Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Title: Jimmer
Entry Nickname: Southern Gothic Secrets
Word count: 68K
Genre: YA Historical/Southern Gothic


Many consider Nanih Waiya, a mound in Winston County, Mississippi, the origin place of the Choctaw. Sixteen-year-old Jimmer Stark knows. She hears Choctaw spirits, the tiak o’khata.
In early summer of 1920, Jimmer dreams of studying nursing, but her father steals her school savings. Smoot, a judge's son with aviation dreams, asks Jimmer to join him in a pretend engagement so they can swindle his parents out of money to fund their dreams. Jimmer refuses his offer, encouraged by the tiak o'khata.

When a White Knight (KKK) member, Tommy Dean, seeks to court Jimmer and then she watches a young cousin die in childbirth, Jimmer decides to take Smoot's offer. Her grandmother begs her to break it off. Their family's hidden heritage of black, white and Choctaw, along with this high-profile engagement, puts them in peril from the Knights if this secret is uncovered.

As the summer continues, Tommy Dean learns that Jimmer's sister is involved with a visiting Chicagoan, a black man. Tommy Dean promises to keep this secret from the Knights if Jimmer will end her engagement and marry him. Jimmer gives in, but Tommy Dean breaks his word.

Jimmer returns to Smoot for help and learns a new secret, Tommy Dean's half-brother is her sister's lover. When she needs help the most, the tiak o'khata stops guiding her as if her ancestors are holding their breath to see what she will do. Will Jimmer turn to blackmail or even murder to save her sister?

First 250 words:

Jimmer lifted her shotgun. Pinkish-white petals fluttered downward in the apple orchard like confetti tossed at a wedding.

A fox squirrel scampered along an apple branch. Carefully, she sighted it and squeezed the trigger. The blast of the shot was followed by a thump.

"Fetch, Little Bit."

Her coonhound raced through the tangled underbrush.

"A gal who can hunt like that will catch a fine husband." The thread of pride in Pa's voice was unmistakable. He spat a stream of tobacco juice into the dirt.

Jimmer ignored his praise. Pa'd spent her college money, her hard-earned ten dollars, without a word. He'd swiped it from the jar under her bed and gone to the harness races. Now it was gone. Words piled up against her teeth, wanting to break out, but she clenched her jaw shut. Only careful words would keep Pa under control. He hadn't been himself for so long, and she wondered if he ever would be.

"Still mad about that money?" Pa gave her shoulder a rough shake. "Hell, college isn't for you, gal. Focus on your hope chest like your sister Eddie Lee. You ain't ugly. Who knows what beau you'll land?"

She fixed her eyes on the combed over bald spot on Pa's head. He was a little man. She'd passed him in height at twelve years old and now, at sixteen, towered over him.

"I'm not Eddie Lee."

"Not by half. Now, run that squirrel home for your grandmother to stew.


Title: The Heathens of Muskox Hollow
Entry Nickname: Tittyknope & Troubles
Word count: 80k
Genre: YA Historical


Åsta Hedstrom’s two favorite things are acting in Erlend Fournier’s theater, and her best friend—the one-armed heathen, Gunnar Fuglestad. But when Åsta’s jealous betrothed misunderstands her closeness with Gunnar, he stabs her friend in the back, paralyzing his legs and destroying the future Gunnar and Erlend were secretly planning together. Now homeless and feeling responsible for the disaster, Åsta devotes herself to helping the paralyzed boy and his lover in any way she can. She goes to work for Gunnar’s brother and takes up an unlikely profession for a young lady at the turn of the century—employment as a blacksmith’s apprentice.

Åsta finds joy in her unconventional work—especially when she gets to try her hand at training a filly for the village’s annual Christmas Race—but she soon discovers the dangerous lengths some townsfolk will go to keep the godless Fuglestads from continuing their legendary winning streak. Åsta’s best friend, meanwhile, has given up. Convinced he’s ruined Erlend’s life, Gunnar decides the only place he belongs is far away—in a home for cripples. Åsta needs to help keep her friend in Muskox Hollow, find a way for the Fuglestads to win the race, save the life of a baby pig, all the while fighting to be true to herself in a society that believes she and her companions are wicked.

First 250:

His arm was gone—everything below the elbow. Yes, it was all bundled up in calico bandages, but my mind couldn’t help but picture what it all looked like underneath—bone severed, and then what? A perfect nightmare. Was it sticking out of the meat all white and shiny? Or was there a layer of skin sewn over the blunt end? Would it heal with fleshy padding or would he forever have to be careful about keeping his arm-bone from poking into people. 

My face felt hot. I had to sit down.

Above Gunnar Fuglestad’s stump there were freckles and the short sleeves of his undershirt—thin and tight across his chest. He was asleep, his head tilted off to the side, his ginger lashes heavy and still. A scab stretched across his forehead shaped like a falcon in flight, another partially healed-over across one cheekbone. He hadn’t likely been bathed since the accident and oil made a sheen over his pale brow, cording his blood-red hair. Still, he smelled like cinnamon and rain. 

A wickedly wonderful thing: watching a handsome young heathen sleep. There were things I hadn’t noticed before: the precocious orange stubble on his jaw—unusually coarse for a boy who’d only just turned seventeen—and the hardness that stayed on his face, even while he slept. 

We had a show to do, though, and how would he play Benedick with a missing arm?

The clomps of Erlend’s approaching boots echoed into the bedchamber. When I turned, he stood in the doorway with the script pages.


  1. Judges, please post your feedback and comments as a reply here:

    1. Southern Gothic Secrets:

      Oh man, this concept is top notch.
      Second P, I’d change one of the “dreams” to “aspirations” or something to avoid repeat words.

      “When a White Knight (KKK) member, Tommy Dean, seeks to court Jimmer and then she watches a young cousin die in childbirth, Jimmer decides to take Smoot's offer.”

      I’d reword: “She reconsiders Smoot’s offer, however, after being courted by a White Knight of the KKK and watching her cousin die in childbirth.” You might add, “Perhaps her dreams are all she has,” or something to drive home her thought process and connect the ideas.

      “Their family's hidden heritage of black, white and Choctaw, along with this high-profile engagement, puts them in peril from the Knights if this secret is uncovered.”

      Oh, so they’re passing as white, and Smoot is white? I’d reword, something like “It’s a high-profile engagement, and her grandmother worries their hidden black and Choctaw heritage will be uncovered, putting them in danger from the KKK.”

      “…, but Tommy Dean breaks his word.” By telling about her sister’s relationship? What happens? And is she already married to him? This falls a little flat, but if you clarify it will increase the tension.

      “Jimmer returns to Smoot for help…” With what? To save her sister and her boyfriend from the KKK? To escape the marriage?

      “Tommy Dean's half-brother is her sister's lover.” I’d reword to clarify. “The black man her sister is dating is actually Tommy Dean’s half-brother.”

      Saving her sister is good stakes, except I’m a little confused, since I thought Tommy Dean already told about the relationship, and thus I thought the damage was already done. That lessens the tension, so I’d clarify a little.

      The pages are good, great voice, great imagery.

      This is a lot of names. If you can take out the name of the theatre owner, I would.
      “betrothed misunderstands her closeness with Gunnar, ….the future Gunnar and Erlend were secretly planning together”
      This is contradictory…if they were going to run away together, he wasn’t really misunderstanding their closeness (even if they aren’t romantic, it’s still a little contradictory). Or is it some other future they were planning? Clarify.
      “Now homeless and feeling responsible for the disaster, Åsta devotes herself to helping the paralyzed boy and his lover in any way she can.”
      Why is she homeless?? And “boy” and “lover” aren’t something I want to see together. Perhaps “her friend” instead of “boy”. Even if he’s underage, don’t call him a boy in this context because I don’t know him or his age, so I’m picturing him as eight or nine…
      Is Erland Gunnar’s lover? Clarify…and I’d still take out Erland’s name. Just refer to him as Gunnar’s lover or boyfriend.
      Question mark at the end of first paragraph, instead of period.
      I find no other fault with the pages at all. Spectacular writing.

      Arrrggghhh...I'm going to vote for Southern Gothic Secrets.

    2. Southern Gothic Secrets: This is a very intriguing concept. I'm especially drawn in by the southern setting, and racial tension aspect.

      Query: I found your query letter interesting, but at times hard to follow. Some of the details were quite vague, while others seemed to present out of order. For instance, the reader wasn't told Jimmer was bi-racial until midway through the query, and after being told about a marriage proposal from a KKK member, making it seem like an afterthought. I'm having trouble finding the connection between Jimmer watching her cousin die in childbirth and her decision to accept Smoot's proposal. It seems like her wanting to escape the attention of a KKK member is enough of a reason. I wonder if that bit of information about the cousin actually adds more confusion than clarity. Also, it might be helpful to include a bit a detail on what a Choctaw is. Overall, just try to present only the necessary information that highlights the overall plot in the most relatable, clear, suspenseful way possible.

      250: The voice and writing in this sample is very good! I'm really drawn into the natural feel of the dialogue and narrative. It's reminiscent to Portis's True Grit. I didn't really see any trouble spots with the sample, good job!

      Tittyknope & Troubles: I'm found this premise very exciting, which is important for a historical. I especially like how strong Asta seems to be.

      Query: Your query letter introduces the setting and characters well, but seems to be lacking stakes. What does Asta have to gain? What is she risking? What are the crucial changes or grave consequences she may be facing? I would suggest streamlining this query letter. By condensing the descriptive sentences, you'll allow more room to layout the main points of the plot. This should help you develop a sense of urgency for Asta, which will increase the impact on the reader.

      250: The writing in this story is very immersive. It pulled me right into the story. I just noticed a few things. The last sentence in the first paragraph is also a question, and should have a question mark. Also, in this sentence:

      A scab stretched across his forehead shaped like a falcon in flight, another partially healed-over across one cheekbone.

      The wording seemed to trip me up. I think it's because the word "one" could be used on the other side of across as well, changing the sentence’s meaning. I have to say, I was a bit disappointed to see the story start with Gunnar's arm already lopped off. Based on the query letter, I had assumed that would've been the inciting incident to kick-start the story.

      Both of these entries are very strong, and so full of voice. My pick in this matchup is subjective, as I just connected with one character more than the other.

      Victory to Southern Gothic Secrets

    3. Katherine PierceJune 3, 2016 at 3:56 PM

      Southern Gothic Secrets

      Query: This is an intriguing premise for sure, but right now you’re query reads stiffly and there’s a whole lot going on. First paragraph—“a mound in Winston County”—you can cut this, it doesn’t really add anything. “Jimmer Stark knows”—knows what? That it’s true? It also seems like Jimmer’s hidden heritage needs to be brought up much sooner because I was really confused why a KKK member would want to court her. I’m also not sure how her cousin dying in childbirth is relevant to accepting Smoot’s offer. The last two paragraphs introduce a lot of brand new information too and it seems like your query is running on the long side. Really drill down to the important points and only tell us what’s absolutely necessary. You mention the tiak o’khata at the beginning and end, but I’m not sure I’m understanding how they tie into the rest of the story. I’m also unsure what the final stakes are since you mention saving her sister but don’t clarify it. Did something happen to her after Tommy outted her?

      250: Very, very strong 250. My only question here would be whether a shotgun is that right weapon to kill a squirrel? I feel like you’d only end up with little squirrel bits that way.

      Tittyknope & Troubles

      Query: Right off the bat let me say I love this premise. A female blacksmith? I’m all for it. As for the query, the biggest issue here is that there’s too many named characters. Especially up front. You can probably get away with taking out Erland altogether. First sentence I think you can simplify to “two favorite things are acting and her best friend.” Next sentence you could just say “Gunnar’s future,” and the same thing in the next sentence. I’m curious how this whole incident leads to her being homeless? That’s not clear here. Also I’d add in here what century it is. You mention heathen and godless a few times, but can you be more specific? I’m not sure exactly what you mean. In the last paragraph (after the first sentence) things become a little muddled. I think you should really focus more on Asta, rather than Gunnar, and what’s going on with her, what’s driving her, and what the big conflict and stakes are. (Also, possibly wishful thinking, but if there’s any romantic angle for Asta you might mention that as well.)

      250: I really love this. The writing is strong, I’m immediately drawn into the story. I’m mildly confused though for two reasons. One—the way Asta is describing Gunnar it really doesn’t seem like they’re just friends, or at least not how she’s feeling toward him. They’re very intense, personal descriptions that seem to have emotional weight behind them, but based on your query there isn’t anything romantic going on with them. Two—the arm injury appears brand new in this scene, so I’m wondering if this is a flashback? That didn’t seem to be the case in the query and I was expecting more to be dropped into the part where he’s going to get paralyzed. If they’re right on top of each other then yikes, I feel bad for Gunnar.

      This was a really hard one, but VICTORY TO TITTYKNOPE & TROUBLE!

      P.S. Can you tell me what a Tittyknope is and drag my mind out of the gutter? :)

    4. Southern Gothic Secrets

      There is too much going on here. I think you are closer to a synopsis than a query. It sounds like such a cool story, but I really cannot single in on the central plot line. I would stick to your 3 named characters and the conflict between them. Tell us who your MC is, what she wants, who is trying to stop her, and what happens if she doesn’t get what she wants. We don’t need to know that she goes back and forth on working with Smoot, only that there is the swindling plot and that she is not sure if she will take part in it.

      Also I think you should start with “Sixteen-year-old…” because it is easier to get drawn in when you start with character.

      Here are some details you could take out and still keep the plot clear in this query (I think)… the cousin dying in childbirth, the grandmother, one of the two details about Smoot, that Jimmer wants to be a nurse.

      I think the real story is Jimmer needs a future, she is torn between Smoot (who is a schemer) and Tommy (who is a racist blackmailer), and she is relying on the spirits of her culture to guide her through a summer full of tragedy and long-buried family secrets. When she stops hearing the spirits’ guidance, she has to sacrifice her chance at love to protect her family. (this is intended to be generic… add back in your details, but maybe not as many).

      I would also not end on a rhetorical question, but on “If Jimmer doesn’t [something], then her sister’s future and her own [or whatever is at stake] will [something].” Give us the stakes in a concrete sentence.

      First 250 words:
      Missing the closing quotation mark on your last sentence.

      I think there’s a way to hint at the money and not spell it out in that long paragraph. It makes her dad’s dialogue afterwards pretty redundant. Tell us some, just enough to get us interested, and let the rest be revealed as the chapter goes on. It is coming across as telling, not showing.

      I love the voice and the way they talk to each other. It feel really natural.

      Tittyknope & Troubles

      The names were hard for me. I would ditch the last names in the query because the first names are already hard to latch onto. Also, is “Åsta’s jealous betrothed” a 4th person? That confused me.

      Break at “Now homeless…” because the first paragraph is pretty dense already.

      I only got “heathen” when I got to “godless” – I mean, I know what heathen means, but it isn’t used really often so I don’t know if there is a way to make that clearer up top.

      Can we get Asta’s age in the beginning?

      “save the life of a baby pig” – I don’t’ think you need this. It comes out of nowhere.

      It sounds super interesting and like a lovely story!

      First 250:
      Very nice opener. Engaging. Love the first sentence. I immediately want to know more. The last sentence of the first paragraph is a question and should have a question mark?

      Did he really smell like cinnamon if he hadn’t been bathed?

      Lovely writing. I am engaged. Again tripped on heathen. Can we get more context so the present-day reader knows what it means in this context?

      Victory to Tittyknope & Troubles

  2. Hi guys!

    Southern Gothic Secrets: I was immediately intrigued by the concept of the query, but all the names threw me off and by the end of the query, I was confused as to what was happening. I'd focus more on Jimmer and refer to everyone else by their roles in the story. The stakes were also not clear, and a rethorical question by the end of the query wasn't great either (try to avoid those). Your writing is definetly interesting, but a few tweaks in the query will make it all shine.

    Tittyknope: Your query is solid, but there's also a problem with the names, especially because they're foreign. The second paragraph is a little convoluted as well, and would benefit if you broke it in two. Your pages are also interesting, but I feel like you're starting the story in the wrong place.

    Best of luck!



    So much drama and tension going on here. Love the sense of time and place and the pressure and weighty choices bearing down on the heroine.

    It felt to me like there was a bit too much detail here, like it was almost bordering on a synopsis – this happens, then this happens, then this. All the things that happen are exciting, but I don’t think you need to spell them out so much. You could almost summarise it in a couple of sentences along the lines of how she’s “in love with a judge’s son but pursued and blackmailed by a White Knight in spite of her mixed heritage”

    Great opening. Really sets up the characters.


    Firstly, I’ve been dying to ask since I saw the finalists – what on earth is tittyknope?!!

    My main issue here is that I’m very confused as to when and where it’s set. Turn of the century implies 19th to 20th, but the rest sounds much older.

    I’m also a bit lost as to what’s meant by heathen here – are they athiests or worshipping strange gods? And either way, how much does that matter? and is the heroine one or not? At first, I thought not, but “a society that believes she and her companions are wicked” implies it.

    I like the tragedy of what happens to Gunnar and the way the heroine goes to work as a blacksmith. The second paragraph lost me a bit. Is the race symbolic, or would it win enough money to get Gunnar out of the home? And where does the pig come into this?

    in the opening, the description of the arm is enjoyably grim. But the more general descriptions of Gunnar definitely sound like she’s lusting after him, rather than seeing him as her best friend. Not sure if that’s a deliberate bait and switch or not.

  4. Southern Gothic Secrets: I really enjoyed the voice in your 250. The setting, the metaphors, the feel of it, was great. I'd really like to read more.

    Regarding your query, to me it reads more like a synopsis rather than a query letter. You're introducing a series of events and laying out the plot, but I'm missing the heart of the story--the root of the conflict. I feel that you introduce too many characters that it's hard to keep them all straight. This is exacerbated by the fact that you've named the Choctaw spirits, and in the first line you introduce several names of places that I don't think are important for us to know and just distract from the main conflict of the story. Try to stick with only naming two to three characters in the query and referring to everyone else as the relation to the main character. I'd keep it to Jimmer, Smoot, and Tommy Dean. You can just call the White Knight a KKK member. I'd cut the whole bit about Tommy Dean's sister and her lovers as it makes the plot feel too convoluted.

    Also, make sure that the stakes are clear. I don't have a great sense of what's at stake after reading this, just that Jimmer is caught between two men and not sure what to do about it.

    I have to say one more time, that I LOVED the writing in your first 250. Bring some of that magic into your query letter and you'll be good to go.

    The Heathens of Muscox Hollow:
    Your query felt tight and to the point. I had a clear sense of the characters and what they wanted. I like the fact that she's going to be a blacksmith's apprentice--that will give you so many opportunities for conflict and mishaps along the way. One thing to address in the query is that I don't get a sense of time or setting, other than the theater aspect. Where does your story take place? What year is it? Is this in an alternate reality, or can we expect the setting to follow what we'd expect for the norms of whatever time it's set in. You don't always have to come right out and state these things--you can do it subtely, like by referring to a major landmark that would have been just being built at the time and that everyone would recognize--like if it's set in Paris, you could mention that they're just starting work on a ghastly project they're calling the Eiffel tower, or something like that. That gives us a clear sense of where we are, when we are, and the general attitude of the time of the people (which shows you've done your homework), all without stating anything outright.
    One last detail--the tiny pig details seems so random. I'd cut it or, if it's more important, help us understand why so it doesn't feel just thrown in. Also, make sure the stakes are clear by the end of the letter. You've told us what she has to do, but what happens if she fails?

    I loved your 250, especially the opening paragraph. So gruesome, but you've used details that help us immediately picture it and put us right there in the scene. Your opening tells us a lot about your MC, too, which is awesome. Just by seeing how she sees this injury, how objectively she describes it and wonders about it, all without getting squeamish gives her so much depth. You also have a subtle touch of humor, which I like (the bit about being careful not to poke people with his arm bone).

    Great job on this!

  5. SOUTHERN GOTHIC SECRETS: There are so many interesting things here! It’s fun to read about Choctaw legend. And I love your real title of simply, “Jimmer.” Great choice. Query: I was a bit confused as I read through the query. I think it would help if you chose one conflict to focus on – her nursing dreams, her various engagement possibilities, her sister…I was a bit confused as to her sister’s men. Did she have more than one? The guy from Chicago and Tommy Dean’s half-brother? If saving her sister is the main issue, I encourage you to focus on that, with perhaps just a sentence or two to describe Jimmer’s personal problems to give a little background. 250: These are very strong, and I enjoyed the descriptions and dialogue. A couple nitpicks: in the second paragraph it would read better if you replaced “she” with “Jimmer,” to read, “Carefully, Jimmer sighted it…” And I think combed-over should have a hyphen. (Like I said, a nitpick!) Great job, and best of luck.

    TITTYKNOPE AND TROUBLES: Interesting and with some unique elements! I love that an LGBTQ couple is in your mainstream YA historical book. Query: The first paragraph is good – lots of tension, lots of conflict. The second paragraph gets muddled. I think you need to decide which the story’s biggest conflict is – having people accept the “godless” people, or winning the race. And while we all want the pig to be saved ☺ it probably shouldn’t be mentioned in the query because the other human conflicts are so big. 250: There are small editing changes I would suggest (of course you are the god/goddess of it all, so only change what you want!), and I am just copying the sentences here to make it simpler than trying to explain. Although the first one is just that I think you need a question mark at the end of the first paragraph after “poking into people.”

    A scab COMMA stretched across his forehead COMMA WAS shaped like a falcon in flight, WHILE another, partially healed-over, LAY across one cheekbone. He LIKELY HADN’T been bathed since the accident COMMA and oil made a sheen over his pale brow, cording his blood-red hair.

    I love the 4th paragraph. Great imagery. I can picture him there.

    The clomps of Erlend’s approaching boots echoed THROUGH the bedchamber.

    Congrats on an interesting and well-done QK entry. I wish you the best of luck with this book!

    It was hard to choose a Victor between these two! But I must make a choice…


  6. Southern Gothic Secrets: I was confused about the line "Sixteen-Year-old Jimmer Stark knows." She knows what? That the mound actually is the origin of the Choctaw? If that's what you meant, I would rephrase the first couple of sentences like this: "Many believe that Nanih Waiya, a mound in Winston County, Mississippi, is the origin place of the Choctaw. But sixteen-year-old Jimmer Stark doesn't have to believe - she knows." As it is now, it kind of sounds like Jimmer knows that many consider it to be the origin place. The rest of your query is intriguing, but each sentence tends to jump from plot point to plot point, and I don't get an overall sense of how they're tied together. You also name a lot of characters in this query, and I kept getting Smoot and Tommy Dean confused. I'd keep it to two named characters max, and focus the query on the story between two of them. Obviously you can still mention other character, but keep it generic so the names don't get confusing. This sounds like a really interesting story though! Great job!

    Tittyknope and Troubles: Love this query and first 250! Like your opponent, I think you also include too many character names in your query. I got bogged down in them very quickly, and it was hard to keep track of who's who. In your second paragraph, the bit about saving a baby pig seemed random since you hadn't mentioned it before. I would leave that out and focus on the main storyline. Your first 250 is breathtakingly beautiful! You are a very talented writer, and you've done a remarkable job of creating a compelling atmosphere/world with your words.

  7. Southern Gothic Secrets: There's a very interesting story in this query but there's a ton going on. I lost track of the fantasy element with all the different character interactions. I think this could be simplified a lot, for example, grandma could be dropped and you could still let us know about her multiracial heritage. The last paragraph had a couple of mouthfuls such as 'Tommy Dean's half-brother is her sister's lover'. Maybe you should instead tell us that she learn's Tommy's own secret.

    The first 250 were really well written with a strong description of the character and her feelings.

    The Heathens: This is also an interesting story but like it's competition, there's a lot going on in the query. The MC is supposed to be an apprentice blacksmith but she's also acting, training horses, saving pigs, and helping her friend (and assisting in what I assume is a gay romance - I had to read the first 250 to realize Erlend was a man). I think your query could focus more on your main character's goals and journey more than how she's helping others. I'm also lost as to the time and place.

    The first 250 is well written but makes me think her betrothed is right to be suspicious of her relationship with Gunnar. She seems infatuated, does she realize Gunnar is gay? Perhaps she could hint at it in the opening and how confused her feeling are over the matter? I think you have an extra comma in 'we had a show to do, though,'.

  8. Southern Gothic Secrets:

    Query: Being a Southern myself, it's hard to resist this. Really enjoyed the pairing of local Native American religion along side 1920s historical fiction, as well as the hidden tri-race element of the MC. It’s easy to see the conflicts ahead!

    I stumbled in two places in the query letter. First, the cousin dying in childbirth being central to Jimmer's decision. I would almost leave that out. In the 1920s rural Mississippi, would this be a common event and if so, how did it impact her decision? It's enough for me if Jimmer wants to marry Tommy for her own reasons other than her cousin’s death. She may not have known her family history when she agreed to the engagement.

    Also, I didn't make the immediate connection that Tommy's half brother was the Black man from Chicago. It took me several readings to get that. It's clearly central to the plot, so perhaps make that connection clearer for the reader.

    I enjoyed this. I especially enjoyed the dog’s name, Little Bit. So Southern! I feel like you captured Spring in a Southern apple orchard well. And I liked opening with Jimmer showing off her hunting skills.

    The Heathens of Muskox Hollow

    Query: I found this query confusing on multiple levels, but let me say, I do dig the concept of a lady blacksmith’s apprentice.

    The problem is, where and when is this set? From the names , I initially thought the story was set in Demark or Norway, possibly as early as the 16th century, but then the query states, turn of the century. So, I’d like to know up front the country location (Christian village, but where?) and the date to provide me more context as a reader.

    I’d also like to know what is at stake for Asta. I understand that she feels tremendous guilt, but what’s at stake for her personally?

    I also did not catch on the first reading that Gunnar and Erlend were a secret couple.

    Voice: Loved everything about your voice. I’m jealous! She does seem to have the hots for Gunnar. Which is fine. Hello. A woman can admire/lust after a gay friend’s physical appearance--which would give justification to her finance's jealousy. Does she know Gunnar's secret at this point?

  9. I write YA historical and was drawn in by both titles.
    GOTHIC: Somewhere in your query you need to mention the year because it makes a difference if this is 1920 or 1960. There are too many names. Stick to three at most. Protagonist, antagonist and love interest. Stick to one plot and not subplots. You want to give agents a taste, an appetizer of sorts not the whole meal. Your first page, although descriptive, may start in the wrong place. I prefer to be thrown into action (although others disagree) so start where her friend asks her to marry him perhaps.
    TROUBLES: I got tripped up by the names in your query. Not sure what's going on plot-wise. I do like the LGBTAIQ aspect but again, what is your plot? Your first 250 is good but again, confusing. Is this the first time she's seen her friend's stump? You need more reactions from her then.

  10. Southern:
    Query: Firstly, I think we need more stories that tell vibrant histories like those of the Choctaw. Great work there! However, this query reads a lot like a synopsis - telling almost too much of the plot for us and not enough regarding other certain aspects. I feel like the 3rd and 4th paragraphs can be combined to make the final paragraph pack more of a punch. I would suggest removing the rhetorical question at the end because it doesn't make me want to read on. I'd suggest ending on a different format, something along the lines of "Jimmer must decide _______ or _________ will lead to the end of her dreams before they begin."
    250: Holy crap, this is a mean, spitting, fierce opening of 250 words. I felt like the beginning was a little off putting in that it was slightly jarring, stopping and going in its rhythm but you hit it very quickly. A great scene, great characters, and a conflict already set up within such a short period. Great work!

    Query: Wait, wait. Erland and Gunnar are lovers? I read all the way to the second paragraph without grasping that, then doubled back to verify. What happens to the jealous betrothed? We don't hear from him for the rest of the query it seems. I'd like to know what happened, maybe Asta shuns him after he goes after her best friend Gunnar. I like that she's got great stakes, explicitly laid out at the end of the query but I don't see any personal stakes at hand. I want to know what drives her to these great lengths internally. Friendship is a very compelling reason but it's amplified if Gunnar is all Asta has after the fire that made her an orphan at six years old, etc. The external stakes are clear, but the internal stakes need some sharpening for me.
    250: I became engaged in this when Erland entered the scene - at the end. I wonder if moving his entry to the beginning would be more engaging for the reader and allow us to be drawn in. As is, you open with a great description about someone we don't necessarily care about yet. I think Erland entering, then asking Asta about Gunnar, and then describing Gunnar's state would help us care by seeing how much Asta and Erland care. I love the scene though. Great setting in the theatre! (I think you began in the right place)

  11. Southern Gothic Secrets,

    You have a lot going on in this query (which is great!), but I found myself more and more confused instead of less as I read on. Some lines feel out of place and the mc seems shuttled around between the wants of others, rather than making choices of her under own volition. The main difficulty I had in following the query were completely forgotten however, when I read the first 250. I think slimming down the query, forging a more narrow focus, would help!

    Tittyknope & Troubles,

    This is a great concept! Asta sounds amazing!!! I already love and root for this character. Well done. Your first 250 are really strong. And while the query is clearly well written I am more confused by it than not. If they are “secretly planning together” than I am not sure how Åsta’s jealous betrothed misunderstands her closeness with Gunnar”, seems to me that he was right on the money (though stabbing was obviously not the greatest answer to that one). Why would this action make Asta homeless? But then later Erlend is a person? How would Gunnar getting stabbed and becoming paralyzed have “ruined Erlend’s life, Gunnar decides the only place he belongs is far away—in a home for cripples. I am confused at this point. I wish there was more of the wonderful voice of the first 250 in the query!

  12. Southern Gothic Secrets

    Words repeated in the opening part of the query include "dreams" and "tiak o’khata." By drawing attention to themselves they pull me out of the story. Phrasing of the sentence introducing Tommy Dean strikes me as awkward. And then I'm confused...ostensibly Jimmer snubs Tommy to take up with Smoot, prompting Jimmer's grandmother to break off *what* exactly? Courtship with Tommy or the fake engagement to Smoot? Wait, whut? How many sisters does Jimmer have? One in involved with the black fellow from Chicago--is the same sister lovers with this guy or Tommy's half-brother? Or both? When did this happen? One before the other or at the same time? If she's sleeping with both of them, do consequences arise for her decision? Tiak o'khata appears used in both singular and plural contexts, making it difficult for me to understand whether we're talking about one particular spirit or the lot of them. Do the tiak o'khata tell Jimmer they're holding their breath to see what she will do or does she discern that on her own? What specific peril is Jimmer's sister in that Jimmer feels compelled to save her from?

    Love the setting displayed as the first 250 opens. And we learn a lot about Jimmer. "...if he ever would be." Does this need "again" appended to it? Pa shook her shoulder--I didn't get a sense of how Jimmer and Pa were oriented spacially, having to puzzle through same took me out of the story. Would Pa mention "sister Eddie Lee" in the same breath to Jimmer? She'd know that "sister" and "Eddie Lee" are synonymous, so perhaps Pa uses one term and Jimmer thinks the other? (Pa mention "your sister" and Jimmer respond with "I'm not Eddie Lee" like she does would be my suggestion.) We already know from the query that Jimmer is sixteen, so her thinking it here seems a bit too self-aware. I think fixing her eyes on the bald spot on Pa's head does a wonderful job of telling us either how he's short or she's tall. Her contemplating he's a little man seemed unnecessary and telly. Would a man addressed as "Pa" refer to her grandmother by that title or something like "gramma?"

    Tittyknope & Troubles

    WOW there is some heavy stuff here in the opening of the query. Nice. Oh, and learning the smithy's trade? Very intriguing, knowing yes it was certainly an unconventional (if not neigh impossible) career choice for a young woman of that day. Can you expand on how she got the opportunity? There would have been a lot of physical and cultural barriers she'd have to overcome, making for very interesting conflict in and of themselves. Er, them I'm confused--smithies shoe horses, sure, but do they necessarily train them? And what legendary winning strek are the Fuglestads on? Business success? Horse racing? Are you intimating the townsfolk are Christian and take exception to the Fugelstads being atheist? Or do they hold firm to unconventional beliefs just as strongly? And what does a baby pig have to do with anything? She clearly wants the Fuglestads to win the race, but why? What does she or her friends have to lose if the Fuglestads do not? The first 250 are great and display great voice, but it wasn't clear from the query when Gunnar lost his arm. I'd thought it happened before the story opened...apparently not. Note you've told us in the query Gunnar is a heathen but can you show us same in the first 250 without Åsta using the term again?


    I’m SUCH a fan of Native American lit. This premise very much interests me!


    Your query has fallen into the trap of naming all the details of your book, rather than the bigger, key parts of the picture. Because of that, it’s reading like a synopsis. Also, there are so many characters brought in, it confuses your reader.

    It seems to start, really, with “Jimmer dreams of studying nursing, but when her school savings is stolen, she finds herself one half of a pretend engagement to swindle unsuspecting relatives. As the lie gets bigger…”

    Jimmer seeing her cousin die in childbirth and her grandmother begging her to rethink her actions may be integral to the story, but they aren’t to the query. Instead, upping the stakes with the KKK seems to provide the most threat to Jimmer, without giving minute details.


    I love the visual of the petals! You write with such fine-handed description and illustration, your characters really come to life. Just by that, I’m hooked.

    In your sixth paragraph, “Now it was gone” is redundant, especially with the much better way you let your reader know beforehand. “Words piled up…” LOVE! If you cut off the last two sentences in that paragraph (stopping with her clenching her jaw shut) it becomes even stronger. We can see how she handles her father in your next paragraphs, and I know you’re able to show us how he’s not his usual self WAY better than telling us.

    All in all, I’d totally read more about Jimmer! Her father is a less than likeable character, but he’s so well written, I even want to read more about him. GREAT JOB! Good luck!


    Congratulations, fellow Kombatant!


    I think, with some cutting, you’ve got the solid bones of a strong query—your words are already there. How about starting with, “When Asta’s jealous boyfriend misunderstands her closeness with her best friend Gunnar, he stabs him, paralyzing him legs and destroying the secret future he and his boyfriend have planned.” The last sentence of that paragraph might be tighter if changed to something like, “Along the way, she takes up an unlikely profession…”

    Next paragraph, you could remove some name confusion by changing “the godless Fugelstads” to “Gunner’s godless family.” Skip to “Astra’s best friend, meanwhile, has given up and convinced himself that the only place he belongs…” Skip to the stakes: “Asta needs to help keep her friend in Muskox Hollow and find a way to expose the fixed horse race, all while fighting to be true…” That baby pig is cute, but feels very thrown in.


    Now! Here’s where you excel! The only thing I suggest is cutting off that “Yes” and starting with “It.” The thoughts Asta has about Gunnar’s arm are definitely the thoughts of a young mind; you’ve got that down. “…Cinnamon and rain” is such a great sensory description, especially against how dirty and scratched up he is. All in all, great writing in your 250. Good luck!