleep in the last two days and I'm horrendously exhausted, but that first line tripped me up.

    I think establishing the normal to break it isn't always the best way to start a query: it has cliché written all over it. You may as well write Eden was normal UNTIL--so maybe concern trying a little mis-en-scene and chucking us right into the action? I'm almost a fan of chopping that first paragraph altogether, though there is some nice world-building set-up in there.

    But that's the problem: it's all set-up and not plot! (Still, there's the skeleton of a very strong query here!)


  10. TeamSun mentor Sharon here.


    Technical note – spell out seventeen.

    I found this query far too long. There’s far too much going on and it feels like a synopsis rather than a book blurb. Imagine that your book is published. What would be on the back cover about it?

    Focus on the core essence of the story and look at the stakes. The stakes you’ve listed didn’t grab me as there wasn’t enough for me to feel like Kalon was untrustworthy.


    I really liked your writing. Nice opening line and great subtle world building. This is what grabs me and shows me that I’d like to read more. Your query needs to match that.

  11. 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. Your query doesn't tell that the MC is a normal girl but shows with specific examples. It also paints a good description of an advanced, but not too different, world. I love where the first page starts. The first page sold it for me.

  12. Love the idea!

    Query: I felt a disconnect between your query and your first 250. I get a great sense of urgency in your first 250. You start with a great amount of tension and voice. But that is lost in the query. You have a great summary, but I don't get a feel for your characters. There is also a whole lot of information in your query and shortening it might help the reader connect to the world you are trying to pull us into.

    Good luck in the agent round!

  13. Hey there. Team Sun mentor popping in to see what's going on. I'm not going to critique because you have plenty to go on for revision here, so I'll just say that I LOVE this allegorical concept. I'm definitely hooked and can't wait to see how everything looks for the agent round. Good luck!

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

    "Though nothing is supposed to survive on the surface, that’s where Kalon leads Eden." Since you mention the lack of life Above in the first paragraph you can just say "Kalon leads Eden to the surface."

    On the first 250 words, you used "pounded" towards the end of the first paragraph and the beginning of the second. And the only thing I see missing is—what kind of threat could they be facing? Overall though--a very interesting start.

    Good luck in the agent round!

  15. Hi, there! Fellow Team Snow member here with a few comments for you--hope they're helpful in some way!

    Query: I felt like you painted a really clear picture of your intriguing setting in the query. Plus, the stakes in the final sentence are clear and compelling. I think both of these things make this query strong.
    Two small quibbles:
    -I'm not sure it's necessary to include that Kalon requested Eden for a Link Trial. It doesn't seem related to the focus of the query (finding Eden's brother).
    -In the second to last sentence, you might be able to make the stakes even more intriguing if you specified what this "far more sinister" thing might be.

    First 250: Overall, I found your opening fast-paced and engaging. I'd read on. I did wonder why Eden didn't think she'd be able to sleep in the emergency hatch (because she's nervous? because the hatch is small and cramped and uncomfortable?), but that's a minor thing.

  16. Hello fellow Team Snow member! I don't usually read this genre, but your query drew me in :)

    You've received some great feedback already, so I'll just throw in a small suggestion...

    "When the emergency lights in her bedroom blinked on and washed everything in pale orange, she knew it was serious." The "she knew it was serious" could be implied more by showing us her visceral reactions to being awakened in this way. Does her heart catch and then race until she feels light-headed? Does she get wrapped in her bed linens trying to get where she needs to be?

    You get the idea. You've got such a cool premise, I want to feel Eden's initial frantic confusion and fear in this 250.

    Best of luck to you!

  17. Is this a dystopian? I agree that spec fic is more of an umbrella term. I liked the voice of the MC and the techy stuff you included. Tighten your query and it'll be awesome! Good luck!

  18. Love this premise! It reminds me a lot of Veronica Rossi's UNDER THE NEVER SKY series which I think is amazing.

    Best of luck!

    #TeamSun Leader Amy

  19. Critique Faerie here.
    First I will say that the 250 words grabbed me. I wasn't bothered by Eden calling her mother by her name, except you might make that clear the first time she does it. I was thinking it was like the computer talking.
    Like a few others mentioned, I felt a disconnect between the query and the passage. I think it has to do with the first paragraph of the query. The tone is a playful, yet the other paragraphs feel more serious and match the opening sequence of the passage.
    I'd really like to see a one line opening hook. Something that sets this story apart. And I agree Speculative Fiction is too broad. I wouldn't worry about where it falls, just make this query outstanding, focusing on the things that make it unique.
    Good Job and Good Luck!

  20. A fellow Team Snow member here. I agree with the others that your genre seems like Sci Fic, but I'm not an expert so take my comment with appropriate salt.

    The query seemed a bit busy to me -- too much information and world-building to absorb in a single reading. I would suggest making it simpler.

    I loved the first 250. Good luck!

  21. Mentor Matt Sinclair from Team Snow. I really like the idea, and the query caught my attention right away. The first 250 work for me also.

  22. Fellow Team Snow member here. Loved the first 250, and I think you have been given some great advice with filtering. Great tension and action. Wishing you the best of luck with the revision and the agent round.

  23. I loved this! You got some great advice up above, so I won't reiterate it, but all in all, I think you have a strong first 250 and query. Good luck!