Wednesday, July 29, 2009

16 Query Contest

Eleven-year-old Sam Morien never wanted to be a freak. His biggest
goal in life is to get picked second for baseball (instead of second
to last). But Sam has a bee inside his head. At least, that's what it
feels like. And when it buzzes, he knows what his fame-obsessed twin,
Alice, is feeling, and she knows what he's thinking. Talk about no

Sam and Alice live on a tiny island, so when they discover a mountain
tunnel, they're pretty sure they know where it leads. And when they
emerge on the other side, they are still on an island, just not their
own. Everything on Umbra Island is gray…and old. Really old. No cars,
no electricity, women in long dresses, dogs that talk.

When the tunnel entrance seals shut, Sam and Alice have seven days to
find another way home before they're trapped. Too bad they've got
something Kraldur wants. And Kraldur, the maniac king wannabe, is a
very powerful guy. In fact, he'd kind of like to rule their world,
too. Alice and Sam face some tough decisions, like, if you do the
wrong thing but it's for the right reason, doesn't that count? Their
new friends advise Alice to avoid the local magic wands, but she
wants to use one to help others (and maybe become famous along the
way). And then there's Sword & Pillar, an ancient battle game that's
way more futuristic than any VR game in their world. Sam is warned
not to play, but he never could resist a good game. If only it didn't
have that one gruesome side effect….

The twins get sucked deeper and deeper into Umbra's shady magic, but
at least there's one upside when they turn on each other—the annoying
bee buzz in their heads finally goes away. When Kraldur springs his
trap, the twins get a horrifying glimpse of their future
selves—nasty, old future selves who trick them into betraying their
friends. With both Umbra and their world in peril from the maniac
wannabe they’ll one day work for, the twins must outwit themselves to
change a frightening future that looks locked in stone.

I have a BA from Oberlin College with a minor in creative writing,
and a master’s from Northwestern University in journalism. I’ve
worked as a news reporter and freelance writer and currently co-own a
film and video production studio. I’m also a member of SCBWI.
Thank you for considering my middle-grade adventure novel, Tunnel to
Forgotten. I'd love to send you my 74,000-word manuscript, and look
forward to hearing from you.

Arbmu Island had one gas station, one supermarket, and one set of
twins. The gas station also sold food, and the supermarket also sold
gas, so sometimes people got them confused. But no one ever mixed up
the Morien twins. They were as different as a seagull from a
starfish. Alice loved to flap her wings and make a commotion, while
Sam had a certain starfishiness about him. He was good at hunkering
down and not getting noticed. The twins did have one thing in
common—a secret—but they could never agree whether to tell anyone.
On the morning of their eleventh birthday, standing on the beach, Sam
skipped a stone across the water and wished the secret would just go
away. In fact, he thought one set of twins on the island might be
one set too many. He shot a guilty look at Alice, but she was busy
staring at the stone mansion through her binoculars. The crumbling
house was an eyesore; everyone on the island thought so, except
Alice. It hunched above them on a cliff, a gray gargoyle turning
green from the damp sea air. The shattered-glass windows glittered
in the sunlight and dead leaves swirled in a windy gust past the
front door.

Just then, Sam heard two noises, a quick gasp from Alice and then a
bang like a distant gunshot. He felt something too, a buzzing inside
his head, like an angry bee was trapped there.


  1. How does living on a tiny island = knowing where a tunnel goes?

    But cool stuff on the other side of the tunnel!

    You mention Alice's desire for a wand. Does this mean that she's a POV character? If so, indicate that sooner (I'd been assuming this was primarily Sam's story).

    I feel that the plot after going through the tunnel could be condensed more, but I am intrigued by the concept and would read more.

    ...on to the pages...

    Good first line!

    Actually--good first page. I'd read more!

  2. Query: Hooked. heheh. Sounds like fun. :)

    Snippet: Not hooked, I'm sorry. Not just the huge block of text. It's just the telling about their secret makes them seem a little younger than 11. It would be stronger (at least in my mind, so grain of salt) if you started with them arguing over the secret.

  3. Interesting concept and good query :)

    Excerpt - huge block of text and the writing could be tightened

  4. The query was a little bit all over the place for me. I think it could use some tightening. I was still curious enough to read your first 250 words and I enjoyed them.

  5. I'm hooked. The query went on a little too long (more of a synopsis) but the plot and the voice intrigued me. And I wasn't let down with the 250 words. I'm definitely interested in reading more!

  6. I wasn't hooked. I thought the query rambled a bit and read more like a synopsis than a query. I think the second and third paragraphs could be combined, especially if some of the excess detail is left out. In particular, the part about the wands and Sword and Pillar seem unnecessary. Those sentences don't advance the description of the plot.

  7. I really like this, but is 74k a little long for MG?

    I think the query has excellent writing, but it also occurred to me that it was veering into synopsis territory. I'd cut the fourth paragraph. By this stage we know who the characters are and what the conflict is. I'd also cut the part about knowing where the tunnel leads. I also didn't get this.

    I loved your writing sample, but I think it needed some white space. Maybe 'On the morning of their eleventh birthday..' could be the start of a new paragraph?

  8. Ha ha, Bron's suggestion where to start a new paragraph is exactly what I originally had...but it got lost somehow. It's really not supposed to be a huge block of text. When I email writing, it always ends up looking weird! (the author)

  9. For the query, I would take the first two and a half paragraphs and boil them down into two paragraphs, with the first one focusing on their arrival at that other end of the tunnel, and the second on the dilemmas they face.

    The text itself is very good. Since this seems to be a fantasy, it's best to say that Alice "loved to flap her arms like wings." If you just say she flaps her wings, the reader can get the wrong impression of what she looks like, since you haven't established your universe yet.

    Mark in the Seattle area

  10. The query didn't grab me at all. There's no connection between the first paragraph and the second. Then it goes on too long, adding more and more ideas but not showing how they all relate.

    I think you need to trim the query down to what is the most pressing dilemma facing your characters. And be aware that "portal" stories can sound really cliché: Oh, look, a convenient unexplained way to get to a new world! I would focus much less on the tunnel and much more on what they have to do when they get to the other side - and how it relates to the world they left behind.

  11. I definitely thought the query went on a bit long. I really enjoyed the character explanation in the first two paragraphs, especially the contrast between the two twins, but then I stopped reading about halfway through the third paragraph. Too many details for me. I think if you stop it right after "In fact, he'd like to rule their world, too," you'd have a nice little cliffhanger to move on with.

    But others may not agree.

    That is all.

  12. The query is way too long and if you scan it, the big blocks of text indicate it's going to be a cumbersome read. Luckily the first paragraph hooked me! I didn't even read the rest, but I suspect it's more of a synopsis than a blurb.

    The first page had the same issue. The first paragraph is one solid block without any breaks to create a natural ebb and flow to the pace. I read through it regardless and the content was engaging! I'd probably break it into a good four or five paragraphs.

    You'd be surprised how much of an impression a quick scan will create to the eye. The scan of a block of text like that makes me feel I'm going to be reading a technical manual and does your writing a disservice.

  13. I was so hooked by the query and then you gave us way too much world building and no hook in the very beginning.

  14. I was hooked by the first paragraph but lost interest as you threw everything at me in the query. Try to find that balance between giving enough to entice but holding back from spilling everything out.

    And of course that's just my opinion :0)

  15. I absolutely loved the first couple paragraphs. But then you lost me. I would cut this down quite a lot. You don't need so many details. And I would like a clearer idea of who the villain is. Telling me he's a "maniac king wannabe" doesn't help me too much. Which part is the wannabe? The maniac part or the king part? Could you hyphenate it to make it clearer? "maniac king-wannabe"? I think if you clarify that, and just say what the stakes are for the kids and leave it at that, you'll have a much stronger query.

    Also, I had a question that I felt should be answered in the query: Why do they only have seven days to get back?

    I hope this helps. This sounds like a great premise. Good luck!

  16. It looks like you have some really neat ideas in here, but to be honest, I had some trouble keeping up. Less plot and more story.

    What I mean by that is don't focus on what happens, focus on the characters and their problems. Don't worry about mentioning all of them. The ultimate problem seems to be the king wannabe causing the twins to turn into strangers. Focus on that. (Or whatever you think is appropriate, so long as it's focused.)

    The beginning of the sample page was cute, but it didn't keep me engaged. I'd give it a bit longer and see if it started taking off soon.

  17. I loved the voice of this. I thought the query went on a bit long. Maybe cut down on the second half?

    Read and adored your snippet.