Friday, June 1, 2018

QK1 Match 6: War and Redemption vs. Peace Pays What War Wins

Title: The Ones Who Loved Us
Entry Nickname: War and Redemption
Word Count: 80k
Genre: YA Historical

Query:

Budapest, Hungary -- 1944.

During the final months of World War II, Bekah’s grandmother calls her home from boarding school to help care for her overly critical and mentally ill mother. The army forces Bekah’s father into the labor service and then the Arrow Cross, the Hungarian Nazi party, takes her grandmother away. Bekah doesn’t know if she’s capable of holding what’s left of her family together, but she’s determined to try. Soon the Arrow Cross forces Bekah and the other Jews of Budapest into overcrowded apartments in what is the beginning of a plan to “cleanse” the city of Jewish blood.  

With most train tracks destroyed, the Arrow Cross then forces Bekah and her mother to join thousands of other Jews on a death march across Hungary. It is the middle of winter and the Arrow Cross gives them barely any food or water and makes them sleep outside on the frozen ground. On the death march, Bekah fights to keep her weary and discontented mother alive. Despite Bekah’s efforts, an officer shoots her mother and leaves her to die in a ditch along the side of the road. 

Bekah sinks into despair and feels all hope is lost, but then a daring Swedish diplomat arrives at the death march to save anyone with a protective pass. Bekah has a pass and longs to go home, but she also faces a difficult choice: whether to save herself or redeem her broken soul by saving someone else.


First 250:

It took a war to bring me back to my mother.

I sat on my bed in the middle of the dormitory and looked at the envelope. My grandmother’s handwriting was graceful and measured, just like she was. I tore through the flap in one quick movement and the fragrance of her perfume brought me back to a time long ago when I would sit on her lap and listen to her stories. I pulled out the letter.

“Dear Bekah, I think of you often and hope you’re well.”  Her greeting deceived me. It didn’t prepare me for what followed.

She said the Hungarian army had taken Papa away to a forced labor camp far outside of Budapest. 

I dropped the letter. My eyes began to fill with tears but I wiped them away, picked up the letter, and continued to read.

She said Mother’s depression had become worse. Sometimes she didn’t talk or get out of bed for days.

I pressed my lips together tightly and thought how lucky I was to live on the other side of the city at boarding school.

But there was more. I held my breath as I read the next part.

“I know how important school is to you, Bekah, and I wouldn’t ask this if I didn’t think it was absolutely necessary. Would you please come home?” 

I exhaled and struggled to breathe at a steady pace. 

I didn’t read the rest of the letter. My tears made it impossible.


VERSUS


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

Vuk is fourteen when the Nazis invade Yugoslavia. Unwilling to see his younger sisters grow up in a fascist country, Vuk joins the Partisans 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 KZ Banjica.

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 Vuk will be shipped to Korgen and Pedja to Beisfjord, the brothers vow to escape and meet up in neutral Sweden.
But before Vuk can make good on his last promise to his brother, two other prisoners flee the Korgen-camp. 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 based on narrations from Yugoslavian Partisans who managed to escape the Norwegian death camps and some of the people who helped them.

First 250:

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 air man 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, the perfect lookout. When he passes, I follow. The rustle of the wind masks the sound of my steps. Still he senses me and turns. It doesn’t matter. I’ll make my presence known soon enough.

Peering into the thicket, he sways ever so slightly, but he keeps both feet on the ground. My heart speeds up--in anticipation, I guess. 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.

22 comments:

  1. Judges, please respond with your feedback and vote here! Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Love and SqualorJune 2, 2018 at 12:36 PM

      These are both intense, strong entries. This is going to be a tough match-up...

      WAR AND REDEMPTION: The query is intriguing, but it reads much more like a synopsis than a query. Right now, it's a series of events that happen in the book. I'd advise restructuring it so it's gets to the heart of these questions: Who is your main character? What's the book's setting? What does your main character want? What does she have to do to get what she wants? What is stopping her? What happens if she fails? You've got some of that already, but if you can revise to focus on Bekah's choice (saving herself vs. saving someone else - is there a particular person she's considering saving or would it be anyone? If she saves another person will she definitely die? It's the answers to these types of questions that will get readers wanting to read more) and not get too into the weeds with everything that happens leading up to that choice (her mother dying, for example, seems like a spoiler), it will be a stronger query. The first 250 starts with a great line, and the sample is strong. There really isn't much I would change here. Nice job.

      PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS: You've got really clear stakes in the query (though I did wonder about Vuk's younger sisters, who are mentioned at the beginning as Vuk's motivation for resisting, then never come up again). Fourteen is a tough age for YA, since most kids read up (meaning, most teens in the YA audience aren't interested in a younger protagonist) - can you age Vuk up to 15 or 16 without losing anything about the plot? Otherwise, good job with the query. The first 250 has a lot of good tension. The only thing I'd point out here is some of the language sounds more contemporary than historical. Examples are 'I guess' and 'Fucking Nazi.' You may have researched the usage of these terms, and if so, disregard my comment. If not, consider doing so to make sure the language matches the era.

      A tough choice on two strong entries, but VICTORY to PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS!

      Delete
    2. Thaddeus SpinsterJune 2, 2018 at 3:27 PM

      War and Redemption: I can’t add value to the query. It is strong and a powerful story. I would definitely read this. The stakes are clear and strong in my opinion. In the first 250, my only real nitpick is that it seems that Bekah seems to care more about having to leave school, across town, than return home because of her mother’s illness and her father being taken away. It makes me not want to root for Bekah if that’s the case. I could be wrong in my interpretation, but that is how it reads to me. Other than that, one fix, I think the first 250 pages are perfectly written. I would love to read this novel someday.

      Peace Pays What War Wins: Again, I can’t add much to the query. It is strong and probably the most intense stakes I’ve read yet, save himself at the risk of others dying, I love it. This is a very poignant piece and I would snatch this off a shelf at a bookstore in a heartbeat. In the first 250 I like the language in the piece, it seems fitting to the period. This is a very strong entry.
      I don’t think it’s fair we have to choose one over the other. They are both strong and powerful entries. I read them last night, slept on the decision, and while running errands today I didn’t stop thinking about both entries. All I hope is for the one that gets knocked out, that the host’s save could be used on one of them. I hate that these two entries are up against each other. If I have to pick one I say VICTORY TO PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS.

      Delete
    3. Another long one, so I'll break it in two.

      1/2

      1. Bekah doesn’t know if she’s capable of holding what’s left of her family together, but she’s determined to try.

      2. Bekah fails.

      3. Bekah sinks into despair and feels all hope is lost, but then a daring Swedish diplomat arrives at the death march to save anyone with a protective pass.

      4. Bekah has a pass and longs to go home, but she also faces a difficult choice: whether to save herself or redeem her broken soul by saving someone else. (AKA Bekah's character growth)

      WAR AND REDEMPTION – Your query is a lovely synopsis! Keep it on hand for when a synopsis is required. Meanwhile, let's go back to the basics. You've given us plenty of good information re: the plot, but I need to be emotionally hooked, and the main stakes need to be easily picked out from your 'general' conflict. A version of point 1 is your hook. Versions of point 2 and 3 are your emotional enticement. And a version of point 4 (we need 'someone else' to be more specific, someone we care about, introduce them earlier on) is your stakes. Don't be discouraged, queries are really hard and when you have complicated plotline it takes many tries to get them right. Also, I'm just going to drop this link-http://tracichee.com/post/117084312047/query-tips-8-pitch-structure – here. It's for pitches rather than queries, but it's a great guideline for narrowing down intent. A query is basically a pitch fleshed out. Start with the bare bones and work outward.

      Your 250 are pretty strong. Because I couldn't really red ink your query, how about I give your prose some love? See if you can pick out what I changed up – only small things, as all in all your beginning really sings. Wonderful job.

      It took a war to bring me back to my mother. (Love this!)

      I sat on my bed in the middle of the dormitory and looked at the envelope. My grandmother’s handwriting was graceful and measured. I tore through the flap in one quick movement. The fragrance of grandmother's perfume brought me back to a time long ago when I would sit on her lap and listen to her stories. I pulled out the letter.

      “Dear Bekah, I think of you often and hope you’re well.” Her greeting was deceptive. It didn’t prepare me for what followed.

      Grandmother said the Hungarian army had taken Papa away to a forced labor camp far outside of Budapest.

      I dropped the letter. My eyes began to fill with tears. Stubbornly I wiped them away, picked up the letter, and continued to read.

      She wrote that Mother’s depression had become worse. Sometimes she didn’t talk or get out of bed for days.

      I pressed my lips together tightly and thought how lucky I was to live on the other side of the city at boarding school.

      But there was more. I held my breath as I read the next part.

      Delete
    4. PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS – I'm going to say the same thing to you that I did to your Kombatant. Your query is more synopsis than pitch. Where's my hook? I'd say the paramount thing we've learned is that Vuk needs to escape concentration camp and find his brother, but you've buried the lead. Work up an elevator pitch and then expand to query from there. That said, the premise is amazing. It's a story I'd love to read.

      Let's give your 250 some love:

      The man strolls down the dirt road in no particular hurry, and I wonder who died to put that smile on his face. (This is great! Strong voice right from the beginning!) It's chilly tonight, but the sky is clear. The midnight sun sets the fjord on fire and highlights the gold in the bastard’s hair. (Fantastic!) He’s casually dressed in a brown air man 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, the perfect lookout. (Wonderful description.) 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 slightly, but he keeps both feet on the ground. My heart speeds up in anticipation. 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. (Again, fantastic.)

      This is amazing. Your voice is strong – I'm in Vuk's head from the beginning. Your prose is beautiful. I've smoothed it out some, but otherwise REALLY good job. You're very talented.

      VICTORY TO PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS.



      Delete
    5. WAR AND REDEMPTION FEEDBACK:
      QUERY:
      Wow, wow, wow. My heart tells me that this book is going to be one that is going to pull at me! A few things to help you tidy up your query….first, you did a nice job of telling us who Bekah is and what she is up against. That first paragraph is usually setting us up for who the main character is and what has/is happening to them. Which is why I think the “Soon, the Arrow Cross…” sentences at the end of that paragraph can go, because the second paragraph (about the walk across Hungary) is a much stronger plot point to emphasize. In the second paragraph, I like the specifics of what she’s facing (like sleeping on the frozen ground), but it slows the tempo of the query some. I’d encourage editing some of those specifics out and getting to the heart of the matter: the fear of the unknown and the desire to find a way out so she can live. That will then help to set up the Swedish diplomat and the pass to freedom.

      First 250 Feedback:
      Did I call it or did I call it? I KNEW you’d pull at my heart strings! Poor Bekah. To be in that situation…wow. What a challenge! Here are a few things I noticed: While the query has already told us that Bekah is going to be asked to come home, the way you set up your opening makes it sound like she’s already the letter, when technically she hasn’t. And I hate saying that because because coming up with the opening line of a book is the hardest thing EVER (at least in my opinion). A suggestion could be how she feels about seeing the letter on the bed. Is she excited? Nervous? Worried because her grandma never writes unless it’s bad news? And while your words are squeezing my heart, I’d love to see more of the emotional/internal cues as to how Bekah is feeling. I’m only assuming it because of what we know from history. But here’s a girl, at school, and she’s being forced to come home after hearing her father has been sent off to a work camp. Give me some of that emotional tug so I don’t assume how she’s feeling. I’d also be careful with the use of tears. It’s an easy emotional cue to use—but it also gets over used a LOT (and often we don’t realize it). Not saying you should cut it, but already in the first 250 you’re using it twice. I’d consider looking through your MS and see how many times you use it.


      PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS
      QUERY:
      Another heart tugger! You both are going to do me in! Here’s my feedback on your query: I’m impressed at how well this is laid out that I honestly don’t have much to suggest. I am curious about his sisters—wasn’t he fighting for them, too? There is good set up here and the stakes are clear and specific.

      First 250:
      Wow! Talk about being pulled right into the action. I got to the end and was like, “That’s it?! Where’s the rest!?” I know others have pointed out some language issues as they tend to tip more contemporary, but my encouragement to that is you can absolutely bend the rules a bit. The “Fucking Nazi” comment could be dialogue rather than narrative and you can get around some of that.

      VERDICT:
      My vote is for PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS

      Delete
    6. Aaand I forgot to add my standard: PEACE PAYS and WAR, after the contest, if you want more hands-on advice, hit me up. I'll make time.

      Delete
    7. WAR AND REDEMPTION:
      Query: I love your premise. But I feel your query reads more like a synopsis. I wanted to get a better sense of Bekah’s voice. Consider reworking your query to show what happens from her perspective instead of telling us about a series of events. For example, “It is the middle of winter and the Arrow Cross gives them barely any food or water and makes them sleep outside on the frozen ground” is distant, because we can’t “feel” the impact on Bekah. Instead, this could be: With winter chilling Bekah’s fingers and her belly gnawing her backbone, she fears she’ll starve. The Arrow Cross gives them little food or water, and Bekah shivers all night when they’re forced to sleep outside, on the frozen ground. (only better and with your phrasing, of course)
      First 250: I loved the emotion in your entry. I could feel Bekah’s worry about her family, and her distress about her grandmother’s request. Good job!

      PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS:
      Query: Great stakes! Consider aging your MC up to 16 (if this fits the story), because fourteen is that cusp age between MG and YA, and this could make your story less marketable in a tight market.
      First 250: That first line. Fantastic. And the rest of your 250 wowed, as well. I did find the “fucking Nazi” a bit jarring in the first 250, but that could just be me (and I include plenty of swearing in my own stories, so it’s not a swearing thing, necessarily). Maybe because it followed your lilting writing and seemed out of character.

      Both of these entries are excellent. I can see why Michelle chose them for Query Kombat. But I must choose a victor, so…

      Victory to WAR & REDEMPTION!

      Delete
    8. WAR AND REDEMPTION
      Query:
      You don’t need to start your query with the date and setting. It’s clear from the first line that it’s world war II era, and you mention later in the query that they’re in Hungary. This is a pretty clean query, but the story seems similar to so many other WWII stories that have already been told. Ask yourself what makes your story stand out from the other stories of this nature, and make sure that distinction is clearly evident in your query letter.
      250:
      Great opening line. When Bekah starts reading the letter, you’re quoting it and having her read it directly. But then you say the greeting didn’t prepare Bekah for what came next, and then you go into narrator mode and just tell the reader what Bekah read. This distances us from the mc. Let us read it together with her, directly from the letter. The emotional impact will be greater that way. I’d change this the entire way through this passage—let us read the letter with her, don’t just tell us what it says.

      PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS
      Query:
      I like your set up here, and the family tie—whenever family members are separated and have to find their way back to each other, that ups the tension for me. I like how you set up the stakes, too, with Vuk wanting/needing to escape, but knowing that if he does dozens of innocent soldiers will die. Including your source material was good, too.
      250:
      These opening paragraphs are really well written. The scene is set so well, and you do a nice job of including tiny details that ground us in the scene. And I love that the mc is noting the man’s good looks and all he has going for him, and then we find out he’s a Nazi. Awesome beat there at the end. Also good tension of him hiding without telling the reader why.

      Victory to PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS


      Delete
    9. WAR AND REDEMPTION

      Ooh, an intriguing setting here. The main issue with the query is that it's a bunch of things happening to Bekah which she does not control, and she fails to achieve her only ostensible goal of protecting her mother. We get too much background plot, not enough about the MC and who she is. The opening text has her reading a letter. No excitement, no tension. This is WWII. Show us a Nazi raid, a battle, a refugee camp, or something.

      PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS

      Wow, this is compelling stuff. The opening of the query is a little stilted due to unnecessary information: all we need to know is that he and his brother are fighting for their country, captured, and sent to the far north. I like the promise and the cost of trying to meet it. Opening text is very strong. Well done.

      What a great matchup: two unique settings for WWII stories, and two dark plotlines rife with death and suffering. However, one of them gets me invested in the character's goals and ultimate dilemma. Victory to PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS!

      Delete
    10. War and Redemption: The beginning of this query reads a lot like a synopsis. We don’t know Bekah’s age and we’re learning and doing things right along with her. Before I read the first 250 words, I thought that you didn’t offer much of Bekah’s character until you get into the stakes of the query. I crave more of that throughout. The sentences are really long and don’t offer much in way of voice. Can you condense the opening paragraph to a sentence? This would give better set up. Also, in the stakes, who is she considering saving instead? I’d like to know who that is and why she wants to save them. Why are they important to her? I love your opening line for the novel. It immediately draws the reader in with questions about which war, why she was apart from her mother, and how a war could do so. The first 250 words could use some trimming and more active verbs to draw the reader further into the story. The second paragraph has a few long sentences that could be more effective in shorter length, as well as passive removed from some of them. Examples: “Graceful, measured handwriting reflected the woman who’d sent it. I tore through the flap in one quick movement. The fragrance of my grandmother’s perfume swept me back to enchanting stories heard from the safety of her lap.” Also, “Her greeting deceived me, leaving me unprepared for what followed.” Another one: “The letter became impossible to read, ink smeared by my tears.” You might also want to be aware of -ly words, and write stronger, more specific verbs to make the writing stronger. I hope this helps!


      Peace Pays What War Wins: Another historical fiction about the cruelty of the Nazis. What a great match up! This query letter opens with a lot of historical reference, which makes it hard to muddle through. Even though I’m somewhat familiar with this period, I didn’t know who the Partisans were, so you might give a few hints on that or even give some specifics on this group. “Scared out of his mind” is a tad cliché and doesn’t seem like the right voice for this query letter. I’d encourage you to change that and make it your own. You don’t give much information on his plan to escape. Is that important to the query and the stakes? I love that this is based on historical narrations and you’ve done so much research. The second sentence in the first 250 is passive, so I’d encourage you to rewrite it to emerge the reader further into sensory details. I love the foreshadowing in the line “He’s been drinking, and that will work in my favor.” It’s the start of some great tension that builds in this scene. The line “make a woman look pretty as well” is a little awkward. Do you mean he looks so pretty, he’s almost feminine? So much voice in this, and I’m sure that is why the hosts picked it!

      SUCH a hard choice, but after rereading several times, VICTORY to PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS.
      ~Red Ink Slinger

      Delete
  2. War and Redemption
    A lot happens in the first paragraph of your query! Almost overwhelmingly so. I’d put a little more focus on who Bekah is before you dive into what happens to her. You want the reader to have a reason to care about the MC. How old is she, for starters? There’s a bit of repetition within the query. For example, within the first four sentences you use “forces” and “Arrow Cross” three times each—I’d see if you can change it up a bit. I’d explain what the “protective pass” is a little more, and where Bekah got it, so it doesn’t read like a “get out of jail free,” card. The stakes are quite but powerful, though I did want to know if she had a certain person in mind to save. Someone she’d connected with, perhaps?
    In the pages, I’m not sure why you sum up the grandmother’s letter, rather than showing the reader the whole thing. Since it’s the inciting incident, it’d be good to show it all. It has less of an impact as a simple summation. From reading the pages I see that the father was forced away before the story even began, while the query letter makes it sound like it happens after Bekah goes home. There’s some good emotion in the pages, but I’d expand upon the letter.

    Peace Pays What War Wins
    Unique setting and storyline. It’s interesting that you chose to tackle it from a YA POV. It’s a bit depressing, I won’t lie, but then, that’s simply the subject matter you’re writing about. The stakes are very clearly laid down, but you may want to explain some of your terminology more, such as “Partisans” and “KZ Banjica,” for those not well versed in history, as well as give the reader a date. Also, I’m not sure whether you should mention the sisters in the beginning, since you don’t mention them again—it begs the question of where their parents are. The query is pretty clear and promises a heart wrenching read.
    Great first line and last line in the pages, suggests a lot of voice with swag and humor, even amidst a dark tone. Really tight writing—your prose flow so smooth, and you create a great sense of setting. My favorite writing so far!

    ReplyDelete
  3. WAR AND REDEMPTION:

    There is so much emotion in this query and opening page. Obviously, the subject matter is so important and the story is so big. I am really excited for you to query it!

    General query comments:

    - I would think about whether you need to include "overly critical" to Bekha's mother's description.
    - At the end of your query, you mention that she has to choose between going home and saving someone else, I would totally add more to your query regarding this fact. That's really where your stakes are! Ultimately, she needs to figure out whether surviving or doing something kind is worth more. That's so powerful!
    - I would also try and add her age somewhere in the query

    General page comments:
    - I agree that you should definitely consider not summarizing the letter. Maybe you can even have the letter as if her grandmother had really written it on the page and just format it differently around the rest of the text.
    - If you did the above, you can then focus in on her emotions afterward. Maybe she drops the letter. And then rereads it instead of continuing to read it.
    - I would also name the school I think it would help the reader know that she's at a boarding school




    PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS:

    This sibling story sounds so powerful! I am also really excited for you to start querying! And I actually disagree with the comment above, I think having a YA title with this subject matter can be so important (I'm thinking All Quiet on the Western Front / Night).

    General comments on query:
    - My main comment here is that I didn't understand the importance of the third paragraph until I read the fourth. I would add in a line in the third that tells the agent/editor why this is important to know. Maybe you alter this line: "But before Vuk can make good on his last promise to his brother, he learns that the other prisoners will face dire consequences if he does." And then go into what happens.

    General comments on page:

    - I would change the first line to "The man strolls down the dirt road in no particular hurry, and I wonder what poor soul died to put that smile on his face." - I think changing to poor soul makes the MC sound more empathetic.
    - A few word choices I wasn't sure what you meant by: Midnight sun - do you mean the moon? Brown air man jacket - I'm not sure what this is - I would try to definitely go into a YA mindset and think about the way a young man would think of these as. Maybe he'd just say a brown jacket.


    Both of these stories sound so amazing! G'luck to you both!!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. War and Redemption

    Your story sounds very powerful. I just have one small comment. You say the mother is "weary and discontented." "Discontented" feels like too mild a word for someone on a death march, and doesn't really add. I might suggest "disoriented" as a replacement, since it adds to the reasons why Bekah would have trouble keeping her going.

    ReplyDelete
  5. WAR AND REDEMPTION
    Query:
    You do a good job of telling us what’s at stake for Bekah. I agree with a previous post that perhaps you don’t need to use the word critical when describing Bekah’s mother. But, if that trait is an important part of the story maybe you could change the wording, or add something later? Just a thought.
    First 250:
    Love the opening line. This is a strong start! The only suggestion I have is that it might sound more intimate if you quote her grandmother’s letter (like you did toward the end) instead of using “she said…” for example instead of “she said Mother’s depression had become worse,” you might write, “’Your mother’s depression is worse…”

    PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS
    This is a strong query. I love that the story is based on first-person accounts. I think you’ve covered enough here to whet the reader’s appetite without giving away too much.
    First 250:
    That first paragraph is amazing! You put me right there and I can see this half-drunk man, wandering down the road. I love the mix of death and gaiety, the fjord on fire. This is the kind of opening that will keep me up all night reading because I KNOW the rest of the book is going to be just as good.

    I'm not a huge fan of YA, but I love historical fiction, particularly WWII, and I want to read both of these, like RIGHT NOW!

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  6. WAR & REDEMPTION: Query: I was a bit distracted with the repetition of Arrow Cross, but the story itself sounds like something I'd enjoy, which is the ultimate goal of the query. My heart already aches for Bekah because she is facing so many difficult choices. Words: I love the opening line of the 250 words--it says a LOT and drew me right in. After that, as perfect as I am sure it can be polished to be, it was a little bit filter-y for my taste, and likely part of that is the constraints of the contest. But if I wasn't being nitpicky and hyper critical, I'd say it is really great.

    PEACE PAYS WHAT WAR WINS: Query: I agree with some of the others that there is enough at stake without mentioning the sisters at the opening of the query--especially since they aren't in the opening of the pages. After that, I was sucked in and my heart was beating fast just imaging the stress. I'd say there are a few too many proper nouns--we don't necessarily need to know the names of the camps because they aren't common parlance and there are enough "foreign" words to make it difficult to read quickly. However, this is total nitpicking and if I wasn't looking for things to critique, I wouldn't have noticed. Pages: I like the addition of the airman's jacket (but making it a compound word would clear up that confusion and I totally believe a 14 year old would notice it) and the six pence hat. It let me know that there is a lot of thoughtfulness to the scene I am watching unfold. I also knew midnight sun and could totally picture the fjords on fire--really well painted! I think the voice is gripping and I can hear like I am inside his brain which is wonderful. And the final sentence--bravo! Utterly perfect juxtaposition after the bit about him being a decent looking man. I think your word choices get a ton across in a small space, which is exactly as it should be. I got scene, emotion, conflict, stakes--in 250 words.

    These are both really well done, and I am amazed that there were two selections that really pit the idea of teens struggling against the Nazis on their own (for all intents and purposes) and both have a Scandinavian component. I'd say you both have an excellent chance to move forward, but my personal favorite was Vuk based on the nitpicky things--and the fact that the voice was stellar.

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  7. The Ones Who Loved Us:

    Budapest, Hungary -- 1944.

    During the final months of World War II, Bekah’s grandmother calls her home from boarding school to help care for her overly critical and mentally ill mother. [I'm not a fan of the combination. "Overly critical" clearly paints the mother in a negative light, and it drags "mentally ill" along—and seeing as mental illness gets enough stigma and negative connotations as-is, I'd avoid that] The army forces Bekah’s father into the labor service and then the Arrow Cross, the Hungarian Nazi party, takes her grandmother away. Bekah doesn’t know if she’s capable of holding what’s left of her family together, but she’s determined to try. Soon the Arrow Cross forces Bekah and the other Jews of Budapest into overcrowded apartments in what is the beginning of a plan to “cleanse” the city of Jewish blood. [Interesting so far. I think some of it could be reworded and tightened a bit to pack a stronger punch, especially emotionally, but most important things are in there.]

    With most train tracks destroyed, the Arrow Cross then forces Bekah and her mother to join thousands of other Jews on a death march across Hungary. It is the middle of winter and the Arrow Cross gives them barely any food or water and makes them sleep outside on the frozen ground. On the death march, Bekah fights to keep her weary and discontented mother alive. Despite Bekah’s efforts, an officer shoots her mother and leaves her to die in a ditch along the side of the road. [And this paragraph loses me, sorry. It reads too much like a synopsis: too step-by-step, this happens then that happens, and the MC is lost in it. I want to know what she wants, what she feels and why, and what choices she makes]

    Bekah sinks into despair and feels all hope is lost, but then a daring Swedish diplomat arrives at the death march to save anyone with a protective pass. [she's pretty passive there. I still don't feel/care for her enough, past the general "person who went through terrible things" level, and paired with giving up until she's saved by an outsider (presumably a man?) really isn't helping] Bekah has a pass and longs to go home [what's home? is there anyone left there, anyone she misses and wants to see?], but she also faces a difficult choice: whether to save herself or redeem her broken soul by saving someone else. [That's... not strong enough for me. I don't know or understand her enough—I can tell it's a powerful and deep story, I can tell it's very focused on her character, but I need to be shown specifics. I need to FEEL that this is a hard choice for her, and understand the goals and motivations and reasons behind it.]

    The first 250: I love the first line. In a couple of places you could reword a bit or tighten up the prose, but otherwise it's a good opening. The one thing I can't get over, though... isn't she SAFE at the school? She even thinks of how lucky she is to be there. During dangerous times, after what just happened to her father, what's wrong with her grandmother to call this child back to that environment if Bekah is already safe where she is? Sure, the times were different and so were family relations, but that just doesn't sit well with me, so I'd need... something. A hint that she's not really safe no matter where she is; a nod to how it makes her feel that her grandmother wants her to abandon the place she's safe at to come take care of her family; something. Or better yet, if possible, a change to the grandmother telling her *not* to come home, and her choosing to nonetheless.

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  8. This is No Courtyard:
    [I like your nick as a title more than the actual title, for the record!]

    Vuk is fourteen when the Nazis invade Yugoslavia. Unwilling to see his younger sisters grow up in a fascist country, Vuk joins the Partisans 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 KZ [on one hand, your perfect agent match will probably know enough about this time period to understand what this means—on the other, I'd still spell it out for clarity's sake. I think calling it what it is would make the punch of it stronger too] Banjica.
    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 Vuk will be shipped to Korgen and Pedja to Beisfjord, the brothers vow to escape and meet up in neutral Sweden. [the sisters disappeared from the query, so I think you could safely cut them from the opening. They provided strong motivation, but there are layers to it that I think you can show even if you substitute with "family" or even not wanting to live in a fascist country himself]
    But before Vuk can make good on his last promise to his brother, two other prisoners flee the Korgen-camp. 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. [Could use a short line here already to what this means for Vuk's state of mind and his plan to escape]
    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. [Good, I like these stakes.]

    I like the first 250 too. The voice is strong, the prose is tight, and the MC's personality/state of mind definitely shows through. There's a certain jadedness to the voice, but also fear/vulnerability underneath, that I think fits perfectly with the point of his life we're in. On that note, I also like the moment you've chosen to start the story; I think it's a good choice to reveal the rest through weaved-in backstory as we follow the MC along.

    *

    I realised I never wished War and Redemption good luck, sorry about that! Both of these stories deal with difficult subjects and I think both have interesting potential, so good luck to the both of you!

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  9. War & Redemption

    Query: Feels very real and perhaps based on a true story? Had trouble, though, with the last line. After such a struggle to survive, why would Bekah consider not saving herself? And why does she need redemption? Is there something we don’t know that maybe we should to better understand her struggle?

    1st 250: The opening grabbed me immediately and I felt great sympathy for Bekah. But maybe some details could place us immediately in the time period. Either the mention of a “forced labor camp for Jews” or mention of Nazis? Otherwise, really well done!

    vs

    Peace Pays for What War Wins

    Query: Feels real and immediate. The only thing I didn’t understand was why escaping would send dozens of his comrades to certain death? Why would they be blamed? Maybe explain this a little more?

    1st 250: Very effective to open with such a tense scene. But “He’s handsome in that Scandinavian way” stuck out somehow … maybe consider a different way to describe him that fits the character of Vuk a little more? And “a cliche of a man” was confusing to me as well, not sure what you meant by that. Great job, though!

    Best of luck to you both!

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  10. Peace Pays: Beautiful writing in both the query and the 250, and a very consistent tone in both, which is something I've noticed is not as common as I thought it would be in a lot of the entries I've been reading. (Many display a different voice in the query and the text.) The query provides generous detail without being confusing or overwhelming, and drew my interest completely. The conflict and the stakes couldn't be clearer and more dire. I like the way the character's first observations have a tinge of irony in noting the fine bone structure of the Nazi passerby, how he reflects a certain beauty on the outside but yet is revealed to be evil, with a forceful but simple expletive. I might wish the main character could reveal himself, his youth, and maybe somehow his name to us (if not to his captors)...although I'm sure that's a challenge in a first person narrative, within the first 250 words. But 14 is quite young to be enduring the circumstances he's in, so as a reader I think it's important for that to come through. The voice is understandably sober and mature, so it's hard to tell the age of the speaker. It might help to assert his view in the first sentence, instead of starting with a description of "the man." E.g., "My heart thrummed as I watched the man..." instead of "The man yada yada." That's all I might add-- wonderful entry!

    War & Redemption: Another horrifying situation for a young person to find themselves in--shame there are so many tales of this nature to tell. The query flows well and provides decent background, but seems to run out of steam in the end. E.g., we come to the section about Bekah's hopelessness and despair, which are preceded by various trials and torturous conditions ... then we get one more sentence and the query ends. I understand not wanting to give up the whole ending, but I'd like to hear more about the "redemption" aspect in the query, instead of just a few words about saving someone else. That would balance out the "war" section nicely. The 250 brings us into the story via letters. Something more active might do more justice to the frightening scene that is playing out in Bekah's home country, and literally in her mother's home. What if the novel opened to Bekah arriving home and being shocked at the horrors of the occupation? That to me would create urgency and better demonstrate the life or death stakes that defined this moment in history.

    Both of these stories have huge import and need to be told. Kudos to you both and good luck!


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  11. War and Redemption

    Heyyy there! So I find it easier to make my suggested edits and comments directly inline the query [in brackets like these] :D

    QUERY

    Budapest, Hungary -- 1944. [catchy opener, like it]

    During the final months of World War II, [X-year-old] Bekah’s grandmother calls her home from boarding school to help care for her overly critical and mentally ill mother. The army forces Bekah’s father into the labor service and then the Arrow Cross, the Hungarian Nazi party, takes her grandmother away. Bekah doesn’t know if she’s capable of holding what’s left of her family together, but she’s determined to try. Soon the Arrow Cross [orders][to avoid repeating “forces”] Bekah and the other Jews of Budapest into overcrowded apartments [as part] of [the organization’s] plan to “cleanse” the city of Jewish blood. [just did some slight rewording to make the sentence flow smoother imo]

    With most train tracks destroyed, the Arrow Cross then forces [see if there is another word you can use instead of ‘forces’?] Bekah and her mother to join thousands of other Jews on a death march across Hungary [wait I’m a little confused—I thought they were being forced into the slums/ghettos? Bit of a jump in events]. It is the middle of winter and the Arrow Cross gives them barely any food or water and makes them sleep outside on the frozen ground. On the death march, Bekah fights to keep her weary and discontented mother alive. Despite Bekah’s efforts, an officer shoots her mother and leaves her to die in a ditch along the side of the road.

    Bekah sinks into despair and feels all hope is lost, but then a daring Swedish diplomat arrives [deleted stuff here] to save anyone with a protective pass. Bekah has a pass [another quick point of confusion: did Bekah already have the pass? Or did the diplomat give her a pass? From the way it was worded, it sounded like the Swedish diplomat can only save people who already have passes. If so, this caught me off guard since Bekeh was never mentioned having a pass before, and this piece of info is coming pretty late into the query] and longs to go home, but she also faces a difficult choice: whether to save herself or redeem her broken soul by saving someone else. [excellent stakes to close this query out]


    FINAL THOUGHTS

    Overall, I thought this query was well written with clear heartbreaking stakes. I think just a couple quick notes I would like to make: 1) the word “forces” was used 3 different times in the query—is there some way to replace 2 of them? 2) I got a little bit thrown off in the transition between Bekah getting forced into the slums and then forced into the march; is it possible to nix the part about the slums and jump straight to the march? 3) A little bit unclear about how the pass thing works, as noted inline. Other than that, this seems good!


    FIRST 250

    Powerful first 250, and I loved the opening sentence. Everything read clearly and I liked the immediate conflict/hinting of the plot right away. I wouldn’t mind delving into Bekah’s mind a little bit more—it seems like a traumatic scene/experience for her to be going through, and while her physical reactions are nicely conveyed (ie. Tears, pressing her lips together), I would love to sense a little bit more of her emotional/internal thoughts.

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  12. PEACE PAYS

    As mentioned before, I’ll be making my feedback [in brackets like these]

    QUERY

    Vuk is fourteen when the Nazis invade Yugoslavia. Unwilling to see his younger sisters grow up in a fascist country, Vuk joins the Partisans 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 KZ Banjica.


    After weeks of brutal interrogations, Vuk and Pedja are transferred [north] [just trying to streamline some stuff; details are good, but too many can be overwhelming and detract from what the focus of the query should be one: conflict, character, and stakes] to build railways and roads for the German occupiers. When [deleted stuff here; I believe, that technically, “they” refers to the German occupiers] Vuk [learns he’s being] shipped to Korgen and Pedja to Beisfjord, the brothers vow to escape and meet up in neutral Sweden. [again just some sentence tweaking to streamline]

    But before Vuk can make good on his last promise to his brother, two other prisoners flee the Korgen-camp. 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. [EXCELLENT AND BRUTAL STAKES]

    THIS IS NO COURTYARD is based on narrations from Yugoslavian Partisans who managed to escape the Norwegian death camps and some of the people who helped them.


    FINAL THOUGHTS

    Tightly packed query with tons of details and clear progression of events. I really only have nitpicks, as noted inline. I did contemplate about whether or not the part about the “hiding out in a hay barn” could be taken out (and the sentence reworded to something like “However, their unit is betrayed, and both brothers are arrested”) just so we can jump to the meat of the query sooner. But overall, looks good!


    FIRST 250

    That. Opening. Line. Immediately gives us an idea of the grim setting and the lines that follow plants us firmly in the MC’s head. Good voice, too. Love it!

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