Wednesday, June 13, 2018

QK Round 2 Match 8: Fake Invisibility T-Shirt vs. Shiver Me Timbers

Title: The Mostly Invisible Boy
Entry Nickname: Fake Invisibility T-Shirt
Word count: 60K
Genre: MG Contemporary Fantasy


Eleven-year-old Casey Grimes is eternally the new kid, if he’s noticed at all. Despite his persistent friendliness, students at Vintage Woods Middle school look right through him. Bus doors slam in his face, no one remembers his name, and he feels more welcome in the woods than he does around kids. Then he scales a colossal oak and discovers an abandoned fortress. The forgotten sentry tree marks the border between his safe, suburban life and a wild frontier.

Eager for a change, Casey infiltrates Sylvan Woods, a secret forest society tasked with monster control. Shockingly, people here actually see him, but being seen is not enough. Posing as a Sylvan girl’s cousin, he enters Trickery School—a dangerous academy where classes are life-threatening, teachers are treacherous, and battles are as common as breakfast. For the first time in his life, he makes friends…but kids at Trickery have forgotten their ancient roots. Protection has become pretension, and civilians like Casey are despised. If anyone finds out he’s an imposter, he’ll be blacklisted and sent back across the border for life.

Keeping his identity hidden—while struggling to prove he fits—is hard enough, but the clock is ticking. A vicious breed of monster swarms Trickery, butcher beasts, who haven’t been seen for a hundred years. Casey and his new friends decipher a cryptic message and learn the truth: Sylvan Woods will be devoured and he’ll return to a life of being see-through…unless he can use his climbing knack to wake the magical Sentry Trees. But that will be difficult, since in Trickery, magic is so last century. And then there’s the dangerous question of where Casey actually belongs. 

First 250:

Casey Grimes was invisible—at least most of the time.

He stood on the corner under a stop sign, jogging in place as his school bus sped down the street. It slowed to roll through the intersection and Casey sprinted alongside, smacking the door as his backpack bumped his spine. Sound and movement gave him a fighting chance to be seen. For a few seconds, anyway. 

“Open up!” he yelled. 

The driver squinted through the smudged glass, and Casey banged harder, until the brakes squealed and the accordion doors whooshed open.
“Where’d you come from?” the driver asked. 

“Same place I always come from.” Casey jumped into the bus. 

The driver shrugged and floored the accelerator. 

The other two kids on Casey’s route always sat together in the back. He waved, but they kept right on talking, so he took his usual seat by the window, pressing the vinyl with sweaty palms. Don’t give up on the day yet, he told himself. Things might still change.

But they reached Vintage Woods Middle School and nothing was different. 

Nothing at all. 

“You new here?” A girl asked as Casey opened his locker. 

“Of course not,” Casey said. “You’re Lydia, we sit next to each other in—”

But she’d already started talking to someone else. Casey slumped in defeat, but then Manuel walked past—they’d had a five second conversation once—and Casey whirled. 

“Hey Manuel,” he said. 

The boy’s gaze paused for a millisecond and slid away as if pulled by a magnet. 


Entry Nickname: Shiver Me Timbers
Word Count: 48000 words
Genre: Middle Grade, Adventure/Fantasy


Twelve-year-old Ollie Bancroft is a kid genius and engineering prodigy, but in his sleepy coastal town of Deadmen, Newfoundland, people couldn’t care less. Ollie is a Bancroft after all, descendant of William Bancroft: the man who killed the infamous pirate Black Bart and ended his reign of terror. No matter what Ollie does he can’t escape the legendary pirate connection, and to make things worse, he’s the only one in Deadmen who doesn’t believe it. As far as Ollie’s concerned, the legend is nothing more than a fairy tale to attract tourists to a dying town.

When Ollie stumbles upon a supposedly cursed compass with the power to bring Black Bart back to life, he sees his opportunity to finally stop all the pirate nonsense once and for all. Like a serious scientist he conducts an experiment to prove the curse is bogus, but the curse is very real. Black Bart and his crew of rotten goons return from the dead — just in time to spoil the town’s annual pirate festival — hungry to wreak revenge upon Deadmen, especially, anyone unlucky enough to be named Bancroft.

With the help of his best friend Emma, his sea dog grandpa, and his reluctant mom, Ollie must use his wits and considerable knowledge of booby-traps to thwart Black Bart before he resurrects his entire pirate army and plunders the seven seas.


“You know how you’re always asking why kids think you’re weird?” Emma whispered in Ollie’s ear.

Ollie’s shoulders slumped. He scuffed his boot against the glossy, convention center floor. “Yeah,” he sighed.

“This, Ollie,” Emma said, patting him on the back. “Stuff just like this.”

A girl stood before them, crying so hard a snot bubble inflated unnoticed from her right nostril. Just behind her loomed her science project, a bright diorama covered with glitter, out-of-focus poodle photographs, and the title: ‘RUFFLES: EVERYDAY POODLE, OR MUSICAL PRODIGY?’

Moments earlier, the girl had enthusiastically given Ollie and Emma a sneak-peak at her presentation. She hadn’t even been a minute through before Ollie criticized it in a dozen ways, causing her freckled face to burst like a ruptured dam.

“I’m sorry,” Ollie pled with the girl. “I’m really sorry, okay?” He awkwardly put out his hand and patted the air above her shoulder. “I could be wrong. I’m probably wrong. Maybe it is a real science project? Maybe … your dog barking along to boy band songs is science, after all?”

With a whimper, the girl wiped her eyes and stopped crying. Her snot bubble burst.

“Of course,” Ollie said more to himself than to her, “a person’s musical taste doesn’t really factor in the scientific method, so I don’t see why Ruffles, would matter to any —“

“Ollie!” Emma said, smacking him on the arm.

“Ouch,” Ollie winced.Beneath the table, Ruffles — easily identifiable by the sparkly letters on his name tag — growled ferociously behind the bars of a pink kennel.


  1. Judges, please reply here. Good luck!

    1. Fake Invisibility T-Shirt

      Okay, you’ve set up your story really nicely and established the scene with Casey not fitting in and then finding a place where he does. In your previous version, I got the sense that there was actually some sort of magical reason why Casey seemed invisible, but that doesn’t come through at all in this version. Is he really just someone who flies under the radar or is there a reason people don’t tend to see him?

      Also, in the line “a secret forest society tasked with monster control”, does this line mean that Sylvan Woods is supposed to keep monsters out of the “real” world? Or are they keeping monsters at bay in their realm? Make sure that’s clarified.

      Overall, I think you may be spending too much time with the setup in the first paragraph. It’s very well done, but since there is so much you need to get to in this query, using an entire paragraph to set up that Casey is invisible is using valuable word space. You could be using that space instead to go deeper into your plot so it doesn’t feel like you’re throwing things in last minute in that final paragraph (more on that in a minute). I would suggest using your first paragraph to, first, establish casey’s invisibility so we understand how much he’s at odds with his world, and then introduce him into the new world. Then you can use the second and third paragraphs to introduce the central conflict and hint at what Casey will have to do about it.

      I feel like in that final paragraph you throw in several new plot lines that weren’t even hinted at in the first two paragraphs and it’s overwhelming. Yes, the book will have multiple plotlines that will work together, but in the query you really need to just focus on one or, at the very most, two. And both plotlines you mention should be present before the final paragraph. Here are the conflicts that I see introduced in the final paragraph: Where does Casey belong? What if people find out he’s an imposter? Defeat monsters. Decipher code. Save Sylvan Woods. Wake sentry trees. Convince everyone they’ll need to use magic in order to do it.

      That’s a lot for one paragraph. It needs to be clear what the central conflict of the book is. Is it Casey figuring out where he belongs? Is it defeating the monsters? Is it saving Sylvan Woods? I think that a few of those conflicts you introduced in the third paragraph are actually challenges that Casey will face along the way while trying to solve the central conflict. But the way you have them presented makes them seem like more conflicts and it hides what the main conflict really is. Figure out what the central conflict is, pinpoint it early on in the query, and then avoid telling the reader how exactly Casey is going to solve the conflict. The details of how he’s actually going to go about this and the challenges he’ll face along the way are things that should be in a synopsis, not a query.

      In this section: “But she’d already started talking to someone else. Casey slumped in defeat, but then Manuel walked past—they’d had a five second conversation once—and Casey whirled.” I don’t understand why Casey would whirl around because someone he’d had a five second convo once with walked by. If Casey thinks Manuel should see him or remember him, Manuel should be a good friend, not someone he talked with for five seconds once. Also, the line that starts with “casey slumped..” is a bit awkward. End the sentence after the word “defeat” and start a new one with “Then Manuel walked past.”

    2. Here's the second part of my comments, since it didn't all fit in one shot:

      Shiver Me Timbers
      I really enjoyed this query. Sets up the stakes and conflict nicely. I like that Ollie was trying to prove everyone wrong by conducting an experiment but ended up doing exactly the opposite.

      In the second paragraph, I would take out the word “Supposedly”. Clearly the compass is cursed, even if Ollie doesn’t believe it, and the word makes the sentence clunky. If you’re trying to point out that Ollie doesn’t believe it’s actually cursed, maybe try something like: “…stumbles upon a cursed compass rumored to have the power…”

      This is cute. In the second line, take the comma out between glossy and convention center. In the fourth paragraph, take out the word “unnoticed” since the snot bubble was noticed by Ollie. Plus, I feel the line is punchier without that word.

      I enjoyed both of these, but one query felt more streamlined, with a clearer conflict and stakes. Victory to SHIVER ME TIMBERS

    3. Posting for Jumping Jellybean.

      Fake Invisibility T-Shirt
      I loved the beginning of this query, but the last paragraph felt rushed, crammed and filled with too many twists and turns. I think you can even this out easily by spreading the details out and paring down some of paragraph one.

      1st 250:
      Loved this. Broke my heart, but I loved it. The way kids spoke to him, but so easily forgot him…
      My only comment would be you mention two other kids on Casey’s route. Do they get on the bus at the same stop? I was just wondering why he has to chase the bus if other kids get on the same stop as him.


      Shiver Me Timbers
      Yes! Engineering and booby-traps! I love the entire premise.

      1st 250:
      Two small things.
      1. Start with the girl crying, then have the conversation with Emma.
      2. You said the snot bubble was “unnoticed”, but you mention it a few times. I’d get rid of “unnoticed.”

      VICTORY to Shiver Me Timbers

    4. Fake Invisibility T-Shirt: There's a lot to love about this query. The voice is fun and comes across immediately. Casey has a clear personal issue and the stakes leap off the page (IE: losing the one place where he doesn't feel invisible). You don't distract me with an excess of characters, instead focusing on Casey and his journey--which is great!

      I love the concept of the return of these Butcher Beasts who are threatening to destroy the Sylvan Woods, it's a great name, but they come out of left field at the end of the query. I would also like to know how in what way they intend to threaten the forest.

      The only things that weren't working for me were the last couple sentences which fell a little flat. I feel like this could use just a bit of reworking--like something was missing there. It didn't really feel like the query letter concluded.

      Also the description of the teachers as treacherous drew my attention, since not a lot in the query supported that notion. Lastly, I have to question your word choice in using "pretension" since it doesn't really fit in the sentence, or the query that mostly feels like Casey voice.

      All of the world-building you hint at in this query has me very interested in hearing more. From the awesomely named school "Trickery" to the gigantic (nearly) impossible to climb sentry trees. You've got a real knack for naming these features in a fun way that tells me what they're about. Interestingly enough, I also think that nickname "Fake Invisibility T-Shirt" is actually a more interesting title for your story than the one you've chosen. It also fits in with his voice.

      The first 250 are clean, and setting me up for the kind of escapist fantasy you're describing in the query.


      Shiver Me Timbers

      Wow! This also sounds like a fun story which makes this match up really interesting. Ollie's biggest struggle seems to be that he's defined by something awesome that a relative of his did in the past that was awesome, rather than all of the ways he himself is awesome.

      I was interested in hearing how Ollie was going to grow from this experience, since essentially he was out to prove he was smarter than everyone else in Deadmen, but in the end was exposed as not quite as informed on the town's history as he believed. I would think this would have created an awkward situation for Ollie with a lot of his friends and family, but that doesn't come up in the query.

      Instead, it seems to be mostly about outsmarting the pirates with booby traps and his crew. I can't help but think back to the Home Alone movies and the sneaky way they made Kevin figure out something about himself or the world in every one of these films (in the midst of hijinks and booby traps of course).

      The prose is great! The query is clear! I'm just missing that one vital element of story that keeps me from being 100% ready to raise the Jolly Roger.

      First 250: I got a clear sense of Ollie and Emma from the first 250, which was great! It's super funny and I LOVE all the descriptions. I would've liked you to name "the girl" since they're probably in the same class/school, but that might just be my personal preference.

      Tough one, because both of these are excellent stories with a ton of potential, but...


    5. Fake Invisibility T-Shirt
      Query: Great query! I love the term Trickery School. One question I would have liked answered is how or why Casey was able to discover this other world. Does he have magic? Was it just chance? I assume it has to do with his invisibility, but I would have liked a bit more of a hint. Also, your last line felt a bit flat. I think if you spruce it up and give it a bit more impact, it will offer a better finale to your query.

      First 250: I really liked your opening. You included some great details and really made me curious for what’s happening to Casey. I also liked how you managed to get a bit of action there right at the beginning. I really don’t have much to say for this one. I enjoyed it.

      Shiver Me Timbers
      Query: This was a great query. I liked how clearly you were able to show the world as well as Ollie’s character. I like how we also get a clear sense of the villain and some of your secondary characters as well. My one nitpick is that I’m not sure you need the line: just in time to spoil the town’s annual pirate festival. I felt it made the sentence convoluted and that it didn’t really add anything.

      First 250: Awesome first 250. It had great voice and really showed Ollie’s character. I would have preferred that you showed the first part of the interaction with the girl, rather than describing it with exposition. I felt that it slowed the pace down and that it didn’t have as much impact as if you’d actually put it on the page.

      These two were hard to decide upon. I thought that Invisibility’s 250 were stronger and Shiver’s query was stronger. But since first pages will always be the deciding factor for me, victory to Fake Invisibility T-Shirt!

    6. The Queen of ThornsJune 16, 2018 at 1:00 AM

      Greetings, Kombatants! Queen of Thorns, weary and pleased to report in for a final pass of round two feedback and a vote! Please bear in mind that all feedback, including mine, is subjective and judge what you read here accordingly.

      Fake Invisibility Shirt:

      Query: I'm a great fan of MG stories that allow a character to turn their "weakness" into a source of strength or opportunity. At the 1000 foot level of critique, I will say I'm a bit confused by the world-building details in this query. Are the Trickster school students not human, like elves or spirits, or are they human beings with a special attunement to magic? The use of the word "civilians" gives these people a military sound and character, but this sounds much more like a kind of career-oriented Hogwarts? Think about how word choice changes might help you signal a more consistent tone or genre for your specific fantasy elements.

      First 250: The MC's obvious weariness with his social invisibility registers in these many encounters, and together they strongly suggest something beyond normal is wrong with how the world sees him (or doesn't). I enjoyed reading this, and it helped sell me on the idea of the book. I would read more!

      Shiver Me Timbers:

      Query: A thought: I think Shiver Me Timbers might be a catchier title than your actual title, and perhaps more suggestive of the dueling horror and comedy elements in this narrative. I was a bit thrown by the clause about the sea dog grandpa, because I thought "shouldn't the dog's name be capitalized? Grandpa is a cool name for a dog!" and then I realized my error. Perhaps rephrasing that sequence of elements in a series so the appositives are more clearly delineated would help other readers avoid the same confusion.

      First 250: I adore everything about this page. Don't change it, or I'll keel-haul you, matey.

      The chemistry of the characters in the fist page of Shiver Me Timbers and the subtle, pacey humor of that opening scene simply won't let me go. My vote is for Shiver Me Timbers.

      Good luck, Kombatants!

    7. Hi All!

      As always, this is a subjective business, so take what you want and leave what you don't :)


      I really love the set up for this manuscript! It's exactly the sort of thing I would've loved to read about (and pretend to do) when I was middle grade age (and okay, maybe older). I feel like I get a good sense of Casey and the plot within your query and its cohesive for me. However, I think you start to lose some of your momentum when you go in to explain about the Trickery students being snobs to 'humans'. The line "they forget their roots" was odd to me because I wasn't sure what you meant by it. I think you could remove both of those lines dealing with their ancestry and just put in something along the lines of Trickery wanting to keep humans out as well as monsters. it would keep your stakes in place for Casey while tightening up the tail end of your query.

      First 250:

      I don't have much to say about these! I thought they were great and really set the scene for me. I've been the invisible kid at a new school and definitely understood how Casey felt! I think if you could inject a bit more of Casey into the text and use his voice more (like when the girl asks him if he's new there) you'd have a killer opening.


      I think this query is great! I don't have a ton to critique on it (or at all). you set you your world nicely and I really loved the idea that Ollie is trying to make a name for himself but can't thanks to his family's legacy. I also liked how you've included his mother on the adventure! I feel like so much of the time YA and MG push parents aside (guilty as charged here haha) and her inclusion makes your story stand out.

      First 250:
      I'm a very hard sell in starting a manuscript with dialogue. I think it creates a lopsided image in the reader's mind where the "hear" characters talking before actually seeing them or the world around them. I think if you grounded the readers first, even with just starting with the description of the crying girl (which was a great one!) you'll set the stage for you characters to speak and readers will understand where they are and how they will proceed. Your dialogue is great and I think it brings both Ollie and Emma's personality forward, but I wouldn't necessarily start there.

      This one was SO HARD for me, but victory goes to FAKE INVISIBILITY T-SHIRT

    8. Discount Wonder WomanJune 16, 2018 at 12:15 PM

      Fake Invisibility T-Shirt
      I thought the beginning could use some tightening. For instance, I think if you have have it as: "Eleven-year-old Casey Grimes is eternally the new kid. Despite his persistent friendliness, bus doors slam in his face, no one remembers his name, and he feels more welcome in the woods than he does around other kids."

      This way it illustrates and gets to the point faster. The rest of the query could use some polishing as well. For instance, instead of "sent back across the border" you can say something like "sent back to suburban hell for life". It says the same thing, but it drives the point of how terrible life is for him back home more efficiently. Then, when you have "but being seen is not enough" -- you should say for what. Later you know it's to fit in, but it should be clear from the get-go.

      The first 250 are good, and I had nothing to point out, really. I thought it did a nice job illustrating the invisibility thing!

      Shiver Me Timbers
      I loved this one! Nerdy kids being awesome, please sign me up! I did think you could play around with the wording to make it have more impact. Like instead of "people couldn’t care less", perhaps you could use a metaphor from Ollie's point of view?

      I'd put a comma in "No matter what Ollie does he" after the "does". When you say "conducts an experiment to prove the curse is bogus, but the curse is very real", I'd rephrase the last part to "only to prove that the curse is very real."

      Another stellar job. Really amazing work here, and I already love the relationship between Ollie and Emma!

      With this one, I'm afraid the concept of Shiver Me Timbers really spoke to me. Science and curses and and engineering prodigy? YES YES YES! To top it off, I think the query was a bit more polished, and those 250 were magic. Victory to SHIVER!

  2. Fake Invisibility T-Shirt


    I love this!

    A few nit-picks (Aren’t there always. The question is which to take into account when revising.)
    I seem to remember your previous version being clearer on the fact that the other kids sometimes see him (I may have inferred it from your 250 words, though).

    You could mention something more about his new friends.

    The query leaves me wondering about Casey’s homelife, but since this is an MG fantasy, this may not be important.

    250 words:

    These are close to perfect as I see it.
    I would ad an “a” to the second sentence: “slowed to a roll”, but I may be wrong.

    I would change “pressing the vinyl with sweaty palms” to “pressed his sweaty palms against the vinyl seat”.

    Good luck!

    Shiver Me Timbers


    This is great as well. The judges have their work cut out for them in this round.
    The only thing that tripped me up, was Ollie conducting a scientific experiment to prove something very non-scientific, but hey! He’s twelve!

    250 words:

    My only nit-pick here is I don’t think this sentence fits: “She hadn’t even been a minute through before Ollie criticized it in a dozen ways”
    I would have liked to see exactly what he says instead.

    Good luck!

  3. Fake Invisibility T-Shirt
    Query: Interesting concept! I’d love to read this. Other than the people at Sylvan Woods “seeing” him, why else does he love it there? Since they will blacklist imposters, what else is there that makes him want to stay? Though he isn’t seen in his normal world, it may be worse to be shunned and blacklisted.

    First 250: I don’t think you need your first line. I think you’d have a stronger opening by going straight to the second and using Casey’s name there – “Casey Grimes stood on the corner…” You’ve done a great job showing us he’s invisible already, so you don’t necessarily need to tell us right off the bat that he is.

    Shiver Me Timbers
    Query: This is a really tight query and sounds like a cute story. I don’t think you need the comma after “especially” in your last sentence though. Other than that, I don’t see any issues with it.

    First 250: Very entertaining 250. My only suggestion would be to try to squeeze in that they’re in some type of science fair/contest, just to center us a bit.

  4. Ahhhhhh! These are both so fun! I’m SO glad I’m not a judge.

    Fake invisibility T-shirt

    I honestly don’t have anything to say. I thought the query was tight and the 250 summed up his life right off the bat. The idea here is just fantastic. I love the thought of there being secret guardians of a magical border. Tasked with monster control … that’s golden. I love it.
    If I’m super nit picking (and this could just be personal) the only thing that threw me off was in the 250, I wondered why he thought today might be different. He’s probably just ever the optimist, but perhaps you could say “it never was” instead of “nothing at all” … but honestly, probably don’t even listen to me, because you clearly know your story well have it all under control.

    Shiver me timbers

    “Ollie must use his wits and considerable knowledge of booby-traps…”
    Can I just say how much I love this line? Totally gives me the feel of how this is going to go down. I read this last time, and I don’t see much difference … that’s probably a good thing because it’s pretty darn great. I’m still curious as to what he says to the girl to make her react so hard.

    To you both -
    Wish I had more to say, guys … except I really don’t wish that, because I’m sure “It’s great as it is!” is a welcome thing to hear.

  5. Fake Invisibility T-Shirt


    You do a better job in this version of setting up how Casey goes unnoticed (as opposed to be actually invisible). Can you give us a hint as to why he goes unnoticed in the regular world? I'm assuming there's a reason for that, but that reason doesn't seem to be that he belongs in Sylvan Woods. What are the stakes for Casey if he can't stay there?

    First 250:

    This is a great first page! You set up what life is like for Casey really well, and so I can see why he would jump at a change. I love the premise of how people might see him for a moment, but they don't remember him later. I feel for him already. You do a great job describing the action.

    Shiver Me Timbers

    Query and First 250:

    I don't have much new to say on this. I thought your query was pretty strong the first time around. It does what it needs to do: make me want to read this book! I don't have anything new to say on the opening page either.

  6. Fake Invisibility T-Shirt:

    Such a fun idea!! Love it!

    - I thought the stakes in your query could be outlines a little better
    - and this line reads a little awkward to me: A vicious breed of monster swarms Trickery, butcher beasts, who haven’t been seen for a hundred years.

    I think your page is great. Poor kid! Totally makes you feel for him and it carries forward from the query really well!

    Awesome job!

    Shiver Me Timbers:
    Such a fun story idea!!! I love this!

    - I think your query is great. Maybe I would add in a line toward the bottom and add in a little to your stakes. But other than that I don’t have any other comments.

    - The only comment on your page I have is that there needs to be a space before Beneath in your last paragraph, other than that i think it is really funny!! Definitely gave a few chuckles!

    Gluck to you two! These are both awesome ideas!!