Sunday, June 1, 2014

QK Round 1: Caprice No. 13 versus FirefliesLive

Entry Nickname: Caprice No. 13
Title: Strung Along
Word Count: 51,000
Genre: YA Contemporary


Seventeen-year-old Sarah Avery has always been a violinist, ever since her mother took her to a symphony performance when she was seven. But now her mother is dead, and Sarah’s violin is her only salvation. Her violin means Juilliard, it means an escape from her lecherous uncle and her aunt who pretends not to notice. That is, if Sarah can get in.

But the audition itself isn’t the only thing standing in Sarah’s way. Not when the guidance counselor with the overly-processed hair forces her to tutor another student for credit hours: Sawyer Cavallo, with her bright blue violin and her own share of secrets. Who, to Sarah’s surprise, ends up becoming a friend—even if she is one Sarah can’t afford. Friends get too close. Friends notice things that are off, things that Sarah would rather keep hidden. Things that she has to keep hidden.

Because if her uncle finds out she plans to leave him, he very well may kill her.

First 250 Words:

My eyes are closed.

Violin music resonates around me, Bach’s Sonata in G minor filling the air, the room, my body, notes wrapping like a cocoon around me. My bow is merely an extension of my arm, my fingers press down on the strings at the exact moment they need to make something exquisite, something perfect. This, this is what I live for, this music that makes me feel like I’m in Carnegie Hall, I’m a soloist for a great symphony, I’m—

I’m perfect.

No—I’m safe.

“Miss Avery?”

I jump, open my eyes. I’m not in Carnegie Hall. I’m in a classroom, beige walls and fluorescent lights and a tile floor that hasn’t been mopped in ages. Mrs. Canady, the music teacher turned guidance counselor, stands in front of me.

“Are you okay?” she asks, the bangles on her wrist clinking with a dissonant harmony as she waves her arm.

“You scared me.”

She shrugs, a halfhearted almost-apology. “I didn’t mean to disrupt your practice. Quite the opposite. I wanted to ask a favor of you.”

I flinch.

I don’t do favors.

“What?” I ask, shifting my weight from side to side. I tower over Mrs. Canady, so much I can begin to see her scalp through her straw thin, too-bleached hair.

But the way she’s looking at me makes me feel small.

“You’re very talented,” she says. “I was wondering what your plans were after here.”

“I… I haven’t really…”


Entry Nickname: FirefliesLive
Word count: 70K
Genre: YA Contemporary


Sixteen-year-old Callie Clover is done being the resident punching bag of Montside High. After a bully stuffs a dissected frog down Callie’s sweater to climb the social ladder, she’s staring down a handful of sleeping pills when she receives a text message:

>> [Unknown Number] You can always kill yourself later, so why don't you have some fun first?

It has to be a prank. No one would know her plans. No one even wants to know her.

The Unknown Texter keeps Callie alive long enough for her to discover an audition. It’s for a one-time orchestra conducted by her favorite musician at Carnegie Hall. But she only has six months to master the violin, which she hasn’t touched since her mom’s death. With nothing else to live for, Callie adopts the audition as her final hurrah, while the Unknown Texter and Eric, a college boy who’s never been laughed at a day in his life, fill her final days with the fun she thought was impossible with fake IDs and action movie-worthy escapes from her tormentors.

Callie can’t figure out why they’re helping her. But she needs allies as entering the competition means facing everything she’s run away from: her debilitating social anxiety, her still grieving family, and the bullies who want to knock her down for good. If Callie can't reclaim her life, she may end it after all.

First 250 Words:

So, as they say… goodbye, cruel world.                                                   

I can’t take it any longer.                                                                                          
What did I do to deserve this? How could people smile when they hurt me? Guess now I’ll never know.

I’m doing this so they can't hate me anymore, and I don't have to hurt anymore.

There was nothing you could do. Dad, Hailey, please forgive me.

Don’t blame yourselves. Blame them.

I’m coming, Mom. See you soon.




>> No New Messages.

The fragility of the human body meant there were thousands of ways to die. The difference between life-and-death could be measured in mere inches: a knife glancing off your ribcage instead of your heart, a fall from great height onto grass instead of concrete. A poorly timed left turn across incoming traffic or catastrophic blood clot in your veins didn’t even allow you the courtesy of a warning. Mistakes as innocent as forgetting to look left again after looking right earned you a ten second spot on the nightly news if your life was noteworthy enough.

I wonder if it was due to the dissection exercises in biology class that made me choose sleeping pills as my method for suicide. A razor drawn across the soft, springy flesh of the wrists was a more guaranteed way to go. I certainly wasn’t thinking about suicide in class that day, but add in a dose of Regina Goulding and anyone would consider offing oneself as a more pleasant alternative.


  1. This space reserved for judge feedback and votes.

    1. Caprice No. 13:

      Query: Nice! You've got me hooked, especially by the one-sentence closer. This flows really well, and your stakes (her lecherous uncle maybe killing her) are fabulous. I really have no major critiques here. Kudos!

      First 250: Gorgeous. I love this. You have a lovely, clear voice, and I would definitely read on. Again, no real critiques (which is highly unusual for me!).


      Query: From your query, I felt like Callie sounded more immature than dangerously depressed. I was surprised that someone stuffing a dead frog down her shirt (which is a disgusting but childish and ultimately not damaging prank) would be the "final straw" that makes her decide to kill herself. Also, I see the stakes--whether or not she decides to ultimately go through with her suicide plans--but the conflict is unclear. From what I can tell, the conflict is between the side of her that wants to die and the side that wants to live, but this doesn't really seem like a strong enough struggle in her case. Why does she still want to commit suicide? The bullies may have been awful, but I don't see where they did anything that truly scarred her--and although I see that the mother died recently, that fact is so buried that I didn't attach any importance to it upon my first read. Plus, it sounds like now Callie has something to live for--why would she still want to end it all so badly?

      First 250: The note seemed cliched and had a tossed-off feel--snarky, almost, which felt like a strange vibe for a suicide note and reinforced my impression of her as immature. I think this would read better if you just started with the second-to-last paragraph. As for the rest of it, you definitely have a good writing style, but I cringed at all the descriptions of how she thought about killing herself (especially the razor and the springy skin). I want to get to know your character and care about her before I can really empathize with her and care about whether she's going to kill herself. Because of that, I think you could find a better place to start. I'm also not sure you're striking the right tone--to me, Callie's voice feels a little bratty, like she wants attention or wants to kill herself only to get back at people. While this certainly happens in real life (tragically), it doesn't do much to make me like or empathize with your character.

      My decision: Due to the gorgeous, flowing writing and the polished query, I say: VICTORY TO CAPRICE NO. 13!

    2. Book Boyfriend ConnoisseurJune 3, 2014 at 7:59 AM

      Caprice No. 13:

      I'm Intrigued. Love that first line, really captures the mood of the story. Just a nitpick thing though. After Her Violin means Julliard, I'd put a period or an and to separate those two things. Seems like it runs on a bit. I'd also take out 'overly processed hair' because that pulls me out of the dramatic feel of your story. Your first 250. To be quite honest, there is nothing about this I'd change. Beautifully written, capturing my attention the entire time I read it. I want to read more!


      Nice first line for your query. Right away I want to know exactly why she's this punching bag and my heart is already clenching for this girl. I feel her pain and I want to read her story, so great job. The first line of your first 250 is a tad melodramatic and doesn't mesh with the rest. Honestly, now that I've really had a chance to study it, I'd take out the entire text message or a suicide note (Whichever it is) To me, your second paragraph is the perfect place to start.

      Victory to: Caprice No. 13

    3. Caprice No. 13: Good solid query. A couple of things: ‘lecherous’ sounds creepy but not dangerous, so when I got to the last line I was a bit taken aback. I’d change it to ‘abusive’. And the ‘overly-processed hair’ threw me – this is a minor character so we don’t need to know this, I’d take it out. The only other thing is that this is a bit short overall. What you have is good, but I think you could maybe add a little more voice and info/setting/character description to bring it alive a touch more.

      Nice opening page, very well done – we get the music, her feeling safe, and then her teacher and the setting. Two small things: I’d put a beat or attribution with ‘You scared me’, and ‘I jump, open my eyes.’ put me off slightly as am not a fan of this phrasing, though that’s obviously subjective. And I think people write ‘jump’ too often when what they really mean is ‘start’. So I’d suggest: ‘I start, and open my eyes.’

      FirefliesLive: There sounds like there’s an interesting story in here, I particularly like the intrigue of the unknown caller, but your query is a bit all over the place and there’s some awkward phrasing. I’d suggest editing, perhaps a bit like so:

      Sixteen-year-old Callie Clover is having a tough year: both mourning her mother, and trying to survive being the resident punching bag at school. After a bully stuffs a dissected frog down her sweater, Callie decides she’s had enough and reaches for the sleeping pills. Then she receives a text message from an unknown number:

      You can always kill yourself later, so why don't you have some fun first?

      It has to be a prank. No one would know her plans. No one even wants to know her.

      And then continue on, though I’d also cut ‘with fake IDs and action movie-worthy escapes from her tormentors.’ Which makes that sentence too long and unwieldy.

      Opening page: I’d get rid of the suicide note and start with ‘The fragility of the body...’ The note isn’t very interesting or original imo, but the stuff further on is, and is well-written. I think that’d be a much punchier opening. Also considering the enduring popularity of Mean Girls, I think the name Regina Goulding is too similar to Regina George for a bully. I also am not a fan of starting with her suicide attempt – I think you should let us get to know her a little bit first, to know why she’s doing this. At the moment it’s too soon for us to care about her. Perhaps have a scene at home and/or at school then end the first chapter with the suicide attempt and the text suddenly coming through which would be a dramatic chapter ending.

      Victory to Caprice No. 13.

    4. Caprice No. 13: I thought this was a gripping and well-written query. The lecherous uncle part gave me chills, and it sounds like this is a story with a strong friendship at its core, which I love. The stakes at the end are clear, and I'm eager to read on.

      Here are a few brief nitpicks for you: First, I wasn't sure about the guidance counselor's 'overly-processed hair' part. I think this was you trying to put in some of Sarah's voice, but it didn't sit well with me for some reason. Which leads me to my other nitpick- I'd like more of Sarah's voice in the query. That's the one thing I can think of that would make this even stronger.

      Your first 250 are fantastic! I wanted to keep reading. Love the voice here, especially this line: "...the bangles on her wrist clinking with a dissonant harmony as she waves her arm." Brilliant.

      FirefliesLive: I thought this was a nicely-written query! Although it's unusual, I really enjoyed the inclusion of the text message as the second paragraph of your query. It captured my interest immediately.

      However, I do have some nitpicks for you: First, I see a few places where the language sounded awkward to me. "Discover an audition" should have been something like, "hear about an audition" or "learn of an audition," I think. Another was "fill her final days with the fun she thought was impossible with fake IDs..." It's the two uses of 'with' so close together there. They make this segment feel like a run-on sentence. I suggest rewording. Also, add a comma after "But she needs allies" in your last paragraph. Finally, I felt the stakes could be clearer at the end, because it seems like Callie has positive things going for her in her life at last; I couldn't understand why she might still want to end it. Is there a way to make this clearer? It would strengthen your query considerably.

      In your first 250, the note seemed rather cliche, but I loved the segment afterwards. Callie's talk of biology class and sleeping pills is eerie and sad and I'd keep reading. Solution: I suggest removing that note entirely and starting with "The fragility of the human body..."

      Overall, I loved both these entries, and this was a tough choice. But, one felt a little more polished than the other. That said...

      Victory to Caprice No. 13!

    5. Two violinists who lost their moms? Talk about the perfect match up...and me hating to pick only one!

      CAPRICE NO. 13
      I'm a little confused by this being YA contemp but the last line of the query ending with the uncle possibly wanting to kill the MC. Sounds like a hint of thriller to me too, especially using that last line as the final hook. Make sure your story fits clearly into its genre. Can we also get more of a hint at what makes the uncle lecherous? I'm assuming there is some sexual abuse going on but am not sure.

      I love the first 250. Great voice here. We get a sense of your MC's fear for her safety right off the bat. I'm totally ready and waiting to read what's next!!!

      I love a lot going on in the query but am confused when we get to Eric, the college guy.Where does he come from? How does the MC connect with him? I love the stakes at the end of the query. I just want a little more insight into this person she connects with because it looks like he's a huge part of the story.

      First 250-I have to agree that a dissected frog down the shirt is awful and gross but very middle school as far as torment. I don't quite feel how this would put the MC over the edge, especially with her sarcastic comment that anyone would opt for suicide after an encounter with Regina Goulding. Can we make this encounter more personal? Maybe save the letter for later, especially since she is talking about suicide in the paragraphs that come after. Let us in on that encounter rather than have her tell us about it after the fact. Let us feel the humiliation, the build-up of what leads her to the sleeping pills.

      Great stories, writers! I want to see where both go. My VICTORY goes to FIREFLIESLIVE.

    6. I'd like to see both of these on the shelves someday. I think in general both have great premises. The trick is to do what you can to tighten things up, so you have clear concise queries.

      Caprice No. 13: I really think a stronger hook would benefit your query--especially since the sinker about her uncle wanting her dead is such a surprise and intriguing. I really, really wish I'd read more about her aunt and uncle before that, though. I think you can also perhaps make less of a thing about her mother's death in the beginning--it may be worth trying it out as something you weave into the query without taking up space using it as backstory.

      I have one nit-pick about your 250--the last line. I'm sure it goes on and is interesting, as I'm already wondering how this convo will go, BUT maybe have the line line more of a statement rather than a sentence that interrupts itself with a dot dot dot. Just my two cents but I feel something simpler might go a long way--even just something that shows her personality and that she has no plans or cares enough about life to plan anything right now. Hope that makes sense.

      Fireflieslive: I love this text right there towards the beginning of your query--it really pulled me in. As others have said--I feel the frog isn't enough. But I don't think you should totally ditch it--it goes to show what a B Regina is. I just think you might want to play up more on the depression she may still be feeling while missing/grieving her mother.

      I found the letter to be touching and the bit about the mom was sad to me. I do fear, however, that it might be a bit cliche to start off the novel with that right away. I'd love to be in scene with her interacting with her peers right away so we can see for ourselves how bad it is...something that leads up to it. As it may be harder for a reader to be sympathetic if they don't see the "why" just yet.

      This is such a tough one for me because I really do love the premises and the violins and the hook of the uncle in the first one and the hook of the unknown tester in the second. But if I absolutely have to choose...


    7. OOPs forgot to tag myself in that last vote to Fireflieslive...
      xoxoSally Draper

      The first line has unnecessary words that muddle it up - simplifying it to "...Sarah Avery has been a violinist since her mother..." will make it more concise. The sentence fragments in the second paragraph make it seem choppy and the final line seems a bit overdramatic to me.

      Great premise. The only part I thought sounded a bit awkward was the sentence starting "But she needs allies as entering..." Maybe just break it up a bit or reword it?

      Victory to FirefliesLive

    9. CAPRICE NO. 13

      Query: Interesting concept and I love the outlet music provides for Sarah. However, I'm not feeling the threat of her uncle or why he'd be so angry with her he'd kill her. More insight into this would build intrigue. Also, I'd love to hear more of Sarah's voice pop within the query.

      250: Really nice imagery. We get a good taste of Sarah and instantly know she, for some reason, has this safe place set up which would make me want to keep reading to find out why. Well done.


      Query: I like the premise and am definitely interested in the mystery texter. Some sentences could be tightened up and made punchier. Consider simplifying it a bit? You have a good hook in your first and last sentences.

      250: The suicide note isn't doing much for me. Maybe spice it up or scrap it? Beginning with "The fragility..." would suck me in more effectively. Or do something else to the note? I assume she's being sarcastic with her first line, but would someone about to take their own life have that kind of humor? If so, it feels odd. It also feels a little too 'telly' and I'm not sensing Callie's voice enough to sympathize or relate. Your writing is beautiful, but I think this story could start off stronger.

      These two entries are so similar, yet so different. Tough call, but VICTORY to CAPRICE NO. 13

  2. Very strong query. I'm a librarian, and this is the kind of thing I would order. A couple of small things:

    "Her violin means Juilliard, it means an escape from her lecherous uncle and her aunt who pretends not to notice. That is, if Sarah can get in." I stumbled a little over the lecherous uncle and her aunt, which I initially read as also being modified by lecherous. Maybe use a separate modifier before aunt, to keep the construction parallel? Also, I feel like the construction it means X, it means Y-- is generally something that goes in threes. (It means X, it means Y, it means Z.) I feel like the sentence ends before we expect it to.

    Maybe it's a guy thing, but I don't know what overly-processed hair means. Regardless, I'm not sure we need to spend the detail on the counselor.

    You are rocking the one sentence, one paragraph closer. I have just put this book into my order cart at Baker & Taylor.

    250: Also strong, although perhaps not as polished as the query. I LOVE the opening writing, with the ecstasy of her being lost in music. However, the mc's 'rude awakening' into the classroom comes right up to the edge of cliche. I'd keep the beautiful fantasy, but be very careful with the "surprise!" of the real world. Actually saying 'I'm not in Carnegie Hall, I'm in classroom' is a little too on the nose. The florescent lights can flicker at the MC without Sarah actually saying "I'm in an ugly room with flickering florescents." Don't go Dickensian on the floor, either. I think it's that sort of detail that pushes it closer to a cliche. (And besides which, my work takes me to schools quite frequently-- unless we're in some super-poverty ridden place, those floors get mopped all the time.)

    "bangles on her wrist clinking with a dissonant harmony" feels a little forced, like we're trying to work in musical words. Consider just clinking dissonantly.

    The unattributed "You scared me" goes with Sarah, but at my first read through I put it with the teacher, and then stumbled on the line of dialogue that followed. I think it's a reasonable mistake-- "Are you okay? You scared me!" makes as much sense as "Are you okay?" / "You scared me!". Since we know Sarah so little and the counselor not at all, I'd be very careful with unattributed dialogue at this point.

    "I didn’t mean to disrupt your practice. Quite the opposite. I wanted to ask a favor of you." - Asking a favor of someone is not the opposite of disrupting their practice. This is not a problem per se, (maybe this is a character trait of the counselor) but I'm just putting that out there.

    "I tower over Mrs. Canady, " I'm confused by this detail. Has Sarah been playing her violin standing this whole time? Or did she stand up at some point? I'm no violinist (tuba here), but don't you usually practice sitting down? Maybe that's just a tuba thing. (PRO TIP: it's very heavy.)

    "I ask, shifting my weight from side to side. I tower over Mrs. Canady, so much I can begin to see her scalp through her straw thin, too-bleached hair." I feel like there's too much stage direction here. I've been sitting at this sentence for a few minutes now, and it bugs me because I don't like it and yet I'm having trouble articulating what feels wrong here. (Being an agent must be tough.) The flow of it doesn't feel right somehow, and instead of making me feel more inside Sarah's head, I feel like it takes me out of the action. Maybe less is more.

  3. Death and violins. Did you two collaborate?


    Strong query, plus I'm partial to violins. I tripped over the mention of the aunt. I had to go back and re-read it to know that it's only the uncle who's lecherous. I love the way you filled your MC with the music. It was so beautiful. Starting with daydreaming didn't bother me because I knew from the query that she had to have been daydreaming. However, the transition was cliche, and did she really have to remind herself that she wasn't in Carnegie Hall? Has anyone other than the insane actually thought that their daydream was real? The rest of it's good, and we get the start of the story problem.


    Fantastic query. Great job with showing your character and setting up the story. Goodbye, cruel world is such a huge cliche that I don't think it belongs in the first line. Give us something stronger to make us feel for her. The rest of your 250 is good and has an almost literary quality.

  4. CAPRICE NO. 13:
    Interesting premise - you've made me feel for the MC from the very beginning of the query. 51k feels short to me, but some say that anything over 50k is OK for YA. I agree with the comment about "lecherous uncle and aunt." It took a minute to realize that the aunt ignored the problem, rather than causing it.

    The description of her playing is nice, and the voice is good. The one line paragraphs seems a bit overdone for the first page, which makes me worry it continues throughout the rest of the MS. My bigger issue is that I don't feel like anything happens here, and the character's statement that she doesn't really have a plan is an unfortunate place to cut off in a contest like this. It leads me to, "Ok, she's not doing anything." I might look for places to cut enough words to give us the next sentence: "My eyes close" instead of "My eyes are closed," for example. Take out "merely" later in the paragraph. "as she moves" instead of "as she waves her arm." Or consider cutting the description entirely to get us to the plot faster. That way, we're more excited to keep reading.

    I feel like quoting the text in the query throws things off. Honestly, I'd just say that she gets a text from an unknown person instead. That's just me. I found the second large paragraph confusing. There's just too much going on. Most people can relate to/empathize with a MC killing herself b/c of bullying, but I'd consider putting more into the first paragraph to show how bad it is.

    My main issue with the first 250 is that, since we don't know the MC, we don't really have any reason to care that she's killing herself. (That sounds harsh but it's one reason many agents say not to dive into the action.) Maybe she's killing herself because she's going to die painfully from a debilitating illness. Maybe she can't stop herself from killing others. So, it would help to set the scene and introduce us to the MC or maybe show how bad her life is before diving in. The "no new messages" also feels out of place, since we don't know anything about the MC's life.

    I really like the part where she's thinking about ways to die. I might even put that before the note. The voice is good and it gives me some insight into the MC's personality.

  5. Caprice No. 13
    I like this entry. The query made clear to me what is at stake—while hinting at some enticing secrets/mysteries yet to be revealed—and the 250 flowed well. I thought the “jolt” of Mrs. Canady’s interruption was particularly well done.

    The only thing I might suggest for the query is to crop out some unnecessary words, for example, “with the overly-processed hair,” etc. I think they slow the flow of what otherwise reads as a pretty solid hook. I also wondered if the 250 wasn’t slightly rushed, It feels like we’re jumping right into the thick of things plot-wise, but I could easily have read a longer passage about Sarah and her enjoyment of music, especially as we’re just getting introduced to her.

    This one really grabbed me. The aspect I found most compelling is that Callie has to master the violin, an instrument obviously connected with her mother (inferred from the fact that she stopped playing when her mother died). The texting thing also had an eerie vibe to it which drew me in.

    The element I feel is missing to the overall pitch is that I’m not convinced “having fun first” would be sufficient reason for her to hold off on suicide. Or at the very least, working really hard to win a contest seems a stretch (because that requires motivation), unless winning the contest somehow defeats her bullies more than anything. I think that’s the link I’m looking for, namely, how does entering this contest solve her problem with her tormentors. If those were somehow tied together, I think it would really solidify the stakes. Also, as a side note, I was unclear how Eric tied into the whole thing. It felt like he came out of nowhere.

    Good luck to both!

  6. Fireflies Live:

    Wow, two teenage violinists go head to head. Those tricksy QueryKombat overlords.

    I generally like this query, but wonder about a few things:

    "After a bully stuffs a dissected frog down Callie’s sweater to climb the social ladder, she’s staring down a handful of sleeping pills when she receives a text message: >> [Unknown Number] You can always kill yourself later, so why don't you have some fun first?" is kind of an awkward sentence. For one, I don't know that we need to 'spend' the detail on the dissected frog down Callie's sweater. If you keep it, it certainly doesn't need the qualifier "to climb the social ladder". I'd gloss over this as much as I could and get straight to the hook.

    Which is strong.

    The fourth paragraph adds a lot of new information at once, and it's somewhat problematic. Callie's Mom has died! She has to learn to play the violin! There's someone named Eric! I think I would try to work Callie's mom death into the first paragraph. Then I'd use the extra space in this paragraph to give Eric some space, assuming he's important to the narrative. At this point, Eric is in a weird place-- he either needs more content in the query to give him value, or to be cut all together. Where he's at right now feels a little like a roadbump.

    "With nothing else to live for, Callie adopts the audition as her final hurrah, while the Unknown Texter and Eric, a college boy who’s never been laughed at a day in his life, fill her final days with the fun she thought was impossible with fake IDs and action movie-worthy escapes from her tormentors." Is too long a sentence. Also, "the fun she thought was impossible with fake IDs" grammatically speaking, is fun that you don't think you can accomplish with a fake id.

    "her debilitating social anxiety, her still grieving family" - It's unclear how far in the past Callie's mom's death is, which hurts this query, I think.

    250: It's certainly eye-opening to start with a suicide letter. (And also a kind of mystery, since Callie is alive at the start of the book. Is this bit a dark foreshadowing of her fate to come or an abandoned letter?) That said, I feel like the letter could be cut a little. (And way to make me feel awful for editing a suicide letter! :-) ) "How could people smile when they hurt me? Guess now I’ll never know," is maybe a little purple. Cut that bit?

    That "no new messages" is stark and makes a great chaser after the note. "No New Messages" is also makes a decent title, if you end up going another way.

    The fragility paragraph starts off very strong, and contains maybe the best sentence I've read yet today. But I feel like it wallows in the idea a beat too long, and I'd cut the last of the paragraph.

    "was a more guaranteed way to go" feels like a slightly awkward construction to me. In general, I'm a little thrown by the tone of the last paragraph which feels very formal (in places, even a little Woodhousian) and not what I would have imagined for our teenager. If this paragraph is really indicitive of Callie's tone, and she's a little gentleman, I'd work this into the query so it seems less jarring.

  7. Caprice #13

    The query was tight, well written and has a great hook. The stakes are evident right off the bat.

    First 250: What can I say? Your writing is beautiful. I do agree with another observation though, Asking a favor is indeed an interruption. And also, towering over her teacher. I would expect she'd be sitting down to practice. Unless she stood after the teacher spoke to her. Either way, I would definitely keep reading!

    I would suggest shortening the query. It seemed a little wordy and the second paragraph was hard to follow. The story is interesting, I would just tighten this up.

    First 250:
    I'm not sure I'd start with the suicide note, and I think I would eliminate the rehashing of all the ways a person can die. I'd rather have it start with her staring down at a handful of pills. Ready to swallow them, her note tucked under her computer, when a text comes in. This brings us right into the middle of her despair.

  8. Caprice No. 13: I don't read many contemporaries, but this caught my attention because of the violin (my son plays viola at a PVA school). The only thing I would change in the query is the last line. Instead of "he very well may kill her" maybe "he may very well kill her." It's something little, but I stumbled over it and had to reread it. Your 250 is beautiful, but I do have one minor nitpick. In my son's classroom, practice rooms, and all the music rooms I've taught in - the floors are carpeted to absorb the sound. Yes, the carpet gets pretty nasty. :)

    Fireflies: Love the name Callie, one of my character's in that as well. I love that yours has to do with music as well! In your query, I'd suggest you make it a little more hopeless for her, so as to justify thoughts of suicide. The suicide note in the 250 didn't ring true, and I think you could go deeper to give a better idea of why she's doing this. This might be personal preference, but I think if you moved the first sentence of the second paragraph up and made it your opening sentence - it would be extremely catchy.

    Good luck to you both!!

  9. Caprice No. 13:
    Query - The ending is flat-out fantastic. I loved it and I wanted to read more immediately. However the first sentence left a little to be desired, because there wasn't anything that was overly--wow, I need to keep reading. I think my biggest struggle with your query is that I didn't get enough of her own character development. It was very much fact-based and when it got to the friend part, I found myself wanting to know more how about why they became friends. Other than that--brilliant!
    First 250 - The opening was beautiful, but when it got to the teacher coming in I felt it was a little bit...rushed? I almost wanted her to spend a little more time in pulling herself out of her music and out of Carnegie Hall and bringing in more of her inner voice when talking to this teacher.

    Query - Oh boy, this sounds like a tear jerker. I loved your use of putting the text message right into the query and I really felt your voice come out. My really one critique is that I'd like it just a tad shorter.
    First 250 - Starting with a suicide note is a little gimmicky for me. It brings in emotions without even trying simply by the nature of the message. That being said, I LOVED the paragraph after "No New Messages" In my humble opinion, start with that! I enjoyed the prose involved in that paragraph and I wanted to keep reading immediately.
    side note: I really like this one not just because the story is compelling and the writing is great but I love that it's about bullying too. Which is such a problem that people tend to overlook. Rooting for you!

    Best of luck to both!


    This entry was simply lovely.

    The query is tightly written, yet leaves nothing out. I found myself rooting for Sarah before I even got to the 250 words. And the writing of the 250 words is outstanding. Little touches like having the bangles clink with dissonant harmony are so precise and right for the moment.

    I realize this is supposed to be helpful critique, but there is little constructive I can offer, except perhaps to be more explicit in the query what Sawyer’s secrets entail.

    I will be keeping an eye on the shelves for this one, preferably sooner than later. Thank you for sharing it.


    I enjoyed this entry more, the further along I read, but it had to work uphill.

    My first thought, on seeing that it was a YA story involving bullying was not a happy one – admittedly in real life that is a serious problem, but it has become a short-cut to drama that can fall a bit flat. What differentiated this story seemed to be the mystery of the Unknown Texter. The thought I kept returning to, while thinking about both the query and the 250 words, was that THAT part of the story, which was the part that got me interested, that created a mystery, seemed to be put off until fairly late in even this short read.

    That said, it is an intriguing premise/device, and I would be interested in seeing it developed.

  11. Caprice No. 13

    Watch out for introducing too many characters and muddying the main stakes. I'd really like to know a lot more about this uncle. The paragraph about the friend was kind of vague and I don't know if it added anything to the query, or which is the main focus of the story. I think you could safely leave it out and focus on the conflict with the uncle situation so that you can build clear stakes. You call the uncle lecherous and say he may kill her, so I'm left wanting to know more about this relationship and hope you will build it up a little. Is he abusive? Is he going to metaphorically kill her, or for real?

    Love the description of her escape into music - watch for repetition of "around me" though. There's some good turns of phrases and colorful description that follows. For a moment, I was confused as to whether she was actually playing or just imagining it, since she was interupted by a guidance counselor. It took some further reading to clarify it. The page reads well, but you might want to infuse it with more forward momentum. As it is, it ends a bit abruptly and I am left wanting to have seen more of where this is going.


    The stakes couldn't be clearer in this. However, I am having a hard time making the logical jump from attempted suicide to professional violinist. Was she already a violinist? It's unclear here. And why would she run towards the very thing she's run away from?

    Never thought I'd ever write this sentence, but I felt like your suicide note was a little stiff. The first sentence is flippant, the middle is a little melo-dramatic and the end feels like exposition, and the reference to "them" was vague. However, the rest of your 250 read great to me. I liked your tone and the flippancy in that part of the page is acceptable and even welcome. If you could keep those and weave the reasons why your MC is thinking of suicide without it seeming like too much forced back story, I think it would be even better.

    Good job on both of these. Each story has some great potential tension. I wish you both luck!