Wednesday, July 29, 2009

6 Query Contest

Dear Ms. Meadows,

After seven months at British school in Hong Kong, fourteen-year-old Lila Becker wants to escape and never come back. Ridiculed and bullied, she’s not just a new kid; she’s an American new kid with a stupid nickname and coke-bottle glasses that keep fogging up.

When her mother has to make an emergency trip back to America to be with her dying grandmother, Lila is dumped off on a remote corner of Lantau Island with a distant relative for the summer. To make matters worse, living on Lantau means she’s hours away from her brother’s hot British friend, Christian, the only person who’s made Lila’s time in Hong Kong even remotely bearable.

Everything changes, though, when Christian shows up on Lantau with two other boys—one an unlikely friend, the other, Lila’s worst enemy— and Lila finds herself part of a love triangle she wasn’t anticipating. She also finds a job she wasn’t expecting as the only female carrier for a team hired to haul supplies up the mountain. And guess what? Christian’s one of the team members.

There’s just one problem. Her guardian doesn’t like the idea of her spending the summer with boys. Instead, she forces her to befriend the next door neighbor, an awkward Chinese girl named Rainbow. Lila’s more than willing to ditch Rainbow if it will help change her image and make her more attractive to Christian. But when one decision lands her lost on the mountain overnight with the three boys in the middle of a typhoon, she must reevaluate not only herself, but those she calls friends.

Set in the eclectic melting pot of Hong Kong, where I lived for thirteen years, Up Lantau Running is a 56,000-word upper middle grade novel that’s a culture-shocked, modern-day When Zachary Beaver Came to Town.

I received a BA in Creative Writing (emphasis on Children’s Literature) and a minor in Publishing and Printing Arts. For the past eight years I lived in China where my husband worked at an international secondary school. This gave me the opportunity to rub shoulders with a wonderful mix of international teens and tweens. I blog at and have been a SCBWI member since 2006. For your convenience I’ve included the first 250 words of my novel below.

Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my novel.


At the top of the stone steps, I take a deep breath. It’s over. The worst seven months of my life are actually over. St. Peter’s Secondary School, behind me, is a smudge of gray stone. I look out over high rises riddled with windows. The cul-de-sac at the foot of the steps swarms with red Hong Kong taxis. I clutch the rail of the stairway as a kid in brown shorts and a crumpled white dress shirt pushes past me.

“You’re about to get a pasting,” he mutters, starting down the stairs.

I push my slipping glasses back onto the bridge of my nose. “What?”

Thwap! “Get a move on, Miss America!”

I glance back in time to see Paul Wilcox raising a school-issued notebook, ready to swat me again.

“Lay off!” I cry, slapping him away.

Paul only laughs.

I stumble forward, but Paul keeps up, whacking me with the notebook every few steps. “Are all Americans as beautiful as you?”

“Shut up!” As I swing around to face him, the weight of my pack throws me off kilter. I reach for the railing, but it slips through my sweaty hands. The sky, the leafy trees tip upside down. The back of my head grazes the stairs, my backpack crunches; the world whips by in greens and grays.

Panting, I blink up at a blurry sky. I’ve stopped moving. I touch my face. No glasses.

Paul’s voice rises above the shouts and laughter: “Definite passion killers, those knickers.”


  1. The first line *really* confused me. How is she a new kid if she's been there for seven months?

    From the first paragraph, I was thinking this was MG, and the main character was maybe twelve. Now that I've gotten to the love triangle, I assume this is YA and Lila is much older?

    ...huh. You call this MG. How old is Lila? How romantic is this love triangle?

    I'd read on despite these confusions--I love stories with foreign settings.

    ...but, having read the first page, I'm not hooked. That and my confusion in the query makes me want to pass.

  2. Very confusing. Also, I asked myself why her mother doesn't take her back with her. After all, it's her last chance to say good-bye to her granny. Try to focus on what happens, why is it important and how does it affect the main character. The writing of the sample seems solid though.

  3. I think this may be more YA than MG. The query hooked me but I felt kind of let down with the first 250 words. It might be because it takes me a couple pages to adjust to present-tense but I feel like the story started off kind of awkwardly.

  4. You had me very interested until your line: "that’s a culture-shocked, modern-day When Zachary Beaver Came to Town." I don't know if those kind of lines help agents, but if they don't know the work in question, all it can do is to signal that you're trying to sell your work on the coat tails of another.

    Otherwise, I'd want to read more of this.

  5. I think this is actually YA... ;)

    Query: I like. :]

    Snippet: Hookish. Only iffy thing is she sounds younger than 14. Unless this is a couple years prior?

  6. The writing is fine, but I was consistently bugged by the protagonist’s passivity in the query. All through the query she’s being pushed around by other, more decisive characters. She wants to escape the Hong Kong school, but does nothing about it. Her mother (a third party) dumps her on Lantau Island without her involvement. She’s sad about being far from Christian, but doesn’t take any action. And on and on. I’m struggling to find a single place where Lila stands up and takes decisive action herself. I feel like this could be a really cool query if Lila actually stepped up from passive victim to active protagonist.

    I'm slightly burned on opening scenes were the protagonist goes to a new school and suffers great humiliation - I'm under the impression 90% of all YA novels start this way - but I still enjoyed the excerpt. The writing has a nice flow.

    I'd read on.

  7. Agree, Y/A.

    Query hooked me enough to keep reading.

    Liked the 250 page excerpt, but again, Y/A.

  8. Something about a 14 year old being caught up in a love triangle really turned me off. Not hooked.

  9. That's a hooked from me for your query and even better your 250, which zips along, building character in action Loved it....A pickie: What's so stupid about her nickname Lila, or if that's not her nickname, then what is?

  10. I'm hook! I enjoyed the voice and you did a great job with first person present. Not everyone can pull it off. I agree with the others, though. It's YA.

  11. I think your query could be tightened up a bit, maybe by focusing on the main conflict a little bit more. However, overall I was hooked - in part because of the unique setting.

    The first 250 were good as well. I would read on.

  12. A little confused at what exactly is going to be happening in the story that wasn't already mentioned in the query. Love interest - check. Difficulty adjusting - check. Typhoon - check.

    And somehow Rainbow seemed like the most interesting character to me.

    I'm just not sure how much clarity this query has. Seems a bit muddled.

  13. At the query, I expected this to be more YA with love triangles and getting a summer job. Was interested in the foreign location, and read on.
    The sample page confused me and I would not have read on. The first bully scene comes across very junior middle grade, and that doesn't fit in with the older love triangle story that's going to come

  14. This didn't work for me. I like several of the ideas -- Lila being an outsider, typhoons, a few close friends -- but I struggled with more. They don't really...make Coke-bottle glasses anymore. I have a strong prescription, and even at the thickest point, my lenses are not even a quarter inch.

    Why doesn't her mother take her back to America?

    How old are these characters that they're involved in a love triangle? (MG love triangle is an automatic ew for me. I'm sorry.)

    Lila ditching Rainbow killed my sympathy for Lila. She uses meanness to get a boy's attention?

    The opening pages didn't draw me, either. First person present is *really* hard to pull off. The sign, for me, of well-done present tense is if I don't notice it; this struck me right off.

    I wouldn't request this. While it has potential, I'm afraid this simply isn't for me.

  15. Eep. Here I go again, following after the agent. That's what I get for going back to the beginning to critique the ones I liked.

    I have to agree with Vincent: judging from the query, Rainbow IS more interesting than anyone else so far. *smile* I have no idea why.

    Sorry, I know how annoying it is when that happens to characters you probably feel you know better than your own family. Just my humble opinion from the outside.

    Also had problems with the phrase "love triangle". Sticks a bit in the head when one thinks this is about tweens. Perhaps change the line to something sounding?

    So maybe we need more detailed info about Lila: age, real name, why Mother isn't taking her along. At least having the age would make other things easier to understand.

    I hate to suggest making the query longer (I certainly got enough crit about having the exact opposite!) but it's really just a few details.

    As for the sample, I thought the writing was fine, but I do agree with Ms. Meadows: First person is how I write, too, but not in present tense. That IS jarring. Kudos to you for pulling it off, it's merely difficult for the reader.

    That aside, I thought the voice was excellent, the writing concise and quick-moving. Great job on getting right into the character with some action. Last line is a hoot!