Entry Nickname: SunnysideUp
Title: If I Promise You the Sun
Word count: 89,000
Genre: YA Contemporary Thriller
Title: If I Promise You the Sun
Word count: 89,000
Genre: YA Contemporary Thriller
Sixteen-year-old Eve Thomas doesn’t mind that she can’t leave Nova Vita, an Amish-like religious community that rejects most technology and has perfected solar power. Except for the compulsions and tics linked to her photographic memory, life in her mountain home is paradise.
But when her little brother shows signs of a genetic disorder the cult won’t treat, she questions everything she’s been taught. As she searches frantically for a cure, Eve has no idea that someone is watching her, an eighteen-year-old boy named Mana Aquino. A migrant worker from the garbage slums of Manila, Mana is determined to kill the cult’s leader—the bishop who used his sister as a human sacrifice and treats all laborers like slaves. He just can’t seem to get anywhere near his prey, not even by sleeping with the wife of the bishop’s right-hand man.
After Mana learns about Eve’s memory, he offers to sneak medicine to her brother, if she’ll serve as his human camera, gathering information that could ruin the bishop. If Eve accepts, she’ll commit a crime that will destroy the only home she’s ever known. If she says no, her beloved brother’s as good as dead.
I hold an M.A. in creative writing from Syracuse University, am a member of SCBWI, and have published several reviews of children’s books in The New York Times.
First 250 words:
Mama and I use all our muscle to pin my sister in the kitchen chair so medics can find a vein and fill a vial with her blood. Every child in Nova Vita is being tested for an illness so rare it has no name, and each one who tests positive will die. The Bishop agreed to let researchers study us, as long as they don’t interfere with our beliefs. This year, we’ll know ahead of time who we’re going to lose.
“Let me go!” Theresa shouts, her arms and legs flailing.
Restraining a furious six-year-old is no easy task. I gasp for breath as her bare foot wallops my gut. Miraculously, once the needle’s in, she stops resisting—her limbs relax and her hazel eyes widen. The thin red stream shooting up into the glass is beautiful. After we release her, I grunt and tap the back of the chair four times. Not because I want to, but because I can’t stop myself.
About two children fall ill in each of our four settlements every year. It can take months for them to die, as muscle control, then eyesight, then breathing fail. When you turn thirteen, your parents finally explain that there’s no cure, maybe not even outside of Nova Vita. The cause may be genetic, which means it’s in God’s hands. The Book of Healing reminds us that illness is part of Nature and Nature doesn’t make mistakes.
Sarah’s next. Nearly nine, she’d rather live in a chicken coop than let anyone see she’s scared.
This space reserved for judge feedback and votes.ReplyDelete
The query is clear. The characters, motives and stakes are all there—well laid out and deliberate. I can definitely see the abundance of conflict such a situation would generate. The first 250 pulled me in immediately. The voice is natural and likable. The passage raises enough questions and makes me want to keep reading. I only wondered about the protagonist tapping the chair four times. Is that for luck? Wishing the sister doesn’t have the disease? I’m curious about the genre. YA Contemporary Thriller seems off. I bet a hint of Sci-Fi/Dystopia just from these.
I found the query not as clear as the first. I had to re-read a few sentences because the flow faltered a bit. An example was “And when the puppet master behind it all shifts the target to Gwen’s friends and loved ones…” The flow tripped me at “behind it all” and I had to go back. I would suggest rephrasing. Maybe something like: “When the real culprit shift targets…” or something that removes the clutter.
One thing that is not clear to me is the conflict in Towton City. It seems the puppet master is targeting people for some reason, but that is not stated. What else is at stake besides Gwen’s father’s death sentence and why? Are they criminals just to be criminals? What are they after?
On the first 250, I’ll have to say that I didn’t feel a connection with the character. I’d like to see a little vulnerability, a little humanity. Staging a corpse on the street is very cold blooded, so it makes me want a reason to root for him. Maybe something touching about the girl the mobster was stalking and, by the way, did he do more than stalk the girl to deserve a bullet into the side of his head? Tough guys are great, in my opinion, only when we can see their humanity, too.
VITORY TO . . . Sunnyside Up
You almost have a hook here, but it really misses the meat of your story. I think you should try to incorporate the first sentence of your second paragraph into the opening hook, and trim your word fat (we don't need to know about her ability or the mountain town in the hook). Also, change "questions everything" to something specific. It's a vague cliche. Additionally, you should consider incorporating the deal with Mana into the hook. That's really the meat of your story.
The body paragraph could then dive into the story. Your last paragraph works well and the stakes are clear.
I thought the opening scene was very strong. Although, I'm with Pen Dreamer in not quite getting the genre. Perhaps reconsider.
I don't understand what Gwen's motivation is. Why is she a protector. If Silas is also a protector, I don't understand why they wouldn't get along. Sure they have different styles, but the same goal. It doesn't really make sense from the git-go. As a hook, it doesn't really work.
The next paragraph in the query is entertaining, but leaves more questions. Why would Silas come to her if he was the one who started it all? Also, why would the puppet master (whoever that is) making it about Gwen's friends and family lead to evidence that it's Silas and what is the puppet master really after? It's confusing.
Finally, I had the same issue with the query that I did with the opening page - you don't give us enough of Gwen to make her likable. We don't typically like tough guys because they're tough. We like them because we're allowed to see some of their humanity through their toughness. You don't offer us any of that for Gwen. At the end I'm left rooting more for Silas - who came to her to help save her father and then gets falsely set up, than I am Gwen.
Victory to SUNNYSIDE UP
SUNNYSIDE UP: Interesting premise and stakes--you've laid out some great stuff in your query to make me want to keep reading. I did feel that the last two paragraphs in tour 250 fell a little bit flat, though. I think the backstory should be woven in a little more seamlessly or you could wait a bit before telling us more. I was caught up in the scene and then it felt like I was pulled out so quickly so I could get that backstory which was a little bit confusing. But overall, great work.Delete
LOWLIFE EXTRAORDINARE: There's a lot of story and plot going on here, which can be a great problem to have but this query felt a bit too much like a synopsis to me. I really think that giving a few more personal details about Gwen--& Silas may compliment your query and bring us into your story more. Give us more reasons to care about the characters.
Your 250 is pretty great--I like the suspense and am already wondering what's going to happen and I'm already curious about her in her day to day life. I'm interested already in that contrast. so great job there!
This is another tough call for me, but based on the poise and polish of the query...
VICTORY TO: SUNNYSIDE UP
IF I PROMSIE YOU THE SUNDelete
On first read-through I didn't understand why you included the line about "compulsions and tics linked to her photographic memory" - it made me think the story was going to go off in a completely different direction that what it was. I think you could probably save that bit of info until the third paragraph when it becomes relevant to the story.
THE MADMEN'S CITY
I'd cut the line starting "Working together..." - it's irrelevant there. The line about "shift[ing] the target to Gwen's friends and loved ones" struck me as odd -- wasn't he already targeting Gwen's father?
Victory to SunnysideUp
I think the other commenters have touched on important aspects, so I will just add a little from my perspective:Delete
QUERY -- I too suggest cutting the Amish reference. Just cut that word and the rest reads fine. This phrase -- "she questions everything she’s been taught." reads cliché to me. Find another way to state her questioning of her heritage, something more concrete in terms of an image. I don't think this line is necessary in the query (I'm sure the point is important in the book, but it's just extra detail here): "He just can’t seem to get anywhere near his prey, not even by sleeping with the wife of the bishop’s right-hand man."
First 250 words: This is pretty strong as it is. I too wonder if paragraph 4 could be woven in a bit more (later) allowing the scene with the family and the medic to progress further before we get this info.
Genre needs to be changed, I think. This looks like a YA SciFi or Dystopia to me.
Query: You have an agreement issue with "any lowlife who dare prey" -- it needs to be "dares to prey" to agree with "any". Your query is in general a little "wordy." I actually don't think you need these lines after your beginning lines -- "To Silas, death is the only suitable punishment for the iniquitous criminals who prowl the seedy streets. And to Gwen, Silas is just another murderer. Working together would only end in World War III." That info. can come out later in the query. I also feel that this query read a bit too much like a synopsis -- this happens and then this happens, and ... etc. You really need to get to the meat of the story in the query and save plot details for the synopsis. I think your story sounds fantastic, but you aren't really enticing the reader with this query.
First 250 Words: Not sure who is speaking here -- in the query you say Gwen uses her fists so the reference to the gun may make this Silas? That's something that needs to be cleared up. Is this dual POV?
There is a nice narrative flow and noir atmosphere and you set up the action well. I do agree that we may need a little more sense of the MC's character -- is he/she squicked out at all by the task? Pissed because he/she has to clean the blood off his/her clothes? Even though someone's a tough vigilante, I'm sure they are feeling something, if only disgust, after killing someone.
VICTORY TO: SUNNYSIDEUP
query: this query literally made me say "WOAH" out loud, which would be embarrassing if I wasn't sitting alone in my living room. ANYWAY. I thought this read pretty well--you've got conflict, character development, and clear stakes. One line gave me pause, mostly b/c it was hard to follow at first: "not even by sleeping with the wife of the bishop’s right-hand man." I'm not sure you really need it, actually. The only thing missing from the end of this query was info on how the MC feels about her home now that she knows the bishop is corrupt. Or does she even believe Mana?
250: There's a lack of--humanity? emotion?--in the first 250, which is making it hard for me to connect to the character and the situation. Otherwise, it's a very compelling opening that puts this world into sharp focus.
query: You've got a lot going for you in this query: clear plot, a fair amount of character building in the beginning. As for the stakes: they're very clear, but you're missing an opportunity to utilize character to make us really feel the MC's pain. Finally, I suggest changing "And when" to "But when" in the second paragraph, and you should add an oxford comma in the final paragraph.
250: Question: In the query, you suggest that the MC consideres Sila a killer, but the opening page makes it clear that *she* kills too. Which is it?
Otherwise, you set the scene nicely, we get a good dose of who this character is, and there's a definite feeling of "being watched" in the final paragraphs.
This is tough. I find the premise of SUNNYSIDE's ms more engaging and unique, but the first 250 were lacking in emotion. I really had no idea how the MC *felt* about her situation or what happens to the children who die. On the other hand, LOWLIFE had a nice plot that felt less than unique, but the 250 was engaging and well paced, and I know exactly who this character *is* in this moment.
VICTORY TO Lowlife Extraordinaire
Query: I'm super intrigued by this! The only thing that stood out for me was that you flipped over to Mana's POV from Eve's which felt jarring. Is it written in dual POV's? I'm also missing feeling Eve's voice. That being said, I'm definitely interested.
250: This didn't pull me in like I'd hoped it would. The situation is compelling, but I'm not getting much from Eve other than simply what's going on around her. And why does she grunt and tap the chair? That felt odd to me. I would totally keep reading based on the query/concept.
Query: This query is over-flowing of information. It would benefit your story to cut the extra details that muddle things up. The premise is intriguing and the stakes are clear. I'd love to get more of Gwen's voice.
250: Okay, now I'm confused. I thought she wasn't a killer and was against killing (aka Silas), that she wasn't going to "play nice" anymore. But in the opening scene, she's just stabbed someone and dumped the body. The writing is well done and I'm digging the noir feel, but things need to be cleared up. I'd keep reading based on the query.
Best of luck! VICTORY to SUNNYSIDEUP!
This is a well-written query with a clear plot and clear stakes. The one nit-picky thing is the comparison with the Amish. I know that you only meant that in regards to technology, but since that's the only thing the cult has in common with the Amish, I think you should leave that off. The 250 is well written, and I could visualize the scene well, and being able to get the story problem on the first page is a good bonus.
Gwen is tough and gritty, but I don't know anything else about her. This is obviously plot-driven, but we still need to be invested in the main character, and after reading the query and first 250, I don't feel invested in her, yet. As a caveat, I personally don't subscribe to the current trend hooking readers with character, story, and story problem in 250 words, but since this is all I have in front of me, that's all I can really work with. The concept sounds fun, and hopefully Gwen shines in the rest of the novel. If not, add more layers to her character.
If I Promise You the Sun:ReplyDelete
The query for this is really well done. Great stakes, for sure. I have to agree with the other commenting judge. Is there a little dystopian mixed in here? Because I'm not sure if this idea of blood testing in a community, even an Amish one, would serve well as contemporary novel. No doubt there are thriller elements as well, just a little concerned about getting the right genre. As for the first 250, it was very easy to visualize. Not trying to be nitpicky, but certain lines could be simpler, for instance "her limbs relax and her hazel eyes widen" Take out the second her. Also, I do believe you need an and before this line, but correct me if I'm wrong. "then breathing fail" Otherwise, I'm really intrigued with what you have here and would love to keep reading.
THE MADMEN'S CITY
Okay, there's a lot going on in this query, not that it's a bad thing. But, for instance, that first paragraph jumps from one person to the next. Consider giving both of them their own paragraphs. I also like that last line, it adds quite a punch. For the first 250, I get a lot of great visuals, but that one random word CRUNCH at the end of the 4th paragraph really doesn't need to be in there.
Victory to: SunnysideUp
I thought the 250 read very solidly. I think the only thing I would suggest for it might be a stronger opening line (not to replace what’s already there, but a stronger first line to introduce the whole thing as it now stands).
My main critique is for the query: I found it to be very character dense. There’s Eve, her brother, Mana, his sister, the bishop, and the wife of the bishop’s right-hand man. Plus the community itself. That’s a lot to keep track of in a short space. I had to backtrack several times to make sure I had everyone straight. At the very least I think the detail about the wife of the bishop’s right-hand man could probably be cropped.
I thought the 250 here read quite well. The only thing I really stumbled on was “a quick squirt of metal.” It took me a minute of back and forth before I finally decided the narrator had stabbed the stalker in the head with the knife. I think it was “squirt” that was giving me trouble. Otherwise I found it to be a good hook into the story.
My main critique about this query and 250 though, are the seeming contradictions. The query states that Gwen (who I assume to be our narrator) uses her fists and a strict moral code, which I take to mean she doesn’t kill. This would seem to be further reinforced by the fact that she regards Silas as a murderer for doing more or less the same thing she does, that is, dealing with thugs, except he uses deadly force. So when she’s dragging the corpse of someone she’s just killed in the opening scene of the book, I feel pretty much lost, like either I’ve completely misread things or else the two simply don’t match up. The other thing I would note about the query is that especially in the first paragraph it seems to divide time equally between Gwen and Silas, which leaves me a little confused as to who exactly is the MC (I still assume Gwen because she’s introduced first, but the weight given to each character makes it unclear).
Best wishes to both entries!
Hmmm, just read the other comments and realized I might have gotten it wrong. Does this opening scene feature Silas shooting someone? And was it the stalker carrying the knife? If so, I would say that reinforces my feeling that the query is somewhat unfocused as to who exactly the main character is, because there's nothing explicit here in the 250 (that I could see anyway) to indicate whose POV we're in. I had assumed Gwen's. It also suggests that maybe the wording could be made a clearer as to who exactly was doing what in this scene. Sorry for the mix-up though.ReplyDelete
Query - I like the premise of a society that won't accept technology to treat illnesses.I'm a little unsure why sleeping with the wife of the bishop's right-hand man is relevant to getting close to the bishop. It seems like something that would be done covertly, unless you're implying he's getting secrets from her. You've got your plot and stakes laid out, but what I'm missing is voice. The query reads like a mini-synopsis and might benefit from trying to write it imagining that Eve is telling it - really get the feel of the book into the query.
250 - I'm not sure I buy into the premise that the bishop would allow researchers in, but willing suspension of disbelief will let it slide. However, the sentence that explains it feels like exposition. I thought you did a good job making the scene come to life and it's a good starting point. You do a good job showing until the last line, where you tell us what Sarah's feeling. You might consider taking that line out and using the words to add in something that will pull the reader in to want to turn the page.
Query - Your premise reads very clear to me. You have plot and stakes laid out well. Like the above, this is more mini-synopsis and it would be good to get more of the voice from your 250 in it, though your last line of each of your paragraphs has great voice. I'm wondering if it would make sense to somehow flip the first 2 sentences so that you start with Silas, only for situations like this where you follow with a 250 starting in the second MC's voice. I like how the query reads now, so that may be a bad suggestion. Just wondering how to get around the confusion others expressed without coming right out and saying there are 2 POVs.
250 - LOVE THIS. It has a great NOIR feeling to it. "Humming" is such a great touch to get into the mind of Silas. I loved "squirt of metal" too. This has great voice and really lays out some of the comign plot with your mention of the crime family without going too much into exposition or back story. The third paragraph feels almost like Batman, if Batman were a vigilante. The only place this drags for me is in the second to last paragraph with the sense of being stalked. Maybe some of those words could be used to better effect. But it ends with a nice bang.
Good job. I'd love to read this.
Good luck to both of you!
Sunny Side Up:ReplyDelete
Query: You've got a great premise and a tight query. We know who the character is, what she wants, and what's a stake. I'm curious about where Nova Vita actually is located. It's interesting that the community rejects most technology yet uses solar power - highlighting the double-edged sword of technology- we need it, yet it has costs. Very pertinent to our time. I got lost in paragraph three when you said "After Mana learns about Eve's memory..." You present her photographic memory almost as an aside in paragraph one, and so I had to go back and find out what was up with Eve's memory. Adding the descriptor "photographic" to the sentence in paragraph three could clear that up.
You start immediately with a threat to your characters, which is intriguing. The opening would be even stronger if you could give your MC more voice - until that last line, and the comment about tapping the chair, she's mostly reporting events. How about some more interiority about how she feels about this strange disease? I would think she would be worried about her sister more than noting the beauty of the blood in the tube.
Query- You have a very exciting premise and a tight query. It sounds like the story has twists, but you present them without confusing the reader.
You set up an excellent noir tone in those first few paragraphs, but I got confused. Who is narrating? And who holds the glinting knife? - the stalker or the narrator? I disagree with the comment above that a strict moral code implies no killing. It merely suggests the character has strong principles about something. Think of the League of Justice, or whatever they called themselves, in Batman Begins. They had a strong code- and it included killing. Perhaps you could use a sentence in your query to explain Gwen's code more clearly and what distinguishes it from Silas.
Good job both of you and good luck!
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.ReplyDelete
Sunnyside Up: I remember seeing this before - you've made some great changes. The only thing that really stood out to me was the grunt and tapping of the chair, I'm assuming that's one of her "tics and compulsions?" If so, maybe expand on that a little, because it took me a little while to connect the two, and if I hadn't read the query, I wouldn't know why she did such an odd thing.ReplyDelete
Lowlife Extraordinaire: I love stories like this! That said, I am wondering why Gwen assumes the role she does and I was kind of looking for a little history as to why she does what she does. In the 250, I assumed we were in Gwen's POV, because she was introduced as the MC. But it didn't make sense with what I read in the query regarding her feelings about killing and guns. I get the idea that you can't tell who the person is who killed for kind of a small reason, but it's kind of jarring to be thrown into a POV you're not expecting.
Best of luck to both of you!!
Sunnyside Up: The only thing that caught my attention was one little quibble: if Eve and Mama are pinning a six-year-old Theresa into a chair, how are her arms flailing? What are they holding on to? The image isn't clear to me, but otherwise, great job!ReplyDelete
Lowlife Extraordinaire: I love the noir feel of your story. Is evident immediately. I'm assuming it's told through double POV's. I'm also assuming each chapter heading notes which POV we are in? Your 250 seems to be told through Silas' POV--mainly because the bad guy was shot. And I expect a noir to start bloody and gritty. If the 250 is actually in Gwen's POV, you'll need to tweak your query. Fantastic job!
Good luck to both of you!!
Judge Captain Yawp here! For some reason the blog is no longer letting me reply to Michelle's top comment!ReplyDelete
Sooo, these are some great concepts here. I really like them and am pulled in by both.
Why has this community given up technology? And if they've given up technology, how do they test blood? I guess I want to know to what extent these people are living without modern comforts, where they draw the line. Additionally, what makes living in this community like paradise? Those are my few questions for the query's first paragraph, but I love the rest where the conflict gets going! First 250 has great voice and pulled me right in! Does the tapping of the chair have to do with the MC's tics?
Love the dark tone here. You've got the noir thing going on. I wonder if we can simplify the query? I know it's noir, but it's YA, so the language should draw in a YA reader. *Iniquitous* is an example of a word that works for me but might not work for a teen reader. Also, why is Gwen a vigilante? Why does she have to protect her city from lowlifes? I'm interested and want to know! I love her fierce protectiveness of her family. But I wonder if we can see more of the connection between her and Silas in the query so we understand the stakes of her thinking he betrayed her. Is there a love story here?
First 250 are dark, and I like that. I don't think we need to fall in love with the MC yet, but we do want to root for her, so see if you can give us more of a reason to do that. Let us into her head a bit more. And be careful of overuse of words. CRUNCH shows up three times in close proximity. If you wan to use it as onomatopoeia, don't also use it in the sentence leading up to it.
These are great, guys. I hate to chose. I wan to read them both. So I'm just going with gut here even though gut really wants to give you both a victory. VICTORY TO LOWLIFE EXTRAORDINAIRE.
Sunny Side Up:ReplyDelete
Query - The Amish paradise in the mountains with solar power thing is wicked cool. I'm totally sold on the concept. I also really like Eve's struggle--save her home or save her brother? I feel like you could rework the Mana part though to make it flow a little smoother. It's tricky because I know you need him in there but the Query seems to start to shift towards him rather than Eve--unless that's what you're going for. Is Mana a big part in the book? Do we get his POV?
First 250 - Good place to start but I really need to have less information here. At the moment I don't much care about her the disease going around or the why. I really just want to know about what's happening. Bring me into the moment then explain. I think this can be solved by bringing up the sister's reaction to the needle and explaining about the disease a little later. Don't ruin the pacing in the very beginning.
Query - She's a vigilante! That is so COOL. I love it already. My big critique though is that this reads a bit like a synopsis--very matter of fact and to the point. I'd love to hear some more voice in it and not formal sentence structure all the time.
First 250 - Nice grab--dragging a corpse. Who can turn away at that? However, I was a little confused at the part with Crunch--I thought those were her boots for a second. Not sure how you can make that more clear. Maybe move the fact that she thinks someone is watching her up a little more? If everyone else got it, ignore me :)
Your query is strong, and I understand the plot as well as the stakes. The only thing I would do is highlight that the genetic disorder in her brother is rampant in the compound. I got that from the first 250 and would really highlight it in the query as it only heightens your stakes. I would make sure you choose detail wisely, as it gets a bit wordy in some places, but other than that I think it's a very well-done query.
First 250 -
Excellent balance of showing and telling. We're thrown in to the action and given some background as it plays out. The only thing I would tweak is highlighting that Sarah is next for the blood draw, not the disease. Placing that line after the explanation of the death made be believe that Sarah was going to die.
LOWLIFE EXTRAORDINAIRE -
I really felt like I saw the world, here. Your voice comes through and paints a picture without burdening us with too many details. Love that the stakes are clear.
First 250 -
Here's the problem - I read this like it was Gwen, and then I was very confused as to why Gwen had shot and killed someone and was reaching for a pistol when the whole conflict with Silas is centered around her hatred of his murderous ways.
If Gwen is the main character, Gwen should open the story. These first 250 are incredibly strong and I really was immersed in the world and captivated by balance of sensory details and backstory. Wonderful job on that front - I just really, really think you should change the opening so that we immediately latch on to Gwen.
Tough call - really and truly. I am going to award VICTORY TO LOWLIFE EXTRAORDINAIRE because I was immediately transported to this world and in the head of the character.