Title: Secrets in the Stone
Entry Nickname: ESTELLA+AYRON
Word Count: 77,000
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
England, 1912. After Estella Ripley witnesses her grandfather's suspicious death, she is convinced her aunt and uncle played a hand in his murder, though she cannot prove it. Desperate to escape the eerie manor for a life of her own, she is trapped when she learns her grandfather left her his entire estate, along with a mysterious message: "Trust me." But when Estella discovers that Edward Maxwell, the estate's attorney and her new fiancé, is conspiring with her aunt and uncle to usurp Ripley Manor, Estella flees, lest she fall victim to their scandal.
Retreating to the solitude of a remote forest, Estella discovers an ethereal glen inhabited by Irish fugitives whom she quickly befriends. She has no intention of returning to the life she left behind, until she realizes that the glen-folk possess proof her grandfather was murdered. When Edward Maxwell discovers her hiding, Estella is forced to decide: surrender control over her own life, or extinguish Edward's wrath before he destroys all her grandfather trusted her to protect.
Stabbing someone was a messy endeavor. Still, it got the job done.
Admittedly, the closest Estella Ripley would ever dare come to touching her aunt was in her imagination, where she could repeatedly stab Florence with her mechanical pencil. She could plunge the sharp tip into her chest, but since the woman had no heart, this would be rather ineffective. Stabbing her in the stomach would prove futile, as her whalebone corset would likely obstruct any puncture. A pencil to the eye would merely blind her and she'd still be alive and able to speak. A swift, determined stab to the neck was the ideal, albeit obviously homicidal, option.
Yet if her aunt could get away with murder, then so could Estella.
"Mrs. Allchurch will attend tonight," Florence said. They were alone in the drawing room's paling sunlight. "We'll have to open the double doors just to enable her entrance. Why are most women in the older families so terrifically fat? Perhaps it is providence they're wealthy, so their husbands can afford the yardage of material required to dress such a Clydesdale of a woman."
Estella sat perfectly straight and necessarily silent, as she had for the past ten years in her aunt's presence. She promised herself she would not engage in this game of ignorance; it was too easy to become Florence and veer toward that clearly paved, spiteful path. Estella must endure just a little longer, until she was free of her aunt's hideous lacework of self-righteousness and could move on to a new life.
Title: My Life Without You
Entry nickname: Rye’d or Pie
Word count: 60K
Genre: YA Historical / Ownvoices LGBTQ
Fifteen-year-old Rye Riordan is fat, bisexual, and sick of being an outcast. She’s taunted at school, neglected by a drunk dad, and treated like a constant self-improvement project by her perfectionist mother. The only place Rye feels safe—where she can be her true self—is Haven Diner, where cliques put their differences aside over blueberry pie. It’s also where Rye watches for a glimpse of the girl who smashed her heart.
When her beloved diner is threatened by a gentrifying developer, Rye and her gay best friend Birdie join local activists in a fight to save their slice of safety. Planning protests and speak-outs, Rye gains the confidence to stand up for her beliefs. But when she and Birdie fall for the same guy, they’ll stop at nothing—including destroying their friendship—to win his heart. With her friendship in crisis and a public showdown over the diner's fate on the horizon, Rye has one last chance to speak out for what she wants. If Rye wants to reconnect with Birdie, fix her family problems, and find love on the front lines, she'll need to use her new skills rather than run from her problems.
The mean girls linger outside Haven Diner. I'll have to walk past them to meet my best friend Birdie. I scan Harvard Square, hoping to spot someone from my old school who can walk into the diner with me, hoping to spot Erica.
We haven’t talked in 88 days.
I sweep Erica to the back of my mind. Then I shake my hair loose from its ponytail, letting my cherry red swirls give me a boost of confidence. Punk girls don't give a crap what anyone thinks, right?
The girls eye me for a minute before the tall one calls out. “I met someone who knows you. She said you’re a dyke. So, are you?”
Her friends giggle, but she doesn’t crack a smile. My hands shake inside my sweatshirt pockets. One week at my new high school and I’m already the outcast—really, can a fat girl be anything else?
I hide my nerves behind a smirk. Maybe I can quash these rumors with a good comeback. “It’s cute you believe everything you hear, Clarice. Or is it Charice? I can't tell you ditzy blondes apart.” Hardly original, but it makes her pout. I pull open the diner’s heavy door and hurry inside before they say anything else.
Haven smells like fried onions. Afternoon regulars hunch over orange vinyl stools, shouting complaints like usual. I spot Birdie at the counter, his backpack claiming my stool. As I slide in beside him, my heart wells up with joy. I’m in my safe place now.
Thoughts on ESTELLA:ReplyDelete
- The query is short. You have room to expand if you wish.
- In the first paragraph, I’m wanting more about the eerie manor life and why she wishes to escape. Just a sentence would suffice.
- Maybe more about the grandfather? It sounds like he has a big secret, I’d tease that some more.
- I am intrigued by the Irish fugitives!
- In the 250, did they have mechanical pencils in 1912? I have no idea, but that threw me.
- I adore the voice. I think it is appropriate for the time period while also being humorous and sharp.
Thoughts on PIE:
- Why is the diner magical? Is there something about the owners or people who work there? Town history? Family history?
- Love gentrification as a plot point. I think this is something very real in many readers’ worlds right now.
- Lots of stakes here, that’s great.
- Your query is short, so I think you have room to perhaps add a little more detail and voice.
- In the 250, the most interesting part is that she hasn’t spoken to Erica in 88 days. I’d probably focus on that, not the mean girls.
- I find the idea that fat girls can only be offensive, even if the MC believes it, and I think readers will take issue with it as well.
While I think both entries need a little polishing, I’m going with voice here, so victory to ESTELLA!
2 more great entries. Nitpickings below:ReplyDelete
Entry Nickname: ESTELLA+AYRON
I'm curious how old Estella is.
I believe there's a missing comma after attorney in “the estate's attorney and her new fiancé”, in case they are one and the same.
The following are a bit unclear/ vague to me:
lest she fall victim to their scandal. Scandal?
Ethereal glen? Why is the glen ethereal?
extinguish Edward's wrath? What would that consist of?
250 words: were mechanical pencils around in 1912?
A pencil to the eye would merely blind her – not if got pushed in deeply enough to perforate the brain, and - without wanting to be gruesome! - I suspect the eye may be easier to stab than the neck, but I understand the character may think differently
Entry nickname: Rye’d or Pie
Rye has one last chance to speak out for what she wants – why only one last chance? What makes it so final? All you said prior to this was “a public showdown over the diner's fate on the horizon” but that doesn't set a specific time line.
This is a bit unclear: use her new skills– what new skills would those be – the only positive change you mentioned in her so far was confidence.
The word fat bothers me a bit – is that how she really would call herself? She wouldn't try to soften it?
Why is “We haven’t talked in 88 days.” Alone in its own paragraph? Since you don’t say anything else about it that feels a bit stranded there.
What exactly is Estella's living situation? I'm assuming she's a ward of her grandfather and that her parents are dead. I think understanding her living situation would really help. Along the lines of clarifying, what is the grandfather's death ruled as? Natural causes, suicide, accident, etc? I think knowing that will set up more clearly what Estella is up against. Then, with the stakes at the end, I feel like it should be more personal to Estella. Would she be out on the streets if her aunt and uncle succeed? Would they kill her?
Hah, great first line!
Historical question - did mechanical pencils exist in 1912? I swore they were invented later...
Still, I'm intrigued and would be happy to read more! If anything else, could you show us how terrible the aunt is, or what she is like, aside from supposedly being a murderer? I'd like to see how she treats Estella directly.
Rye'd or Pie
You mention this being historical, and should definitely give a year in the query, preferably in the first sentence or first paragraph for clarity. Still, I really like the first line of the query and the premise! I have a question though -- can you give us more about the guy? If this guy is so great that he separates these friends who are trying to achieve something bigger than themselves together, I'd like to know what's so special about him. Also, I'd like more stakes in the last sentence -- what exactly is Rye at risk for losing if everything doesn't work out with Birdie and the diner?
You mention Birdie and Erica in the first paragraph, then say "we" haven't talked in 88 days. I'd clarify which girl you mean, even if it's pretty obvious. As well, I agree with the feedback that I'd focus on the Erica thing than these mean girls. It reads pretty similarly to any other conversation a bullied MC has with mean girls. Or, maybe use the space to describe the diner more?
Both great entries here! Best of luck to both of you!
Estella + AyronReplyDelete
Query - I love an eerie manor, so that’s a good start, and a mysterious message in a dead relative’s will is also great stuff. Unfortunately, the rest of the query is too vague for me. I don’t get a good sense of what the bad guys are up to or what Estella has to do to defeat them.
There are some places where re-wording or adding more information would help with clarity. For example, “lest she fall victim to their scandal.” What scandal? I thought they had a scheme or a plot. “Inhabited by Irish fugitives.” Fugitives from what? Do they live in the trees or tents, or have they built homes in the glen? I can’t quite picture it.
250 – This first page does a great job setting up Estella’s frustration with her position and showing how horrible her aunt is. I also enjoy how her inner fantasizing contrasts with her outward compliance. Nice character touches.
The last paragraph might be a good place to give us some background info. Why must Estella sit upright and silent? What puts her in her aunt’s power? Also, why are Estella’s only choices silence or spitefulness? Can’t she offer a polite disagreement, maybe defend Mrs. Allchurch in some way? If she can’t, tell me why.
Rye’d or Pie
Query – The first paragraph does a good job of showing why the diner is so important to Rye that she’d fight to keep it open. It’s good to see both internal and external stakes. However, when you say Rye and Birdie are both willing to destroy their friendship for the sake of a guy, I lost some sympathy for them. Don’t know if that’s a query problem or a story problem, though.
The last line refers to Rye’s “new skills” which she’ll need to reach her goals. What are those new skills and when did she develop them?
250 – I like Rye focusing on the thing she likes about herself to give her strength (her red curls and her “punk”ness), but this line really bothered me: “Really, can a fat girl be anything else” (but an outcast)? Maybe this is just how Rye feels about herself and she’s overgeneralizing, but it grated on me. Also, it’s confusing because she thinks it in response to the mean girl calling her a dyke, so it doesn’t seem like her weight is the source of the bullying or her outcast status at this point.
I wonder if it would be possible to rearrange the order of events so we get to know Rye better before she meets the bullies. Kids facing bullies is kind of a cliché opening. (This is the second entry I’ve read in this contest that has a fat girl—with a mother trying to fix her—running into bullies on the first page.) I like Rye’s comeback to Clarice (or is it Charice?), but you might want to shake something up so it’s fresher.
I hope these suggestions help. These are two strong entries with a lot of potential. Good luck to you both.
I am intrigued by the promise of old manors and murder and Irish fugitives in a hidden glen! Especially all faced by a young heiress who has to battle off greedy relatives to protect herself and find justice for her grandfather. I am confused, however, when the query says she must flee to protect herself from the scandal her aunt, uncle, and fiancé are cooking up. Scandal? Sounds more like her life might be on the line, if they have more murder plans up their sleeves. The last sentence of the query seems a false choice, too: What could Estella stand to gain by surrendering control of her life to Edward? What are the stakes, or what does she stand to lose, by trying to extinguish his wrath instead? (See where I'm going here?) But the voice in the first 250 is great. I love her feistiness toward her aunt, and the promise that this fight will soon be enacted and not just a hope of hers.
Rye'd or Pie:
I LOVE the idea of teens saving an iconic diner from gentrification. (And, people coming together over blueberry pie. Dang, this entry is making me hungry.) Also love the promise of a story focused at least in part on rekindling friendship. I likewise, though, was a bit bothered by Rye's comments isolating herself, in a way, because of her weight, especially when, as has been pointed out, that wasn't the jab the bullies made at her. It really seems like she's the one calling herself out on her weight, and that doesn't feel necessary here. And, maybe I've missed something, but this is marked as being historical, and especially from the query I cannot figure out what time period this story takes place in, or what exactly makes it historical. Just a small fix to make, to ground the readers in the genre!
Great entries, I wish you both luck.ReplyDelete
ESTELLA 4 ARYON
Query - it may be common for historical queries,not sure, but I'm not a fan of a country/date as the first line. Feels like an info dump, can you weave it in? I think someone else mentioned more detail on what the scandal is, I think the extra detail would be more powerful. Extinguishing Edward's wrath was a speedbump- do you mean kill him?Great backloading in the last line to end the query.
250 words- I like the intention of the first two lines, I'm wondering if you can make them more theme related. I read it and it could apply to a modern crime novel - can you make it specific to her time? I love the detail you have in the next paragraph, especially the whalebone.I don't know about mechanical pencil invention dates, but you do use a pencil twice as a weapon, maybe change one to another device for that period. Drawing rooms with paling sunlight seem to be common in historical, can you make it more personal? Is there a portrait of her Grandfather in the room? Just suggestions. I like the voice on the page. All comments IMHO. Good luck
Rye'd or Pie
Query: I think already commented, doesn't feel historical. Smashed her heart and win his heart both in the query was too much of an echo for me. What were her new skills - the fact she is now an expert negotiator? A specific detail would carry more power. Small notes, great query.
250 words: I found her hoping to see Erica quite strong, but then the thought too easily dismissed. I think you have an opportunity to give a little more detail, build the moment a bit, then push the thought away. I agree with others the ' dyke' comment and her thought about fat didn't connect and I would caution on the negativity. Other than that, great start. Good luck!
Estella: I followed your query up until Estella must decide, and then I didn’t quite get the choice. Why does she have to surrender control over her life? That’s pretty intense. I would have thought the choice was go back to danger to avenge Grandpa or stay away and make a new life with new friends. Great vocabulary in your first 250! Whalebone corset, Clydesdale of a woman, lacework. The paling sun didn’t work for me though. I didn’t know if you meant setting sun or that the sun made them look pale. And move on to a new life, could you make that something more concrete, like get out of the evil woman’s house?ReplyDelete
Rye’d: That’s a nice tight query, clear about the stakes and the plot. You said it’s historical, though, and I didn’t get from the query or the first 250 anything about the time other than it’s a time when girls might wear sweatshirts and have cherry red hair. Your first 250 touches on four themes, Erica-Rye, Birdie-Rye, mean girls, and Haven-as-a-haven. I think that’s fine. But maybe in a contest where the judges only see the first 250, that means you don’t have time to put much meat on the bones. (I struggled with that in my own entry.)
Good luck to you both!
Query: I don’t like the beginning; it would be better if you incorporated the place and time into the query instead of just blurting it like that. As for the rest of the query, there is both too much and not enough. There is a lot of conflict with not enough set up. If you could change that first sentence into a proper set up introducing the place and time as well as delving more into who Estella is so we know what he would consider to be “a life of her own,” you would have a great first paragraph. Then in the second paragraph, you need to focus on what the main conflict of the manuscript is. Is it proving her grandfather was murdered, gaining a life of her own, returning to her own life, escaping her fiancé, or is it discovering what the “Trust me” from her grandfather really meant. I realize it could be all of these things, but by setting them all up as you did, it makes the story look like there is too much going on. Focus on one conflict and how Estella’s life could change given whatever choice she makes.
250: I did not see that coming. This opening 250 doesn’t match the tone of the query at all. From your query, I thought of Estella as a victim caught in the middle of this conspiracy, and I can see how this still could be, however, starting with her contemplating, really working out the details of a murder, that takes away a lot of the sympathy for her character you should have. I like that second paragraph, it’s very intriguing, but consider how much it damages the likeability of your MC.
Rye’d or Pie:
Query: I like your query. I’m intrigued and would like to read this book. Adding a little voice would certainly help, however, it’s not an absolute necessity. The only part I would change is “new skills” in the last line. I’m assuming that means her organizing/protest skills? but I’m not sure. Maybe that would be a good point to try and add a little voice by describing these new skills.
250: I disagree with Peggy about the fat girl/outcast line. I think it says a lot about who your MC is and how she feels about herself and her role in the school. If you are trying to set her up as having low self-esteem, this does a good job. The part I’d consider changing is the “dyke” comment, followed by Rye calling it a “rumor.” First, having an outsider call your MC a name like that in the first page is a cheap trick to build empathy for the MC. It is so overdone that it rarely works anymore. Try to show the meanness in some other way. If you keep it, consider what your implying when Rye thinks she can end the rumor. That kind of implies that she doesn’t want other people to know she is non-het. Maybe instead of having her dismiss the idea as a rumor all together she could think out the difference between bisexual and lesbian.
Another hard one. Estella has a strong 250 with a confusing query. Rye’d has a strong query with a 250 that needs some polishing. Hmmm. For me, though I like the concept for Rye’d more, the 250 always wins out. Victory to Estella.
Query: Love the intrigue behind this! When Estella flees the manor, is she giving it up since she has no intention of returning? Where does that play in the stakes. I'd love to know more about her new life.
250: So much angst right from the start! I like it, but is it your intention to have the reader think the MC is capable of such violent acts right away? She seems like a different person than the one in the query and it may be hard to gain sympathy for her later.
Rye'd or Pie:
Query: You have as genre that this is YA historical, but there is no historical timeframe mentioned in the query. Can that be added? I love the line "where cliques put their differences aside for blueberry pie." Rye has a lot at stake, I just want to give her a hug.
250: Same as with query, I'm not sure what time period we're in (I only ask because genre is YA Historical). A lot of the sentences start with I. You might try to re-word them to break that up. Otherwise it's a nice start- I can feel Rye's anxiety when she first arrives and her relief when she finds Birdie.
Two strong entries with so much depth - I love them both!
Estella: I really liked your query and I love the plot, especially the Irish fugitive bit! But the first 250 threw me. I feel like starting with thoughts of murder may be too harsh since the reader has no context for why they should hate the MC's aunt. It also makes the aunt seem like the victim instead of the MC. I think reworking this aspect of your opening will help your query and novel have a consistent voice.ReplyDelete
Rye'd or Pie: I loved your query and the stakes involved! And I actually admire your use of plain language in the first 250. This kind of writing takes courage (On Writing by Stephen King explains this very well and why it is extremely important). Your MC's weaknesses are a big part of her personality and should never be hidden.
While I loved both queries, the answer for me was clear. VICTORY TO RYE'D OR PIE!
Oh ESTELLA, you had me at "eerie manor." I'd agree with the other judge that I either need to understand why the "Trust me" note is significant to the plot or it should just be left out because right now I think mentioning it is creating more issues than it resolves. I, too, would mention Estella's age. Otherwise though, this was a very strong query and it had me hooked. I wanted to read this book.ReplyDelete
But then, ESTELLA, you lost me with Florence and her fat shaming. Yes, I get that the whole point is to make her unlikeable and it worked but it also made me feel like I wouldn't like the book either. The writing is strong. The voice is witty. I'd seriously ask yourself if you need/want that fat paragraph in your opener.
For PIE, I think the query is great. I would love to read this! I agree that "new skills" is a bit vague and if you can replace it with something specific, I would do it. On the first page, I personally think that there is just too much going on here. We're introduced to Rye, Birdie, Erica, the diner and serval mean girls in 250 words. I just think it might be too much. If it were me, I'd focus on introducing the diner, meeting Birdie and maybe Erica right at the end. I'm not sure if having that confrontation with the mean girls right on page one is helping you.
Victory to Rye’d or Pie!
Wow, you guys are NOT making this easy! Nitpicking below!ReplyDelete
Great query, though I agree you can sneak in more details if you wish, such as a bit about the MC's relationship with her grandfather, and the Irish fugitives.
On the first page, the fat-shaming bit had me cringing my teeth a bit. In the early 1900s, and before, "fatness" was considered, indeed, a sign of wealth, because it meant you had an overabundance of food. I don't think someone would criticize someone else over it the way you have.
RYE'D or PIE
I was loving the query until you revealed the two best friends would be fighting over the dame guy. If they were, indeed, best friends, that wouldn't happen. If their fallout happened because of different beliefs rather than a dude, I'd totally be here for that.
Similarly, on the first page, "It’s cute you believe everything you hear, Clarice. Or is it Charice? I can't tell you ditzy blondes apart" threw me off and made me almost instantly dislike the MC. The purposeful name-change thing is a common bullying tactic, and that's what it felt like to me.
I DO love everything else about it, especially the gentrification as a plot point. It's very current, and a real problem we can relate to.
That being said, these are both very good. It's a hard choice, but the first line on ESTELLA, together with a more concise query, made it for me. VICTORY TO ESTELLA!
Replying as Chief Doodler!ReplyDelete
Super intrigued by this. I think the Query needs some work though. It has just enough to hint at what's going on but then suffers from vague language. This is an easy fix though.
I'd first format your query into the standard three paragraph rule.
One: introduce your MC (how old is Estella?), a line or two about the setting (eerie manor is great!), what she wants, and what stands in her way.
Two: the inciting incident. What happens to Estella that sets the course for the rest of the story? This is great place to introduce the antagonist, or a secondary character.
Three: this section is all about the stakes. If Estella does X, then Y will happen, and she'll lose Z. A scandal is always interesting but be specific. If a vague line in your query can fit into another query, than it's much too generic.
I enjoyed the writing sample. I thought the voice was spot on. I think it was meant to be humorous but the overly detailed talk of how to murder her aunt went on for too long. I started to wonder if in fact Estella was seriously considering it.
My Life Without You:
This is a super strong query! Great job! The only thing I was confused about was the "new skills" line. I had no idea where that came from or where she learned the "new skills". I also wanted more of a voice. Other than that, I really liked it.
The 250 words, though, didn't grab me as much as I wanted. Like the query, I felt like the voice wasn't strong. The little we get felt familiar and I wanted some distinctive quality to it.
My vote goes to ESTELLA!
Good job in setting up the characters and plot, but the stakes are bit wonky for me. It seems like a no brainer. Why would she give up control of her own life? I assume somehow if she does this she might save these Irish fugitives? If so, that needs to be clearer, if not….I need to know why this is even a question.
First 250 words:
I like this a lot, but it might be a bit too morbid/violent for the audience. However, I prefer asking an author to tone it done in a novel like this, than to have Estella be some boring unempowered woman.
Critique: Rye’d or Pie
I just want to read this now! Wow, this tells me everything I need to know and I adore it! I wish I had more constructive stuff here, but your query is just really solid. Great job! The only thing is maybe give us a local
First 250 words:
I like it, but I do kind of wish her comeback identified the character was bisexual. Other than that, I like this a lot. Although the word “swirls” is a bit odd. I can’t tell if that means her hair is curly or if her hair has red streaks or what? I might just be dumb about this though.
Verdict: Both are good, but Rye’d or Pie is a bit more polished and I can clearly understand the stakes.
WINNER GOES TO: Rye’d or Pie
coming down to the wire here, so I'm going to vote and *IF YOURS IS THE ENTRY THAT DOESN'T MAKE IT THROUGH* and you want/need more feedback aside from what's already been posted - reach out to me via the tag on twitter (tag both my name #sailorsun and #querykombat) and I'll find you. I'd be more than happy to work with you on the query + first chapter.ReplyDelete
VICTORY GOES TO: ESTELLA
Estella + AryonReplyDelete
Intriguing in general. But I do have questions. Was the glen the thing her grandfather wanted her to protect (if not, it’s unclear to me what is)? Why would she choose to surrender her own life? What proof do the glen people possess? Is she fleeing a “scandal” or an actual threat to her life? Also, I would suggest a new paragraph at the line “Desperate to escape…”
First 250 Words:
Great opening line, and a solid narrative voice in general (especially in the first half; it trails slightly in the second half). My main point of critique is that it introduces the idea of her aunt as a murderer, but then moves on to distaste over her aunt’s general behaviour. It seems like a strange and not entirely logical leap.
Rye'd or Pie
I think the overall thrust of the story is well presented. But the query is currently suffering from some clichés: love triangle, the “fat, bisexual outcast,” drunk dad, etc. it’s not that people’s real lives aren’t like this, but just that it’s been done so many times, it begs the question as to what makes this story unique.
Other thoughts: the query mentions a “girl who smashed her heart” but then never follows up on who that is (since the main love interest is a guy). If the girl isn’t central to the story, she probably has no place in the query. I also think the stakes could use a bit more detail. What’s the public showdown? What choice does she have to make (beyond just running or fighting, which is at the foundation of almost every book)? The query isn’t overly long, so it would be easy enough to expand on these areas without making it too much. Finally, it seems to me a stronger hook is to set up a choice between Birdie or the guy they both like. Bonus points if the fate of the diner can be thrown into the mix.
First 250 Words:
A strong first page overall in terms of writing. Content-wise, again it feels like it’s been done. The opening scene where the new kid outcast gets bullied. To pull it off I would suggest it needs a stronger injection of voice. The reader needs to really connect with the narrator on a POV level, not just the circumstances of her life.
While I think both entries have definite potential, I feel one has a more unique storyline and is slightly more polished and ready to move on to the next round. So it’s victory to ESTELLA + ARYON!