Saturday, June 24, 2017

Query Kombat Round 4: BE GRATEFUL FOR COOKIES v. ALABAMA WITCH HUNTERS

Title: Plus-Size
Entry Nickname: Be Grateful For Cookies
Word Count: 45,000
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Query:

Thirteen-year-old Lizzie will do almost anything for a cookie. Sadly, her mother banned them from her life months ago, replacing sweets with tasteless foods and a gym membership. Her mom claims it’s for her own good, even though her skinny sister can still eat whatever she wants. 

Doomed to a life of flaxseed and broccoli, Lizzie joins what she believes is an after school cooking club, hoping to make chocolate-anything on the sly. When the teacher announces they'll also be sewing, Lizzie discovers a knack for designing stylish plus-size clothes, something she desperately needs. After the owner of a local boutique sees one of Lizzie's shirts with the message BE STRONG sewn across the back, she asks Lizzie to reveal her inspirational clothing to the public with a fashion show. Lizzie hesitantly agrees —she’s never been comfortable being the center of attention, and her mother’s lecture about her hopeless future as a larger girl is on a constant auto-play in her head.

Faced with an overpowering mom, a group of relentless school bullies, and some embarrassing mishaps at the gym, Lizzie realizes how important it is to BE YOU — a phrase on one of her shirts. Armed with her collection and a chance to show her mother that success comes in all sizes, Lizzie sets out to prove there's more to a person than the size of their waist.

First 250:

From the moment I stepped onto Aunt Teri and Uncle Joe’s patio, they taunted me. My eyes darted away, trying my best to ignore them, but I knew they were there. Every summer, my aunt and uncle hosted a huge neighborhood cookout. Mom had warned me on the car ride over to be good. "A little self-control goes a long way." The words still echoed in my head.

Hearing Aunt Teri behind me, my heart began to race. No doubt she had them with her.

You can do this, I reminded myself. You’re better than they are.

“Lizzie,” Aunt Teri called.

Her hand clasped my shoulder. She twirled me around.

“It’s so lovely to see you. And my, look how big you’ve gotten. Chip?”

She thrust the dreaded bowl in my face. They were the kind with ridges. The kind covered with that powdered sour cream and onion stuff I loved. I forced a smile.

“No thanks. I’m good.”

She shrugged and began to walk away.

“Wait!” I yelled. “I mean …” Rushing over to her, I dug my chubby fingers into the bowl, emerging with a fistful of my forbidden fare. “Maybe just a couple. Thanks.”

My eyes darted up, meeting my mother’s glare through Aunt Teri’s kitchen window. I threw the chips in the trash and grabbed a piece of celery off of the veggie tray instead. My hand lingered over the dip, but knew mom could see and quickly moved it away. I was in for a long afternoon.


~ VERSUS ~

Title: Southern Fried Witch Hunters
Entry Nickname: Alabama Witch Hunters
Word Count: 45,000
Genre: MG Horror

Query:

Twelve-year-old José Villa wants to be brave like his best friend, Bubba, but he’s more terrified than a fresh bass at a fish fry. So he accepts his role as sidekick in Bubba’s daring, and mostly harebrained, schemes and adventures.
But when José sneaks into a pasture with Bubba in the middle of the night, he encounters a horror he couldn’t have imagined: zombie freaking cows. Oh, and the evil witch Agatha Winters, back from the dead and ready to get revenge on the town that killed her. Not knowing what to do, José and Bubba team up with a young witch expert. Together, the trio works to stop Agatha, encountering a creepy undertaker, an incompetent sheriff, and a horde of demonic squirrels along the way.

When his friends get locked up, it’s up to José to become the hero of the story. He must overcome his fears and stop Agatha before she hoodwinks the whole town into jumping from the same cliff they pushed her off of years ago.

First 250: 

An angry wind echoed through the night as I read the cracked wooden sign nailed to the fence. “Warning: Trespassers will be skinned alive and deep fried.”

A chill rattled my shoulders. It’d be a miracle if I lived to see the seventh grade.

Bubba sniffed the fresh manure in the air and grinned. “It’s tipping time.”

In Trout Bend, Alabama, cow tipping wasn’t just a hobby. It was an art form. All the best tippers came from our town, but the greatest of them all happened to be my best friend, Bubba, better known around these parts as the da Vinci of the Dairy.

Unfortunately, like most great artists, Bubba had started to go a little bit loco. Actually, scratch that. There was nothing little about it. That boy was nuttier than a pack of rabid squirrels on a cashew binge. I mean, why else would he have dragged me out to Buck Miller’s pasture in the middle of the night?

I gulped. “Bubba, are you sure this is a smart idea?”

He laughed as he squeezed his round body between a couple strands of barbed wire. “Course it ain’t no smart idea, José. But it’s like my daddy always says, ‘Ain’t nobody ever have any fun being smart.’”

I wanted to point out that nobody had ever been arrested for being smart either, but Bubba didn’t like talking about that. I took a deep breath and slid my way through the fence.

29 comments:

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

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love both of these entries! I have no suggestions for improvement, so it's down to voting.

      Hmm. I love the body-positive message in Plus-Size, but the humor in Southern Fried Witch Hunters made me laugh out loud.

      But this is a Kombat of Queries, and I HAVE to vote, so . . .

      VICTORY to Plus-Size!!

      Delete
    2. I think both these entries have heart and voice.

      PLUS-SIZE: While I love the body positive message, I would encourage you to focus more on Lizzie's goals and dreams in the query rather than the constant belittling going on around her. For instance, we know from your first paragraph that she has issues with her mother, so revisiting it again at the end of paragraph two and beginning of paragraph three seems redundant.

      This story will ring true for me if the main character has a growing sense of agency which helps set the tone for the rest of the book. I see that happening in the First 250 and it definitely makes me want to read more.

      SOUTHERN FRIED WITCH: You've done a great job of capturing the MG voice but your query leaves me with a bunch of questions. Why is Jose terrified? Why don't you name the young witch expert? Is she their age? Why do the friends get locked up? Adding a few more details would make this query sing. As far as your First 250, you've got great voice going, but again, I have more questions. Is this a very small town? It seems odd to me that two sixth graders would be outside in the middle of the night.

      This is a tough call as both are compelling but...

      Victory to Plus-Size

      Delete
    3. Vanellope von SchweetzJune 24, 2017 at 9:44 AM

      Ahhhh! These two are so good. You both have come a long way since Round 1. It breaks my heart, but I have to give my vote to one:

      VICTORY TO ALABAMA WITCH HUNTERS!

      Delete
    4. No One Of ConsequenceJune 24, 2017 at 10:07 AM

      This is ridiculous. Nobody should have to choose here. They're both excellent. I can see the revisions you've made since the last round, and in both cases you've made them stronger.

      I'm going to go with victory to ALABAMA WITCH HUNTERS just for the line 'zombie freaking cows.' But it could have gone either way. Great work.

      Delete
    5. WOW. This is my first time reading PLUS SIZE and I absolutely love it! ALABAMA is good too, but the fact that the MC is sort of tagging along without any real agency (at least in this section), pushes me to . . .

      VICTORY TO PLUS-SIZE!!

      Delete
    6. Both of these entries are fantastic. The voice is spectacular, stakes are clear, and I would love to read both. I have no doubt I will see both of these on the shelves on day.

      This felt impossible, but in the end I can only choose one, so...

      Victory to ALABAMA WITCH HUNTERS.

      Delete
    7. LumpySpaceAuthorJune 24, 2017 at 1:15 PM

      Both these entries are spectacular. With COOKIES, when she worries her aunt had "them" with her, I'm disoriented even when I find out she means chips. I also worry this starts at a period of very high stress, and you might want to have an introduction to the MC first as a person and not just as diet stress - which speaks to me quite forcefully. I think it will to ALL tween/teenage girls, because this dynamic is SUCH a horrible problem for women.

      WITCH HUNTERS

      This is a great, hilarious query with lots of voice and good details to hook. The voice in the pages is also spectacular. I'll be honest though...the stereotype of "cow tipping rural kids" may work in the larger context and voice of the story - just out-of-control camp, maybe, because I would love it in that context - but here I find it slightly off-putting. Most people won't. But I'm a rural farmer kid and we're soooooooo tired of this stereotype. I don't know what to say about that, because it won't bug most people I don't think, and like I said, it might work in context...and it's a great beginning to the novel otherwise.

      This is a really tough choice. These are both great entries and I'm positive they both have a slew of requests. But I think just from an "importance for MG" standpoint I have to go with VICTORY TO PLUS-SIZE!

      Delete
    8. Plus-Size
      Query:
      This is the first time I’m seeing your query/250 and I must say…I’ve never had a query make me cry, but yours did. Wow. I’m in love and need to read this asap! Actually, my 13yo self needed to read this many years ago.
      250:
      Because I love your query so much, I’m going to do a detailed critique on your 250 which feels a bit clunky and disorienting. I’d love to see this shine! I’ll put edits in [brackets] and comments in *asterisks*.

      From the moment I stepped onto Aunt Teri and Uncle Joe’s [my aunt and uncle’s] patio, they taunted me. **This is not a strong opening line, imo. It reads a bit awkward.** My eyes darted away, trying my best to ignore them, but I knew they were there. **Not a fan of this second line either. Delete "but I knew they were there." I think you can find a better opening.** Every summer, my aunt and uncle hosted a huge neighborhood cookout. Mom had warned me on the car ride over to be good. "A little self-control goes a long way." **No need to put this in italics. Have you tried opening with her and her mom walking up to the porch and showing, in-scene what her mom says to her/how it makes her feel? Just a thought for a different opening.** The words still echoed in my head.

      Hearing Aunt Teri behind me, my heart began to race. **Not a fan of starting out sentences with gerunds. Also, can you be more specific with what she’s hearing. Did her aunt say something?** No doubt she had them with her. **I had to read this sentence 4 times, trying to figure out what “them” is referring to and I’m still not sure.**

      You can do this, I reminded myself. You’re better than they are. **I assume “they” refers to the same “them” as above. I’m just confused though.**

      “Lizzie,” Aunt Teri called.

      Her hand clasped my shoulder. She twirled me around.

      “It’s so lovely to see you. And my, look how big you’ve gotten. Chip?” **It wasn’t until my third read that I got that this was a potato chip.**

      She thrust the dreaded bowl in my face. **On my first read, I envisioned a bowl covering her face.** They were the kind with ridges. **And what does “they” refer to? I envisioned a bowl with ridges. Again, it took a couple of reads to get what you’re talking about.** The kind covered with that powdered sour cream and onion stuff I loved. I forced a smile.

      “No thanks. I’m good.”

      She shrugged and began to walk away.

      “Wait!” I yelled. “I mean …” Rushing over to her, I dug my chubby fingers into the bowl, emerging with a fistful of my forbidden fare. “Maybe just a couple. Thanks.”

      My eyes darted up, **Her eyes darted at the beginning. I would find a different way to say it.** meeting my mother’s glare through Aunt Teri’s kitchen window. I threw the chips in the trash and grabbed a piece of celery off of [can delete "of"] the veggie tray instead. My hand lingered over the dip, but knew **This “knew” refers back to her hand. Her hand can’t “know” so try to reword.** mom could see and quickly moved it away. I was in for a long afternoon.

      Delete
    9. I had to continue my comments here--ran out of space:

      Southern Fried Witch Hunters
      Query:
      I’ve read this a few times now and I always trip over “zombie freaking cows.” I’m not exactly sure what you’re trying to say. Are they zombie cows? Or are they cows that would freak out zombies? Or are they just cows that seem like zombies because, well, cows just stand there and stare and chew their cud? Also, my one worry with this query is that it makes your story seem episodic rather than a character led story…where the MC is the one pushing the story/plot forward. Episodic refers to the MC having things happen to them, one after another, out of their control. I’m not sure what the MC really wants or needs. And why Jose? Why does he have to save the town? Otherwise, I love the voice in the query and it sounds like a super fun read that kids would love.

      250:
      I love your writing and the voice. I would read on for that alone. It’s clever and fun and funny and you’ve already got action and tension going on.

      This is SUPER hard…after going back to read them both a couple more times…

      VICTORY—I don’t know!!! Query goes to Plus-Size. 250 goes to Witch Hunters. But since this is **Query** Kombat, I’ll vote for Plus-Size.

      Delete
    10. Moonstone DragonJune 24, 2017 at 2:51 PM

      Honestly, I can't see a huge difference in either entry since the last round, but since they both were already pretty darn good, IMHO, I don't think that really matters. Both are strong and have a lot of things to like--they're voice, and to a great job of introducing MCs, plots and stakes.

      Still, I'm going to grant victory to ALABAMA WITCH HUNTERS for two reasons:

      1. I feel the narrative is stronger and flows a little more naturally.
      2. I can't say no to "hordes of demonic squirrels." :)

      Great job, you both!




      Delete
    11. I love both of these but have to go with my gut on this one.

      VICTORY TO PLUS-SIZED!

      Delete
    12. Wow - both fantastic entries! Can't wait to read these books! I don't have anything specific to add to what other judges have already suggested, so I'll just get to the voting.

      A very difficult decision, but because I think their query is a teensy-weensy bit tighter, Victory to ALABAMA WITCH HUNTERS!

      Delete
    13. Great job! You make this way too difficult! That said, I have to go with one. VICTORY TO ALABAMA WITCH HUNTERS

      Delete
    14. Be Grateful For Cookies

      Query: This story has a strong message and the writing is tight and polished. I would like to know more about the sister’s role—or is this something where just the mom is overbearing? Is the teacher helpful/supportive? What about the sister? The query has a great voice and I’m excited to see how far this one goes!

      First 250:
      I think the ‘they’ at the start could still use some clarity. Like: my mouth watered at the sight of them, anticipating the salty goodness (in your voice, obviously)--something to clear up that it’s not the aunt and uncle taunting her. The tension between the mother and daughter is great and I immediately feel for our protagonist.

      Alabama Witch Hunters
      Query: I still love zombie cows! What an image! This one is oozing with voice as well. I’d love a hint at what caused his friends to get locked up, but it’s not necessary, more curiosity. I’m assuming Agatha has a spell to make the entire town obey her and jump off a cliff—is our hero worried he’ll fall under the spell and die as well? Bigger stakes if so!

      First 250: Great place to start the story, a lot of tension and personality in those first 250. I do wonder why José is following his friend—who doesn’t have the brightest ideas—into a field so late.

      THIS IS SO HARD! Both of these queries are AMAZING—but I have to choose one…
      Victory goes to: ALABAMA WITCH HUNTERS

      Delete
    15. Cookies--
      I loved this the last time I saw it and it’s only gotten better. I still love it so much. Query has very clear stakes, and the 250 really makes me feel Lizzy’s internal dilemma. I have nothing constructive to say.

      Witch Hunters--
      Query: I hate to say this, but I think I preferred the query I read a few rounds ago. Something in the first paragraph is still feeling awkward. I like the ‘fresh bass at a fish fry’ line, but I don’t know that it fits with the way you have the rest of the paragraph worded. It’s still unclear what, exactly, Jose is terrified of. I know it’s probably life in general, but when you put the word ‘more’ in there (he’s *more* terrified than a fresh bass…) it makes me expect a comparison of a different kind than you’re making. Maybe it would help if you split the first sentence up. “…Jose Villa wants to be brave like his best friend Bubba. But he’s not. He’s more side-kick material. Life (or pranks, or disobeying the rules, or getting in trouble, or whatever it is that actually scares him) terrifies him so much, that the fright of a fresh bass at a fish fry pales in comparison.” I just threw that out there—I’m not saying you should use that, exactly. But play around with the wording and the sentence structure in that first paragraph. And if the analogy isn’t fitting, don’t force it. It’s a great analogy, but be willing to cut it if it just isn’t working. I feel you’re close to really nailing this, but it’s not quite there yet. The last paragraph is great, though. Don’t change that.

      250: This is solid. I enjoyed it the last time I read it and I still really like it. The voice, the comedic timing, the setup—I wouldn’t change anything in this.

      I really, really love both of these entries, but I am awarding Victory to Be Grateful for Cookies!

      Delete
    16. I really love both entries, and I wish I could vote that they both move onto the next round. I think it’s important for there to be body-positive representation in MG fiction, but as an entry Alabama Witch Hunters holds my attention more.

      VICTORY TO ALABAMA WITCH HUNTERS

      Delete
    17. PLUS-SIZE: I loved the query for this entry even though my eye tends to twitch at the mother who is pushing her daughter to lose weight, as opposed to the father or both parents. But that is a personal quirk based on my own experience and doesn't reflect how I feel about the entry.

      You move very quickly in the query to put the focus on Lizzie and her burgeoning self-esteem and that is PERFECT.

      The first 250 words lost me a bit. The writing is very polished, but the scene felt a little cliched [chubby girl trying to eat what she loves under mom's disproving eye]. I would suggest shifting the focus from Lizzie's desire for chips to Lizzie's desire for approval, and maybe have the aunt make a comment about Lizzie's clothes. (Plus-size clothes tend to look like they are made for women, not young girls ... ask me I know, because my daughter is plus-sized.) Or even Lizzie knows her shirt is too tight and it feels uncomfortable. I guess what I'm saying is make that first 250 focus more on Lizzie's self-esteem rather than Lizzie's hunger. If that makes any sense.

      SOUTHERN FRIED WITCH: I want to make some suggestions to this query. "Twelve-year-old José Villa wants to be brave like his best friend, Bubba, but he’s more terrified than a fresh bass at a fish fry."

      Tell us what he is scared of: not being liked? The dark? I know you want to establish him as a follower who moves into the role of leader, but we need to see what he is afraid of from the beginning.

      "zombie freaking cows" make me think of cows getting their freak on in the fields. Zombie cows is fine. ;-)

      "Oh, and the evil witch Agatha Winters, back from the dead and ready to get revenge on the town that killed her." This is a somewhat bigger deal than zombie cows, and she is not scary.

      "a young witch expert" I feel like I need to see the Frog Brothers (vampire "experts" from THE LOST BOYS) here, because all of this has a comedic feel. Unfortunately I'm just not getting that impression from the query.

      This is cute: Together, the trio works to stop Agatha, encountering a creepy undertaker, an incompetent sheriff, and a horde of demonic squirrels along the way.

      "When his friends get locked up" Now it's getting majorly serious again. That is a scary thing for kids to be locked up.

      "He must overcome his fears" of what, we still don't know what Jose is scared of ...

      I really like this: "and stop Agatha before she hoodwinks the whole town into jumping from the same cliff they pushed her off of years ago."

      The first 250 words needs a little bit of work on the grammar, but otherwise is very nicely done.

      I enjoyed both of these; however, I have to choose just one, so

      VICTORY TO PLUS-SIZE.

      Delete
    18. Two very strong entries! Congratulations and best wishes to both of you.

      Because I love paranormal MG, victory to ALABAMA WITCH HUNTERS.

      Delete
    19. I love the off-beat voice and style of both entries, but it's ALABAMA WITCH HUNTERS that most makes me long to see what's on page two.

      Victory to WITCH HUNTERS!

      Delete
    20. From CatAttack

      These are both amazing entries -- so much voice! This is truly a tough match up, but, since I can only choose one...

      VICTORY TO ALABAMA WITCH HUNTERS!

      Delete
    21. Creature of the SeaJune 25, 2017 at 11:56 AM

      These are both fantastic entries.

      BE GRATEFUL FOR COOKIES: I think the world needs this book and its body-positive message. The query is excellent. You do lose me a bit in the 250. The "they" is a bit awkward. Having read the query, I get that it's some sort of food, but it reads almost as if it's the aunt and uncle taunting her. I also don't really get why her aunt is walking around with a bowl of chips. Wouldn't they just be on a table somewhere? I'm feeling the hand of the author too much in this setup, and it feels a little obvious. I think starting with something that would put us more in Lizzie's emotional headspace with the conflict with her mom might be a better choice. But just a thought.

      ALABAMA WITCH HUNTERS: You had me at zombie cows. Seriously. The query feels a little unfocused, which I think is a byproduct of wanting to convey all the cool, fun concepts in your book. I'd suggest reworking your query's first paragraph a bit. For me, the fish fry metaphor didn't quite work. (Even a fresh fish wouldn't be alive at a fish fry, would it? How could it be terrified?) Also, I'd suggest changing the word "So" at the beginning of the second sentence and replace it with something that conveys José's reluctance since José is terrified, but wants to be brave. The word "so" implies something that follows naturally when that really isn't the case. A small nitpick, I know. The 250 hooks me. I love the voice.

      I love these both in very different ways. Ultimately...victory to ALABAMA WITCH HUNTERS.

      Delete
    22. Love these two entries! It was close but...

      Victory to PLUS-SIZE!

      Delete
    23. Congrats to both entrants for making it to Round 4!! Great work!!

      Be Grateful for Cookies: The first two paragraphs of your query are really strong, but the third paragraph is vague in terms of how Lizzie actually proves herself—I think a bit more specificity here would help show how your story is unique and give your pitch that final hook. Your 1st 250 do a good job of introducing us to Lizzie and her personal struggles, though I think you could engage even more of her senses and emotions in this section.

      Alabama Witch Hunters: As before, I love how you bring some of the tone of the story's writing into your query itself. It's also fast-paced and gets to the heart of the story quickly. Very effective. Your 1st 250 set the scene well for the dynamic between Jose and Bubba, and carry that atmosphere and humor right from the beginning.

      Victory to Alabama Witch Hunters!

      Delete
    24. BE GRATEFUL FOR COOKIES:

      The character, situation and stakes are clear from the query, and the voice in the first 250 is immediately likable. This feels like an important book for young girls as well as an enjoyable one!

      ALABAMA WITCH HUNTERS:
      The stakes are less clear for me in the query. Why does it fall to Jose and Bubba to stop Agatha, and what happens if they fail?

      The voice in the first 250 is amazing and gives me a great sense of setting!

      Loved both openings so I'm going with the stronger query here.

      Victory to BE GRATEFUL FOR COOKIES!

      Delete
  2. Both of these entries are STELLAR. Kudos to you both. They sing with voice, and I get a clear sense of stakes and plot for both of them. You're each clearly very talented writers!

    This could come down to a coin flip for me, and basically it has.

    VICTORY TO PLUS-SIZED

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  4. I've gushed over these both already in prior rounds. My vote goes to Be Grateful for Cookies!

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  5. I voted for both of you in previous rounds –– your queries are excellent! But one voice sings to me like a siren, so my vote goes to ALABAMA WITCH HUNTERS!

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