Monday, June 1, 2015

QK Round 1: A Spoonful of Testosterone v. Musical Mirror Mayhem

Entry Nickname: A Spoonful of Testosterone
Title: The Manny and the Motorcycle
Word Count: 49,000
Genre: MG Fantasy

Query:

I read on Manuscript Wishlist that you’re seeking stories with diverse characters and humor. Please consider THE MANNY AND THE MOTORCYCLE, my MG fantasy, a modern retelling of Mary Poppins.

Twelve-year-old Ben Nontario is ticked off that his parents are hiring a nanny. Sure, wrangling his two little sisters after school would be a pain, but he’s convinced if he weren’t in a wheelchair, his parents would make him a latchkey kid like everyone else in the seventh grade.

When the nanny shows up, Ben starts to reconsider his stance. Marty, the burly, tattooed, motorcycle riding manny is surprising beyond his appearance. Strange things start to happen as soon as he arrives (Flying cutlery! Spontaneous cookie appearances! Field trips into picture books!) Ben, being a man of science, knows magic isn’t real, so he’s convinced the manny is somehow tricking them.

Ben decides to keep a close eye on Marty and get to the bottom of his seemingly supernatural talents. If he can’t trust Marty, the nanny agency has a horrible cheek-pinching, wheelchair-touching granny they’d love to replace him with.

First 250:

It's not that I didn't know Mentos and Diet Coke would explode. You don't get to be in honors science classes at Valley View Middle School by being ignorant of basic chemistry. I’d say my biggest oversight was how much it would explode. As in, all over my backyard, all over me, all over my little sisters.

It started off innocently enough. While Mom went to yet another job interview, I babysat two-year-old Darla and nine-year-old Hazel. I’d nuked us some chicken nuggets for dinner (which Darla wouldn't eat because she’s on this kick where she’ll only eat orange things). They were orangy-brown so I thought close enough but Darla pouted and pushed them around her plate. Hazel was in a bad a mood, too. She didn’t talk (which wasn't that unusual) but she chewed her chicken nuggets robotically and then cleared our dishes without saying a word. She stood in front of the sink and washed the ketchup off her plate with a soapy sponge for about five straight minutes before she blurted out, "Ben, do you ever just want to do something. Something no one else thinks you could do?"

I scratched my jaw and shook my head, glancing down at the wheelchair that has been helping me "accidentally" roll over mean-kid’s toes since I was three. "Uh, no. Not at all, Haz," I said, throwing a chicken nugget at her. Her face turned pink, and she quickly bent down to pick the nugget up. "Sorry," she mumbled. "Sometimes I kinda forget about the chair."



VS



Entry Nickname: Musical Mirror Mayhem
Title: The Fantastical Tale of Mirrorland: The Musical
Word count: 59k
Genre: Lighthearted MG Fantasy

Query:

Twelve-year-old Jack tells his soccer buddies he’s auditioning for the middle school musical because he needs an easy performing arts credit. He'd be mortified if they found out how badly he wants to be on stage. But if Jack had known that The Fantastical Tale of Mirrorland would be such a poorly-rhymed, nonsensical mess, he might have joined the band instead. Things go from embarrassing to just plain weird when rabbits invade the rehearsal room, the music director passes out on the piano keys, and Jack finds himself transported to the real Mirrorland.

Only, the musical got it all wrong. The Jester can't tell jokes. Jack's character, Leroy the Slayer, is not a villain, but an overweight magical repairman, and the true bad guy is the fairy queen. On top of all that, Mirrorland itself is trying to kill one of Jack’s cast mates!

When Jack discovers that he has the same magical powers as the real Leroy, it’s up to him to save his friends, the citizens of Mirrorland… and the middle school musical.

First 250 words:

Run, thought Jack. It's not too late to escape! He stared at the red exit sign as forty nervous middle schoolers whispered and fidgeted around him.

Jack commanded his body to stay put. He unfolded the damp sheet of paper clutched in his hand, and reviewed the words for the thousandth time.

You WILL return me my enchanted stone
Or you will wish you’d never taken that throne

The verse sounded stupider each time he read it, but it was what he was given to recite for the audition. Mrs. Harper said the words might seem less silly once they were set to music.

Singing. He wished he hadn’t remembered that part. He crumpled up the paper and began plucking at the fuzz lining the edges of his dull red auditorium seat.

Jack's buddies thought he was auditioning because he needed a performing arts credit for his seventh-grade year. They’d expect him to be cast as an extra and get off easy. He hadn’t mentioned to them that he’d always dreamed of being on stage–making people laugh, cry, rise to their feet cheering… they wouldn't understand. They might laugh him off the soccer team, but Jack was going for a lead role. Jester? Too goofy. Villain? Yes.

“All right, everyone!” Mrs. Harper yelled over the buzz, startling Jack to attention. The students fell into a jittery silence. Auditions were about to start.

22 comments:

  1. Judges - hit 'reply' to this comment to cast your votes. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Spoonful:

      This really is a fantastic query. I love the idea of a Mary Poppins re-telling, love that it's gender switched, love the voice in the query. My only real comment is about the stakes—if everything about Marty is just completely awesome, why investigate the supernatural abilities? Why not just go with it?

      For me, the first 250 isn't quite as strong. I like the idea of starting with Mentos and Diet Coke exploding, but you don't. Not really. You start by telling us it's going to happen and then backing up to the beginning of the evening. It's a little disorienting. I'd be happier to just start with a bang. Also, when the focus of a paragraph changes, start a new paragraph. Same with when a new character starts talking - the last paragraph needs to be two.

      Musical:

      This is so awesome. The voice in the query is excellent, and I've got a great sense of Jack's character and the basic conflict. I'd like a little more detail about the the fairy queen as bad guy. What's she doing? What does Jack have to do to stop her?

      The first 250 is hilarious, and you've got a great MG voice here. I love the kid who's afraid to be himself around his friends so he thinks he has to lie. And I love musicals.

      This choice is impossible. It's breaking my heart to have to pick one, because I really think both entries deserve to be before agents. Is it too early to campaign for a host save? And this comes down 100% to personal taste, because I'd read either book in a heartbeat, but I just think one first page is stronger. VICTORY TO MUSICAL MIRROR MAYHEM and good luck to both of you.

      Delete
    2. A Spoonful of Testosterone:

      I love the concept. Your query does a great job of setting it up the plot and adding in some details about the mayhem to come. The last line of the query had me a little confused. I’m understanding this as your stakes – that if Marty goes, a worse nanny will come. I’m just not exactly following what Ben’s choice in that is. I’m inferring that Ben’s attempts to investigate might get Marty fired, but that needs to be more clear. Your 250 is really great. I love how you ended it on a nice little emotional note even though the voice throughout had been more intellectual. I think your second paragraph could be broken into two, starting with “Hazel was in a bad mood, too.” There’s a lot going on there.

      Musical Mirror Mayhem:

      I love your query. The premise is great, and you’ve done a great job setting up the stakes. And your 250 is brilliant. I love your voice in this, and the way you wrap it up. I don’t know if portal fantasy is a tough sell in MG, but I love portal fantasies, so this is something I’d love to read.

      Judgment:

      This is a tough matchup. I loved both these entries, but one entry edged out the other for me.

      Victory: MUSICAL MIRROR MAYHEM

      Delete
    3. A SPOONFUL OF TESTOSTERONE

      QUERY: Oh! I love Mary Poppins, and this retelling with a Manny sounds super fun! There are some really great things in this query, but it needs a little work. Ben’s love of science is clearly a big part of who he is, but we only get a tiny hint of that at the end of the query. It’s presented as if we should know, but how would we? I’m also confused about what Ben’s motivations and end goals are. Does he want Marty to stick around? Does he think Marty is up to no good? The last line about the granny nanny seems out of place, just randomly tacked on. Work on giving your last line a PUNCH with stakes, something that makes us want to sit up and go YEAH, how WILL he manage that? And I HOPE HE DOES!

      FIRST 250: I really enjoyed this. I don’t have much to comment on except watch your tenses in this sentence: “I scratched my jaw and shook my head, glancing down at the wheelchair that has had been helping me "accidentally" roll over mean-kid’s toes since I was three.” (Also, is there just one mean kid or multiple, since as written it’s just one kid he’s been toe-squashing for 9 years.)

      MUSICAL MIRROR MAYHEM

      QUERY: I think you nailed it. You have just the right amount of detail. Stakes are good too, though I wonder why Mirrorland is trying to kill one of his castmates. That detail would help seal it for me.

      FIRST 250: I really…don’t have much to say about this either. Solid opening. If I wanted to get really nit-picky, I would suggest getting rid of any “began” type words. “…and began plucking” versus “…and plucked.” Not a big deal at all but I thought I should try to say something constructive.

      These are both fantastic. However, in this case, victory to MUSICAL MIRROR MAYHEM.

      Delete
    4. SPOONFUL: Your query made me smile! You've got voice, diversity, and a "manny"--there are a lot of great things happening here! However, I'm a little worried about your stakes. I understand that a worse nanny will come if Marty is fired, but does Ben know that? I don't understand why he's investigating Marty, I guess. What's his motivation behind that? I think you need to re-work the query to answer those questions, and then it'll be much stronger!

      Your first 250 are so much fun! My one nitpick is a grammar issue in the final paragraph: "mean-kid's" implies that he's been running over the same particular child's toes repeatedly. I think you meant, mean-kids'. I know it's a small thing, but it's important to make sure everything is super polished before agents see it!

      MUSICAL: What a fantastic query! It's full of voice, and the stakes are quite clear. If you choose to, you could consider elaborating on the fairy queen being the true 'bad guy.' --What's she doing that's so villainous? This could just be a line or two, a simple addition for extra clarity!

      My only complaint with your first 250 is that it ended--I wanted to keep reading, because you've got an authentic MG voice and I was totally enjoying Jack's discomfort!!

      I think these are both wonderful stories. Overall though, one was just a bit stronger as-is.

      Victory to...MUSICAL MIRROR MAYHEM!

      Delete
    5. A Spoonful of Testosterone

      Query - This sounds like such an adventurous, mischievous book! The voice is very apparent, but I wonder if there isn't something else going on with the stakes? What's the main conflict? It's a really great build up, but then the end just doesn't live up to the rest of the query. Once you get your stakes heightened, this is going to be great.

      250 - I'm not sure this is the place to start. He's recalling what happened, which is putting as in the past. Starting where the story starts is the best way to go. I think you can either have the readers go through the events with the protagonist, and go from there, or start at the consequences, with him recalling bits and pieces of it. Giving back story as an opener tends to go slow.

      Musical Mirror Mayhem

      Query - This is a fantastic query! I love everything about it. It engages, builds up suspense, and clearly defines the stakes. I really don't have much critique wise on this one. You did a really fantastic job.

      250 - Again, not too much to say here. The first line is engaging, the internal conflict is there, and there's already a strong feel of what's going on. I would request the whole manuscript. Great job!

      Victory: MUSICAL MIRROR MAYHEM

      Delete
    6. I've read both of these entries over several times and there are just so many positive things to say...

      Spoonful of Testosterone (great name pick!),

      This premise is fantastic. It reminded me a lot of Vin Diesel in The Pacifier.

      Couple of things about the query, I think you're trying to work in too many elements. Your first paragraph is solid but once you introduce the manny & magical elements, I get overwhelmed.

      Think about how the manny changes Ben's life (both good & bad) and then use your last paragraph to show your stakes. If Ben reveals the magic will they get a new nanny or is there something more emotional going on here? As a big fan of MG, I think readers would connect with Ben if he felt a real sense of loss if the manny went away. Show us this in your sinker and people will be eager to read.

      Couple of other things: You don't need to include Ben's last name. It slows down the rhythm of the query. Also, I'd recommend putting your first paragraph down at the bottom and using some comps so agents know where this book would fall on the shelves.

      First 250. The Mentos idea is a great start (and a great set-up to show Ben's scientific mind), but I want to see it rather than hear about it. Also, there are spots where you could benefit from a paragraph change. Your sentences feel like they all run together without any spots for pause.


      Musical Mirror Mayhem,

      Great, great premise. Love the sporty kid who wants to be in the musical. What I worry about is you setting this book apart from other MG portal fantasies out there. How can you really highlight the stakes in your query? You say someone is trying to kill a classmate of Jack's? Why? And how does Jack get his magical powers? If you can use concrete examples to draw the reader in, then I think you'll have a better chance of standing out to agents.

      First 250: Your start is very solid. It's got great voice and right up front we know Jack's motivation and concern over the real reason why he is performing. Only thing I feel is missing is some small sense right away that something isn't quite right with the production.

      Both entries are very solid here and I've had to come back to them time and time again. At this point, if I have to make a vote, I'd say...


      Victory to SPOONFUL OF TESTOSTERONE

      Delete
    7. Note: For round 1 since there's so many entries, I'm judging based on the query only!


      A SPOONFUL OF TESTOSTERONE

      I love Mary Poppins, and love the idea of her/him being a motorcycle-riding tough guy.

      I think the last paragraph could be stronger. Your conflict doesn't really match the stakes -- the conflict involves Ben trying to find out what's really going on with Marty's "magic," but if he *doesn't* then what? Wouldn't Marty just go on being their manny?

      Also, you need some sort of punctuation to close up the sentence "Strange things start to happen as soon as he arrives"


      -vs-


      MUSICAL MIRROR MAYHEM

      I love the idea of a story set around a middle school musical, and this sounds like a ton of fun.

      I'm not certain about the sections where "white rabbits invade the rehearsal room, the music director passes out on the piano keys" -- are these MAGICAL things that happen, or are these just your usual run-of-the-mill middle school musical issues? Personally, I think you could cut this and go straight to Jack's transportation into the real Mirrorland.

      Also, being an "overweight magical repairman" sounds decidedly UNmagical -- so what are the powers Jack discovers in the last paragraph?




      Victory to... MUSICAL MIRROR MAYHEM!

      Delete
    8. Jackie Jormp-JompJune 4, 2015 at 2:56 AM

      A SPOONFUL OF TESTOSTERONE

      I totally dig the idea of a male version of Mary Poppins! I think your query could be a bit more specific about Ben’s suspicions of the manny – what does he think Marty is up to? Why is it so important for Ben to discover the truth, even though it means he might be faced with a cheek-pinching granny? And what gets in his way? I’d also be interested to hear a phrase or two about Marty and his personality, beyond being magical.

      The 250 are great, and I love the first paragraph about the mentos and diet coke, as well as the clear, but unique, relationship that Ben has with his sisters. In the last paragraph, I wasn’t clear if Ben was angry with his sister for asking an insensitive question, or sad about his situation, or playfully teasing her by throwing the nugget. Other than that, I really enjoyed this! Nice job!

      MUSICAL MIRROR MAYHEM

      I think the query really shines and sets up the MC, his problems, and the stakes quite nicely. I did wonder, however, what specifically is threatening Mirrorland. What does Jack need to save everyone from?

      I loved the 250 – I was transported to the horrors of junior high auditions instantly. I really enjoyed how you started with “run!” and the idea of him escaping – I feel like the panic disappears quickly though and is left with just nerves/annoyance. Is there a subtle, small way to keep the panicky energy up throughout?

      Another tough choice here! But I have to give Victory to SPOONFUL.

      Delete
    9. Hey Judge Sally Sparrow! Thank you so SO SO much for judging 11 match-ups (11!) even though you weren't assigned this round. The query feedback will help tons. We won't be able to count your vote because of the lack of 250 consideration, but seriously, thank you thank you. The writers will appreciate it tons.

      Delete
  2. These both sound so fun. SPOONFUL - you did a great job showing me this character with a disability but not making me pity him. He's so much more than just "a kid in a wheelchair." The "accidentally running over means kids toes" part made me laugh out loud. I agree with the judge above though about your query. Other than just being a little cynical about magic, why would he risk losing this Manny at all? What is the real motivation?

    MUSICAL MIRRORS - Your query was fun and your voice is strong. My only thought is wondering if you could "show" a bit more of that paragraph about wanting to be in a musical, rather than just telling us.

    ReplyDelete
  3. SPOONFUL-love the concept. For this contest, I think you just want to have your comp sentence in that first paragraph. Your middle paragraphs have some excellent info, but you have plenty of words left to add a few details that may clarify your stakes, which is the weakest part of your query. You say that your MC is skeptical of the magic, but also seems intrigued by it. It also seems that the alternative to the manny is something Ben doesn't want so what is the negative element to keeping the manny? In the 250, your opening sentence is really attention-grabbing but I would stay right in that moment afterward instead of backing up to introduce the siblings. I do like that last paragraph-it shows us something about the two siblings and how the disability is just a part of their life. You could also start with the second paragraph (and rework the first sentence) as I'm guessing the Mentos accident is your inciting incident which probably ends your first chapter.

    MIRRORS-Very strong query. I am definitely a fan of your concept! Maybe since you have another 75 words to play with, you could elaborate more on what happens in Mirrorland. What makes the fairy the bad guy and how is Mirrorland trying to kill the castmate (is the fairy involved?)? The 250 is strong, though it would be cool if you could hint at the magical elements to come so we know right away this isn't just a contemporary story.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Spoonful - it sounds like these kids are used to being on their own. I can't think of many nine year olds who clear the dishes without being asked. Maybe you could build on that a bit and start to set up just why Marty is really needed. I love the part about Darla only eating orange things. I'm not a mom but I've heard so many stories that are very similar. Could her reaction to not getting what she wants be a little bigger than pouting? I'm guessing she's in the midst of the terrible twos and it seems more likely that those nuggets might end up on the floor, stuck to walls/ceiling, or what not. Another example of how out of his element a 13 year old might be.

    Musical - Something I noticed right off was this phrase:

    "They’d expect him to be cast as an extra and get off easy. He hadn’t mentioned to them that he’d always dreamed of being on stage–making people laugh, cry, rise to their feet cheering… they wouldn't understand."

    You start off using a dash to set off the "making people laugh . . . " part but close it with an ellipsis. Being uniform is better visually.

    A little bit more about the pressure from his buddies in the first 250 could help shape things a bit more. What might happen if they knew the truth? Would they not be his friends anymore?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Manny: I love this concept! It reminds me of The Tooth Fairy. Such a great voice. I love how Ben is smart, does chores, and seems caring to his siblings, a great example for kids like mine who enjoy beating each other to death and screaming at each other! :)


    Mirrorland: I'm a bit confused by your query. What are Leroy's powers? I'd love to know more details in the last stanza of the query to get a better picture of what's at stake. But, I love the quirky concept of this, and the details you did share were perfect. Sounds like so much fun. I like your 250, but I think if you started at, You WILL return me my enchanted stone...if would begin clearer.

    I love both of these entries. Good luck, guys!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Manny: I love this concept! It reminds me of The Tooth Fairy. Such a great voice. I love how Ben is smart, does chores, and seems caring to his siblings, a great example for kids like mine who enjoy beating each other to death and screaming at each other! :)


    Mirrorland: I'm a bit confused by your query. What are Leroy's powers? I'd love to know more details in the last stanza of the query to get a better picture of what's at stake. But, I love the quirky concept of this, and the details you did share were perfect. Sounds like so much fun. I like your 250, but I think if you started at, You WILL return me my enchanted stone...if would begin clearer.

    I love both of these entries. Good luck, guys!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Honestly, both of these are awesome, a hard choice for the judges.

    On "A Spoonful of Testosterone" -
    The premise for this sound amazing, and all the little changes made to the original Mary Poppins story just make the idea more and more engaging. I think someone else has mentioned this, but I'd either move or delete the line about why you're querying at the very beginning. As for the first 250, I personally really liked it. I thought the opener was clever, and I like opening up on a scene between main characters. I will say, though, I see what other people were talking about when it comes to never getting a follow-through on the Mentos scene, and instead just watching the chicken nugget dinner. Maybe change the hook to reflect the chicken nuggets, or bring in the Mentos earlier.

    Musical Mirror Mayhem: I'd say another wonderful premise here, but I will say the query lost me at the end. The first paragraph was gripping, but once you started describing how the world of inside the play worked, I got really confused. Why is Mirrorland trying to kill one of Jack's castmates? Did they all get transported in, or just Jack? Now, for the first 250 - I loved the opening line. I thought it had such a hilarious double meaning in that I thought it began within the dangers of the Mirrorland, but to find out it was just Jack and his play was hilarious. If there's something I'd recommend tweaking, I wasn't sure if Jack hated singing or not, so if you could clarify that, that'd be great.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Spoonful -
    I'm not usually a fan of retellings, but I like this story idea. In the query, I also liked the way you point out the wheelchair as a point of comparison -- how Ben suspects his parents treat him differently from his peers. AND in the first 250, I liked the way his sister doesn't always 'see' his wheelchair when she looks at Ben. Great showing. The 'man of science' phrase hit an off-note for me -- since Ben is only twelve, but if I'm the only one who says anything about it -- please ignore!

    Musical Mirror -
    I like the idea of the protagonist being embarrassed by the possibility of his peers discovering his dream. I don't write (or read) MG, but the stakes seem clear and age-appropriate. I enjoyed the voice in both the query and the excerpt. Jack seems like he'd been a fun character to travel with on this adventure.

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  9. Spoonful- love the Mary poppins rebelling but not sure exactly why he doesn't trust Marty ? I agree that your first intro needs to start with a bang and stay focused on that being in the present. I do like that you set up the mc situation though and the voice.

    Mirror- love this idea and I love anything with musicals and magic! But you have a lead named Jack. A musical middle grade book just came out about a boy named Jack who decides to hide his affinity and talent for musicals and try out for the soccer team... Sounds exactly like your book intro! Can you change his name and maybe the sport ?? Your book is different but if it got published its gonna get confused with the book Jack and Louisa. Love the idea and loved the first pages!

    ReplyDelete
  10. A Spoonful of Testosterone
    - This is a wonderful turn on Mary Poppins. The perfect madcap character to throw into this situation. And the beginning is perfect.
    Musical Mirror Mayhem
    - This is a nice take on going through the looking glass. And private hopes and dreams that don’t fit give this a serious and thoughtful underpinning.
    Connie

    ReplyDelete
  11. SPOONFUL:
    Query: I LOVE THIS! So clever! I almost think you should change the actual title to A Spoonful of Testosterone. I think I’d change your “trust” to “accept,” and you’ve got a stellar query. 250: I love your opening paragraph but at first felt a little disappointed with how far back you went. I wanted to hear about the explosion. After I got over that, I just loved this opening scene. I love how you throw in little details to connect us the characters (like Darla only liking orange food and rolling over mean kids’ toes). I just want to keep reading!

    MAYHEM:
    Query: This is a solid query with a very interesting premise. Great stakes! 250: Very interesting. I’m not a fan of using em dashes and elipsis in the same sentence, but this is intriguing.

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  12. Spoonful: I thought the query was solid and such an interesting premise! The first 250 was very good and I can see this as a published novel, so best of luck!

    Mayhem: The query was good, except I felt the second paragraph was a bit confusing. I love the first 250!

    These two are both fantastic!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Spoonful: I thought the query was solid and such an interesting premise! The first 250 was very good and I can see this as a published novel, so best of luck!

    Mayhem: The query was good, except I felt the second paragraph was a bit confusing. I love the first 250!

    These two are both fantastic!

    ReplyDelete