Sunday, June 1, 2014

QK Round 1: Shalom Sasquatch vs. Searching for Eden

Entry Nickname: Shalom Sasquatch
Title: Sasquatch, Love, and Other Imaginary Things
Word count:
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance


Seventeen-year-old Samantha Berger may not have gone to Hebrew school, but she’s pretty sure nice Jewish girls don’t spend their free time hunting for Bigfoot, especially on national T.V. Just when Sam thinks she couldn’t be more humiliated, she meets the competition: a team of snobby anthropology students from Yale who are set on wiping the floor with her amateur “Squatch” hunting family.

The captain of the other team, Devan Mehta, is impossibly cute in a Bollywood Romeo-meets-Sherlock Holmes sort of way—until he opens his perfect British mouth and calls her family a bunch of low-class wankers. Sam’s no longer just embarrassed. She’s livid, and determined to beat the ascot off Devan and his crew. After all, the prize money will allow her to study pre-med at the college of her dreams, far from Yetis and Yaleies.

Forced by the producers to spend days in the forest together while they search for evidence of Bigfoot, Sam and Devan bond over family pressures, geek out over fantasy fiction, and learn how to rely on only a compass, some duct tape, and each other. In a moment of honesty, Devan admits he may be kicked out of his anthropology program if his team loses and Sam worries about paying for college if she doesn’t win. Before they know it, anger turns into understanding, attraction, and a steamy snogging session.

But if Sam doesn’t want Devan kicked out of Yale, she’s going to have to help him win —even though the money would change everything for her family. As the competition heats up, Sam must figure out whether her loyalties lie with her ridiculous family or with Devan, who might be perfect for her…if he can just stop laughing at her Shalom Sasquatch shirt long enough to kiss her.

First 250 words:

On a good day, my parents were just mildly embarrassing. The day the camera crew came to our house was not a good day.

I squinted at the bright lights illuminating our dingy living room, and turned to my older sister, Sophie. “Hunting Bigfoot in private isn’t bad enough?” I whispered. “Now Mom and Dad have to humiliate us on national television?”

Colin, the producer of a new TV show called “Myth Gnomers,” stood behind our scratched up coffee table shooting pre-interviews with my parents, me, and my two sisters. All five of us squished together on our stained, saggy brown couch, smiles frozen in place. At least our butts hid the holes in the upholstery.

“Checking. Checking one, two. Your mics should all be on now.” Colin peered over the camera at my parents’ matching neon green shirts that read, “Ohio is Bigfoot Country.”

The awful title of this lame reality show should’ve served as an obvious warning we were about to do something ridiculous, but nope, it sure didn’t.

When my parents told us we’d been chosen to be on the show, they were so proud. They couldn’t wait to tell the other members of the Northern Ohio Bigfoot Society. Yeah, there’s such a thing as a Sasquatch club. They have them all over the country.

My folks even had tote bags and trucker hats printed with their club’s motto in Latin – which probably translates to “We have nothing better to do.”


Entry Nickname:
Searching for Eden
Title: Spazzes
Word count: 69K
Genre: YA Dystopian


On Gajagamini “Grit” Kapoor’s eighteenth birthday, she flees the Los Angeles children’s home, taking her best friends, Speed and Eyeball with her. In a world of failed weather experiments and scarce food, Grit sets off to find her father, who went searching for a modern day Eden in northern California.

Grit knows hunger isn’t their worst obstacle, and neither is shielding her albino skin from the scorching sun. The government is forcing people into federal food camps, where they’re fed SynPro, a synthetic protein source. The protein was tested on homeless, and the streets are now teeming with mutant humans she calls “spazzes” - smart, super-strong, flesh craving maniacs.

Nearly starving and chased by both soldiers and spazzes, Grit leads the younger boys through treacherous mountains and dangerous cities, fighting off other holdouts in hopes of finding her father and the mythical paradise valley.

250 Words:

The blaring loudspeakers woke me from dreams of roast chicken and mashed potatoes. I came aware still savoring the tender meat in my mouth, cursing the rumbling FEEBL busses for stealing my precious respite. The hills and gorges around Greystone Park muffled the message, but I knew the words by heart.

By order of the President, all residents of Century City are hereby ordered to the Los Angeles Nutrition Camp for food and medical care. Busses will be picking up at the following locations….

Beneath a blanket of morning dew, cradled in a bed of pungent pine needles, I wept my despair into my knapsack, afraid of waking the boys from whatever dreams they’d escaped to. Six months into eighteen, I wasn’t much older than either of my friends, and the only girl, which somehow got me elected to “the leader”.

The sky glowed the faintest pink, coloring shadows into living trees and brush. Not much birdsong carried on the misty air, only a few brave warblers risking birdshot and breakfast frying pans.

With my sleep stolen, I stood from the bushes where we’d slept, brushing dirt from my jeans while checking the grounds for spazzes. The park appeared empty, so I slipped on frayed sneakers and wandered through rusted swings and broken teeter-totters to the restrooms, anxious to scrub away the cruel illusion still lingering on my tongue.


  1. Judges - reply to this comment to cast your votes.

    1. SHALOM: I love your nickname, and your book title really stands out. As far as the pitch - I get a little thrown off by the first sentence because I'm not sure if Sam *wants* to be hunting Bigfoot or she's just embarrassed about wanting to - I would make it clearer this is her parents'/family's obsession, not her own. I would also consider combining the last two paragraphs. They seem to share a lot of the same information and I'd like to see that tightened to only the most important points.
      The first 250 are great. You might consider taking the last two paragraphs, which are a little more "telling" than I like to see in the first chapter, and weaving those details in later on, preferably through dialog or action. Perhaps the parents can talk about the Northern Ohio Bigfoot Society while they are being interviewed, for example. But overall, I like this premise and think you have a fun contemp here.

      SEARCHING FOR EDEN: For the first sentence of the pitch, I'm left wanting a stronger hook. Why are they fleeing? Why is she searching for the father who abandoned her? (Which might sound like the answer is obvious, but I want details. Where they forcibly separated? Did he say he'd return and never did?) The second paragraph raises more questions for me. Why is the government forcing people into food camps? If the streets are so dangerous and food is scarce, why does Grit risk her and her best friends' lives to search for a place that sounds like a rumor - a place her father never returned from?
      The first 250 is otherwise solid. You ground us right away in the scene and give us a taste (almost literally!) of the world Grit lives in. Nice job.


    2. SASQUATCH, LOVE, AND OTHER IMAGINARY THINGS is a great title :) I'm confused, though... why has she agreed to be on TV doing something that she's embarrassed about? And what does that have to do with being Jewish? Once I got past those things, the query is great -- definitely piques my interest.

      SPAZZES raises a lot of questions for me, the biggest of which is: why is the government trying to turn people into super-zombies??? I love a good survival story, and it sounds fun, but I want more details about what sets your story apart.

      Victory to Shalom Sasquatch

    3. Princess PrimroseJune 2, 2014 at 10:09 AM

      Oh, boy--another tough one. Both match-ups were absolutely amazing. Given such a near-impossible choice, I voted for the one I felt would be most marketable.

      Dear Searching for Eden,

      Query: Your query, while strong, made me question why the government was still feeding people SynPro after it had such a poor outcome on the homeless. However, I must admit that I love the idea of an albino East Indian heroine, one who is the automatic leader among her troupe of misfit orphaned kids. This might just be enough of a hook to set this book apart from the other YA dystopians flooding the market.

      First 250: Love the literary quality of your writing. This promises to be an enticing, heart-pounding read. I'd love to see this acquired as a series. I have really no big suggestions to make as your writing is near-perfect and thoroughly polished. However, I have heard that dystopians (and especially zombie dystopians) are a tough sell now, so do keep that in mind as you go forward.

      Dear Shalom Sasquatch,

      Query: You had me at "Squatch hunting family." Your query captures Sam's voice perfectly, and is just funny and intriguing enough to get multiple full requests. Nice work!

      First 250: I LOVE the idea of a Jewish main character and an East Indian love interest. Absolutely fabulous--we need more diversity in YA! I also enjoyed the funny way Sam has of looking at her own dysfunctional family, her wry asides, and the bizarre predicament she finds herself in. Great work! I'd buy this at Barnes and Noble in a heartbeat.


    4. MRS N, the Query QueenJune 3, 2014 at 11:12 AM

      Shalom Sasquatch:
      Query- Your title is adorable and your query is smashing, in my view! You introduced everyone. Clearly laid out the stakes and even threw in British slang. Love it and can’t wait to read it!

      250- I loved your first 250! You are witty and it comes across in your fun writing style. I had to laugh and even felt her embarrassment. I mean, what teen wouldn’t? Excellent and I can’t wait to read more!

      Searching for Eden:
      Query- I loved your query and it sounds a lot like THE WALKING DEAD and 100. Survival of the fittest along with spazzes and finding their father. Love the premise!

      250- I loved your first 250! How refreshing having it be from the female POV. Love it! You drew me into her suffering and I wanted to hand her a cheeseburger! LOL!

      Again, this was very tough for me because I absolutely LOVED both books! I thought long and hard about which one I wanted to read more. This is so hard! VICTORY goes to... Shalom Sasquatch.

    5. Shalom Sasquatch

      query: Unclear *why* she's hunting sasquatch in paragraph 1. I'm also concerned that this query is too long: typically agents like to see 2-3 paragraph summaries TOPS. Still, it's well written and all the info I needed to see (conflict, character, stakes) is there. Well done.

      250: Nice voice, but I'd like to see the various elements of this page come together a bit more. You write lots of short paragraphs that each accomplish something, but you could be setting the scene more fully, and taking more time with setting up the conflict. Still--it's a solid first page and it piqued my interest. I'd read more.


      Searching for Eden

      query: Clear conflict and stakes here, but I didn't feel connected to your character. I also needed more information about this world in paragraph 1--i felt thrown into the conflict without really knowing enough about the world. "In a world of failed weather experiments and scarce food" really isn't enough.

      250: Very nice opening. Sets the scene, gives us an idea of what sorts of conflicts are awaiting us. There could be a bit more character development, however. Right now I'm not sure what kind of person your MC is, beyond the fact that she dreams of chicken and doesn't understand why she's a leader (actually that last part says a fair amount, assuming that's what you were *trying* to imply).

      This one was extremely hard for me. I actually felt more drawn to the first 250 of EDEN, but if I had to buy one of these books, I'd probably pick up SASQUATCH because I'm a little burnt out on survival/dystopian. In the end, I have to give the Victory to...


    6. Shalom Sasquatch
      I love this query. It's snarky and lighthearted, and a hint of anglophilia. There's so much culture mashed together with a Jewish girl, an Indian English guy, and some good old American Sasquatch. Fabulous. It's a bit on the long side, but that's fine, I don't think it would deter anyone because the voice in it is great.
      The first sentence is on the passive side. It's a great idea to open with, but it should be rewritten to strengthen and hook.
      The rest I love. Sam has such a great voice!

      Searching for Eden:
      I think your second sentence is a better hook, so if you could incorporate Grit's introduction into that sentence, it would work in your favor. Right now, that first sentence isn't hooking or giving me a reason why I should continue reading.
      The rest of the query looks pretty good, although I'd like a little more voice to shine through so I can relate to Grit.
      So... a nice little rule to remember, waking isn't the best way to open. Give us some tension. She's walking into the courtyard where the speakers are blaring. Something like that.
      The second paragraph (not the quote) is telling. What does her shrubbery bed, the nearby settlement, etc look/smell/feel like? Describe where the boys are in relation to her, and talk of her affection for them, then later on show how she is their "leader."
      I think you have the makings of a very interesting adventure here.

      For me, Victory goes to Shalom Sasquatch.

  2. YA is the genre I read (mostly) and write in, so I made sure to read all the YA entrants first. Shalom, I love it. I've read so much YA lately and yours is so original. I'd definitely give it a try.

    disclaimer: I'm not a judge or an agent, just a fan :)

  3. Tough match-up here!

    Query - First sentence into next jarred me a bit bc I didn't yet know this was embarrassing to Sam. I feel like I need one more short sentence for clarity in here. (But when her kooky parents enlist the whole family in a the new reality show, Myth Gnomers, she doesn't have a choice…)

    …far from Yetis and Yaleies (HA!)

    I think that the last two paragraphs boils down to: She starts to like him, he admits his stakes in the contest, she struggles with loyalty. Even fleshed out with detail it doesn't need to be two full paragraphs, but can be trimmed to one. Oh and you've already told us they've kissed so final line loses punch.

    250 - I like. I want to be keep reading. Narrator has a great voice, petulant and funny.

    Query: Hmmmmm. Why isn't this actually called Searching for Eden? Spazzes, when I read on, seems like a new form of zombie and maybe zombies are played out? BUT I'm interested in this Eden - a place that is perhaps preserved somehow, a link to the past? So, right off the bat I wonder about focus. Is that about get TO or escaping FROM?
    But I still think this is a fantastic query - world well built, stakes clear. I'm left wondering a little about the relationships - we know she takes two friends but we don't know why or of what importance they are to the story.

    Maybe a wake-up isn't the best way to start? Why not put them searching for breakfast, a task made more frantic by the blare of the speakers (soldiers coming!). This would bring more energy to the beginning.
    I'm also not a fan of "wept in despair" too melodramatic?

    But overall you're setting the scene/world well. I love this: "The sky glowed the faintest pink, coloring shadows into living trees and brush. Not much birdsong carried on the misty air, only a few brave warblers risking birdshot and breakfast frying pans."

    I'm not a judge, but for me Sasquatch takes this match-up by a hair. Mostly because I like the voice and feel that MC coming through stronger.

  4. Shalom Sasquatch, your opening page had me laughing out loud. From Myth Gnomers to "but nope it sure didn't" to the Latin motto, this was just hilarious and really well written. And I adore the premise of this dorky family competing to find Bigfoot.

    As mentioned above, the query left me a little confused until I got to the end. For example, I didn't get that it was a competition until the third paragraph, and I feel like it'd be better to introduce that right from the start so it's clear where the prize money fits in and why they're racing to find Bigfoot before another team. Also, you mentioned a snogging session in paragraph 3, but then it felt like paragraph 4 ended in a "will they or won't they?" kind of thing when we already know. Finally, I think it's a little on the long side. I'd suggest simplifying the query a bit and changing absolutely nothing in the first 250. I so want to read this book.

    Searching for Eden, your protagonist sounds fascinating. I love to see characters facing serious dilemmas, and having to go on the run while staying out of the sun sounds really complicated in an awesome way. The one thing I think this query is lacking is stakes. I assume it's that they could get eaten by the spazzes? I'd like to hear more about what actual danger Grit gets herself into and who the antagonist is, if there is a specific one.

    As for the first 250, your writing is lovely. I especially liked the line "waking the boys from whatever dreams they’d escaped to" and "a few brave warblers risking birdshot and breakfast frying pans." I do agree that the line "wept with despair" seems off, but mostly because of pacing. Weeping in despair seems like the kind of thing that would require build-up and a lot of, well, weeping, but here it's treated like a quick, passing thing, if that makes any sense. Also, if you can get to action a bit faster, that would help your 250 really hook readers, even if it's just an interaction with another person. All in all, though, this is really good.

    Best of luck to both of you!

  5. Shalom: I like your concept. Very interesting. Also, I love your humor and I wanted to keep reading. You have a very fun story and your stakes are clear which seems to be a universal problem.

    Spazzes: I think Searching for Eden is a great title for this story and I thought this before I ever read the above comment. ;) Overall, nice job.

    Good luck to you both!

  6. Shalom Sasquatch
    I loved the 250. Great opening line/paragraph, and it just got better from there. A solid voice.

    I do wonder if the query isn’t a bit long. It’s just under 300 words and reads more like a synopsis than a nice, tight hook. I think if you pared down the word count of the query to just the essentials, kept the writing snappy, and ended it with the decision she has to make (rather than Devan laughing at her shirt), it would help the presentation a lot.

    Searching for Eden
    I also enjoyed this query. It lays out the premise and the obstacles quite clearly, and promises to be a fast-paced, engaging narrative. I was left, however, wondering about Grit’s motivation for leaving. Obviously finding her dad would be important, but why go “now” is what I’m wondering? What’s changed?

    The 250 does a nice job of establishing the world they live in. I wouldn’t mind getting a little more from the main character herself, her thoughts about what she’s seeing, etc., but I’m happy to keep reading and this point and hope for more soon. One note: I only know what “spazzes” are from the query, but otherwise I’d have no clue and the term wouldn’t mean much here in the opening.

    Best wishes to both entries!

  7. Shalom Sasquatch

    Query: I’m a little iffy on the opening sentence. While I really love the mention of Bigfoot, and I think saying “Bigfoot” is going to grab anyone’s attention immediately (especially in a YA romance), I’m not sure about the “nice Jewish girls.” I immediately started wondering why “Jewish” was singled out, because I feel like searching for Bigfoot is something no “nice” girls would really do, regardless of religion or ethnicity or background ect. So I think rewording that sentence is something to consider. The query itself is also rather long, for what seems to be a pretty straight-forward plot. I feel like the second paragraph has the most fluff, and you might even be able to get all the information in paragraphs 2 and 3 into a couple sentences. The main reason I say it’s “too long” is because I’m getting a little overwhelmed with the information. It seems like there’s a lot more going on than there actually is. Just make sure we absolutely need to know all of these details for the gist of the plot / stakes / relationship to make sense. While I love character details, I think only a couple really quick things is all you need.

    First 250: I love your first 250! Really funny! It’s hard to make me laugh when I read something (usually I’ll just smile or think, “Aw, that’s funny/clever”) but you literally had me lol’ing at the image of them sitting on the couch, especially when you got to their shirts. Great use of specific imagery there. It says a lot about the characters and their situations, like the holes in the upholstery. Very vivid and concrete. Love it! Also, the dry humor is just my type of humor. I don’t have any suggestions for your pages – just know I really enjoyed them. :)

    Searching for Eden

    Query: This is probably purely subjective, but I honestly will put a book down if it gives me a name within the first couple pages that I can’t pronounce within a few seconds. Mainly because I end up just reading the person by the first letter of their name instead, and I really don’t want to think of the MC as “G.” It’s a good call that you gave her a nickname, but I wonder if using “Gajagamini” in the query is smart. Just making it “Grit” and keeping the quotes to imply it’s a nickname works, in my opinion. It’s a small nitpick, I know. But I also know a lot of people who can get immediately turned off by hard to pronounce names. The rest of your query is very clear and concise. The only other question I have is, “Why is she looking for this mythical paradise valley?” Putting some character motivation in there at the end (as well as what might happen if she succeeds/fails) will help make a reader care more. It’ll also drive up the stakes. Aside from those two little things, though, I love the rest of the query! This sounds really interesting. Makes me think of zombies.

    First 250: I love your first 250! I think you develop the setting really well, and you make the “waking up” beginning (which can come off as cliché) fresh and new with the loudspeakers and following orders in italics. I’m a little iffy about the crying part, because I feel like there are so many other, unique ways to show frustration / despair / dread / sadness that crying is a little melodramatic. I think it’s because I associate crying with sentimentality, and I’d rather get to know a character first before I see them cry. Usually that way I actually care about them crying a lot more. Otherwise it turns me off to them. But I feel like I’m droning on about a minor detail, which I seem to be in the minority about. Anyways, I really did enjoy these opening pages. Although it’s not a “grab-you-by-the-throat-and-demand-attention” type of opening, you still do a wonderful job of getting my attention and making me want to read more (mainly from your descriptions).

    Good luck to you guys, and I hope you find my comments helpful!

  8. Thank you judges and fellow Kombatants for your great feedback! I knew I was licked when I read her entry. Very well done!

  9. Carrie, Sasquatch, and I thank you all for your great feedback, enthusiasm, and tough love. Everyone had very smart suggestions and we've since revised for the next round.

    We also bow to Sharron, whose first 250 is just beautiful. We wish all our fellow Kombatants the best of luck.

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