Saturday, June 21, 2014

QK Round 3: Shalom Sasquatch vs. A Burning Dilemma

Entry Nickname: Shalom Sasquatch
Title: Sasquatch, Love, and Other Imaginary Things
Word count: 77,000
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance


Seventeen-year-old Samantha Berger is pretty sure most nice Jewish girls aren’t forced by their parents to hunt 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 “Squatch” loving 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.

Teamed up by the producers for a special challenge, Sam and Devan bond over family pressures, geek out over fantasy fiction, and learn to rely on each other. In a moment of honesty, Devan admits he may be kicked out of his anthropology program if his team fails and Sam worries about paying for college if she doesn’t win. Before they know it, understanding leads to attraction and a steamy snogging session. Now, as the competition heats up, Sam must choose between her ridiculous family and Devan. Suddenly, finding Bigfoot is just one of Sam’s hairy problems.

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?”

Sophie shrugged. “You’ve been complaining for weeks. It’s time to suck it up.”

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. 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.

Instead of running like hell, all five of us were 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.”

My mom’s smile tightened. She glared and gestured at me until I put on a Northern Ohio Bigfoot Society hat like my sisters. Each Sasquatch club designed their own logo. My tacky trucker cap had a cartoon footprint and a motto on it in Latin— which probably translates to “We have nothing better to do.”

I pulled the brim over my eyes and slumped down, wishing I could join the pennies and crumbs hiding in the crevices of the sofa.


Entry Nickname: A Burning Dilemma
Title: Burn, Baby
Word count: 62,000
Genre: YA Contemporary


The fates must have been laughing their asses off the day sixteen-year-old Ziggy's crackhead mom poured gas all over his big sister and lit her on fire. The tragedy that wrecked Layla's perfectly planned future gave him the life he'd always wished for, and too much guilt to ever enjoy it.

His mom got thirty-to-life and now Ziggy and his sister are living with a crazy but cool uncle in the suburbs, far away from the public housing apartments where they grew up. While Layla recovers, Ziggy is going to a private high school, driving his own car and inventing an awesome new online game with his new friends. Unfortunately, his once kind sister now hates everything, but mostly him, for saving her.

Until she connects with her poetry teacher, who falls in love with her angry words, and slowly draws her out from her prison of scars. But overprotective Ziggy isn’t happy about his eighteen-year-old sister dating a teacher. He must decide if he should interfere or wait to see if Mr. Osterman – despite the taboo – is what Layla needs to move on with her life. And maybe if Layla finds happiness, he can finally enjoy the new life he’s worked so hard to build for himself.

First 250 Words:

Lightning streaked across the Tampa sky, illuminating the cockroaches that feasted on the kitchen counter. Thunder cracked, slow and building until vibrations shuddered the tiny living room of our crap apartment, where I sat cross legged on the couch. My sister sprawled beside me, reading a book while I watched Dancing with the Stars, both of us pretending not to listen for Mom’s john on the outside stairs.

Aside from a couple of mattresses in the bedrooms, that was the extent of our furniture. A Goodwill couch which doubled as my bed and a junk TV on a milk crate. I held a box of Lucky Charms where Layla could reach, enjoying our family sit-down dinner.

“What’re you reading?” I asked during a commercial.

She looked up, her fake scowl only highlighting her exceptional beauty. Freckled apple cheeks and gorgeous blue eyes that turned heads wherever we went. I know that’s a weird thing for a brother to notice, but I was counting on that face to end up in magazines or on TV, and thereby bankrolling our split from this shit life and the crack-pipe-sucking harpy we called "Mom".

Layla waved the cover of some teen romance in my face. “A book. You should try it sometime.”

The rain messed up the picture, so I got up to fiddle with the rabbit ears, only making things worse. Frustrated, I flopped back down beside her, catching the cereal box before it bounced to the floor.


  1. Allusion AssassinJune 21, 2014 at 8:06 AM

    Great voice all the way through.

    You tweaked the ending to incorporate more of Ziggy and I think it works better than it did, but I'm still left wanting to understand what the stakes are for Ziggy - what bad things happen if he doesn't sort the conflict? The stakes you give - that he won't be able to enjoy his new rich kid life, seem a bit shallow and far fetched - it's his sister's life that would be ruined, not his. If the journey of the novel is Ziggy trying to overcome his guilt for what happened to her and the stakes that he desperately doesn't want more regret, that needs to get into your query. If it's not, I question whether your novel has high enough stakes after the initial incident with his mom to keep the reader going.


    1. SHALOM TO SASQUATCH: Love your premise and voice. Excellent work there. On the last line of your query maybe ramp it up a bit from "just one of" to "the smallest of." I personally think that will give your strong work that extra kick!

      BURNING: I read your query earlier, and I think this definitely a step in the write direction. The fragment that starts the last paragraph bugged me. It's a flow from the previous paragraph, so it kind of works, but only if I pretend it isn't a fragment. I'm all for fragments to show voice, but it feels unnecessary. Especially paired with another one in the 250. (the couch description could just be added to the prior sentence with a colon or dash.) So that makes me think as a pretend agent that you have a lot of editing things to work out in your MS still. Probably not true, as I've noticed this is a bunch of changes from what you had before, but agents won't know that. Still like your premise though. So fascinating and edgy I guess I'd say.


  2. Sasquatch: Your query is very good. Just a couple of things - the first sentence is a bit long and unwieldy - I'd suggest tweaking to 'Seventeen-year-old Samantha Berger is pretty sure most nice Jewish girls don't have parents who force them to hunt Bigfoot, especially on national TV.' And I googled Yale alumni and it seems that the usual word is 'Yalies'?

    Love the revisions to your first page. They're only small but they make a difference. One thing: I'd say 'translated' instead of translates - either is fine, but it would just read more smoothly imo since the rest of the page is in past tense. Overall, great story and writing and voice.

    Burn Baby: Just a couple of things: I'd alter your first sentence in your query. The juxtaposition of something as horrible as a mother setting her daughter on fire and the phrase 'laughing their asses off' is very uncomfortable to me. On your first page, I'd change 'and thereby bankrolling' to 'and bankroll' to read more smoothly.


  3. Princess PrimroseJune 21, 2014 at 9:07 AM

    This one was incredibly hard because Burn, Baby is exactly the sort of YA contemporary I'd snatch off the shelf at my local bookstore (or my virtual Amazon shelf) in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, I just couldn't connect with Ziggy in the first 250 here. Seeing that it's just barely over 60K, too, makes me wonder if this story could be more developed, and if the reader could be much more steeped in Ziggy's head right off the bat.

    Shalom, Sasquatch--you were my favorite last round, and I think it's just meant to be. :D


  4. This late in the game, I'm basing my picks solely on which book I'd be most likely to dig into first if both were on my shelf.

    I like the little changes you've made to the query. Don't really have anything else to add -- good luck!

    I think you need to clarify HOW the tragedy gave Ziggy the life he'd always wished for - right now it sounds like he was waiting for his mom to set his sister on fire. Even just moving that line to the end of the second paragraph would help connect that.


  5. Burning Dilemma
    I do like this story and I wish you much luck moving forward, its just hard to compete with such strong voice in such a small space

    Victory to Shalom Sasquatch

  6. These are both really strong queries and samples. I love contemporary and think that both of these look really great. I will definitely be rooting for both of these and can't wait to hear about them later on!

    The one thing I did find a bit unsettling, though is the hook in BURNING--and maybe that's a good thing. (??) I think it's a little off-putting and although it might eliminate some agents or readers from the beginning, it also might make others who would be interested, want to read more because of the shock value. I'd just see about doing a little more to bring your MC's personality into the query and pages--only bc at this point, I feel I know more about the sister and mom than Ziggy.
    I like the SHALOM SASQUATCH romance and family dynamics. You've done a great job in laying it all out there. My only nitpick is the first sentence in your sample--I think it could be a little more jazzy, but other than that it was a fun read and I think it'll do great in getting agent requests.

    This is a tough call because based on premise and subjectivity, I'd be most likely to buy BURNING, however, I really feel that SHALOM has more polish in it's query and pages so CLOSE CALL but VICTORY TO: SHALOM SASQUATCH
    xoxoSally Draper

  7. SHALOM: Yetis and Yalies? Bigfoot? OH, YES PLEASE! A Bigfoot-hunting YA book with family dynamics and a dash of romance is right up my alley. You drew me in with your query, which had excellent voice, and then really delivered in your first page. Not much else to say but good luck with this!

    BURNING: I see you've made some great changes to your query and first 250, and made the writing in your opening page darker and more atmospheric. However, I still couldn't connect with Ziggy. I'm not sure if this is because I tend to shy away from dark books like this, but I do believe one thing you could add to enhance your first 250 is more tension. Show us more conflict right away to draw readers in, perhaps.

    Victory to...SHALOM SASQUATCH!

  8. SHALOM: I haven't judged this one before, but I loved it immediately. This is the kind of YA Contemporary I adore, and I wanted to keep reading. Awesome premise. The voice in the first 250 was great.

    BURNING: I still love this one, but I think it's a tougher sell, because most of the drama happens to Ziggy's sister, rather than Ziggy.

    This is a really tough call, because I'd definitely read both these books, but I love the geek factor in SHALOM.


  9. SHALOM: the first paragraph of the query is missing something. It was almost like the last line needed to end with something like "but that's exactly what X's parents were forcing her to do with her summer." The sample was great.


    BURNING: I agree with Invidia--I wondered why this manuscript was about the brother instead of the sister, since this entire story seemed to hinge on *her* life. The 250 was nice, though I was surprised to see the sister acting like a pill after reading the query, since you seemed to suggest that she was *nice* before the accident.

  10. This is a killer choice because I would pick up both of these books at the bookstore in the same trip.

    SHALOM: I love Samantha's voice which is sprinkled in the query and amazing in the first 250. At first I thought that the premise was kind of odd but the query completely won me over and I was dying to read the first 250 after getting to the stakes.

    BURNING: I was a fan of this in the last round too and it was up against another really good entry. I love the dark tone and the stakes are so clear in the query. Everything about the first 250 sets up such good imagery and I am just there with Ziggy. I also really like Ziggy and Layla's interaction.

    This is close but...


  11. Ms. Malcolm ReynoldsJune 23, 2014 at 8:48 PM

    Shalom Sasquatch -

    I almost don't know what to say, here. Great query, great 250. You had me laughing and completely engaged.

    A Burning Dilemma -

    I'm a little confused about the main character, because your query starts with Ziggy but it seems like Layla is the one with the stakes. I love their first interaction but I would be sure to make that clear. Is the story about Ziggy dealing with Layla's affair with a teacher? Or is it about Layla recovering? the opening in a query will tell the reader who to side with, so be careful.

    Tough call, but victory goes to SHALOM!