Wednesday, June 13, 2018

QK Round 2 Match 4: I Wish I Was White vs. Peace Pays What War Wins

Title: East of Maplewood
Entry Nickname: I Wish I Was White
Word Count: 80K
Genre: YA (OWNVoices)


On a beautiful day in upper-middle-class Sparta NJ, Adam Hollander, the only black kid in a predominantly white school, just kissed his biggest crush. Kissing the mayor’s daughter may make him a little nervous, but it’s hands-down the best day of his life. That is until Adam’s father, a white teacher, is accused of molesting one of his students, and the perfect day becomes a nightmare for the Hollander family.

Flash-forward two years. Adam, now sixteen, has relocated with his family to the extremely poor, urban neighborhood of Irvington, where interacting with other black teens at his school for the first time triggers an identity crisis. As a heavy-metal-loving, film connoisseur and self-proclaimed “Oreo,” Adam knows he doesn’t fit in with the profane, gang-sign-throwing kids in his new town. He wants nothing more than to go back to living a normal, happy life—meaning a life amongst white people, which is where he feels a sense of belonging. But that’s not in the cards.

When he meets some kids in a journalism club who actually look like him and have similar interests, things start to look up for Adam. His new friends help him through a rough transition, showing him that color doesn’t define a person. It’s a part, but not the whole. But when word of his dad’s prior accusation finds its way to Adam’s new school, his father suffers a mental breakdown. Still reeling from being railroaded for a crime he claims he didn’t commit, he threatens to shoot up the school, and Adam’s world is rocked once again. Hurting for his dad yet terrified of what might happen, Adam must stop him from carrying out a mass shooting before dozens of people are slaughtered—including his new friends.

First 250

“Aren’t you worried about her dad finding out?” my best friend, Anthony, asks me. I’m sitting beside him on his bed while he plays The Evil Within on his X-Box One. He gets a new game every week and shrugs it off like it’s nothing. “You know he’s racist, right?”

You see, this is why I wish I was white. Then Anthony wouldn’t say dumb shit like this to me on a regular basis.

“Who told you that?” I ask.

Anthony’s eyes remain locked on the game, so he can’t see me biting my nails.

“Well, her dad’s a Republican, and my dad says that Republicans hate black people.”

“That’s not true. My mom’s a Republican, and she’s black, so…”

Your mom’s a Republican?” Anthony nearly drops his controller and his eyes go wide like I just said my mom is Emperor Palpatine or something. “I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

“Alright, fine,” Anthony says. “It doesn’t mean anything. But spill. How’d you kiss Jessica on the stairs today? You get tongue?”

Just my luck Anthony turns his head at the exact moment that I’m blushing. But this is one of the few instances where I like being black. He probably can’t even tell. When he blushes, his whole face turns raspberry red, and he even looks like a raspberry with all that facial hair. “I gave her my Christmas present.”


“Annnndd she kind of looked at me like—I imitate Jessica’s expression, squinting through imaginary strands of hair.


Title: This Is No Courtyard
Entry Nickname: Peace Pays What War Wins
Word count: 76K
Genre: YA Historical


Vuk is fourteen when the Nazis invade Yugoslavia. Unwilling to see his homeland turn into a fascist state, Vuk joins the local Partisan group along with his older brother, Pedja. While hiding out in a hay barn, their unit is betrayed, and the brothers are arrested and sent to Banjica concentration camp.

After weeks of brutal interrogations, Vuk and Pedja are transferred to the north of Norway to build railways and roads for the German occupiers. When they learn they will be shipped to different work camps, the brothers vow to escape and meet up in neutral Sweden.

Before Vuk can make good on his last promise to his brother, two other prisoners flee his camp, and the Nazis’ reprisals are swift and brutal: thirty-nine men are picked at random and mowed down with machine guns, while Vuk and the other prisoners are forced to watch.

As the Norwegian winter sets in, the conditions in camp worsen. Work on the road is hard, food is scarce, and the prisoners only have the clothes they came in. Emaciated and scared out of his mind, Vuk realizes if he’s to survive and ever meet his brother again, he has to escape. But running means sending dozens of his comrades to certain death.

THIS IS NO COURTYARD is a 76,000-word YA historical based on narrations from Yugoslavian Partisans who managed to escape the Norwegian death camps and some of the people who helped them.

First 250:

Northern Norway, summer 1946
The man strolls down the dirt road in no particular hurry, and I wonder who died to put that smile on his face. It is chilly tonight, but the sky is clear. The midnight sun sets the fjord on fire and highlights the gold in the bastard’s hair. He’s casually dressed in a brown airman jacket and loose-fitted trousers that billow in the breeze. One of his hands clutches a sixpence-hat, swinging gaily in cadence with his steps. The other is tucked into his trouser pocket. I don’t know if he’s armed, but who cares? He’s been drinking, and that will work in my favor.
I’m well-hidden among the trees lining the road. Their mid-summer foliage tangles together, creating a dense wall of green. When he passes, I follow. The rustle of the wind masks the sound of my steps. Still he senses me and turns. 
Peering into the thicket, he sways ever so slightly, but he keeps both feet on the ground. My heart speeds up. This is it. I would recognize him anywhere. The slim nose, the smug mouth, and those eyes like the northern fjords. He’s handsome in that Scandinavian way. Fair, lean, tall. Clean cut features that would make a woman look pretty as well. A cliché of a man, if ever there was one, but what’s not to like?
Fucking Nazi.


  1. (I’m a fellow Kombatant leaving feedback.)


    I think "I Wish I Was White" would make a stronger, more memorable title, as it conveys Adam's struggle very well.

    This books seems like it’ll confront a good number of negative stereotypes for blacks, whites, and mixed races. I hope it’s executed well, because this is the type of story that can evoke anger and frustration, even towards Adam. Speaking of your MC, it’s interesting how with a predominantly white environment, he perceives himself as just black. But with a predominantly black environment, he perceives himself as a “self-proclaimed Oreo.” It makes me wonder what he’ll claim at the end. Good job!

    First 250:
    Great start to the story. Not only for Adam’s self-perception arc, but also the main conflict dealing with racial tension, friendship, and negative consequences. Really, really good job. My only critique is punctuation errors (missing commas and quotation marks). Also, I was going to suggest changing the stretched-out “Annnndd”—since it gives the opening a juvenile feel—but then I remembered Adam is 14 years old at that moment. The flash forward hasn’t happened yet, so never mind.


    I was going to suggest replacing your book title with your entry’s nickname, but after a Google search, I see the nickname is a proverb. Even still, consider a title that captures the essence of your book.

    Oh my, the stakes. The brother-ship. The self-preservation versus group commitment. This is horrific, in a great way—as in it’s a story that needs to be told. My only critique is to watch for the overuse of dependent clauses. That said, if “fixing that” ruins the query, I encourage you to just leave it be.

    First 250:
    Wow. The scene is set, the tension is mounting, and I want to read more.


    It blows my mind to see these two entries kombating. They’re both battling wars within themselves, so I see that connection. Good luck to the judges!

  2. I Wish I was White
    Query: Your query begins strong, and there is a lot about Adam's story to sympathize with and relate to. I enjoyed reading it, up until the final paragraph. With the information you’ve presented so far, I have a hard time visualizing how Adam’s father might be driven to mass murder. Therefore, I feel like I need a slightly better idea of his character and how the allegations have affected him these last two years.

    First 250:
    This was a good start to the book. I liked how you showed the two character’s relationship instead of telling us it. I feel like the dialogue came across as slightly telly though, like you were trying to get information across right away instead of letting it come naturally. Otherwise, it’s very good and I want to keep reading!

    Peace Pays What War Wins
    Query: This query is very strong and both sets the tone for the piece and details the stakes. However, after the second paragraph, it is unclear what happens to Vuk’s brother. It can be assumed that he was one of the men killed in retaliation for the escapees, but that is never specified. Because of the role that Vuk’s brother plays in the story, I would like to know what happens to him and how that affects Vuk’s plans of escaping.

    First 250: Great first page! I was immediately drawn into the story, and I love how the man’s appearance is filtered through Vuk’s eyes. I would definitely keep reading this story if I had it in front of me. I think you can cut some of the description of the Nazi’s appearance, since it covers two of the first three paragraphs, but aside from that, I think this entry is strong.

    I enjoyed both entries, but PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS comes across as a more cohesive entry and clearly defines the stakes and atmosphere of the piece. Thus, VICTORY to PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS!

  3. The Queen of ThornsJune 14, 2018 at 11:13 AM

    Greetings, Kombatants! Queen of Thorns here with feedback and a vote. Please bear in mind that all feedback is subjective, and you should consume mine and others' with ample salt.

    I Wish I Was White:

    Query: Holy time shift, Batman! I understand why you've done the "fast forward" move here, given that the first page starts in a place that's chronologically prior to most of the rest of the book, but I wonder if a better move would be to START with where your MC is now and to address his dissatisfaction with that situation through the context that got them there: basically, to reverse the order of info a bit and weave what appears in the first paragraph into the rest of the text. Also, I think understanding Adam as a person and his relationship with his father would help, lest Dad just get used as a tool to throw in a violent threat.

    First 250: I enjoy the dialogue here and how it outlines Adam's character and dude-talk with his friend. I'm not sure though, at a 10,000 foot level, if we're supposed to guess there is a connection between Adam kissing the mayor's white daughter and his father's sudden disgrace. . . Is the idea that the world he felt most comfortable in was secretly racist and out to get him, and he didn't appreciate it before? Or are these events unconnected? If they're unconnected, what's the purpose of that first kiss for Adam's character and journey moving forward? That's not something you can display in the first page alone, but it's something you can set up through that page and what comes after.

    Peace Pays...:

    Query: This is a fast, fact-oriented, functional query that . . . just doesn't quite grab me? I think it's because the query is focusing on plot facts and connecting the dots more than privileging my investment in Vuk or building that up. Other than the fact that Vuk is NOT a Nazi and is being made to suffer, why should I care about him? That sounds horrible, but trauma alone isn't a reason to invest in a character; I want to feel and understanding something more about him as a person so I'll want to dig into those pages!

    First 250: Vuk is clearly stalking prey in this scene, and you're working hard to build up that predator's eye for his quarry. But remember that pacing like this is slow. We are waiting for something to happen, and that can be great for tension, but consider making it clearer that's what's at stake: could a version of the second paragraph be the first paragraph, and could you use the fact that he's hiding and spying to justify that time-slowing attention to detail?

    As much as I've critiqued both pieces rather sharply here, I do think that I Want to Be White has an emotional throughline that's a bit more transparent to me, despite its query's more confusing approach. Both have a strong first page, but my vote goes to I Want to Be White because I AM emotionally invested; that's yet to come for Peace Pays.

  4. I Wish I Was White
    Query: Great query. I definitely got a sense of what Adam was going through. However, when it got to the part where Adam’s dad threatened to shoot up the school, I was thrown. That did not seem like where this story was going. Could you perhaps give some foreshadowing earlier in the query that Adam’s dad does have this violent or unstable streak?

    First 250: I really liked this first 250 words. As a reader I felt that I got Adam’s character right off the bat and I thought this conversation was a fun, humorous way to start the novel. My only nitpicky comment might be to not rely on italics too much for emphasis in dialogue. Let the dialogue speak on its own.

    Peace Pays What War Wins
    Query: This was such a strong query. It paints the historical situation and Vuk’s personal situation quite well. I was a bit confused in the third paragraph because for some reason I expected Pedja to be one of those killed (perhaps because earlier it mentioned a last promise between the brothers?). Besides that, though, I really liked it and I especially love the stakes that you set up right at the end.

    First 250: I really enjoyed your first 250 words as well. I think you have your character and stakes and world all on the page right from the beginning. The only thing I might want more of is a bit more layers to your character. I get Vuk’s anger, but is he afraid? We get the heart speeding up but no real internal thoughts. What else is the character thinking right now?

    These two entries were both so strong. However, I felt that Peace sunk deeper into the character and the story right at the beginning, so victory to Peace Pays What War Wins!

  5. Fellow Kombatant feedback (so feel free to take / leave whatever advice I give!):

    I Wish I Was White

    Query: This is definitely clearer than in the first round, and it was strong then. If I were going to suggest any kind of improvement, then maybe you need to detail Adam’s dad’s spiral a bit more so you feel the deterioration in his mental health a bit more? It’s hard though because you need to make sure it’s firmly about Adam. Maybe say how Adam discovers that his dad’s threats may be more than just threats? Or maybe it’s that you need to say how Adam sticks up for his dad & loses new friends over it, until he discovers evidence that maybe his dad means what he says. I don’t know—there just feels like there’s a bit of a step missing. I’m being majorly pernickety though, so only listen if you absolutely agree.

    First 250: Great voice & great dynamics between the characters. You set up the major conflict well. I still think it’d work even better if it started with the kiss, rather than the reporting of the kiss, but that’s just me being a pain in the ass. All good.

    Peace Pays What War Wins:

    Query: Love the sound of this story—plenty of heart and stakes. The only suggestion I can make here is that it took me a couple of reads to realise that the brothers are separated between paragraph 2 & paragraph 3. On the first read, I wasn’t aware that the breakout had taken place after they’d been moved into different camps.

    First 250: A really powerful opening. If I were to be persnickety then I’d question starting with a flashforward, but what you’ve got really works. Great job.

  6. Posted for Jumping Jellybean.

    I Wish I Was White
    You point out that Adam’s father is “a white teacher” and that Adam is the “only black kid.” Is Adam adopted? Maybe clarify.
    Your last paragraph shocked me. I did not expect it to go there. You are taking on some big issues and I can’t wait to read on and see how you handle it.

    1st 250:
    I don’t like dialogue as an opening. Really strengthen your opening!
    Also, the line “how’d you kiss Jessica on the stairs today?” was such an obvious set up. It doesn’t read natural at all. Change this up so it flows easy and natural.
    Otherwise, great job setting this up. Tone, humor, tension, it’s all there.


    Peace Pays What War Wins
    Well written. My only comment is that it reads like a jacket flap. I think you should give us a sense of what he decides to do. How he plans on escaping without getting anyone else injured.

    1st 250:
    Whoa! From the first line to the last I was wowed. Well done.

    VICTORY to Peace Pays What War Wins

  7. I Wish I Was White

    Oh, wow. I love the premise of this book, and your query sets all the conflict up so nicely. My only hang-up is in the first paragraph. I don’t love the “on a beautiful day in upper-middle-class…” opening—it seems over sensationalized. And the part about him being nervous is a bit awkwardly worded. I feel that the paragraph could be streamlined a bit. Something like “The day Adam Hollander, the only black kid in a predominantly white school, kissed the mayor’s daughter was both the best and worst day of his life.” And then go on to include the part about his dad being accused. Something like that would drop the reader into the conflict more quickly.
    Great job on articulating the stakes here, though. I can tell this story is going to be so full of emotion, on every level of the spectrum.

    Very solid opening page. Pulled me right into your mc’s inner conflict of not being happy with who he is, while also hinting at some of the outer conflicts. That’s really hard to do in such a short space. Good job!

    Peace Pays what War Wins

    I’ve given feedback on this query before. I like the state it’s in now, although, I would combine the first two paragraphs into one.

    Your opening line is very impactful—pointing out that someone had to die to put that smile on the man’s face puts things sharply into perspective. This is a very well-written opening page.

    Oh, man this is a tough decision!!! Both of these queries and first pages are clean and well-written. This vote is going to come down to personal preference, I’m afraid. I feel one of these stories has a fresher concept and a deeper, more multi-faceted conflict.

    Victory to I WISH I WAS WHITE!

  8. I Wish I Was White

    The query does a good job of explaining the story, and I love how your character is of mixed race. It is so polished that the only critique I can offer is maybe you could delete the line: "It’s a part, but not the whole." and it wouldn't take anything away from it. The first 250 words are great too! I like how you show the character's identity crisis. The only mistake I found was a quotation mark missing after the em dash in the last sentence. Well done!

    Peace Pays What War Wins

    The query is really polished. The only thing that seems to be missing is that you said the brothers LEARN they will be shipped to different camps, but you don't mention when it actually happens. As for the 250 words, I have nothing to critique. You do such an extraordinary job with the imagery in this scene. No doubt you're an excellent writer!


    Query looks solid. I don't really have much to add. it might benefit a little from a few more blips of detail about his father's mental state after moving, since the mass shooting stuff kind of appears out of nowhere, but that's all minor. Well done!

    I literally have nothing to add for the 250. The voice is fantastic and clear, and I like the interaction between these characters. I sort of wish it ended on a slightly stronger hook, but again, minor.


    Another solid query. Great setup and clear stakes. My only suggestion is to highlight that the Nazis killed the 39 prisoners as vengeance for the two escaping (and presumably as deterrent to prevent others from trying). Given that it ties directly into the stakes/plot, highlighting it all just a tad more beyond "reprisals" seems like it could help.

    Your 250 is likewise solid. Good voice, great imagery. I feel bad because I literally have nothing to add.

    I feel bad that I've had so little to add to either of these entries. They're both very, very solid--which doesn't make this decision easy. As a result, this is, sadly, going to be a highly subjective matter of personal preference.

    Victory to I WISH I WAS WHITE!

  10. Posting for Discount Wonder Woman.

    I Wish I Was White
    This is a good query, but it almost feels a bit long? For instance, I don't think you need this sentence: "Kissing the mayor’s daughter may make him a little nervous, but it’s hands-down the best day of his life." It's just basically repeating what you've already said, and ultimately, kissing the mayor's daughter is sort of irrelevant to the rest of the query. Everything else is pretty great, although I have to echo one of the above comments in how I'm having a hard time seeing Adam's dad go from being falsely accused to shooting up a whole school.

    The first 250 are good. The only thing that stood out to me was the "Xbox One" thing. No one says "XBox One"! It's just XBox! xD

    This query had a lot of telling for the lack of a better term. Usually, you want your character's voice to seep through, and here I got nothing. Everything else is there--stakes, goals, etc. It's just the voice I'm missing.

    On the 250, the only thing I'd change would be the first sentence so it's two, and say "a man" instead of "the man". As in "A man strolls down the dirt road in no particular hurry. I wonder who died to put that smile on his face."

    Two very strong entries, but in the end, I felt that I WISH I WAS WHITE was a bit more polished, and the query had more voice, so VICTORY TO I WISH I WAS WHITE!

  11. I Wish I Was White

    Wow, you packed a lot of drama and internal struggle into your query, well done! I wouldn’t change a thing.

    First 250:
    Got a great sense of your main character and already rooting for him. This is a really small thing, but wasn’t sure about “he gets a new game every week and shrugs it off like it’s nothing” … if both characters are both “upper middle class,” as you describe in your query, would Adam be much different? Or is that a way to show his character and that he does notice these things? Hard to tell with only 250 words to go on. Definitely wanted to read more!


    Peace Pays

    Intense with clear, high stakes, well done! It reads like it’s true to life so I wasn’t surprised to get to your last paragraph and see that it is, makes it even more compelling. Can’t see anything to change here, good work.

    First 250:
    Great opening line! Very intense and dramatic right off the bat. The only thing I wondered about was the line, “I would recognize him anywhere” … wasn’t sure if you meant that literally or figuratively? Otherwise, really powerful.

    Best of luck to you both, good stuff all around!

  12. I WISH I WAS WHITE has a lot of emotional pull to work with. I can only imagine what Adam is going through with the rumors flying around why his father was fired. This story has a creative and super unique plot that I haven’t seen before, and I think has a ton of potential.
    Adam’s character arc is very clear (although the description of the profane, gang sign throwing kids weirded me out). I like that Adam finds and comes to embrace a new group of friends, and in the end, rallies to protect them.
    The description around Adam’s father’s decision to shoot up the school was a bit fuzzy, and could use some refining. Partially because this isn’t the normal profile of a school shooter (a current or former student). It’s an interesting twist, but it comes out of left field.
    The first 250 not only had several laughs, but also a ton of voice. You’re bringing up a very real and interesting topic in a new way. Nice work!
    PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS is a historical fiction about Yugoslavian partisans imprisoned in a German concentration camp. The plot of this story sounds intricate and well-researched. My struggle here comes from a lack of specifics. The conflict at the end has potential “Emaciated and scared out of his mind, Vuk realizes if he’s to survive and ever meet his brother again, he has to escape. But running means sending dozens of his comrades to certain death…” but it’s not clear why helping them would prevent him from ever meeting his brother again. For this decision to have emotional impact for me, I need to understand his circumstances.
    I never quite got enough of a feel for Vuk out of this query, despite it showing scads of conflict and heartbreak.
    The first 250 is heavy with description. While this is well written, again I’m not getting as much of a feel for Vuk’s character. I do like the end line though.