Sunday, June 21, 2015


Entry Nickname: Paper Girl in The Land of Yesterday
Word count: 63K
Genre: MG Fantasy


Not long ago, eleven-year-old Cecelia Dahl had a little brother who was alive, a mother and father who didn't blame her for his death, and a pleasant house in Hungrig, Norway. She had a soul that lived inside her body, not a miserable blue one that ran out through a door in her chest. Before Tuesdays turned evil, Cecelia was made of skin and bones and happiness, not the crackling paper and sorrow now ripping her life to shreds.

Cecelia’s mother has left for The Land of Yesterday to find her ghost brother. Her house, a dark and crooked thing called Widdendream, absorbs her father into its walls as punishment for making her mother leave. Just before it eats her as well, two mischievous gnomes whisk her away in their hot-air balloon. The gnomes, soul-catchers by trade, claim they know the way to Yesterday, and also how to capture her runaway soul. They say its absence is why she’s turning into a paper girl, but that finding it won’t be easy. Now Cecelia must survive the harrowing voyage in order to find Yesterday and bring her mother and ghost-brother home. If she doesn’t, Widdendream will never give her father back, and Cecelia’s transformation to a full paper Dahl will be irreversibly complete.

First 250 words:

On Monday of last week, Cecelia Dahl understood the world. She resided in Hungrig, Norway, in a crooked house called Widdendream. Daisies that bloomed in both grass and snow circled the shimmering lake outside her window. Sharp mountains loomed over her town. Dogs barked. Cats meowed. Cecelia’s midnight blue hair grew long and fast and cantankerous. Her skin was dark and bronze and oddly freckled, just like her mother’s. Widdendream loved its residents, as all good houses should, and Cecelia’s family loved her unconditionally. Indeed, on Monday of last week, these were all hardboiled facts.

Then on Tuesday of last week, Cecelia did the bad thing, and the world narrowed down to this: Tuesday hated Cecelia and Cecelia hated it back. 

Now that Tuesday had arrived once more, Cecelia couldn’t help but look over both shoulders as she sank into her desk. It felt like something terrible had its eyes focused on her.

“Cecilia?” Miss Podsnappery pushed up her horn-rimmed glasses. “Whatever do you call that instrument in your hand?” 

Every eye in class turned on Cecelia. Expressionless gazes traced her charcoal sweater and the black-and-gray-striped dress beneath it, judging her frayed tights and scuffed boots too, no doubt. Her teacher, bewildered as always, cast looming shadows. Cecelia forced a smile. She must keep her answer as succinct as possible, forgoing any miscommunications. Teachers were simple creatures, after all, and easily confused.

“Miss Podsnappery,” Cecilia answered, speaking extra slowly so as not to burst into tears, which were all too common these days.


Entry Nickname: Librarians, Curses, and Mysteries – Oh My!
Title: The Curious Curse of the Lonely Library
Word Count: 56k
Genre: Upper Middle Grade Low Fantasy


The Pickettsville library has moldered in silence for two hundred years, but Theodore Plumford can sense that it’s special. Not just any library was founded by a madman.  

Left with relatives one summer, twelve-year-old Theodore coaxes his reluctant siblings to explore the unusually grand town library with him. Though the rest of Pickettsville refuses to darken its doors, the majestic building and its lively librarians soon enthrall the children. But when they discover that characters from the books are haunting the halls, an investigation into the founder’s mysterious life reveals a curse causing the library’s present predicament.

As the Plumfords and librarians unravel the past, the library’s future seems brighter. But Theodore’s impetuous brother Hugo would rather have an adventure than help the others, even if it throws the library into chaos. With the town clamoring to demolish the building and the characters fighting for their freedom, Theodore’s mettle will be tested when their lives and the library are endangered because of Hugo’s foolish choices. The bookworm who has always lived through others’ stories must learn how to be his own hero if he’s going to save the day.

First 250:

Theodore’s neck prickled when they drove past the building on their way into town. The rest of Main Street was a collection of shabby stores, but this place stood apart like a wild beast among tabby cats. 

Six white columns guarded a wide double door, and cold, silent windows rose between the pillars. On top of the building, rosy light streamed through the panes of a glass dome. It looked like a ball of fire upon a mammoth block of ice.

“Mom, what’s that?” 

Mrs. Plumford twisted in her seat to follow Theodore’s pointing finger. She squinted into the sun. “I’m not sure. You’ll have to ask your aunt.”

Theodore’s younger sister Lucy squirmed around to look at the building before it disappeared from view. “It looks scary,” she whispered.

“It looks boring,” said Hugo Plumford, elbowing Lucy in the center seat to make more room for himself. “Are we there yet?”

“Almost,” said Mr. Plumford. He turned the car into a neighborhood of prim houses in tidy rows, each so alike they might have been pressed from the same mold.

Hugo squashed his nose against the glass and groaned. “Can’t I go with you? I don’t wanna stay here.”

“No,” said Mr. Plumford. “I’d prefer you weren’t eaten by a crocodile.”

“But I wouldn’t!”

“Hugo, you’d be trying to measure its teeth the minute I turned my back.”

Theodore stifled a sigh and hunkered over his book, determined to ignore the hundredth round of this debate.


  1. Judges, reply to this comment with your vote!

    1. Round 3 is where things get awful. We have to make impossible choices. Decisions are entirely subjective. I've seen both of these entries before, and both have improved. I'm not sure that PAPER GIRL has gone far enough with the changes - there's still too much "before the story started..." in the query and the first page. I worry that that the first paragraph of the first page is too similar to the query's first paragraph. And I have the same concerns I raised earlier about the voice.

      With LIBRARIANS, CURSES, the query still feels a bit too short. I love that we've got some atmosphere in the query, but I really want to know more about what happens in the book. Don't sacrifice plot for atmosphere. I want to know how they're endangered. The first page is good, but there's still a bit of character soup going on. You've got five named characters on the first page, which is a lot. I still strongly recommend reworking so the entire family isn't in the car at once. Or let the younger siblings be asleep in the backseat or something.


    2. For the record, I hate the universe itself at this moment for forcing me to make this choice. I love both these entries quite passionately, and while each has its problems (many of the judges above have made apt comments I would endorse, as well) they're both intriguing concepts, queries with clear stakes, and 250s that ring with character and voice.


      My decision is based on a the slightest, most utterly subjective lean toward the artistry of Paper Dahl over the straightforward charm and almost Ray Bradbury meets C. S. Lewis premise of Librarians. I do love the echoes of CORALINE I see in Paper Dahl, and a little dose of FLIGHTS AND CHIMES AND MYSTERIOUS TIMES, too. It's atmospheric even in the sample in a way that Librarians isn't, and while that's probably something I like as an adult more than a kid would...


      P.S. on these MS, though: Authors, if you want a pair of eyes on your manuscripts, I'd be eager and very honored to read both of them. After you're eliminated, DM your leader and let them know WonderPig has given you clearance to learn THE SECRET IDENTITY. Then you can DM me and we can talk manuscript, if you like. Best of luck with these remarkable-sounding projects!

    3. Paper Girl in The Land of Yesterday:

      I have a much better understanding of what’s going on in this round. Well done on the changes you’ve made to the query! Still, there’s a lot going on, and the query felt packed. Granted, MG and Fantasy are not my areas of expertise.

      I didn’t feel connected to Cecelia until she was in class and Miss Podsnappery pushed up her horn-rimmed glasses. I think it’d benefit you to start in the classroom and pepper in the information as you go rather than start with ‘On Monday of last week,’ which felt like the query.

      Librarians, Curses, and Mysteries – Oh My!:

      I like the query, although I don’t think you need the bit about ‘left with relatives one summer.’ Just start that line with Twelve-year-old Theodore. I’d like to know why lives and the library are endangered because of Hugo’s choices. Can you give more specifics here? I want to understand the stakes better.

      First 250: Much better start. And I like that you left the ‘wild beast among tabby cats.’ You still have a lot of characters in that first 250. It’s a lot to keep track of so soon. See if you can ease them in.

      Victory goes to: LIBRARIANS

    4. PAPER GIRL: I think this is a fab premise. I would love to see the first line of the query be more of a hook. It's all there, but I think we can get there sooner. The query is clear, but there is just a lot going on here. I would stick to the main conflict and only 3 characters. The 250 is well written, but I worry that there is a little too much narrative distance, which happens sometimes when you write in third person. I would recommend re-reading Harry Potter and Graveling to see how the authors get you to feel for the main character without being in their head. Overall, I would totally read the book based on plot alone.

      LIBRARIANS: Great changes. The query makes more sense in terms of why the library is new to the characters. I get a good idea of the main character's journey and his challenges.


    5. Dr. T.J. EckleburgJune 22, 2015 at 12:11 PM

      Paper Girl:

      Your query is all artistry and no clarity. This is my first time reading it, and I was completely baffled. A door in her chest, Tuesdays are evil, crackling paper? WTF? I have no idea what you're talking about in the first paragraph, and moreover, I don't know if it's supposed to be literal or just some artsy metaphor.

      The second paragraph starts off rocky--Land of Yesterday? What's that?--but is a little easier because you're telling concrete events. However, I didn't even realize she was literally turning into a paper doll until the final line. Also, I'm not even sure if "paper dahl" is actually a "paper doll." So while I really like the voice and creativity I see here, I find it hard to get a handle on your story at all from this query.

      I'm not a fan of how you're 250 starts. First off, you're starting by telling us facts, albeit in lovely prose, rather than actually putting us in the story. But beyond that, these facts aren't really connected to the rest of your 250. What do these facts have to do with Tuesday hating her or her sitting in class? On the plus side, the writing is lovely and I am curious to know what instrument she has in her hand.


      Your query starts off pretty well, and is easy to follow, but it falls victim to a lot of vagueness in the last paragraph. The library's "future seems brighter," Theo's "mettle will be tested," endangered by Hugo's "foolish choices," must be "his own hero." These are vague, cliche sentiments. Be concrete. What exactly does Hugo do? How does it threaten the library and their lives? What do Hugo's choices have to do with people wanting to demolish the library? What does "being a hero" entail for Theo? Specificity is very important in queries.

      First 250 is okay. There's nothing wrong with it per se, it just doesn't really stand out to me. It feels fairly mundane. I'm not sure this 250 would get your requests.

      I think Paper Doll stands out a lot more with its style and creativity, but due to serious clarity issues, VICTORY to LIBRARIANS

    6. These are both excellent entries, and I'm glad to see that WonderPig has taken you under her snout. I know WonderPig, and trust me, that's not an invite you want to turn down.

      With Librarians, I love this premise, but I'm not sure the writing of the 250 necessarily brings it home for me. It's fine, certainly-- but I'm not quite as spellbound as I might want. I still wonder if this is really where the book should begin. I also feel, very slightly, that the instant foreshadowing of Hugo as troublemaker is a little didactic following the query.

      With Paper Girl. I keep tripping on that "teachers are simple creatures, after all" line, which somehow feels false to me. It's bugged me every time I've read it. However, I'm amazed at how much stronger and clearer your query. This is what you should be sending to agents. Good work.

      Victory to PAPER GIRL, for its excellent query work.

    7. Congrats to these MG authors for coming so far!

      PAPER GIRL IN THE LAND OF YESTERDAY: I have absolutely no idea what's going on in this story and I love everything about it. Every new sentence was unpredictable and had an exotic-sounding word evocative of the setting. You have me under a spell and I can't wait to read this book.

      LIBRARIANS, CURSES, AND MYSTERIES: I enjoyed the opening line about the "moldering" library but the concept came across as unoriginal. I'm very fascinated by the library, but the nature of the conflict and stakes (and what Hugo did) was so vague that it didn't keep me as interested.


  2. I've seen both of these before. This morning, I've had my advanced middle grade reader help me decide. He thought both sounded interesting and that the subject matters of both would catch his eye, though he found the events of in the description of PAPER GIRL a tad confusing, primarily because he wasn't sure what kind of world the book was set in such that anyone could be turned into paper. As to the voice in PAPER GIRL, he thought it was a little "wordy" and it caused his eyes and attention to drift. (I loved it before, and still do, but I'm an adult.)

    As to LIBRARY, he thought the query description sounded amazing (libraries are his favorite places), and was immediately caught up in the voice. As he was reading, he let out an involuntary "Ooh."

    Because of your target audience's clear reaction,

  3. First off, great revisions on both entries. I am so glad I'm not a judge!

    Paper Dahl -
    Query - The connection between Cecelia going with the gnomes is much clearer now as is her need to travel to Yesterday. Plus these clarifications didn't sacrifice the wonderful voice of your query. First 250 - I love the line '....grew long, fast and cantankerous.' I think this rewrite works much better with the omission of the brother's death at this point -- leaving us curious to know what the 'bad thing' was and what happened as a result. I also liked the injection of emotion in Cecelia, which added to my desire to know more.

    Librarians -
    Query - I'm not sure the age of the library is essential in the query. Perhaps cut 'The Pickettsville Library...years' and move 'Theodore Plumford can sense...madman' to the following paragraph after the first sentence, e.g.: '...library with him. Theodore Plumford...madman. Though the rest...' Love the stakes in the closing line -- clear and urgent. First 250 - I love the 'wild beast among tabby cats' line. I also thought the dialogue was fresh and did a great job revealing character, e.g.: ''d be trying to measure its teeth the minute I turned my back.'

    Best wishes to you both!

  4. Paper Girl:
    Query: This is a solid query. Very clearly defined story and stakes.
    First 250: The voice is of an old soul. I relate to Cecelia quite well.

    Query: The third paragraph of the query starts to veer off into vagueness. What sort of bad decision does Hugo make? How does it endanger lives? Also, be careful of the cliche "save the day"at the end.
    First 250: Sounds great! I was pulled right into the story, and you started it at the perfect place.

    Best of luck to both entries!

  5. Paper Girl

    The query is so much clearer now. For me, you’ve done a great job balancing the poetry with the skeleton of the story. I think you just need a few more refinements. I would change “…the way to Yesterday, and also how to capture her runaway soul” to “the way to Yesterday and how to capture her runaway soul”, because the gnomes can do both. They’re gnomes. Gnomes with a hot air balloon. I might also write “Now Cecelia must survive a harrowing voyage in her search for Yesterday…”

    I really like the 250 and would be happy to read more.


    This is the first time I’ve commented on this book, and I’m surprised at myself. This is such a wonderful concept for a story.

    I would actually like the query to start with just the library, e.g. “The Pickettsville library has moldered in silence for two hundred years. It’s not just any library. It was founded by a madman.” The library is so wonderfully creepy by itself that I like the idea of introducing it as a character in it’s own right. Then you can add Theodore’s last name to the first sentence of the next paragraph and you’re off. That said, I did wonder why it was moldering “in silence” if there are librarians (Or are they the “shhhh” kind? Does these really exist?).

    I’d also like to know more about Hugo’s “foolish choices”. I definitely got that Hugo is foolishly brave and not especially thoughtful from the 250, you did a great job showing that (him elbowing his sister to get in there give his judgment!).

    Woe to the judges on this one. Two great concepts that look so well executed.

  6. These are two of my favorite entries so I feel so bad for the judges who have to choose!! These both sound like such unique stories and the writing is beautiful for both.

    Paper Girl: Can I just say how much I love that Cecilia's last name is Dahl and she becomes a "Paper Girl Dahl". Wonderful play on words!! I love the changes you've made to the first paragraph of your query, but I miss the part where Cecilia says to Mrs. Podsnappery that "it's a pencil." Lol. I assume it still comes later in the story...Can't wait to read this one when it's published!

    Librarians: I love, love, love this concept. Old library, books, characters coming to life—YES! I want to read more!

    Good luck to both of you!

  7. PAPER GIRL: What a great concept! I struggled a bit while reading your query as I couldn’t tell whether you meant that she lost her soul literally or figuratively. I think a transition between your first 2 sentences would help clarify. I adore your first 250 words! You’ve done a wonderful job of providing just the right amount of setting and background info without it feeling like an information dump. Great job!

    LIBRARIANS: I love this concept! Any book whose setting is a library…count me in! Sounds like a great adventure story. I have to ask: how is this library still in business if the residents refuse to go? I recently finished Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, which also suffers from too few patrons, but it’s eventually explained how they’re managing to stay in business. It may help to include that in the query, or maybe I’m being too practical! I think your first 250 are fantastic. Great description of the library, and I love the line “each so alike they might have been pressed from the same mold.”

    Good luck to both of you!