Wednesday, June 1, 2016

QK Round 1: The Memory Baker vs. Mustache Head

Title: Nora, Queen of Cakes
Entry Nickname: The Memory Baker
Word Count: 47K
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Query:

Sixth grader Nora Stanvic isn't good at anything. So it comes as no surprise to her when she learns she’s likely headed for remedial math. But when Nora finds her ailing grandmother’s handwritten cookbook, not only does she discover she might have a real talent for baking, but she also learns that by re-creating her grandmother’s recipes, she might have the power to help Grandma reclaim some of the memories Alzheimer’s is trying to steal away.

My middle grade contemporary novel, NORA, QUEEN OF CAKES (47,000 words), explores one girl’s journey to gain confidence in herself. Nora is nothing like her straight-A sister Sarah or her sports star brother Ian. As she struggles with poor grades and low self-esteem, Nora gets another blow: her grandmother is moving in with them, which means Nora has to share a bedroom with Ian. Her grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. As Nora helps her unpack, she discovers a cookbook her grandmother began writing when she was Nora's age. On a challenge from her new math tutor, Oksana, Nora tries her hand at replicating the first recipe. It totally bombs. But after some much-needed encouragement from those around her, Nora keeps at it. As her baking skills begin to improve, not only does Nora discover that she might be really good at something after all, but she also learns that the recipes she’s re-creating could have the power to help her grandmother remember her past, at least for a little while.

First 250:

This has to be the worst day of my life. Worse than the day Nick Martin bumped into my chair and spilled his entire lunch tray on my head. Worse than failing my geometry quiz and having my parents give me funny looks about it for weeks. Worse than finding out I wasn’t invited to Missy Albrecht’s birthday party last year--the party of the year in 5th grade. (My invitation and my best friend Jemma’s invitation “must have been lost in the mail,” Missy said. Of course they were.)

Those incidents were pretty horrible, but nothing compared to what I heard when I came home from school today: Grandma’s moving in with us. But I love Grandma, so that’s not the bad part, that’s not the ‘worst day of my life’ part.

What makes today so awful is finding out that when Grandma moves in, I’ll have to share a room with my brother Ian. Oh, and there’s going to be bunk beds.

“But bunk beds are for little kids,” I said. “We’re practically adult-sized.”

“They’ll give you more room,” Mom said. “Besides, your father’s already ordered them. It’s a done deal.”

“I call top bunk!” Ian shouted, because he always has to be first at everything.

I didn’t care if I got the top bunk or not. I didn’t care about bunk beds at all.

VERSUS

Title: Split Down the Middle
Entry NicknameMustache Head
Word Count: 54,000
Genre: MG Realistic Fiction 

Query:

Before being faced with her D-Day debacle, Becca’s life wasn’t exactly perfect, but it was at least familiar.  Predictable.  Mostly manageable. Wake up at her mom’s house, relay the message from Dad, take the bus to middle school, go to Dad’s house, relay the message from Mom.  Pray that the messages don’t blow up in her face and trigger an all-out Nuclear Disaster.  

Rinse, repeat.

But when Becca’s mother announces she’s moving from Philadelphia to North Carolina, Becca must go to court and choose which parent she wants to live with - permanently, and who she must leave behind.  Complicating her Decision Day dilemma is the minefield of truth bombs the universe drops on the battlefield of Becca’s life.  Some, like the news that her soulmate (aka secret crush) Jake actually like likes her, are thrilling.  Others, such as her dad’s unexpected pregnancy with his newish girlfriend, are just plain confusing.  All of them convince Becca that her difficult decision may be an impossible one.

Becca’s life is about to get carved to pieces, and her parents are forcing her to wield the knife. Is a courtroom miracle her only hope, or can she find another way to put herself back together again?

First 250:

You know those memories you try to bury in the underwear drawers of your brain, but that sneak up on you when you least expect it, when you’re brushing your teeth or looking for a lost library book?
 

I have a lot of those.


Like when Tim Vasquez sat next to me on the aquarium trip, stared at my face in a super creepy way, and then loudly proclaimed to the entire bus, “Becca, you totally have a mustache!  You’re like…a Mustache Head!” 

(For the record, my aunt Teresa says pretty much every woman secretly has a mustache but just pretends they don't.  She makes good money as a waxer in the suburbs, so she’s kind of an authority.  After Tim’s charming comment she does mine for free.)

Another of these panic-inducing flashbacks is from the first day of third grade.  After a school north of us shut down due a combination of termites and teachers cheating on state tests, the city shipped all those kids to mine, which I (stupidly) assumed would be No Big Deal.  

Oh how wrong I was.

I walked into my classroom that first day and made myself as flat against the wall as my mom had just tried (and failed) to make my curly red hair, staring into a sea of freshly-scrubbed September faces. I leaned there along the piles of backpacks and shiny new school supplies, watching first in confusion and then horror as each of my new classmates connected like magnets, hugging and high-fiving.

21 comments:

  1. Judges, reply here with your votes!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Memory Baker: Intriguing concept, as someone who has worked with Alzheimer’s patients, this is great to have. However, it feels like you have two queries put together. Your first paragraph had me roped in, and then the second paragraph repeated itself. You introduce concepts better in the first, I would rework that to be your query.

      Great voice and I really enjoyed the opening! I’d suggesting cutting back, or out, Missy’s party. While it shows a bit about Nora, I felt it distracted me from getting to know her. Nora’s important, not Missy.

      Mustache Head: I would explain that D-Day is Decision Day from the beginning, because I spent time away from your words trying to figure out if it meant divorce, when it sounds like her parents are already pretty well split. You bring voice into your query, which is great! I am concerned about the final question, it works so well, but questions should be avoided…

      Your 250 has more of your great voice! But your first paragraph felt a little too wordy for me, some tightening could fix that problem. I was also a little confused by how things were unfolding in her classroom with all the new students, but that might be something clarified beyond the 250.

      Two great entries here that I hope to see on shelves soon! But I can only choose one, so… Victory to Mustache Head!

      Delete
    2. Bernadine HarrisJune 1, 2016 at 9:54 PM

      This was another case of I thought one of these had a stronger query and the other had stronger pages. What makes it even more tricky is that I really like both ideas and they both have really strong voices. Michelle is messing with us because the both start similarly. I am not an MG expert so I don’t know if this is coincidence of if this a common beginning for MG novels.

      Nora, Queen of Cakes

      In terms of the pages, the voice felt like a kid to me, especially in how everything is truly the worst thing ever to happen to them. I did bump on this sentence: “But I love Grandma, so that’s not the bad part, that’s not the ‘worst day of my life’ part.” I also wanted to know if Ian was older or younger.

      My biggest bumps were with the query. It felt a bit scattered so I would do some serious reorganizing. Like I’d have the book details (title, words, what it deals with) either in the opener or as the last paragraph. It felt a bit strange for me to see it in the middle. The second paragraph also seemed to repeat information you had in the first paragraph. I’d take that info out and use it to add other interesting details about Nora’s journey. I’d also make the connection between her remedial math class and the cookbook clear at first mention. When I first read it, it felt like a non-sequitur so I was a bit confused. But then later when I read the second paragraph, I saw how it all came together.

      Mustache Head

      This premise really got me! I read the line about she has to choose who to live with and literally said out loud, “Oh no!” Not to age myself but one of my favorite movies as a kid was Irreconcilable Differences, which stars Drew Barrymore as a kid who divorces her parents. I did bump on the initial D-day reference and the phrasing of her dad’s unexpected pregnancy mainly because in a literal sense, her dad can’t be pregnant. I was also wondering how old she is so put that in the query. (Her getting her mustache waxed made me realize she was probably older than I assumed.) If you read any of my other comments, you’d see a common theme of show don’t tell. I especially love love love the phrase about the underwear drawers of your brain line. But otherwise, it felt it bit too much like telling us stuff out the gate versus showing us. I’m also on the fence of if you need the parenthetical paragraph about her aunt because it’s really cute but on the other hand, I’d like to condense the telling so we can get to the heart of the story as quick as possible.

      This was another really hard choice where I kept going back and forth because I think both of these would do well in the next round. But I can only pick one so…

      Victory: Mustache Head

      Delete
    3. Oh, wow, this is one of the toughest matchups yet. I want to read both!

      The Memory Baker:

      Were you one of the people who was tweeting that your nickname might be a better title than your title? Because, I like the actual too, but the nickname is amazing!

      OK, actual feedback time: You've got a lot of great information in your query, and character, conflict, and stakes are clear. I love the fact that this deals with Alzheimer's, and I love kidlit about family relationships, so concept-wise, I'm intrigued. HOWEVER... I don't think you really need to follow the "logline - summary" format you're trying to follow here, because you end up saying a lot of things twice. For example, the way you mention Alzheimer's trying to steal away Grandma's memories in the first paragraph is GREAT... there is no need to say again that she suffers from Alzheimer's in the second. I would try to combine these two paragraphs into a single summary--forget that "start with a logline" advice I'm sure you've read somewhere, because this isn't a logline, it's two blurbs that repeat each other. I'd also suggest limiting the number of named characters here. We DEFINITELY don't need Oksana's name ("math tutor" is enough, and she may not need to be mentioned at all) and Sarah and Ian can probably be "sister" and "brother" here too.. we'll get to meet them later!

      I don't really have any constructive criticism on your first 250... you've got just enough backstory here that we get a good idea of who Nora is as a person, but you then jump straight to the CURRENT conflict, and Nora's emotions just jump off the page and grab at my heart!

      ***

      Mustache Head:

      I love your nickname too, although it may not work quite as well as a title. ;)

      The query! You've managed to make your query shine with voice, which isn't easy. Well done! And Becca's situation just seems to have NO good answer, which is obviously going to intrigue the reader (agent!) to want to see more. As far as criticism: The minute you opened with D-Day I thought this was a World War II book. I would be very careful to mention that WITH Decision Day, so there is no question in the agent's mind that this is contemporary. The "Nuclear Disaster" also had me thinking that there was somehow a war going on. I think the REST of that paragraph is perfectly clear, so if you clean up those references it will be easy to see from the beginning that the conflict is divorced parents, not an actual bomb. Beyond that, I think this is something that kids worry about a lot (my parents aren't even divorced, and I STILL lost sleep worrying who I would choose if they ever did... that's an old trope, but one that I haven't seen used much these days, and I think it's very much still relevant).

      As far as the first 250, I love all of these details about the character, but I wonder if they couldn't be worked in little by little as we go, instead of spelled out all in the beginning like this? I'd like to see a little more in the way of the current conflict here, along with the memories.

      ***

      Extremely difficult choice, I think both queries are "could use some tweaking but very, very strong." However, I think the conflict and tension are a bit more immediate in the first 250, so...

      Victory to THE MEMORY BAKER!

      Delete
    4. The Memory Baker:

      Great concept! That first query paragraph seriously pulled at my heartstrings. You had me hooked right away. But then the second paragraph seems to jump back and basically repeat the first, but with more detail. As other judges have suggested, you need combine these two so as to add the details needed and not be repetitive. I’d also like to know more clearly how the remedial math is connected to the baking assignment. First 250 are full of voice. I can see Nora standing there defeated and glaring at the thought of bunk beds. I wonder, though, if it might be stronger if you dropped us into that very moment. Currently, it reads like telling recollection, that she’s telling us what she heard earlier in the day. Why not have the reader there with her when she finds out? That puts us more in the moment with Nora.

      Mustache Head:

      Poor Becca! An impossible decision indeed! Both the Query and First 250 have a good, consistent voice, though all the parentheticals threw me and made me wonder if the entire book is this way. Do these things really need to be in parentheses? Also, while the anecdotes are funny, there’s nothing in the first 250 about the D-Day decision she’s being forced to make, per the query. I’d like to see that connection in the First 250, if possible. On the query, I too was thrown by what "D-Day” in meant when first used. Also, what messages is she relaying back and forth? I did very much like how you established the tough, but regular, routine and how her mother’s decision, plus other factors, throws everything into chaos. Finally, I’d echo the suggestions to tweak the “dad’s pregnancy” phrase and reword the last stakes line as a statement and not a question.

      Victory to Mustache Head!

      Delete
    5. THE MEMORY BAKER
      Query: Perhaps it’s only because I don’t typically read straight contemporary, but the opening line to your query seemed like quite a bit of a downer. In fact , one has to get almost all the way through the query to see any glimmer of hope. If this is a typical kind of MG story, then I would say you do an excellent job of conveying the darkness of Nora’s life and the struggles she is faced with. But I don’t think I would pick up a book like this, so I can’t say how an agent would react. However that is to do with your story; your query is excellent in how it invokes feelings and shows the character arc for Nora. And the stakes are great.
      250: Again, you very effectively convey the feeling of a girl trapped in a miserable life (from her perspective). I would suggest rewording the sentence about Grandma moving in being the worst day of her life. You do take it back in the next sentence, but by then the reader has already made the connection that Nora hates her Grandma. I anticipate the bunk beds being a lot of fun as the story continues. Good character development for Mom and Ian, in such a short time.

      MOUSTACHE HEAD
      Query: Love the voice in the query. I wish you would have defined D-Day as Divorce Day (I presume). That first paragraph is otherwise sublime, and you kill it with “Rince, repeat.”
      250: This one speaks to my heart, because it opens very much like my own book. I’ve had many people tell me it takes the reader out of the story to have the narrator break the third wall and speak directly to the reader, but I disagree. And it works for you, here. Love the sinking feeling you invoke as Becca watches her whole class make friends without her.

      Delete
    6. Both of these sound great!

      MEMORY BAKER

      For the query, the second paragraph says a lot of what you’ve already said in the first paragraph. I’d throw out the first paragraph, split the second paragraph into three paragraphs and offer a little more detail on the critical points, i.e. Nora’s personality—stealing lines from your first para and stakes. Not sure what the stakes are—is she trying to pass math? Coping with grandma’s demise? Also, and this is nit-picky, but something to think about: Cooking is not an exact science—it’s a pinch of this, that, etc. that chefs manipulate to find the perfect taste. BAKING, however, IS an exact science, so if she’s using the cookbook to improve her math (like fractions and stuff?, following directions?), you might want to focus on baking vs. cooking for it to ring true to dorks like me.

      For the 250, the voice shines through, but it’s written in a somewhat summary fashion vs. real time. I think it’d be even better if the reader was with Nora from the start as opposed to listening to her recap her crappy day. Overall though, this has great bones!

      MUSTACHE HEAD

      First, change your category to MG contemporary.

      For the query, I’m an idiot but as soon as I read D-Day, I glanced at the genre (hence how I spotted the MG realistic fiction) because I thought this was about WWII. Yay to find out it’s not! Anyway, I’d define D-Day off the bat. I really like the rest of your query, though caution on ending on a question. Some agents hate them and you really don’t need to do it here. “If she can’t figure out the right thing to do, she’ll have to rely on a courtroom miracle to keep herself together.” (Or something that sounds a lot better. Point is—I think you can rephrase to avoid the question without losing the voice/guts of the query.)

      For the 250, like your competitor, I’m not crazy about a bunch of exposition summarizing past events for an opening. I’d much prefer a present situation where we can follow along with Becca and see her personality shine through. I almost wonder if it’d be better to lead with your last paragraph, “I walked into the classroom . . .” though I do think that sentence could be more effective if broken into two.

      This is another close one. Tied on the 250s, but I think one query is further along and since this is Query Kombat . . .

      VICTORY TO MUSTACHE HEAD!!

      Delete
    7. Both of these books sound so sweet and heartwarming! This really is a tough decision.

      Nora, Queen of Cakes
      I love so many of the elements here. I think the notion of letting Nora discover both her grandmother’s legacy and her own sense of self through cooking is wonderful and I think this book could be a great resource for middle schoolers dealing with a grandparent with Alzheimer’s. On the query, Buttercup pretty much took the words out of my mouth with the comment that it feels like two queries smooshed together. Although I’d add that it actually feels like a really great opening paragraph of a query combined with a mini synopsis. I’m not sure you need all the detail in that second paragraph and I would use the first one as a template because it is very well done. I wish you would consider tossing in a line about why the parents come up with the plan to have two opposite sex, puberty-age children share a room, particularly in light of the fact that you reference an older sister. Maybe I’m a weirdo, but as a parent that made me super uncomfortable and it would have made me uneasy as a book buyer for my MG daughter. I loved the 250 and don’t have much to say there - that first paragraph reads pitch perfect for MG to me.

      Mustache Head
      I think this is another awesome concept likely to resonate with MG readers. I think everything that needs to be said here has been said by the other judges. On the query, I second the notion of axing the “rinse, repeat” line. I loved the 250 and thought it so perfectly captured that MG feeling of everything being a traumatic embarrassment.

      Nora is such a wonderful character and I am rooting for her and her story. But in my opinion the query for Mustache Head is stronger. So victory Mustache Head!

      Delete
    8. Judges and contestants, thank you so, so much for your extremely generous and insightful comments. I am humbled and honored to be moving into the next round. As many of you said, with a few tweaks I am sure that The Memory Baker's query will be snagging an agent very soon!

      I am now hard at work on applying what many have recommended: fixing the D-Day and pregnancy confusion and foreshadowing the story's conflicts more clearly in my first 250. Thank you so much for sharing your valuable expertise with us.
      -Sarah

      Delete
  2. Mustache Head Feedback:

    Before being faced with her D-Day debacle, Becca’s life wasn’t exactly perfect, but it was at least familiar. Predictable. Mostly manageable. Wake up at her mom’s house, relay the message from Dad, take the bus to middle school, go to Dad’s house, relay the message from Mom. >Perfectly apt description of divorced parent life< Pray that >lose that< the messages don’t blow up in her face and trigger an all-out Nuclear Disaster.

    Rinse, repeat.

    But when Becca’s** mother announces she’s moving from Philadelphia to North Carolina, Becca** >**repetitive so close together< must go to court and choose which parent she wants to live with - permanently, and who she must leave behind. Complicating her Decision Day dilemma is the minefield of truth bombs the universe drops on the battlefield of Becca’s life. Some, like the news that >lose that< her soulmate (aka secret crush) Jake actually like likes her, are thrilling. Others, such as her dad’s unexpected pregnancy with his newish girlfriend, are just plain confusing. All of them convince Becca that her difficult decision *may be* >I feel like this could drop into voice again--like ‘will probably be near impossible with her luck’< an impossible one.

    Becca’s life is about to get carved to pieces, and her parents are forcing her to wield the knife. *Is a courtroom miracle her only hope, or can she find another way to put herself back together again?* >Honestly, this is my biggest/only “complaint.” I’m not an agent, and I’m sure there are some who don’t mind, but most I’ve researched have said rhetorical questions aren’t good. Is there a way to restructure this into a sentence instead ~’She can only hope for a buzzer-shot courtroom miracle. Otherwise she’ll have to find a way to piece herself back together again.<

    General comments:
    I know you were worried about your stakes being unclear, but I think they’re kind of obvious. She has to choose between her parents, a literally impossible choice, and she probably feels like she’s about to lose one in the process. You could add in a more obvious statement as your closing sentence ~ ‘...forcing her to wield the knife. Choosing one means possibly losing the other, and Becca isn’t sure she can piece herself back together again without them both.’

    Honestly, I think your query is already solid. It’s full of voice, very important for all books, but especially MG. And your first 250 draw me in. Quick aside: are you missing a word maybe here: “my mom had just tried (and failed) to make my curly red hair”? Did you mean ‘just tried to make my red hair curly’ or ‘tried to tame my curly red hair’?

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  3. Feedback for Memory Baker:

    FYI I often offer ways to restructure, re-word, or condense/clarify. These are only suggestions. Feel free to ignore them!

    Sixth grader Nora Stanvic *isn't good at anything.* > demonstrate this if possible--offer up a few examples and let Nora’s voice shine through< So it comes as no surprise to her when she learns she’s likely headed for remedial math. *But when Nora finds her ailing grandmother’s handwritten cookbook, not only does she discover she might have a real talent for baking, but she also learns that by re-creating her grandmother’s recipes, she might have the power to help Grandma reclaim some of the memories Alzheimer’s is trying to steal away.* >whoa long sentence Batman! Try to break this down into something easier to chew and more engaging (2 but’s in one long sentence is cumbersome). ~Until Nora finds her grandmother’s handwritten cookbook and discovers she might have a talent after all--baking. She and her grandmother recreate recipes, and Nora realizes she may have the power to help Grandma reclaim the memories her Alzheimer’s is trying to steal away.<

    My middle grade contemporary novel, NORA, QUEEN OF CAKES (47,000 words), *explores one girl’s journey to gain confidence in herself.* >I’d cut this out. Why tell us what the book is about when you can show is in a more interesting way--with your query and with Nora’s voice?< Nora is nothing like her straight-A sister Sarah or her sports star brother Ian. As she struggles with poor grades and low self-esteem, Nora gets another blow: her grandmother is moving in with them, which means Nora has to share a bedroom with Ian. *Her grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. As Nora helps her unpack, she discovers a cookbook her grandmother began writing when she was Nora's age.* >this is repetitive info, the same you’ve told us above, pick one< On a challenge from her new math tutor, Oksana, Nora tries her hand at replicating the first recipe. It totally bombs. But after some much-needed encouragement from those around her >who? Family and friends? Would be more specific to simply say so<, Nora keeps at it. *As her baking skills begin to improve, not only does Nora discover that she might be really good at something after all, but she also learns that the recipes she’s re-creating could have the power to help her grandmother remember her past, at least for a little while*. >again, repetitive from above and another long sentence<

    General Comments:
    I think your query could do with a condense and clarify. As I said, a lot of your ideas are repeated in a couple different ways, and some sentences are a tad too long.
    Things I would love to see improve: stakes. What will happen if Nora doesn’t try baking? If Nora doesn’t bake with her grandmother? I assume her grandmother will fade faster, but in a query it should be spelled out/clear. I want to see more voice, too. I don’t feel like I have a sense of who Nora is as a character aside from not good at math and living in the shadow of her siblings. And a hook--what makes your story unique? What would the tagline be if it were to be published? Draw me in with a quick sentence and then expound.

    Structurally, I *personally* prefer introducing the story without any telling (including title and word count). A query should be selling the story, and letting it speak for itself up front is more powerful than interrupting the flow of the query to tell us the title and a quick summary of the story. I also suggest breaking up your paragraphs so they’re not in such large blocks. The standard format is 3 total paragraphs, but it’s totally okay to mess with that and break it up.

    Overall: break it down, voice it up, and clarify stakes.

    I love that your story deals with Alzheimer’s and it sounds very heartwarming. Happy writing!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great job, everyone. I love these entries for similar reasons. Contemporary MG novels about topics that affected me really helped me out when I was a kid; I can see both of these books doing the same for today's children. I mean, divorce? Alzheimers? Life-altering experiences, and it seems like you're handling them in delicate and lovely ways.

    Now...critique-parts:

    Memory Baker: I love your first 250 very much. I think the voice is great, especially when you say, of the invitations, "Of course they were." So snarky, so fun. Well done.

    I also love the first paragraph of your query. I think it sets up what you're doing quite nicely. That said, I think you falter a bit in the second paragraph. It's long, a lot of words, and a lot of needless telling. I think you need more voice there, more of a sense of what her conflict is, rather than a plot recap. But still. I like where you're going with the first 250 and would read more happily.

    Mustache Head - best nickname ever! Love it! Here, I love your query. I was all in from your first war-reference...because what divorce isn't a war, right? Especially when there are kids involved, right? D-day, truth bombs, battlefields - fantastic way to carry a metaphor through in a very graceful way.

    That said, you lost me a bit in your first 250 with the comment about her hair. It's a hiccup, really, nothing major, but I had to read that sentence a few times to see where you were trying to go with it. Read it aloud to yourself and I think you'll see...it made me scratch my head, and pulled me out of the story.

    Regardless, great job to both of you! Congratulations!

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  5. Good work both entries!

    Memory Baker: I loved your premise and your first 250! The first paragraph of the query does such a great job (voice, premise, conflict) that I am not sure the second paragraph follows. But overall good work!

    Mustache Head: Great job with the query, it really does the job of sucking the reader right into the character and the world! Can't wait to see this one on the selves!

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  6. The Memory Baker: Your query starts out strong, really engaging first paragraph. I do think you could tighten/rearrange some of the second paragraph however, as you repeat some of the same information you gave in the first paragraph. Very well written 250. I love how you get right to the meat of the story, that the MC is going to be moving in with her grandma.

    Mustache Head: I love the query, especially that last line, however I didn’t understand what D-Day meant in the first sentence. You might need to clarify that right off the bat. Great voice in the 250, but perhaps you can find a way to introduce the conflict she’s having with her parents in this first page.

    Both sound like wonderful stories! Good luck!

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  7. Great job to both of you! I do not envy the judges here!

    Memory Baker: I love the premise for this story, and I can already imagine crying while reading.

    In terms of your query: there are a couple instances of repeated info in your query (for instance, we find out about the Alzheimer’s in paragraph 1 and again in paragraph 2. We also learn about low grades a couple of times). I think you could use the valuable real estate of your query to give us some new info about Nora, instead of repeating what we already know. Maybe some more about obstacles or stakes?

    I love the voice in your 250. I also love that we are immediately into the problem of the story. A tiny nitpicky thing: I would love to know Ian’s age. I assumed he was older in the query (something about sports star), but I am guessing he might younger from the page? Birth order will give a really helpful snapshot about their relationship.


    Mustache Head: I love the voice in your query and your 250. I felt very invested in the Becca from the get-go of the query, though I would love to know her age in both the query and the pages. But wonderful job with your query- I already felt for Becca’s situation and that was just from the QUERY!

    I have such a great sense of the stakes in the query, but in the first page at least, I don’t have an idea of what Becca’s problem is at the top of the story. We get a funny and wonderfully MG voiced narrator, but I don’t know if this is just a litany of bad memories or if those bad memories have something to do with her current situation. If they do, I would love a hint of that at the top!

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  8. Gah! I don't know how the judges could pick just 1 out of this match up. They are both fantastic! I'm glad I don't have to decide!

    Memory Baker -- Everyone has already given you great editorial suggestions. i think you are extremely close to being perfect in both your query and 250 -- just moving things around and trimming. The concept is wonderful & so timely today where so many families are caring for elderly loved ones in the home. My only suggestion is to tie the math challenge back into the query at the end, because in baking the recipes Nora is practicing and learning about measurements. baking has the power to help improve her math skills and also help grandmother remember the past -- something like that if that makes sense.

    Mustache Head -- as someone whose parents divorced this entry really resonated with me. It IS an impossible choice that so many children have to face and a complicated one. Like others, D in D-day was a little confusing and I feel like you could just move Decision Day there just to clear that up.

    Loved both of these! good luck to you both!

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  9. MEMORY BAKER: I like the concept and the query is strong but sentences need to be moved around. I'd put the my novel is part in the last paragraph along with word count. Also, why mention remedial math? Start with finding out the grandmother is moving in and then maybe when helping her unpack, the cookbook. First 250: Again, start with the grandmother moving in. Maybe have the grandmother ask for cookies and point to a recipe and her mom asks the MC to bake them. I had trouble believing parents would put a MG boy and girl in the same room. Maybe make the brother much, much younger?
    MUSTACHE: I like the idea of the plot, making a middle-schooler choose what parent to live with but make sure to check logistics of this because in my former state, the court decides until the child is sixteen then they can choose. Maybe just add a sentence about it. In your first 250 I wanted you to start in the court with the MC staring out at her parents, one on one side, one on the other. Good job, both of you!

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  10. These are two great concepts:

    Memory Baker: Query: The query is good and tugs at the heart. I love the story of a kid who loves their grandparents. I think cooking is topical and a good draw for kids that age, especially with shows like master chef jr. and chopped jr. (I don't know the actual names of the show). I think the fact that Nora will bake with her grandmother is wonderful and give the opportunity for some not so serious fun moments. 250: I love your voice. My only gripe is that the line: "But I love my grandma" threw me off. It seems very awkward phrased that way.

    Mustache Head: The query was great. The stakes are high and it is a decision that no kid wants to make. I remember as a kid wondering who I would have to choose if my parents divorced (BTW they never divorced or came close. They just celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary). But to my point I think ever kid frets over having to make that decision and not wanting to hurt their parent's feelings. 250: I think the voice is spot on and spunky. It sounds just like how a middle school student would talk. I don't know about the mustache line. It didn't do anything for me or seem to move the plot along. I would suggest lose that part. (BTW Do middle school girls wax their lips? I'm asking because I don't know.)
    Over all both were great.

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  11. These are two great concepts:

    Memory Baker: Query: The query is good and tugs at the heart. I love the story of a kid who loves their grandparents. I think cooking is topical and a good draw for kids that age, especially with shows like master chef jr. and chopped jr. (I don't know the actual names of the show). I think the fact that Nora will bake with her grandmother is wonderful and give the opportunity for some not so serious fun moments. 250: I love your voice. My only gripe is that the line: "But I love my grandma" threw me off. It seems very awkward phrased that way.

    Mustache Head: The query was great. The stakes are high and it is a decision that no kid wants to make. I remember as a kid wondering who I would have to choose if my parents divorced (BTW they never divorced or came close. They just celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary). But to my point I think ever kid frets over having to make that decision and not wanting to hurt their parent's feelings. 250: I think the voice is spot on and spunky. It sounds just like how a middle school student would talk. I don't know about the mustache line. It didn't do anything for me or seem to move the plot along. I would suggest lose that part. (BTW Do middle school girls wax their lips? I'm asking because I don't know.)
    Over all both were great.

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  12. Thanks everyone for your super-helpful feedback! I will take all of your suggestions to heart as I try to improve this piece. And congrats to Sarah for creating something wonderful here! Best of luck to you and may you make it all the way to the end of the competition!

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  13. The Memory Baker

    Nice voice right out of the chute in the query, like a girl that age might think of herself when facing challenges. The last sentence of the query's first paragraph appears to be a run-on. You might want to break it up. Reading out loud has been helpful for me to gauge where what I've written might be running overlong. It's also helpful for catching run-ons. Deja vu reading the second paragraph of the query as it contains many of the same details as we read in the first. I think you left money on the table with "totally bombs." Maybe give a graphic and vivid description of the outcome of the first recipe? Cracked plaster on the kitchen walls? Foul-smelling goo stuck to the ceiling? Fire department and/or bomb squad called? Fun stuff like that. First 250 words have excellent, age-appropriate voice, but my parents didn't give me strange looks after failing a test. They did launch into a lecture every time it came up for weeks, though. Is Nora's experience unique or can you use a similar experience more people may better relate to? The parenthetical sentence and the one before it perhaps should be combined. Cute that the story starts with conflict--over bunk beds. Would have liked to have seen mention here of Grandma's "condition" and how it impacts Nora, though. Do the kids even *know* yet?


    Mustache Head

    Oooh, I can see where you're going with Becca's dilemmas but the way it reads I thought her *father* was pregnant. Otherwise a strong query. I loved the bit about wielding the knife! Great characterization about her "mustache" though setting it off in parentheses as an aside threw me. Perhaps incorporate into the text elsewhere? A lot of good stuff here about Becca and her state of mind but very little about the pending crisis between her parents. I'd like to know just what Becca thinks about her parents individually and corporately early on.

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