Saturday, June 25, 2016


Title: Under the Surface
Entry nickname: Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy
Word count: 64K
Genre: YA Speculative Fiction


Seventeen-year-old Lauren is a professional mother-disappointer… but losing her sister in an eerie underwater town sets a whole new standard. 

When Lauren hears the legend, she’s intrigued; exploring the lost town under Lake Modoc is the perfect adventure to take her mind off of her mounting stack of detention letters. Together with her two best friends, she hops on a boat (somewhat illegally) and sets out to discover the Atlantis of Owego County. 

One problem: Lauren must bring her eight-year-old tattletale sister, Roxie, along for the ride. In the split second Lauren and her friends find the creepy, algae-covered church steeple under the lake, Roxie disappears from the boat. Silently, impossibly, Roxie is gone.

With her sister missing, Lauren is wracked with grief and uncertainty. She becomes obsessed with uncovering the secrets behind Roxie’s increasingly mysterious disappearance. But when the police can’t see the steeple Lauren leads them to—the place where Roxie vanished—she takes matters into her own hands, scuba diving into the deep.

Lauren finds out too late that the town under the lake was abandoned there for a reason. By opening its doors, she unleashes the its dark, magical ability to lure away children—and if she doesn’t find her sister soon, she might have more than one lost kid to answer for.

With Roxie’s life hanging in the balance, Lauren must piece together the secrets of the town under Lake Modoc—or live under the weight of Roxie’s death forever.

First 250 words:

Whenever I stand on the shores of Lake Modoc, I scour the horizon like I’ll find something out of the ordinary. Today I do the same, letting my eyes skip over the dark blanket of water as the wind plays with the ends of my hair. On the edge of my vision something bobs some twenty feet away, but the moment I squint harder to see its shape, it disappears.

“Ugh, damn it! These test tubes are impossible,” Carly shouts beside me, breaking my reverie.

“Jesus. You ruined my yoga vibe.”

“Yeah, ‘cause I can totally see you doing downward-facing whatever. Can you help for two seconds?” Carly pushes her red curls out of her face, bent over the water’s edge.

As I step toward her, movement flashes in the water again. My stomach drops out, leaving a vague sense of dread in its place. Whatever’s out there avoids my glance, so I force myself to take up my time-honored duty: talking Carly down from insanity.

“Hey,” I say. “It’s a simple assignment. We’d be fine using tap water.”

“Tap water is too easy. I want a challenge.” The glass tubes she’s struggling with tumble into the lake, causing her to swear under her breath.

“Well, consider yourself challenged.”

Carly has been my best friend since that time we had the misfortune of being dressed in the same hideous sweater on picture day in the second grade, but at times like these I reconsider our actual compatibility as human beings.


Title: The Siren Episode
Entry Nickname: Cement Gargling 101
Word Count: 82,000
Genre: YA Fantasy


Arlen’s parents kill monsters—sirens, gorgons, and even leprechauns—then broadcast the murders on their TV show, Myth Slayers. And killing is a family business.

Ever since mythological creatures destroyed San Francisco twelve years ago, Myth Slayers has been number one in the ratings. Now the show’s stars want to retire and force the reins upon their son. But at seventeen, Arlen doesn’t want to slaughter monsters on primetime TV—he just wants to survive high school, where a quirk in his Myth Slayer blood makes life unbearable. 

Arlen’s blood gives him power, but repels members of the opposite sex. He can’t even approach girls without making them physically ill. So when he finds a girl who’s not getting sick, he finally sees a chance at a normal life. Problem is, Lenora’s a siren. Worse, she’s a murderer. And Lenora hides a secret: the location of a safe filled with evidence that Arlen’s parents destroyed San Francisco, not the monsters. If opened, the safe’s contents could ruin his family, leaving humans unprotected against nightmarish creatures. Arlen’s parents want the siren dead, and Arlen faces an impossible choice: kill Lenora to bury the secret, or trust the siren and expose the truth. 

First 250 words:

Arlen Boggs hopped his neighbor’s fence and slipped past the protestors. They’d camped in front of his house again, picket signs raised. He tried to keep his footsteps light, but the rain puddles didn’t help his cause.

Two blocks, he thought. You can do two blocks without getting recognized.

The morning air chilled his neck, and he buttoned his father’s trench coat, too big for his lanky frame. Arlen wore the coat, baseball cap, and sunglasses to keep himself hidden. He hoped it would work this time. 

Head down, he hurried along the narrow sidewalk. Trees rustled on either side of the street, and he glanced up at the sycamores. Nothing but windblown leaves.

A woman’s voice came from behind him: “There he is.”

Arlen turned to look at the protestors, five houses back. “Great,” he muttered.

Two of their poster boards read, “GO AWAY, MYTH SLAYERS!” and “MYTHS HAVE RIGHTS, TOO!” Despite the wet September morning, the crazy zealots surged onto the road and shouted at him.

A few months shy of his eighteenth birthday, Arlen still didn't have his driver's license. His parents never had time to teach him, always out filming their TV show. Otherwise, he would have driven himself to school and avoided the daily hate-fest.

Another tree rustled and a branch snapped. 

Could be a monster.

The protestors sped up, chasing after him with their hand-painted signs. 

Arlen broke into a jog. Monsters in the trees, protestors on his tail. Why were mornings so complicated?


  1. Judges, please post your votes as a reply to this comment.

    1. This isn't fair, making us choose between these two... Both are amazing, and I wish you each great success. Can't wait to see where you both end up getting published! :) Congrats to you both!

      Victory to CEMENT GARGLING 101

    2. I'd be thrilled to see either of these advance! Sorry that I have to pick only one, but...


    3. I'm not keen on the opening of ATLANTIS. I love the opening of CEMENT.

      Victory to CEMENT GARGLING 101

    4. Solarpunk GoddessJune 25, 2016 at 10:02 AM

      Just to show how subjective these things can be: I'm the opposite of Trinity. I loved the opening of ATLANTIS and didn't fully connect with the opening of CEMENT. (Though, the last paragraph in CEMENT's opening made me think Harry Dresden, so kudos on that.)

      Once again, both these entries are ready for the publishing world, but overall, I feel ATLANTIS has higher stakes and a stronger concept.


    5. ATLANTIS:
      I've always loved this entry. I'm slightly disconcerted by the foreshadowing in the 250, because it's too vague to really give me a picture of what she's seeing, or why...I think a note about how there are dark rumors about the lake or something might help...then we're left wondering whether it's her wild imagination, or whatever. Somehow, that adds more tension for me.

      Cement Gargling: This is an awesome concept. The only thing about the 250 that bugs me is the bit about his driver's license- feels too much like backstory. I don't need to know this yet, because I don't know enough to wonder why he's not driving, so the tension holds me.

      This is a very hard decision, because these concepts capture me equally, and the writing is good in both. I have to just go with my gut, because while I would read both of these books, I think I'd read one of them before the other. VICTORY TO LIKE ATLANTIS, ONLY TOTALLY CREEPY.

    6. ATLANTIS:
      Oh boy. I haven't had the pleasure of reading this one yet and I think the query is fantastic. I would LOVE to read this. The first 250 could be strengthened a bit more. I feel like there's a little bit of 'telling' going on when I just want to be totally hooked in, but overall, wow! I love it! This matchup is totally not fair!

      I'm totally not into reading this kind of fantasy, but you totally have me hooked. I think this sounds like a great story with a lot of potential.

      Do I really have to choose?? Going with personal preference even though I'd read them both...


    7. Katherine PierceJune 25, 2016 at 1:59 PM

      Like Atlantic, Only Totally Creepy: I’m not a huge fan of giving things away in the first sentence then hopping back in time. Personal preference probably. However, I love the changes you’ve made to both the query and 250, I think both are much, much stronger. I think you might throw in *why* she’s looking for something out of the ordinary in the 250, even if it’s just like, “Because of the creepy legend.”

      Cement Gargling 101: I love the premise of this story. For the query, you can probably cut “And” in the first paragraph. The part about his driver’s license in the 250, feels a bit too tell-y, I think you can reword it so it comes out more organically there. Love the last line in the 250, definitely makes me want to read more.

      I love both of these entries and wish you both luck in your agent search!


    8. Like Atlantis Only Totally Creepy: Great job on the query letter revisions! This pitch pulled me in much better than the previous version I read. I loved the opening. It set the scene very well.

      Cement Gargling 101: This is a very intriguing query letter. It highlighted the story's plot and showed Arlen's motives very well. The voice in the 250 really pulled me in. I was sad to see the sample end.

      This is a really tough decision. I like the concept, writing, and voice of both entries, but one just called to me more. Victory to: Cement Gargling 101

    9. Strawberry ShortcakeJune 25, 2016 at 3:34 PM

      Hi everyone! Just wanted to give props to you both for putting yourselves out there like this! That’s not easy! Just so you know, I deliberately kept my nose out of previous rounds so I could come in with fresh eyes. Here we go!

      Overall I think your query is pretty strong! There are just a couple places where you could shave some words. First, right after, “Roxie disappears from the boat,” you go on to say, “Silently, impossibly, Roxie is gone.” Both of these snippets are telling us the same thing, so you can cut one of them and keep the momentum going (personally, I vote for keeping the second quote and cutting the first). The other part I’d cut is the entire line where it says, “With her sister missing…Lauren is wracked with grief and uncertainty.” We already know the sister is missing, and in the very next line you tell us the MC is obsessed with figuring this out. In my opinion, her action is much more powerful than being told about her emotion and keeps us moving forward (we see emotion through action).

      I would also massage your first 250 a bit. I *want* to love this story. It’s such a cool premise. The very first line strikes me as odd – why is she scanning the horizon for something out of the ordinary? This had my attention because I expected you to reel me in (pardon the pun) with those details but then it sidetracks to the back-and-forth between the MC and her friend. Now, it’s impossible in 250 words for me to know if this banter is leading up to something, but with only the 250 to go on I’m wanting more of the story behind why she’s expecting to see something out of the ordinary.

      Overall I think this query works, to be honest. We see the central conflict surrounding the MC and the decision he must make. It’s concise, to the point, and well written. Good job!

      Unfortunately, I’m confused in the first 250. The query said the Myth Slayers show was popular. His family is wealthy and famous because of it, but then there are protestors. This isn’t an insurmountable problem, as a quick tweak of the query could keep the reader oriented as they move from one to the other (I even went back and re-read the query to make sure I hadn’t missed something). I would suggest weaving it in where your query mentions his parents want to “force the reigns up him.” Even then, I would keep it very minimal. Just something to the effect of his parents wanting to hoist everything off on him right has the public's opinion about monsters begins to shift, or similar. Otherwise, the first 250 is well-written and does its job of pulling the reader in.

      This is a hard vote for me. I loooooove the premise of UNDER THE SURFACE and really, really want to see this story advance. It’s such a strong concept and the query is just a couple tweaks away from spectacular. However, I do feel THE SIREN EPISODE’s first 250 does a better job of pulling us into the world. So…with conflict in my heart…


    10. Bernadine HarrisJune 25, 2016 at 4:15 PM

      Like Atlantis, Only Totally Creepy

      Love the idea of updating the city of Atlantis! I think my main concern with both the query and the pages was the tone. I wasn’t quite sure what it was, especially in the pages.

      That first line in the query made me think it was going to be one thing (Very almost sarcastic teenaged girl, which I love) but then the rest of the query didn’t fit that. I also was confused by the mention of the legend. It literally took me out of it because I was like “Wait, what’s the legend? Is her sister a legend? Is the town a legend?” I would definitely clarify that.

      In terms of pages, the dialogue gave me one tone (that teenaged girl, which is great because it is about a teenaged girl) but it felt a bit at odds with me in terms of the non-dialogue, especially the opening.

      Cement Gargling 101

      Also love this idea. It’s so creative mixing reality TV with monsters. I felt like a got a great sense of the story in the query without feeling like I knew every detail and I thought the opening really set everything up well and made me want to know more.

      These are both really strong, unique ideas that make it a tough choice but I have to go with the one that I feel the query and opening brought up less questions for me, so…

      Victory to Cement Gargling 101

    11. Posting on behalf of Cat Wrangler:

      Wow. The match-ups continue to be so tight. I think the tweaks you've both made to your queries and first 250 have really made these sing.

      Victory: Like Atlantis Only Creepier

    12. These are both fun concepts. They've made it this far because you're both very talented--and both have made significant improvements. However, the premise of Cement Gargling 101 is just a little bit more intriguing to me. It comes down to subjectivity at this point.


    13. I am so impressed by the quality of these entries. Seriously. Nothing I would change as far as the queries would go, and the first 250 suck me in and make me want to read on for both of them. In the end, though, I am going to have to be subjective, because judging otherwise would be nearly impossible. So..


    14. This was the toughest match-up yet for me! I honestly loved both of these entries. Voting subjectively...

      Victory to: CEMENT GARGLING 101

    15. This is a really hard decision because I'd read both in a heart beat. These are really two of my favorites. The queries are both great. I am only voting for one because I think the 250 may make for a more exciting inciting incident, but I have confidence that both are great reads. Congrats to you both!

    16. First time I've seen these entries, and WOW, both high concept with catchy hooks. The sequencing in the ATLANTIS Query, though, threw me a little (hook first, then back to before the sister is taken) and the First 250 didn't immediately draw me in. As I read the Query and First 250 for CEMENT GARGLING, I couldn't help smiling wider and wider. In love with this whole concept, the setting, the voice. For those reasons...


    17. I completely love both of these entries and would read either of these books in a heartbeat. For me, with of these entries have been refined to a point that's it's now down to a matter of personal taste. And on that basis, victory to Cement Gargling 101!

    18. These are both intriguing entries with solid writing, but I feel one has a snappier query with a stronger hook, so it's going to have to be victory to CEMENT GARGLING 101!

  2. Impossible choice!
    ATLANTIS: Query: check out a typo -- "she unleashes THE ITS dark, magical ability"
    Love the improvements to the Query. very clear stakes. very mysterious.
    Opening: love the idea of her seeing things in the lake out of the corner of her eye. Wish this had more of an impact on her interaction with her BFF. Or maybe wait a little longer for it to interrupt them (like a bigger BOOM at the end of the 250?).

    CEMENT: Query: Hadn't read this one before, and it's awesome. Is there a way to make us (the reader) like Lenora more in the query? Like one or 2 word description. She's a murderer who could take down his family...but she doesn't hurl when he goes up to her. I mean, that's good but I am not sure why he shouldn't kill her yet (or at least why I shouldn't want him to kill her yet. Endear us to her (the way she is endeared to him) to show us the struggle is real.
    Opening: really nice action! Although "you can DO two blocks" tripped me up. Run/walk two blocks? Go two blocks? I think this is a colloquialism that doesn't translate everywhere (at least it didn't for me).

    BOTH are totally amazing and it is hard. But ...
    Victory to ATLANTIS

  3. WOW! This is the toughest match-up yet. I really like both of these. ATLANTIS--your query and 250 really show improvement! Nice job. CEMENT--this concept is so unique and fantastic that I definitely want to read more!


  4. It's been so much fun watching these entries evolve and improve! Both of you have worked hard and it shows.

    How to choose . . . ?

    When it gets this close and both are wonderful, you have to go with your gut.

    My gut says, Victory to: ATLANTIS!

  5. SCOWLING DISCONTENTED JUDGEJune 26, 2016 at 3:37 PM


    UGH. UGH. UGH.

    I do not want these entries paired against each other.

    Victory to LIKE ATLANTIS, but let us never speak of this dark moment again. (And hugs and love for CEMENT GARGLING.)