Wednesday, June 5, 2013

QK Round 2: RedDryad vs. Eye Above You

Entry Nickname: RedDryad
Title: A Dance of River and Tree
Word Count: 78,000
Genre: YA Paranormal Fiction


Thuja is a 145-year-old Western Redcedar: anchored to the earth, holding up the sky, and always looking to the horizon. Until a boy speaks to her in the forest’s language – something humans can’t do – and acknowledges her wanderlust. From him Thuja learns the truth: she is dryad, a tree spirit, and can choose human form just as the boy’s mother did.

River has returned to his mother’s birthplace in order to find a way to put down his roots – quite literally. He’s done with wandering without connection, and knows there must be some way to access his half-dryad nature that would allow him to anchor to the earth and hold up the sky.

They strike a bargain: River will show Thuja the world, and in return she will speak to the eldest dryads on earth on his behalf. A simple, mutual partnership. Except Thuja already knows males can’t be dryad, and River knows the particular difficulties – and murderous tendencies – of a dryad in human skin.

Though burdened by their lies and half-truths, Thuja and River discover peace in each other, and their love story begins. But there are only two ways their story can end: in tragedy laced with blood, or in the tragedy of goodbye.

First 250 Words:

She was 133 years old the day her predictable life irrevocably changed.

A small human boy ran up to her and placed a tiny, pudgy palm on her trunk. She didn’t pay any attention to him at first; his touch was the flit of butterfly wings, insubstantial and fleeting.

“You’re a grumpy tree,” he said, and at that she took notice.

Some called her Western Redcedar, others just called her “tree” if they bothered to call her anything at all, but once, decades ago, a bespectacled man with a clipboard and calm smile had called her Thuja plicata. Divinity in the form of a grey man with hiking boots, he walked among her friends with surety, naming each one, and she had accepted her baptism.

This boy was the very opposite of the grey man. Absolutely nothing about him looked divine: shaggy black hair fell in his eyes, the back of his scalp was a gnarl of tangles that rivaled lichen, and he had a smear of something on his cheek. And yet he’d placed his palm on her with intention, as if feeling for a pulse beneath the bark, and his brown eyes had looked up into her slightly swaying branches, as if searching for her breath.

And, most remarkable of all, he'd spoken his thought in the language of the forest, not in human words.

“Yep. You’re a grumpy tree,” he repeated, this time out loud in his native tongue. He nodded, agreeing with himself sagely, and the absurdly self-confident gesture stifled Thuja’s argument.


Entry Nickname: Eye Above You
Title: Tree Roper
Word Count: 26,000
Genre: MG Contemporary


Born with one eye, twelve-year-old Jimmy Parker spends more time climbing trees with a rope and saddle, than hanging around with people – after all, trees don’t tease. Even though his prosthetic eye looks great, it is smaller than his good eye and sits lower on his face, attracting unwanted attention. Since money is tight, Jimmy works with his professional arborist father this summer to help pay for the cosmetic surgery that will soon fix his face – and his life!

When his family moves across town for his mom’s new job, Jimmy meets cute and candid Sam Fulton, and local loud mouth Jared (whose attitude stinks worse than his breath.) While helping his father during a routine limb removal in the new neighborhood, a climbing line breaks, sending Jimmy’s father crashing onto the roof below. With his father recovering in the hospital, Jimmy and Sam conceive a plan they hope will save the tree business, and keep Jimmy’s summer goals alive.

First 250 words:

It was the third day of summer vacation, and I was hanging in a tree. Perfect. Well, almost. But at least I was having fun and making money at the same time. My client stopped pacing as I glanced down at her tired face and the untidy nest of white hair below me.

“Please don’t walk right under me, Mrs. Murphy. It’s not safe!”

“Oh, of course. Are you okay up there? Maybe you should come back down and I’ll try again with the food.”

“I’m good. I’ve done this many times. Besides, I don’t think your cat’s that hungry yet.”

I was anxious to show her I could do this. Not just for the money she promised, but because of the way she had stared at me three days ago when my mom introduced us. Mom had noticed too, but had gone on about how moving to this side of town was going to make things so much easier for our family—mainly being able to walk to her job and the better school for me and Ethan. Like Mrs. Murphy, most people didn’t even realize they stared. But I knew.

Even while Mom was talking, Mrs. Murphy kept staring at my face. She couldn’t have known then that the right eye was a fake, though. Mom probably told her later.

As I hung from the rope above her yard, my arms throbbed and my stomach burned from the workout. I relaxed into the canvas and leather loops that formed my climbing saddle. It was Dad’s old one, and it fit me okay. Well enough that I could use it this summer to help out with the tree business. I leaned back and felt the freedom of empty space all around me. What a deal. Climbing trees—and getting paid for it!


  1. This comment is reserved for judges' votes

    1. VIctory to EYE ABOVE YOU.

      This is another one that comes down to subjectivity. The concept and writing for the MG drew me in more, though I do think the word count needs to increase. The lower end of MG word counts (20k's) is usually reserved for MG aimed at 7-9 year olds, versus those with 12-year-old protagonists, which usually run in the 40k's.

    2. Victory to Red Dryad
      Eye Above You - as you know, I REALLY liked your concept and your voice (I did vote for you in Round 1). This was a hard decision for me. YA typically appeals to me more so you were at a disadvantage (with me) in this matchup.
      Red Dryad - I loved everything about your entry in Round 1 and I still do, so despite being matched against a great opponent, I voted for you.

    3. Victory to EYE ABOVE YOU

      Dryad, I love this concept, but this one just came down to preference. I enjoyed the MG voice more than the tree-being concept. GAH! This is so difficult!!!!

    4. Victory to Red Dryad

      It came down to personal perference between two really good entries.

    5. Victory to Eye Above You!

    6. Victory to RedDryad

    7. Victory to Eye Above You

      Hard match up - loved both!

    8. Victory to Red Dryad - but NOT an easy decision.

      I went with Dryad b/c of the 250, the entire opening from the POV of a tree just had me.

    9. Victory to RedDryad

    10. VIctory to Eye Above You

      Loved everything about this entry, :)

  2. I love that they both involve trees!
    Both entries are SO amazing but I just absolutely love, love, love the first 250 from RedDryad. What an amazingly talented writer you are. I was truly spellbound.

    some real gems for me were: the "absurdly self-confident gesture" and "and at that, she took notice" and "absolutely nothing about him looked divine" and "as if feeling for a pulse" and then "as if searching for her breath."

    And the idea that she's a "grumpy tree" (and that the tree cares) has me so curious about where this might go.

  3. Like Anonymous above I love that both these entries include trees.

    RedDryad: I loved the voice in your 250. Beautiful job. Your query was strong as well.

    Eye Above: I also loved your 250, but your query lacked something for me. I can't put my thumb on it. If I do I'll post what it was.

    Awesome job guys. Well done. Love both concepts.

  4. REDDRYAD: Oooh, trees as MCs. Love it. This sounds like a great read. One suggestion: “River… knows there must be some way” doesn’t strike me as true. If he KNOWS, then it would be fact. If, instead, River THOUGHT or HOPED, it would read as more mysterious, more intriguing.

    EYEABOVEYOU: This is such a charming idea. Love the combination of a boy born with one eye and a tree climbing business. So unique! In the query, I feel like Sam and (especially) Jared are kind of thrown in. Other than Sam helping Jimmy with a plan, I don’t see how the boys are needed for the plot. You’ve given them descriptions, but not motivation. Adding their goals or how they affect the MC would be helpful!

    Great job, both! And good luckers!!

  5. yeah - awesome job contest hosts, in pitting trees against each other!

    I don't have a lot to say for Red Dryad - the concept doesn't quite catch me, but the writing is lovely. I think I lack the imagination to get how their bargain will actually work, so please don't take this as any criticism of your work!

    Eye Above You is an interesting concept, unique set up, but the word count does sound too low. I think your query could be stronger if we really understood what might happen if the tree business has trouble due to the dad's injury - mom has a job, are they risking financial ruin, losing their house. This might be what others have commented is missing - clear stakes.

  6. To repeat the above, this tree vs. tree thing is very cool.

    RedDryad - I love this amazingly original concept, the query and 250. I've nothing to add...but that I'd love to read this.

    Eye Above You - I love the voice and concept, but I've a little less sense of what happens in the story. In particular, Jared is mentioned once, then there is no hint what part he plays. A bully?

  7. Red: You don't read too many stories where the MC starts out as a tree. Great originality. That first paragraph is clear and engaging. I'd lose the "with" in "He's done with wandering..." and the "quite" in "quite literally". I had to read the last part of the second paragraph several times. I get that it's word-building and it's not supposed to be super-clear, but I found the wording awkward. Maybe if you just used "and" rather than "that would allow him to". Lose: "A simple, mutual partnership." It's obvious and doesn't add anything. Are you serious?! Murderous tendencies as a dryad? My interest level just skyrocketed! Great twist. And the whole lying thing. Great. Loved the query. Great ending. 250: Great opening line. Loved the voice and the smooth prose in the rest. (sorry, I'm saying great a lot.)

    Eye: 26K? Doesn't that seem a little short? Maybe it's a MG thing. The "born with one eye" thing got my attention immediately. Nice. Instead of saying "Trees don't tease" maybe you could say something like "Trees don't refer to him as Cyclops or Captain Mad-Eye Booty." Love the attitude and breath line. Rather than just mentioning his "summer goals" remind us again about the eye so we remember how much is at stake. (Plus that'll bring it all together.) 250: Perfect. Made me want to read more! My Dad trimmed trees for a living, so this all sounds very familiar. Great job.

    Going off the query I'd pick Red. But after reading the 250 (and if I liked MG more) I'd probably go with Eye. Great job both of you! Good luck.

  8. REDDRYAD - You did a good job of explaining a fairly complex mythical story in simple terms. Your query just left me with a few questions. In the first paragraph, you describe River as a boy. From the second paragraph it sounds like he is an adult man. I assume some amount of time passes between their first meeting and his return, but this needs to be made explicit. And since this is YA, we'd better know River's age. His wandering and his yearning to put down roots make him sound much older than YA.

    That's my other issue with the query: the voice sounds more adult literary than YA paranormal. Putting down roots and finding peace are goals I usually associate with adults. I suppose a troubled teen could also want those things, but it isn't clear from the query that either River or Thuja fits that category.

    The first 250 are really lovely. You've created a distinctive tree-voice for Thuja, and River is adorable. Still, this page doesn't read "YA" to me. Thuja sounds too old and River sounds too young. I wonder if it will resonate with teen readers.

    EYE ABOVE YOU - This sounds like a great premise. I love the idea of a preteen in a professional role, and an unusual profession at that. It will also be interesting to see how Jimmy copes with his disability. My only criticism of the query is that you introduce the bully, but don't show how he affects the plot. Is he more than a minor irritation?

    I think you have a good MG voice in the first 250, and you do a very nice job of introducing Jimmy's profession and his disfigurement in scene. It would be nice if you could work his name in there, maybe when Mrs. Murphy talks to him. Also, it took some reading between the lines to figure out that he was trying to rescue a cat. You could easily fix that by having Jimmy look at the cat after Mrs. Murphy speaks and before he responds.

    I had a slight preference for the writing in REDDRYAD, but if I were judging, I would probably give this to EYE ABOVE YOU, because of my uncertainties about whether REDDRYAD fits its genre.

  9. RED: As I said in the first round, your query is well-written and I do love the concept of Thuja seeking freedom (movement) and River seeking grounding (permanence). But one reviewer got me thinking... would teen protags seek peace or putting down roots? Maybe make it more clear that they are world-weary even with the young voice.

    EYE: I really like this idea! In the query, a few things could be clarified or eliminated.
    When the first line had "rope and saddle" I thought cowboy and not arborist. Maybe say "rope and his dad's arborist saddle."
    Don't think you need "attracting unwanted attention."
    Don't think you need professional in front of arborist.
    Maybe use Samantha on first reference of Sam (unless Sam is a boy).

    This match-up is a nail biter for sure! Love that the judges are split. Shows that readers' (and agents') tastes are subjective.

  10. RedDryad: AS I reread this, I was struck by how I've never read anything quite like it. I think that goes a long way. I like the lyrical nature of your writing. The query is a little vague for my tastes, though; I don't get a good sense of the plot or what type of story it's going to be.

    Eye: I really like your MC and his plight. For me, there was one moment in the 250 where he talks about the freedom all around him, and the wording of it made me feel like it was a bit too grown-up for his age. That might just be me being over analytical though.

    Strong entries!

  11. Congratulations to Eye Above You! I'm kinda glad I got to use my "I've been pruned" line. :)

    I held off commenting until this was decided, but I truly love your entry. I have a six-year-old son who is getting into MG, and it seems like the books geared towards entertaining boys/have boy protags are more about horsing around, getting into trouble, and having rollicking adventures. Not that there's anything wrong with that - Captain Underpants got him interested in reading and I'm grateful for that - but I wish it was balanced with more books that have heart and soul, you know? Off the top of my head I can only think of Wonder and The One and Only Ivan that we've read together along those lines.

    So anyway, kudos to you for writing a story like this, and I wish you the best of luck in the rest of the contest!

    Thanks again for all the feedback, and also... who is the Anonymous who was so kind about my entry?? It's TOTALLY killing me! But even if I never find out - thanks for making my day with your comment. :)

  12. Jeannette/RedDryad - You are a jewel. I am excited to be moving on to the next round and wish you the best of luck with your writing. Your concept is so WOW, I'm hoping you land an agent soon who will help you get your work in front of the masses. You might have "The Next Big Thing" here.

    Your words of praise about Eye Above You just blow me away. I am thankful and humbled that you see its potential for MG readers. Thanks a hundred-fold and good luck with your project!

    Everyone's comments mean more to me than you know. My throat hurts a little right now as I type "Thank You" to each of the judges and comment givers. In the eight months I've been working on this very personal book, I've met the most kind, generous and supportive group of folks than I knew existed. The QueryKombat family has given me a boost of confidence or specific areas in which to improve my story. Thank you.