Wednesday, June 5, 2013

QK Round 2: Jungle Vendetta vs. Interstellar Pez

Entry Nickname: Jungle Vendetta
Word count: 60K
Genre: MG Science Fiction


Twelve-year-old wimp and self-designated videogame pro Kreith Briggs has just gotten the scariest birthday gift of his life: A wild safari with his Uncle Tonas through an alien jungle. The jungle’s got seven of the ten most exotic—and most lethal—animal species in the whole universe. That includes the super-sneaky electrocat and the ginormous, well, giant land squid. The tour’s real fun, if not a bit creepy, until Kreith discovers he and his uncle have been set up. Wilmur Banx, the host of the tour, holds an old grudge against Uncle Tonas and the other twenty-four safari guests. Not to mention he strands each pair of victims in separate places in the jungle with zero protection from the universe's fiercest beasts.

Kreith and Uncle Tonas head toward an old research facility where they can call for help and get off the planet alive. Only Kreith gets separated from his uncle and now he’s got no plan at all. Armed with a trusty new guidebook and his knack for all things techno-nerdy, he and his uncle’s survival—not to mention the lives of any remaining safari guests—rests squarely on his puny shoulders.

First 250 words:

I rip the wrapping paper off the present without removing the bow, lift the lid off the large cardboard box, and peer inside. A small chip rests on the bottom.


“It’s a book,” Uncle Tonas says, eyes wide in his thick-jawed, tightly muscled face. “Go on, download it.” He leans forward, monstrous broad shoulders and all, a cigar between his pointer and middle finger. The total opposite of me. Sure, I’m only twelve years old, but my overly large black sweatshirt and baggy jeans hide the fact I’m as skinny as Uncle Tonas’s pinky finger.

As I pick up the tiny chip and insert it into my Multipurpose Bracelet, I feel his gaze as my parents look on from the couch. My MB registers the chip, and asks if I would like to download the book The Top 200 Most Treacherous Creatures in the Universe.

“Yes,” I say, and it starts to download. I turn to Uncle Tonas and force out, “Sounds val.” Slang for “valuable resources,” they’re all anybody cares about these days now that humans have explored every planet in the universe.

But don’t get me wrong. The book really will be a val read, especially since I live on the most boring planet in the universe. But I’m confused. Uncle Tonas usually gets me the coolest presents. Last year for my eleventh birthday he got me a fluorescent slug from planet Zambor in the Orion Arm.


Entry Nickname: Interstellar Pez
Word count: 44,500
Genre: MG Sci-fi


While hiding from the school bully, eleven-year-old Mike meets Grimon, a poorly disguised, blue alien who’s been assigned to learn if humans could visit other worlds without turning orange or hiccupping forever.

Dedicated to all things Science and Science Fiction, Mike jumps at the chance to help. Testing super-power infused alien candies could help him defeat his tormentors. After all, he needs his nose in its normal shape and location since he’s pretty sure NASA’s astronaut program requires breathing.

Between flying, belching zoo-animal noises, and hiding from government agents determined to capture Grimon, Mike will have to choose between becoming a bully himself and learning what it means to be a real superhero.

First 250:

Mike Adams crept toward the swings, one eye on Brutus, the keeper of The List of Chumps to Be Pounded After School. Brutus and his two cohorts leapt and hollered on the cement court, absorbed in the bloodiest game of basketball ever. For now, they focused on bruising themselves instead of their usual targets at Grover Cleveland Middle School.

The List wasn’t on paper, of course. It lived in Brutus’ head, the biggest kid in sixth grade. Failing to call Brutus by his self-chosen nickname guaranteed an entry on The List. Even the teachers found it easier to comply, just to maintain peace. Mike landed on The List the first day of fifth grade when he stumbled into a sixth grade classroom and fell onto Brutus’ lap, to the snorting glee of the rest of the class. Other kids rotated on and off The List, but unless someone else grabbed the spotlight, Mike’s name was carved in stone.

Mike peeked through the monkey bars, wishing fifth and sixth graders had different recess times. It wasn’t fair he never escaped The List. He wasn’t ugly, poor, or stupid. It couldn’t be his skin color: Brutus didn’t say a word when Jordan, a scrawny kid with the same dark skin as Mike’s, spewed milk from his nose. Instead of calling Jordan booger-breath, Brutus tagged Mike with a humongous, drippy spit wad.

No one picked on Mike’s best friend Carlos either. But then Carlos was always chosen first for team sports and had two older brothers.


  1. This comment is reserved for judges' votes

    1. Victory to JUNGLE VENDETTA

      Super fun and inventive concepts for both here, but I have to give the edge to JUNGLE because the voice in the query is strong and I'm a little over bullying in MG stories, so I wasn't as drawn into Pez's sample for that reason (even though voice is also great here!).

    2. Victory to Jungle Vendetta
      Pez - As I mentioned in Round 1, there were some small details that didn't ring true for middle school life and it gave me concern that there might be bigger disconnects in the rest of the story. I did like the idea of the blue alien and I wish you well :)
      Jungle - I really liked the voice in your 250 and the clever tech gadgets. Your story promises to be exciting and action-packed which would help it appeal to MG readers.

    3. Victory to Interstellar Pez

      Wow, this is a tough pair-up.

      For me, it came down to the feeling I got reading the entries. I feel like both could use tweaking in places (Pez in the 250 and Jungle in the query) but ultimately I chose what I did because of the chills I got reading Pez's query.

      Jungle, I love love love your worldbuilding in the 250, but I'm not getting a sense of danger that I think I should be from the query as you talk about the tour and the animals and stuff. It sounds a little wordy to me, too many adjectives. This could be personal preference.

      Pez, I just can't get over this premise. The idea of alien candy and super powers and a kid going through the power struggle and choice whether to become the bully he's trying to defeat, all of it just gives me goosebumps. BUT your 250 needs work. I'm crossing my fingers for you to make it to the mentor round ;-)

    4. Victory to Jungle Vendetta

      Good luck to you both. You're both awesome. I hate having to choose between you.

    5. Victory to Jungle Vendetta

    6. Victory to Jungle Vendetta!

      Once again two excellent story ideas.

    7. Victory to Jungle Vendetta

      Wonderful job to both!

    8. Victory to Jungle Vendetta for a strong concept.

      I love the voice in the query for Interstellar Pez, and it had the edge, query wise, but the opening 250 didn't have the voice of the query.

    9. Victory to Jungle Vendetta. Loved the voice and concept! Intersetellar Pez, you had such great voice in your query. I'd like to see more of that in the first 250. Good luck all!

    10. Victory to Interstellar Pez

    11. Victory to Jungle Vendetta

      My vote goes to story in this round, but Pez has a wicked good query!

  2. I really don't read too much MG, and if I do it's contemporary. Both of these concepts sound completely fun and I'd have a hard time choosing from the queries, so no comment there!

    I have one comment about the First 250 for Interstellar Pez, and maybe it's been brought up before. If the theme is bullying, I think you might want to consider rewording how Mike feels about not escaping The List. When he says he isn't ugly, poor, stupid, and mentions skin color, he's obviously making these judgments about other people... as if they deserve to be on The List, you know? Maybe this is me not understanding MG voice, so ignore me if you want, that line just rubbed me the wrong way a bit.

    Good luck to both of you!

  3. SAVEGE JUNGLE: I commented on your submission in Round 1, so not much to add. I’m totally into MG sci-fi – and this looks like a great premise. Your world feels already flesh-out, with set rules – just from the query and first 250 alone. Well done! I would love a hint of the reason behind Banx’s grudge. Hating 25+ people enough to set up an elaborate death façade is impressive – and serious stuff. Either a hint at Banx and Tonas’s prior relationship, or just a little bit about Tonas’s character would really help!

    INTERSTELLAR PEZ: More MG sci-fi! Bring it on! What a fun idea. Seems to hold a good blend of funny, fun, and some possible serious issues for middle schoolers. Great job. If nothing else, I think you have room to add more details to your query. Currently it is only 113ish words. A little bit more back story to Mike, the bully, and even Grimon would make your idea really stand out. There are four names (proper titles) introduced in your first paragraph. I’d love to hear more from Mike’s POV, and identify with him, his personality, his fears, a bit more before learning about the other characters and setting.

    This is a great match up. Good luck to you both!

  4. I love sci fi and both of these entries promise to be fun stories.

    Jungle Vendette - I think it might make your query more effective to take the last sentence from the first paragraph, edit it and make it the first sentence of the second (synopsis) paragraph. Great job peaking interest in the the voice in the first page.

    Interstellar Pez - I agree with a prior comment that you've lots of room to beef up the query and it would benefit from work detail. A little more hints of the plot would be helpful in showing why he' choosing between being a bully and superhero and how it relates to protecting he alien.

    Good luck to both of you!

  5. Jungle: Is savage supposed to be spelled wrong? "Self-designated video game pro" is priceless! Query was short and sweet. The situation was interesting, but I hope you do a good job of coming up with original and real-sounding aliens. Random huge aliens with one big eye make me yawn. This has serious potential. 250: Don't put that bit about total opposite after you mention his cigar. It sounds like he's saying he's the opposite of a smoker. (which would be a non-smoker? huh..) Love your made up slang and your world building. I'd like to read this one!

    Pez: What's with the huge space? Was that the blog's fault? I like your first paragraph. Very original premise. I don't think science and science fiction need to be capitalized. I love the idea of candy messing with your body, but the whole nose and breathing example seemed a little bizarre and unclear. His choice about becoming a bully or a superhero seemed kind of tossed in there. Give us a clearer idea of the stakes and his goals in the beginning. He wants to save the alien? Why? Why does the government want him? Who cares if he becomes a bully, an alien's life is at stake! :) Maybe make the alien real to us and tell us how much he'll suffer at the hands of the government, then we'll be on your side and care whether he succeeds. 250: Maybe it's a MG thing, but this felt really info-dumpy. I do like the idea of a list of kids to be pounded, though. Just too much at once.

    I think I'd go with the Jungle Book. (If anyone cared about my choice.)

  6. Jungle Vendetta--I enjoyed your world building in the 250. I think a hint of the grudge in your query might increase the tension, but overall great job.

    Interstellar Pez--I like Mike's voice. The query seems a little vague. I'm not sure if the focus is on Mike receiving super powers, saving the alien from the government or choosing not to bully. I like the 250.

    Good luck to you both!

  7. Jungle Vendetta--I like the idea and the world your setting up, even though I think it sounds pretty intense for MG. But I think your query does a good job of setting it up and letting us know the stakes.

    Interstellar-- Your query had me a little confused. I had to read the first line twice and the set up seems a little vague. He wants to try out these alien pills so he can fight back against the bullies. I'd like to see everything more clear cut.

    Both interesting ideas, good luck!

  8. JUNGLE VENDETTA - Sounds like a great adventure story. I can't see anything to pick at in the query, but from what I understand, 60K is high for middle grade. I could imagine that being a potential sticking point.

    In the first 250, the descriptions of Uncle Tonas and Kreith sound like they are coming more from the author's voice than the MC's. You might want to reword that. And I'm not sure that the first 250 is the best place for that kind of description in any case. The first sentence of the fourth paragraph is a little convoluted, with two "as's." And in the fifth paragraph, I'm not sure that you need to explain "val." I think your readers could figure it out from context. Those minor criticisms aside, you've done a good job of introducing the main characters with a little world-building and a question at the end to make the reader turn the page.

    INTERSTELLAR PEZ - Love the humor in the first line of your query. Already I want to know why visiting other worlds would turn someone orange or give him a chronic hiccups. You lost me with the last sentence of the query, though. I don't see anything in what's been described up to that point that would make Mike into either a superhero or a bully. I think you need one more sentence to explain the conflict.

    In the first 250, you have a misplaced modifier in paragraph two (Brutus's head is the biggest kid in sixth grade). Is "Brutus" the nickname or his real name? As someone else already pointed out, your third paragraph makes it sound like kids who are ugly, poor, stupid, or not white deserve to be bullied. I think instead of spending that time with Mike thinking about how unfair life is, you should move on to the action.

    If I were judging, I would choose JUNGLE VENDETTA, for a slightly stronger query and better pacing in the first 250.

    Good luck to both of you!

  9. Jungle Vendetta, I love your concept (MG, scifi hunger gamesish) and the query does an excellent job of giving the reader a taste of your novel. The 250 jumps into the action so fast it takes me until the end of the sample to get settled. It's still great, though.

    Interstella Pez, first of all, great nickname. Secondly, I've seen your query around before and I still like it :) Definitely a fun change on the superhero story. Your 250 voice has some great humor as well!

  10. Jungle - i loved the premise and it seems like it could be very exciting, but my one question is, why them?

    Pez - love the nickname and the idea of alien candy but the 250 didn't seem to live up to the query.