Wednesday, June 15, 2016

QUERY KOMBAT ROUND 2: MUSTACHE HEAD vs. JELLO POEMS

Title: Split Down the Middle
Entry Nickname: Mustache Head
Word Count: 46,000
Genre: Upper MG Contemporary

Query:

As a veteran Child of Divorce, twelve-year-old Becca has developed a highly specialized set of coping skills, such as the ability to negotiate ceasefires and to maneuver between houses without losing her math books...or her marbles.   It isn’t exactly easy, but after so many years in the trenches, it’s at least familiar.  Predictable.  Mostly manageable.

But when Becca’s helicopter mom announces she is moving from Philadelphia to North Carolina, Becca must go to court and choose which parent she wants to live with - permanently, and who she must leave behind. Complicating her Decision Day dilemma are the minefield of truth bombs the universe suddenly drops on the battlefield of Becca’s life.  Some, like the news that her soulmate (aka secret crush) Jake actually like likes her, are thrilling.  Others, such as her freewheeling dad’s announcement that his newish girlfriend is pregnant with twins, are just plain confusing.  All of them convince Becca that her difficult decision may be an impossible one.

Becca’s life is about to be carved to pieces, and her parents are forcing her to wield the knife.  If she doesn’t get the courtroom miracle she’s praying for, she’ll have to find another way to put herself back together again...since she may just be stuck on the front lines forever.

First 250:

You know those memories you try to bury in the underwear drawers of your brain, but that sneak up on you when you least expect it?  

Like last year when Tim Vasquez sat next to me on the fifth grade aquarium trip, stared at my face in a super creepy way, then announced to the entire bus, “Becca, you totally have a mustache!  You’re like...a Mustache Head!”  When I came home in tears, Mom brought me to Aunt Jo, who told me almost all women secretly have mustaches but just pretend they don't.  She makes good money as a lip waxer in the suburbs, so she’s kind of an expert.  

Thankfully, she now does mine for free.

But since my parents dropped this whole Decision Day bomb on me, the memory I can’t shake is when I started third grade as The New Kid, right after the divorce.  While the rest of my classmates reunited, hugging and high fiving, I hung back and haunted the cubby room like a weird ghost, waiting for rescue.  It arrived in the form of two ponytailed girls named Jenna S. and Jenna P.

Or so I thought.

Turns out the Jennas were more frenemies than friends, and soon I was opening crumpled notes that said things like, “Promise to only play with me at recess!”  I should have run for the hills, but instead I began doing the same thing I’d done with my parents since I was in diapers: anything and everything to keep the peace.  


~ VERSUS ~ 

Title: The Henchmen Company
Entry Nickname: Jello Poems
Word Count: 37,500
Genre: MG Humor

Query

Nobody would dare call Gordo Vanderhough a baboon-faced dorkisaur.

Towering over even the adults at Taft Elementary and the only 6th grader with a 5 o’clock shadow, Gordo is known for toppling kids in the lunch line like dominoes (Ga-pow!) and stealing entire trays of Jello (because he only loves two things in life: Jello and poetry). But nobody ever calls him a dorkisaur because nobody really talks to him at all. 

One day a man not only talks to Gordo, but actually compliments him and invites him to join the Henchman Company. Gordo, though the youngest henchman, is a natural at all of it: giving evil glares, maniacal laughter, trash talking, throwing large kitchen appliances, and not thinking too much. He’s thrilled about his first job until he figures out that his boss is an evil mastermind trying to hook the internet up to his own brain. If successful he will be able to control a secret government robot army and a flying spaceship the size of a city. This creepoid is going to bully his way to world domination. Suddenly, Gordo questions his career path.

When the other henchmen get wind of his change of heart, Gordo finds out what it feels like to be the one being bullied. With total human annihilation on the line (and the fate of all gelatin desserts), Gordo decides to use his size and skills for good. This villain is about to get Gordoed.

First 250:

Gordo Vanderhough lumbered into the cafeteria past dozens of other hungry kids. He headed straight for the front of the line but no one called out, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” No one chided, “You can’t do that.” And nobody even thought of saying, “Get to the back of line, you baboon-faced dorkisaur or I’ll kick you in the teeth.” 

They didn’t say the last line for several reasons. One reason was that no one at Taft Elementary could kick high enough to reach Gordo’s teeth. It would require an amazing jump, a ladder, or a trampoline. Maybe even all three. But the most important reason was that no one dared say anything remotely threatening to Gordo Vanderhough.


Gordo was officially the hugest kid at Taft Elementary. In fact, he was the largest person—period. Though he was a sixth grader, he towered over the teachers. He was also as wide as a buffalo—the big kind with burly shoulders and a mop of dirty fur on its head. Plus, if you looked really close, Gordo’s chin had the stubbly beginnings of a beard. His nanny told him to shave every other day, but she only spoke Polish so he couldn’t understand a word she said. To him, it sounded like she was telling him to sing songs about shampooing zebras. And that didn’t make any sense. Needless to say, Gordo didn’t shave, or sing songs, or shampoo zebras.

18 comments:

  1. Judges, please REPLY to this comment to cast your votes by awarding VICTORY TO one of the Kontestants.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mustache Head:
      Beautiful query. What asshole parents, to make her decide. In most jurisdictions the courts don’t allow that at her age…
      Great first page, too, except I’m not quite getting the sense of a 12-year-old voice yet.

      Jello Poems:
      Dude, awesome query, and I love this concept. From the bully’s POV! Plus it just looks like a completely epic plot. Good use of specifics to hook me.
      And great first page. Good use of humor. I love the over-the-topishness of this.
      Two spectacular entries, but I will give VICTORY TO JELLO POEMS

      Delete
    2. I could've sworn I hit the reply button the first time, but I guess I didn't. Here's my vote in the correct place:

      Both entries have a great, voicey query, an intriguing story line, and an awesome first page.

      In the MUSTACHE query, my brain keeps telling me “minefield” is singular in the way that “barrage” is singular. I do understand the author means for it to be plural in the same sense you can write “the team are going in different directions…”, but here, my brain just says singular. Maybe “barrage” would be a better word here. “The minefield are complicating her day”, “The minefield are dropped on her” <-- those sound clunky to me. But again, I get what the author was going for. I love the stakes at the end of the query, and having gone through the whole custody-battle-in-court-thing, I’m certainly wondering what sort of miracle could possibly spare her from her fate. I’d buy this book just to find out.

      The first page of MUSTACHE is cute. I love the metaphor of the underwear drawer and of course the mustache is hilarious and endearing right off the bat. I did think the second memory on the first page was a bit much, and if I were this writer’s CP, I’d probably try to convince him/her to work the Jennas' conflict into a narrative rather than introducing them with a 2nd flashback on pg 1. I feel like I have some backstory now, but the real story hasn’t started yet. I’d still buy the book.

      JELLO POEMS also has a great query with a strong voice. This is a superhero story with a protagonist I just know I’ll love-hate-love. I feel like the query reveals the resolution rather than leaving me with a hook, but in superhero stories, the good guy always wins, so I know that. Maybe when it’s time to change this into a blurb, you’ll move “This villain is about to get Gordoed” to the first line, and change your hook to something like: With total human annihilation on the line (and the fate of all gelatin desserts), Gordo must decide if he can actually use his size and skills for something (egads) good.

      I feel like JELLO starts in a great place with a great scene I can totally picture in my head—the lunch line. I love the imagery and I love the narrator. The last line is hysterical. Though I’m at a farther distance POV-wise here than with MUSTACHE, I feel like I got a better handle on a scene from this first page than with MUSTACHE.

      Egads, I love both of these.

      Victory to JELLO POEMS

      Delete
    3. Wow! Two witty and appealing queries. Let me plunge in...

      Mustache query: Love the voice a lot, love the themed word choices (negotiate ceasefires, in the trenches, stuck on the front lines, etc.) and it does exactly what a great query should do: give me a sense of what I'd get if I read this book, including compelling stakes for the MC. Really like the sound of this story.

      First 250: I'm not sure if opening with backstory is an accepted convention in MG, but even if it is, I'd rather see the story open in real time, perhaps with her parents dropping the Decision Day bomb on her. Although I love the moustache part, the other bits of backstory are too much and make the book feel like it might be for a much younger audience. I believe twelve years is in 7th grade? Why take us back to something that happened in 3rd? That said, I believe this could be a really important story for kids of divorcing parents. Uplifting and inspiring and showing them not to take life so seriously. Great job overall.

      Jello: Query: Funniest query I have ever read. Ever. Laughed out loud three times. What a hoot. I couldn't give you a criticism if you held a gun to my head.

      First 250: Immediately engaging. Does read like it's a very young MG, and there's a fair amount of narrative distance, like the MC isn't telling the story, someone else is. My only suggestion might be to bring the POV closer into Gordo's POV as the book goes on.

      VICTORY to JELLO POEMS

      Delete
    4. SCOWLING DISCONTENTED JUDGEJune 15, 2016 at 6:54 PM

      Mustache Head:

      The query is good, but not necessarily mind-blowing. I feel like the first sentence, in particular, could be zippier. "maneuver between houses without losing her math books... or her marbles,"" sort of sets you up for a surprising turn of phrase that doesn't quite happen. It's not bad, but the final rounds of Query Kombat get very tough indeed. I'd try to punch it up.

      I like the voice in the 250, but I worry that sounds older than a twelve-year-old. I see you've marked this as upper MG, which would be correct for a twelve-year-old protag, but it feels almost too sophisticated, at least to my ears. I freely admit to not being an MG person, whoever, so I think this is a note that you should simply file away. If you start hearing it from more people, maybe it's a concern.

      I'm not sure the preamble-y nature of the 250 is the strongest it could be-- especially given that we don't get to the 'punch' of whatever makes the Jenna's so important to open this book with. Again, I don't think this is a bad 250 or query, but I suspect you could re-engineer it to be sharper and punchier.

      JELLO POEMS

      Well, this is right up my alley. I write comedy, so my impulse is to go in there and tinker with some timing of the lines, but I'm not sure I want to bulldoze over the voice of the author.

      But I'll do it anyway.

      I'd change the "but" in the second line to "and not a soul", punching up that bit just a tad. I'd change "And nobody even thought of saying" to "And certainly nobody thought of saying..." which has better rhythm. I'd punch up the sentence in between a little more, too... hrm...

      But this is just comedy feng shui, moving furniture around a bit for better flow. This is obviously a very confident query. My only real concern is that you use the dorkisaur joke twice-- both in the query and the 250, and by the time we get to it a second time, it's lost a little impact. Switch it up, Gordo-creator!

      Still, I'm going to mention this entry to my agent, who does MG (but contests not so much.)

      VICTORY TO JELLO POEMS

      Delete
    5. MUSTACHE HEAD: This is a heart-breaking query...in the very best of ways. In just a few words you've made me feel for Becca and the impossible decision she's facing.

      My main suggestion would be to restructure your query slightly. Your first paragraph isn't a real grabber. The real grabber is in the latter paragraphs. "Becca's life is about to be carved to pieces and her parents are forcing her to wield the knife" is a FANTASTIC HOOK. I'd put that right up front and then go back to the setup.

      Your first 250 are also strong. In that second paragraph you have some super-long sentences though. I'd suggest breaking at least one of these up. Also I'm not sure I'm getting the feel of a 12-year-old voice. There are places, especially, where the thoughts/wording of things feels older. (For example, "She makes good money as a lip waxer in the suburbs.") I'd just keep an eye on this.

      JELLO POEMS: This is a hilarious, over-the-top query, and I'm already curious about Gordo. I would also suggest some switching up for this query. While your first line is funny and engaging, I wouldn't exactly call it a hook. It doesn't tell us much of anything. I would love to see this reworked with a little more focus on the "what" of the story up front in the hook.

      Your first 250--again, great humor and a perfect place to start the story. The scene draws me right in. The omniscience POV is keeping me at a little bit of a distance, and that might make it difficult to create empathy for Gordo, who perhaps isn't the most empathetic of characters at first glance. Bringing us in a little closer, allowing us to see inside him rather than just the thoughts of those around him, might be something to look at, particularly in these opening paragraphs.

      Decision:

      And speaking of impossible decisions, these are two fantastic queries and I think both are going to go on to good things.

      VICTORY TO JELLO POEMS

      Delete
    6. Mustache Head

      Query:

      Love the first paragraph. Pulls me in right away. Great job.

      This is a really strong query. You give details, the stakes are out there, and I can feel what a tough decision this is for the kid. It sounds like an impossible situation with pros and cons to both, but no matter what decision she makes, it’s going to effect the life she’s worked so hard, and at such a young age to balance. Love the voice. I’d request based on the query.

      First 250:

      The voice in this is fantastic. It draws me in and engages me. I really wish I had more to offer in way of helping, but I just think this is a strong entry. It’s got a lot of info done really well for the first 250 and makes me want to read more.

      Over all, really great job.

      VS.

      Jello Poems

      Query:

      The first line made me laugh out loud. People stared. I didn’t care. Nice hook!

      This is another great query. It’s got the details, got the stakes, but I’d really like to know a little bit more about HOW Gordo plans to stop. The voice overall is incredible, a really fun query, and I’d request for sure.

      First 250:

      Great first paragraph. Makes me want to read more. The voice again, is amazing. Another one I don’t have much to offer, because I’d have requested, and asked for the full, because I really enjoyed reading this.

      I can’t even really do my normal summary comparison. All I can say to both of you is that these are strong, fun, and I’d request both of them. I wish I had more to help you, but you’ve done fantastic all on your own.

      I’m literally sitting here debating, because I have no idea how to choose.

      If I could, I’d give you guys a tie and go to sudden death which would be the whole first chapter, but alas, I cannot.

      GO GO GADGET VICTORY: JELLO POEMS

      Delete
    7. I love both these entries, but don’t have much I can offer to make them better. Phenomenal voice in both queries and first 250s.

      Mustache Head: My only suggestion regards your query/stakes. I’d love a hint as to what miracle she hopes will happen in the courtroom.

      Jello Poems: Wow. Great voice. My only issue is likely personal. I’m not fond of omniscient voice.

      These entries are completely different, making it difficult to judge who I believe should move to the next round.

      But, judge we must. Sigh. Double sigh. Be aware that I write my comments in a separate doc, then paste them in, and I changed the winner four times.

      VICTORY TO: Mustache Head

      Delete
    8. Mustache Head:

      Query: This query is pretty solid. This is a great premise, and could be an important book for kids to be able to read and relate to. You make it very clear that there are positive and negatives to each possible decision, but I wonder about the overall stakes. What does it mean to HER to have to choose, aside from those external things? One nitpicky thing, I wonder why you put in that Mom is a helicopter parent. In queries, every word counts, so unless there’s a reason for that word to be there, like Mom is actually a helicopter (which would make for an interesting twist), consider dropping it.

      Opening: I’m not sure this starts in the right place. Flashbacks are tough anyway, but as an opening it makes it difficult to get pulled into the story. And hopping from one to another makes me feel a little like I can’t get a handle on the story. I need some foundation to rest on while we take a trip down memory lane. Additionally, I’m not sure the voice is there for MG. The MC sounds older than 12 to me.

      Jello Poems:

      Query: I love this concept. A story from a bully’s perspective, and not one where we’re meant to feel sorry for the bully. Gordo sounds pretty unapologetic in his bullying ways. The voice comes through in the query, which is great. There’s a lot going on here. I had to read the last couple sentences of the second full paragraph a few times to figure out what was actually happening.

      Opening: Love this. I’m going to incorporate “dorkisaur” into my vocabulary. Great MG voice, which is very difficult to capture. I would keep reading.

      VICTORY TO: JELLO POEMS

      Delete
    9. Mustache Head

      The query does a great job giving the tone and voice of the story to follow. Loved the maneuvering 'between houses without losing her math books...or her marbles.' The last paragraph was less effective -- since we've already been told Becca must make the choice of who to live with. Perhaps trim out the first sentence of that paragraph 'Becca's...knife.'?

      Funny, voicy opening line for the first 250. I thought you did a good job folding in the MC's age without directly stating it. The opening gave a good look at her personality -- though it's largely flashback. I enjoyed what I read, but hope the Jenna memory is a leaping off point to bring us to the present.

      Jello Poems

      I liked the voice of the query -- the (Ga-pow!) was a wonderful tone-setter. But it wasn't clear to me that Gordo was the MC until the third paragraph. Perhaps it's just my mindset, but I was reading as the antagonist's description.

      In the first 250, I wanted a greater sense of immediacy. How does Gordo feel about being so huge? How does he feel about not understanding his nanny? I liked the humor and the way you folded in the lack of parental involvement in his life -- which seems fitting for a bully -- but I wanted a better sense of Gordo.

      Victory to Mustache Head

      Delete
  2. Both entries have a great, voicey query, an intriguing story line, and an awesome first page.

    In the MUSTACHE query, my brain keeps telling me “minefield” is singular in the way that “barrage” is singular. I do understand the author means for it to be plural in the same sense you can write “the team are going in different directions…”, but here, my brain just says singular. Maybe “barrage” would be a better word here. “The minefield are complicating her day”, “The minefield are dropped on her” <-- those sound clunky to me. But again, I get what the author was going for. I love the stakes at the end of the query, and having gone through the whole custody-battle-in-court-thing, I’m certainly wondering what sort of miracle could possibly spare her from her fate. I’d buy this book just to find out.

    The first page of MUSTACHE is cute. I love the metaphor of the underwear drawer and of course the mustache is hilarious and endearing right off the bat. I did think the second memory on the first page was a bit much, and if I were this writer’s CP, I’d probably try to convince him/her to work the Jennas' conflict into a narrative rather than introducing them with a 2nd flashback on pg 1. I feel like I have some backstory now, but the real story hasn’t started yet. I’d still buy the book.

    JELLO POEMS also has a great query with a strong voice. This is a superhero story with a protagonist I just know I’ll love-hate-love. I feel like the query reveals the resolution rather than leaving me with a hook, but in superhero stories, the good guy always wins, so I know that. Maybe when it’s time to change this into a blurb, you’ll move “This villain is about to get Gordoed” to the first line, and change your hook to something like: With total human annihilation on the line (and the fate of all gelatin desserts), Gordo must decide if he can actually use his size and skills for something (egads) good.

    I feel like JELLO starts in a great place with a great scene I can totally picture in my head—the lunch line. I love the imagery and I love the narrator. The last line is hysterical. Though I’m at a farther distance POV-wise here than with MUSTACHE, I feel like I got a better handle on a scene from this first page than with MUSTACHE.

    Egads, I love both of these.

    Victory to JELLO POEMS

    ReplyDelete
  3. Mustache-Head
    Oooh, I really like this query. Really clear story, and I think all the pieces are woven together really well. I might eliminate the word 'permanently' from the second paragraph, as I think it's unnecessary. I second Jellyfish's suggestion about the hook. I really like the voice in the 250, but I'm not sure this is the strongest place to open your story. I'd love to start with something more active, something that shows us a bit of conflict, instead of starting with backstory.

    Jello Poems

    I really like the voice and the conflict set up in the query, and I was really excited about reading a book from a bully's perspective. But when I got to the 250, I didn't feel like I actually got to see that perspective. The POV is so distant, I couldn't really connect with Gordo the way I had hoped. The voice is so great in the query, and I wanted to see more of it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Mustache Head

    Great voice and I love the dark humor. This story will resonate with so many readers. Like others have said, the line about wielding the knife is a fantastic hook. Can you move it closer to the top? I like the flashbacks but I agree that they might not be the best place to start your story. I love the last line of your 250. It gives so much insight into Becca's character. I also like the part with the note from a Jenna--when I read it I was immediately like uh oh. Poor Becca. I really sympathize with her from the very start. Well done! Everyone's provided excellent suggestions -- you are SO close. Just a few more adjustments and you'll be there.

    Jello Poems

    Great voice and premise. Laugh out loud humor. My 12-year-old twin boys would be all over this book. I like the suggestion to add a detail even a tiny one that gives us insight into what Gordo may be thinking. Even a physical detail that can be interpreted as toughness/anger or vulnerability/defensiveness, like a hard set to his chin, or some gesture that this kid isn't as scary as everyone thinks.

    Well done both of you and congratulations!!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I don't know if I have too much to add to what's already been said about these entries, but I wanted to say how much I love both of them. Seriously. The voices in both are spectacular, and they both have really interesting premises. I'm sad they were pit against each other, because I can see both of them going really far! Congrats to both of you.

    With Mustache Head, I agree with Nola--putting that hook about wielding the knife closer to the top of the query will bring us in even more. A small fix, but one that could have a huge impact!

    With Jello Poems, I felt like I wanted a little more information about Gordo's plan to save the day. I wish I could give you specifics, but it's literally the only criticism I can think of.

    Again, both of these entries are already so solid, it's hard to come up with critiques!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Mustache
    Query-Lovely lyrical voice here, truly fits subject matter. Love: "the battlefield of Becca's life'"
    250 - The language is even more lovely here. The pressure on Becca is authentic.

    Jello
    Query: Great voice. Clear stakes. I would read this book. I wondered if it was supposed to villains at the end because it is Henchmen.
    250: Not changing a word here. Sparkles.

    Sorry for those who have to judge these.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Mustache
    Query-Lovely lyrical voice here, truly fits subject matter. Love: "the battlefield of Becca's life'"
    250 - The language is even more lovely here. The pressure on Becca is authentic.

    Jello
    Query: Great voice. Clear stakes. I would read this book. I wondered if it was supposed to villains at the end because it is Henchmen.
    250: Not changing a word here. Sparkles.

    Sorry for those who have to judge these.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Mustache
    Great job. When I read she had specialized skills, I thought she had spy parents but might be my child -like brain. Great query, and I get the stakes. But if like to get some hints of what happens in the court process since that's most of the book.

    Jello

    Great job. Very funny concept. I might still have preferred not knowing so much if what happens.

    Both kombatants did a great job.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Mustache
    Great job. When I read she had specialized skills, I thought she had spy parents but might be my child -like brain. Great query, and I get the stakes. But if like to get some hints of what happens in the court process since that's most of the book.

    Jello

    Great job. Very funny concept. I might still have preferred not knowing so much if what happens.

    Both kombatants did a great job.

    ReplyDelete