Wednesday, June 5, 2013

QK Round 2: Minna Gray vs. Misfit Apocalypse

Entry Nickname: Minna Gray
Title: The Awakening of Minna Gray
Word count: 89,000
Genre: YA Futuristic Fantasy


Sixteen-year-old Minna Gray’s life in SilCorp’s Emerald District is shattered when the two boys she’s babysitting are kidnapped. Guilt turns to panic when she discovers no one is looking for the boys. No one even remembers them.

It’s as if they’ve been erased.

A mysterious letter from her deceased grandmother leads her to Corrin - a boy who knows about the disappearances. They aren’t isolated events: every day more people are erased. Corrin claims Minna has a magical ancestry - that her visions, her tree-speech, and her hidden power over the elements could put an end to the ghants – the gray men who perform the kidnappings. Only Minna’s not sure how.

Corrin says there are those who understand her heritage in the Outlands – the pest-infected waste beyond the city walls. Going there could be the only way to hone her powers, but no one survives the Outlands, and Minna’s not sure she’s ready to trade life in Emerald for a slow suicide. She’s not even sure she can trust Corrin.

But soon she’ll have to decide. Time’s running out. Minna knows too much, and she’s next on the list to be erased.

First 250 words:
She’d seen one once before - years ago, with Cameron, by the seaside. Its little round body flitted between palm fronds like a tiny jeweled fairy. They were supposed to turn it in. But they hadn’t. They’d watched it all afternoon, until finally it leapt into the sky and flew away, back over the Outer Wall. Their secret.

This one seemed even more out of place, amidst the asphalt and the early evening glow of the podcar lines. For a second, she thought she was imagining it. But then Ethan saw it too.

“What is it?” he asked, gaze transfixed on the emerald blot making its way across the dull bronze shine of the hood.

“A beetle.”

His brown eyes widened. “A real one?”

Minna nodded. “Don’t touch it.” But she was mesmerized too.

He frowned, waving his PestDetector wand over it. “It doesn’t beep.”

“Maybe it’s not infected.” Yet.

They watched its twiggy, spindle-legged progression from latch to windshield. “I don’t want anyone to kill it,” Ethan whispered as he backed away.

Technically it was a vector. Technically they were supposed to destroy it. But it was so small and round and innocent. Suddenly, it lifted off. Humming, it vanished into the protective green and white flurry of the nearby jasmine. Minna exhaled.

“Probably escaped from a DomeZoo.” Ethan said, glancing at her with a shaky laugh.

“Probably, but you still need to disinfect.” Minna puffed her emergency spray into the air, enveloping them in shivering white mist. Silently they counted out the seconds ... eight, nine, ten. Safe.


Entry Nickname: Misfit Apocalypse
Title: The Last Road Home
Word count: 60,000
Genre: YA Science Fiction


Josh is sixteen, haunted, labeled as autistic. Home schooled all his life, he has emerged a little from his shell thanks to the teacher who has restarted the tiny school in his rural Kentucky town. During the school’s graduation ceremony, the world goes dark; when the light returns the fields beyond the school have turned to forest.

Maria is fifteen, an orphan who has grown up in boarding schools. She is flying back to her school with two nuns and two younger girls when the world outside the plane goes dark. When the light returns, all signs of civilization are gone, and the plane is forced to land in the Ohio River. Continued distress calls find only one response, from the small Kentucky town where only the school remains.

Now Josh must try a dangerous rescue mission across a world where humanity died out in the 1940’s, while Maria must keep her small group of survivors alive despite injuries both physical and emotional. Neither has ever been a leader, but the end of the world might just be the best thing that ever happened to them…if they can survive long enough to find each other.

Facing wild dogs, a flooded river, hunger and more, the two groups will learn about the best and worst of the human spirit. Along the way they will find glimmers of answers, not just to the events that brought them together, but also to themselves.

First 250 words:

You don’t belong here. You shouldn't exist.

The rain was falling heavily, streaking down the car windows. Josh stared at his reflection in the glass, caramel skin and frowning brown eyes. His short cropped hair had improbably lightened to blond from the summer sun. Beyond his reflection he could just make out the tobacco fields, dark green with a fuzz of white flowers at the top.

You don’t belong here. You shouldn't exist. Josh ignored the voices almost as easily as he ignored his father, who had given up attempts at conversation to concentrate on driving. The dirt road was filled with potholes left over from the spring rains, and the current storm was only adding to them.

The voices had been there long before he understood speech. It had been years before he understood that they were for him alone, that no one else heard them. He didn't think they’d actually been using words back then…but it didn't matter. The message had always been the same.

The Subaru hit a pothole hard, shaking the car, and Josh’s father stretched out a hand in front of him, as though his seat belt wasn't already better protection. The silence stretched for a moment, then his Dad tried again.

“Josh, I’m very proud of the work you've done in Ms. Moore’s school. I’m glad that you've--” There was a pause, and Josh filled it in mentally—actually done something, anything, with other human beings—then his father went on. “That you've found something you enjoy. Teaching is a wonderful vocation.”


  1. This comment is reserved for judges' votes

    1. Victory to MINNA GRAY.

      Thought the query was easier to follow and really enjoyed the writing in the first 250.

    2. Victory to Misfit
      Minna- Your 250 showed beautiful imagery and powerful writing so this was a tough choice. For me your query left me with too many questions and not enough answers (what is "tree-speech", what magical powers does she have and in what way are they hidden, why is the letter from her grandmother "mysterious" do the gray men dress in gray or is their skin gray, is time running out because of the kidnapped boys or for other reasons, etc).
      Misfit - I still really like the idea of two oddball groups with unlikely leaders heading for each other with unknown consequences. However, your query, esp. the last paragraph needs some work :)

    3. Victory to Minna Gray

      Minna, I just love the imagery in your 250, and your query was clear and informative to me.

      Misfit, I still love your 250, but I felt like your query was just less clear than Minna's. The concept is a little confusing, is all.

      *tears hair out* I wish I could vote for ALL OF YOU!

    4. Vicotry to Misfit

      These are both stories I would love to read. It was a difficult choice. It came down to Misfit's MC. Good luck to you both.

    5. This is too cruel. They are both my kind of story. These just keep getting harder! Best of luck to both of you.

      Victory to Minna Gray!

      Misfit: There is a quiet beauty to your prose.

    6. Victory to Misfit Apocalypse

    7. Victory to Minna Gray

      Both intriguing premises!

    8. Victory to Misfit Apoc - great premise, and the opening 250 is what clinched it for me.

      Minna - love your query, but the opening 250 weren't quite as strong as Apoc's.

    9. Victory to Misfit Apocalypse

    10. Victory to Minna Gray

      Wicked strong query and loved the 250. Great job to both entries, :)

  2. Minna Gray: I love your query and first 250. I really can't think of anything else to say.

    Misfit Apocalypse: I would delete the last paragraph of your query--it's a tad cliche and doesn't really add anything to the stakes. I'm also confused about the "world where humanity died out in the 1940's" and would like a little more explanation there. Other than that, your query and 250 are great. I would definitely read on!

  3. Mina Gray- From opening of the query to finish of the 250, you had me. Even in a foreign, futuristic world, you led me along with the right combination of teasing and hand-holding. Good job.

    Misfit Apocalypse- I thought your query was light on showing. But I love a great survival story, which this one promises to be. I don't think you need your first paragraph in the 250. Stakes are high and questions remain, so I would read on for sure.

  4. Minna - I'd like to see a little more detail in that past pg in the query, but I'm interested in the setup. For the first 250, one thing that struck me was that pests are common enough they carry PestDetectors but she's only seen one twice and the boy didn't know what it was? I don't know, just a nit since we're reading the same material and looking fro something new!

    Misfit Apocalypse - love the concept, gave me a Twilight Zone vibe. I'd definitely want to read based upon the query but the first 250 didn't grab me. I want to see what's cool about the mc, not his douche dad - that stuff can always be worked in. Hmm made me think about my own (Interstellar Pez) the opening isn't working because the story isn't ABOUT bullying, the mc just happens to be bullied. So maybe here, this isn't ABOUT parental expectations, it's just a part of the character that we'll see. Very sorry, I'm rambling, so I hope this makes sense.

  5. MINNA GREY -- I'm entranced by your first 250. It's really amazing how you manage to show so much about their world through that little beetle. There's poetry in your descriptions -- "flitted between palm fronds," "twiggy, spindle-legged progression" -- I just love the way those phrases sound.

    OK, I'm gushing. Sorry! I will say, on the query, that there was a little too much going on the third paragraph for me to follow. The tree-speech, power over the elements, and giants were a lot of unfamiliar concepts to digest. Would it be sufficient simply to say that Minna has magical powers, without listing them all?

    MISFIT APOCOLYPSE -- I'm really intrigued by your premise. Do I understand correctly that Minna and Josh have been transported to an alternate universe? That could perhaps be made a little clearer in your third paragraph. But very good job showing your dual POV clearly and succinctly. And both your MC's sound like sympathetic characters.

    The first 250 were very good as well. I particularly liked the moment when Josh's dad reached out to protect him. I think it's a universal parenting reflex, but one of those details that writers don't always think of. It makes the scene feel real.

    I would really love to read both of these, but I have to give a slight edge here to MINNA GRAY for that lovely beetle.

    1. ^^ "giants" s/b "ghants." stupid autocorrect

  6. Grey: Okay, the opening paragraph of the query is AMAZING. The only think is the phrase "guilt turns to panic" so she wasn't panicking before? She didn't feel guilty afterward? How about "her panic turns to confusion"? lose the adj "mysterious" it's sooo cliche. Even "strange" or "unexpected" would work.
    Gray men who erase people? AWESOME. And tree-talking sounds cool, too. Great query. So she either commits suicide outside or lets them erase her. Nice stakes. 250 were AMAZING. Way to make a beetle sound so extraordinary. I love the subtle world building and elegant prose. I want to read this book!

    Misfit: Totally confused by the first paragraph but I love it and trust that all will be explained as I continue. Love, love, love the concept, but the last para of the query got all mushy and vague on me. Not interested in a feel-good coming of age novel as much as a sweet sci-fi thriller.
    250: Not as good as the query. Specifically the remark about the seat belt was awkward. Interesting about the voices, but that they'd say the same thing over makes it less cool.

    Although I liked the query of Misfit, the 250 of Grey clinched it for me. I'd vote for Grey. (Although they were both great.)

  7. Minna Gray: Wow! I really didn't want the 250 to end! I'll be honest--at first I was concerned that the story wouldn't reflect the genre as well as it could. I was afraid that the sci-fi sounding gadgets mixed with the magical elements set in a post-apocalyptic type world were going to throw me. But it really did come together in the first 250. I'd be very interested to see how it all plays out. The only criticism I could possibly give is to (maybe) rethink the PestDetector and DomeZoo spellings so one of them has a space in between the two words. Having both smooshed together was odd for me. But then again I'm an odd guy, so it may be nothing to worry about. :)

    Misfit Apocalypse: Cool premise! My suggestion for the query would be to change 'flooded river' to something with more oomph. We live next to a river that floods a lot and (this is just me being nit-picky here) it rang out as sort of inconvenient rather than disastrous. I love the idea of a MC that's autistic, though. I think it'd be so cool to show readers how Josh thinks while still making him accessible to those who might have never interacted with an autistic individual. My only concern would be if you hadn't done extensive research on how an autistic mind functions and Josh ends up being portrayed as a generic or stereotypical kid with Asperger's. But I'm not going to assume that so don't worry. :)

    Awesome job and best of luck to both of you!

  8. MINNAGRAY: Okay, what a cool world. I’m already getting a feel for Minna’s life, and how things work in Emerald – just from the query and first 250. Well done! Also, totally love the name “ghants” for the bad guys. It just sounds creepy! I’m not sure how Minna knows she’s next on the list to be erased. Adding a little more detail (does she see the ghants, do they find her, threaten her – something like that?) would help ground the stakes and make them feel more intense.

    MISFITAPOCALYPSE: Really like the premise of dueling POV’s from two unusual characters in an apocalypse. The query almost sounds more like MG instead of YA to me. “She is flying back to her school with two nuns”  at first I assumed they were flying nuns, à la the old TV show. For the first 250 words, I think it would help to italicize (or another font?) what the “voices” are saying to Josh. Just to distinguish them from the rest of the text.

    Great ideas, both kombatants! Good luck!

  9. Minna Gray: WHOA! I absolutely LOVE this concept. One thing I feel is missing in the query is how the ghants know Minna knows too much. Is she aware that they know she does and are about to erase her? Does she somehow stumble upon them and reveal her knowledge or something? Also—I wanted just a tad more description of the city. Like is it a regular city or does it have some special property(ies)? After reading the 250, I see the city IS very unique, so maybe add in a smidge about it to bring that awesome setting to life. Also, watch for telling in the first 250, such as: “But she was mesmerized too.” Show us that, don’t tell us. Other than that, I absolutely LOVE this entry!

    Misfit Apocalypse: This also looks like a lot of fun—another great concept! In the query, I’m a little confused about why these two groups must meet. Do they each have something the other desperately needs to survive? In the first 250, I feel like the dialogue of the voices should be in italics. Also, the explanation of the voices feels plugged in there by the author rather than something the character’s thinking about.

    Good luck to both entries!

  10. Victory to MINNA GRAY (Still don't know if I'm supposed to be saying that.)

    Query: Great world-building. I’m not a fantasy reader but I was with you! // Since your story starts out with a beetle encounter, mention the beetles in the query.

    Story: Intrigued by the beetle! I want to read more to find out what the danger is. // Your 250 could be stronger if you tightened by deleting or changing a word here and there, fixing punctuation. Ex: Delete “before” in “She’d seen one once before - years ago.” “THE little round body flitted between palm fronds (comma) like a tiny jeweled fairy. // A little confused by the mention of three boys in the query, two who disappeared and another one, Corrin. Then the story has Cameron (years ago) and Ethan (present in scene), neither of which seem to be any of the boys in the query.


    Query: Your story could be a good one--two groups struggling to survive--but without explaining the reason the world goes dark, then turns into forests, it seems like you just said that to put your characters in perilous situations. Why did the world go dark? Why were they the only ones to survive? // “…where humanity died out in the 1940’s.” If the story takes place in the 1940s, that should be mentioned at the get-go. // The last paragraph SAYS there’s conflict and struggle, but it doesn’t make me feel it.

    Story: The first line is left hanging. The first word of the next paragraph should identify the speaker (or thinker). // Reflections in rainy car windows aren’t clear enough to show caramel skin and brown eyes. Looks don’t really matter so early unless what he looks like matters to the story. // Ignored voices coming from whom? You make it clear later, but until then the reader doesn’t know if they are his thoughts, or if he’s repeating what someone else has said? // “The dirt road was filled with potholes left over from the spring rains, and the current storm was only adding to them.” (Don’t just give details, tell the reader how they affect the characters or the action.)

  11. Minna Grey - I'm not a big fan of sci-fi/fantasy because they usually use so many made up words and 'things' that instead of following the book i'm figuring out what words mean. But this I liked because it feels rooted. The 250 were great!

    Misfit - I'm not completely drawn in by the query. One big question is why them? And why is Josh leading the mission if there are other people at the school who survived? Or was it just him? And why don't the nun's take the lead as they are in charge of the kids?

  12. Congrats, Minna! A great concept, nice writing, and I'd bet you already have a few dozen ideas of how to tweak and tighten. I know I certainly do with mine! Hope to get the chance to buy your novel in the future!