Friday, June 1, 2018

Query Kombat Round 1: Feminist Rumpelstiltskin Reimagining vs You Octopi My Heart

Title: Is My Name

Entry Nickname: Feminist Rumpelstiltskin Reimagining

Word Count: 41K

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy


A plucky, but unlucky, young girl must unravel a diabolical web of revenge spun by the greatest weaver the world has ever known in IS MY NAME (MG fantasy, 41,000 words), a feminist, slightly creepy Rumpelstiltskin reimagining. Think SNOW & ROSE meets THE NIGHT GARDENER.

Twelve-year old Chancey is terrified of being sent away to be a servant in the city. She’s tried to prove her value to Papa, but she can’t beguile anyone into giving her gold. Papa’s disgusted she’s not more like the miller’s daughter, who years ago turned straw into gold and became Queen. Mama’s no help—she’s lost in grief for her first-born and furious at the King. He’s still insisting the village has to prove its fealty by letting every first-born be carried off to the true realm by wildmore wolves.

Then Mama claims she’s had a vision proving that the King is lying about everything, and is holding the Queen against her will. Papa and the men of the village are outraged at her disloyalty and declare she’s gone mad. That’s the last straw for Papa—he can’t have a useless daughter and a useless wife. He rushes off to get a mind healer and place Chancey as a serving girl. Mama disappears, and the village men claim her insanity has driven her to leave to confront the King.

In desperation, Chancey asks Old Man Stein, the wealthy village benefactor, for help. But Mr. Stein has a price. He’ll give her enough gold to keep Papa happy if she can convince the latest mother-to-be that Mama is truly mad, so she'll have her baby in the village. The problem is, Chancey has started to come across evidence suggesting Mama is not mad. She—and the Queen—may in fact be prisoners. Turning down Mr. Stein’s offer means Chancey will end up as a nameless serving girl. But if Mama’s right—accepting it may ensnare Chancey forever in the same man-made web of vengeance, deception and greed that’s trapped Mama, the Queen—and the first-borns.

First 250:

Even before the boy fell from the sky, Chancey knew the day was slanting towards trouble. Fog seeped through the chinks in the wattle and daub, shrouding the room. She couldn’t keep the rushlights lit. The fire smoldered like a sulking dragon no matter how much dried dung she tossed in. Worst of all, up in the loft, Papa spoke her name.

“—about Chancey—”

She stole up the ladder, silent as a nighthawk, and pressed her ear against the crack in the loft door.

“There’s no hope she’ll ever earn her keep—she’s been trying for over a year. The Queen mastered the golden tongue gift—beguiling straw to spin itself into gold, mind you!—in three months. I know two merchants in the city in want of a serving girl. We’ve got to place her now, before she turns thirteen.”

Tendrils of fear sprouted in Chancey’s chest. She’d heard terrible tales about children sent away as servants. Starved, overworked, mocked—beaten for dropping a spoon. Never called by their name. She’d thought she had months still to learn the golden tongue gift and prove herself to Papa.

“Now is not the time to decide about Chancey, Eland,” Mama murmured. “You’re far too quick to give up on people.”

There was far too quick, and far too forever—like Mama refusing to give up on Lizel even after thirteen years. But at least she had a thought to spare for Chancey.

“We can’t live in dreams, Vyleen.”

Yet Papa expected Chancey to live in a nightmare.


Title: The One That Got Away: An Octopus Love Story

Entry Nickname: You Octopi My Heart

Word count: 27K

Genre: MG Anthropomorphic


For a long time, Ceph, a giant Pacific octopus, pined after Sylvia, the octopus next door at the bottom of the sea. Before he can muster the courage to speak to her, he’s captured by a human diver and imprisoned in an aquarium. A kind hawksbill sea turtle named Baja helps Ceph understand his new surroundings while two sinister eels taunt him. Ceph learns that octopuses before him have escaped their enclosure, though none have ever made it back into the ocean alive.

Ceph has never been the brave one—he couldn’t even tell Sylvia he loved her. In order to escape the aquarium, he must face a room full of predators, get past the watchful security guard, and figure out just how long he can hold his breath out of water. Even if he manages to get back into the dangerous ocean, he’ll have to find his way back to his den. Ceph, who has always relied on his ability to camouflage, now must employ all his fight and flight skills to get home safely, all the while wondering whether Sylvia will even care if he returns. Octopuses are solitary creatures, after all.

THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY was inspired by the true story of Inky, an octopus who escaped from the New Zealand National Aquarium.

First 250:

Ceph stretched arm after arm after arm until all eight were awake and independently exploring his den. His dominant right eye opened. Then the left. He blinked. Pressing his arms against his favorite sleeping rock, he peeled his body off. He floated for a moment, shaking off the drowsy feeling.

Today’s the day, he thought. I’m going to talk to Sylvia.

His skin shifted from lumpy brown to smooth reddish-orange.

He glided, arms floating around his body, to the front of his home –a rock den, slightly bigger than himself. He hovered in the entrance and looked out in the sea. It was a clear, still night in the Pacific Ocean –the water barely moving and satisfyingly cold.

Nearsighted, Ceph could hardly see Sylvia outside of her own den. He stared until her skin’s deep blush color came into view. He admired the glaring, white, polka-dots decorating all eight of her arms. No matter what color or camouflage she turned, her polka-dots remained.

She was the loveliest creature in the entire sea.

Ceph breathed deeply, air ballooning through his gills. Then he moved forward, arm over arm, scooching across the ocean floor, all the while thinking, What will I say? Hello? How are you? My name is Ceph . . .

Something moved under Ceph’s second arm on the left. He startled and shot straight up into the sea, the rest of his arms flailing.

A little sanddab fish lay on its side, both eyes staring up at Ceph.


  1. JUDGES ONLY: Please reply to this comment with your feedback and match decision. Thank you!


      The bones of your query look solid, but I'm not getting a firm sense of who Chancey is as a person. Your logline says plucky but unlucky, but there's no real hint of that in the query itself. Her sole aspiration seems to be to not become a servant, rather than on saving her Mama or stopping firstborns from being whisked off. The query sort of insinuates those last two are the plot, but it remains focused on "not being a servant" as the ultimate goal. How does Chancey react when she gets hints her mother might not be insane after all? What does that do to challenge her worldview? The stakes say she may end up ensnared in this web of vengeance with the firstborns and such, but it seems like that's the status quo so isn't she already trapped in it?

      The opening line of your 250 is killer. Honestly, this entire blurb is great. Fantastic voice and a wonderful end hook that absolutely makes me want to read more. The only real thing I'd suggest tweaking is making Mama's response to Eland a tap simpler/shorter, but that's incredibly minor/nit-picky. I wish I had more to offer, but this is great. Thumbs up!


      I love that "Octopuses are solitary creatures, after all" line. Younger me absolutely identifies with poor Ceph. The second paragraph in your query looks solid, but the line in the first introducing Baja and the eels tripped me up a little. I think splitting it into two sentences (one focusing on Baja, another the eels) could help. Your query's on the short side, so you've got plenty of room to expand. Also, neither Baja nor the eels are ever mentioned again. I'd normally say cut them out, but as noted, you've got room, so why not expand upon them? How does Baja help him? How do the eels hinder?

      Your 250 looks solid, but it doesn't appear to end on a great hook. Based on the query, I'm guessing Ceph's very skittish so the harmless little fish actually scares the ink out of him? If so, I'd suggest finding a way to trim/rearrange some words to end on Ceph's reaction to the fish, rather than the fish itself.

      Wow, this ended up being a lot tougher a call than I'd expected. Both have good 250s, although I prefer Feminist Rumple's. But Octopi has a much stronger query. Both seem like fun stories, but, alas, there can be only one.

      Victory to YOU OCTOPI MY HEART!



      You do a good job setting up the stakes of the query. The last couple sentences work for me. I’m a little lost in the beginning. Maybe I’m not familiar enough with Rumpelstiltskin, but there seems to be both too much information and not enough. I think there may be too many characters mentioned. Three is usually seen as the limit, and you have Chancey, Mama, Papa, King, Queen, Old Man Stein and a mention of a miller’s daughter. Since Mama, Papa, King, and Queen are clear in their relation to each other and Chancey, it’s not a Query killer, but you might want to lose some if they’re not absolutely necessary to Chancey’s story.

      Chancey also sounds a bit pushed aside in the middle paragraph. I’m not getting a strong sense of agency from her until the last couple sentences. You mention she’s plucky. I’d love to see it.

      Otherwise, it does sound like a lot of intrigue that could make for a fun dynamic story.

      FIRST 250:

      Your pages are lovely. You make good use of the space of the room in relation to how Chancey is feeling and sneak in some nice exposition in a way that keeps us in the right perspective. The examples of what she’s heard of the servant girls are quick and specific enough to add solid tension. The line about Lizel pulled me out slightly, as I’m still trying to establish characters and here is another name I don’t know. But nice work. The ‘sulking dragon’ is great imagery.

      I'd love to see more of your voice in your query where possible.



      Cute story idea! (and inspired by true events makes me want to know more). I get a good sense of the stakes, but perhaps you could throw in a bit more specific threats Ceph has to overcome. As with your opponent’s query, be careful of throwing in too many characters (I think as of now it's good), so if Ceph has to contend with other aquatic antagonists, then perhaps leave it be. I'm not sure I have much else to suggest.

      Octopi have untapped potential for kids' stories. They're so unique.

      FIRST 250:

      I love the way you begin with the arms and arms, instantly telling us this character is not human. And the descriptions of Sylvia’s polka dots is affectionate. We know what Ceph wants, his trepidation. I can’t really think of what else to change. Perhaps a couple more details about sea life. But overall, great job.

      Both of your samples were great, and I’d like to read more. But I have to go with the better Query.

      Good luck to both of you



    3. ------------------------------------------------
      Feminist Rumpelstiltskin Reimagining

      Query: I was really excited by this concept, as I think a Feminist version of the Rumpelstiltskin tale could be amazing! However, this query suffers from far to much plot synopsis. In revealing so much of the plot, I have nothing but questions (Why is the king nuts? Why is the king sacrificing babies? Why does Mr. Stein want the baby born in the village? Why? Why? Why?) and I am also exhausted by trying to keep all the plot points in my head. The plot points could be cut in half, and the space far better used to give me some idea of who Chancey is, and a stronger concept of the stakes. I honestly don’t know what the stakes are here, I’m not even sure why Chancey couldn’t do what she needs to do as a nameless servant, or why that’s so much worse than living with her total piece of garbage father.

      First 250 Words: This feels overwritten, particularly for a MG book. I do like that this sort of explains why being a nameless servant might make her task(s) from the Query more difficult, but the overwrought adjectives and general construction makes me as turned off as the query itself.

      You Octopi My Heart

      Query: This query is cute. Short and to the point, my only concern is that the word count and basic idea of the story seems a bit too short. My main concern is that there isn’t quite enough story here, but given the microcosm of the world of the story, the stakes are well established. The only other issue you’ve really got is: Finding Dory was an amazing movie and this sounds a lot like it.

      First 250 Words: This is cute, though given the competition of this round, I do immediately question whether Sylvia is a bit too much of a token character. She seems like Princess Peach from the first Mario Bros. game. However, assuming she is not, I like what’s going on here.
      Victory to: You Octopi My Heart

      While I’ve got some concerns about You Octopi My Heart, the Feminist Rumpelstiltskin Reimagining is really rough for me on both fronts (query and sample pages.) It’s sad, because, based solely on the two ideas, I’d go for Feminist Rumpelstiltskin Reimagining over You Octopi My Heart, but the execution is just not there for me personally.

    4. Frankly, I feel a bit out of my league here, because I simply don't read middle grade fiction, so I'm not sure what's out there market-wise or what either of these entries are up against.

      Feminist Rumpelstiltskin Reimagining
      I loved the concept of this and when the query indicated the story would be dark, my heart did a little leap. The query went into way too much detail about the mothers. It's great this is a part of the book, but I have the same complaint here that I had with another entry: there is just too much to wrap my mind around for a query.

      It's long on plot and short on characterization, and that is another issue for me. Still ... dark ... so I went down to the first 250 words:

      "Even before the boy fell from the sky, Chancey knew the day was slanting towards trouble."

      Even before the boy fell from the sky is an awesome opening and sounds very much like a dark fairytale, which I love.
      "... Chancey knew the day was slanting towards trouble." sounds like some snarky modern narrator, the kind I hate.

      What I'm telling you here is that if you're going to write a dark tale (middle grade, YA, or adult), do it fearlessly. Don't be timid and don't try to lighten it up by gearing it toward a modern audience.

      I think this is an awesome idea that fails somewhat in the execution. I would suggest reading more dark fairytales and working on the story's tone. I don't think it's a bad idea, but in order for it to work, it must be a well executed idea, too, and fairytales are hard.

      If you're looking for an author to read in order to get a better idea of what I'm talking about, read some Patricia McKillip.

      You Octopi My Heart
      I'm not even sure what to do with a story like this. However, the query is dead-on well-written, and the first 250 pages could be a little stronger in terms of ... whatever passes for excitement for an octopus ... to hook the reader a little more strongly. But otherwise, it's all professionally done.

      Victory to: You Octopi My Heart

      Sidenote to Feminist Rumpelstiltskin Reimagining: You're on the right track, but not quite there yet.


      A plucky, but unlucky, young girl must unravel a diabolical web of revenge spun by the greatest weaver the world has ever known[this is a little clunky – I’d say “the world’s greatest weaver”] in IS MY NAME (MG fantasy, 41,000 words), a feminist, slightly creepy....
      She’s tried to prove her value to Papa, but she can’t beguile anyone into giving her gold. [I’m not sure you need that last sentence] t... her first-born a first-born be carried off to the true realm by wildmore wolves. [Wait, is the death of Chancey’s first-born sibling because of this policy?]

      Then Mama claims she’s had a vision proving that the King is lying about everything [I’m not entirely sure what he’s lying about – I’m not sure why he wants all the first-borns carried off], and is holding the Queen against her will [how is this connected?]. ...

      ...if she can convince the latest mother-to-be that Mama is truly mad, so she'll have her baby in the village [I don’t understand how these two things are connected].

      [This is a 340-word query, and that’s without the bio. I’d cut it down by 100 words if possible. I think it’s possible. You can do it by connecting/combining some of the ideas here. While there is a lot here to hook me, it leaves almost too many mysteries and not enough hints as to how those mysteries are connected.]

      First 250:

      Even before the boy fell from the sky, Chancey knew the day was slanting towards trouble [NICE beginning]. ...

      Worst of all, up in the loft, Papa spoke her name.[This is a little ungrounding for me, because I don’t know why Papa is up there, who he is talking to, why it would be bad for him to speak her name…and also I at first think that he’s calling to her. Consider changing this to something simpler. “Up in the loft, Papa was talking to ___, and Chancey heard her name.”]

      [NICE beginning. Good worldbuilding!]

      [okay, so this is amazing. The word count seems a little low for actual MG – this may be a chapter book for younger readers? Someone else may know better than I. Be sure and put the word count in the actual query.

      Also, I might not be the only one to point this out, but with an anthropomorphized octopus, I want this to be entitled THE ONE WHO GOT AWAY.

      Also, more points for Ceph, short for cephalopod, I assume :D]

      Nearsighted, Ceph could hardly see Sylvia outside of her own den. He stared until her skin’s deep blush color came into view. He admired the glaring [remove comma. Also, “glaring” might be too harsh an adjective here, especially in the gloom] white, polka-dots decorating all eight of her arms.

      .[This is such a cool beginning. Good voice, good writing.]

      These are great entries. One is slightly more polished and "ready" than the other.


    6. Feminist Rumpelstiltskin Reimagining
      It’s a tad long at 295 words – you will want to get down to 250 words.

      There is a lot going on in this query, and it may border more on synopsis than query. It needs to be simplified down to our main problems (mama is not believed when she has visions, and Chancey does not want to be a servant).

      There’s something off in the last sentence. I am stumbling over it.

      The voice, to me, sounds maybe a little too complex for MG within this query.

      First 250:
      Love the voice here. Shift the query to fit more with this voice.

      I think you should take out the names of mama and papa. Let us learn them later. Too much for the first 250.

      I really like this overall.


      You Octopi My Heart

      Ahhh I love this!

      You have a bit more space (you can go up to about 250 words in your query), so I’d suggest somewhat beefing up the whole “what happens is Ceph doesn’t escape?” (or what happens if Ceph is caught while escaping?” You do a great job telling us how hard it will be … but what will they do to him if he is not successful? And is Sylvia in any danger of being captured herself?

      Sounds like a great read!

      First 250:
      Very cute. You obviously have a lot of octopus facts and want to share them, but perhaps hold a few back. Readers will want to dwell on some of these facts and essentially collect them, but if they are so rapid fire, it can be hard to grasp so many in a row. It also can be distracting from the story. (but I love them so keep them, just pepper in more slowly as the story goes on).

      I’d just give a bit more about Sylvia / or about Ceph to try to end on his startling, not giving us the answer on what it is. That will keep us reading!

      Love both of these. So much potential. I am going to have to go with the query I feel is stronger and more clear...


    7. Feminist Rumpelstiltskin:
      You’ve packed a ton of voice into the very first sentence of your query. Great job! In the second paragraph, clarify what Chancey’s value to Papa IS exactly, beyond the fact she’s not able to yet prove it. I’m not entirely sure how one would go about beguiling someone to give you gold, which I imagine is different than actually turning straw into gold. (Obvs I’m not super familiar with the Rumpelstiltskin story, but you shouldn’t assume your readers will be.) Starting the second paragraph with “Then…” makes it sound more like plot summary than a pitch. Focus on setting up the main conflict and the stakes and making them very clear. There’s a lot of intriguing detail in the second and third paragraphs, but it’s a little muddled and confusing.

      You’ve brought a strong voice to your first 250 as well. However, I’d like to see more action right off the bat. The MC is listening to her parents discuss her, and there’s quite a bit of backstory as a result. This reads more like a summary to set up the story than the actual beginning of a story. One good way to start would be to show her practicing (and failing) her beguiling technique, so that we can get a sense of her flaw more directly. Then we have a baseline for her to slowly progress from.

      You Octopi My Heart:
      Okay, an octopus named Ceph is about the cutest darn thing I’ve ever heard of. I LOVE this concept, and your query nicely lays out the conflict, goal, and stakes for the MC (MO?). I want to read this story, but I also want to see a picture book version!

      The first 250 are adorable as well. The only thing I got hung up on was the “air ballooning through his gills.” Since he is underwater, that doesn’t seem like a logical description. Maybe describe the process of how an octopus breathes underwater in more specific, scientifically-based terms? I think science-loving and animal-loving kids would be attracted to this story, so you can play to that much more. This would also be a good way to beef up your wordcount. But overall, it’s such a unique story idea and has total Disney/Pixar movie potential as well.

      VICTORY goes to: You Octopi My Heart

  2. Everything about The One That Got Away: An Octopus Love Story is perfect. Your query is perfect. Your sample is perfect. I love how natural your octopus slips into character, while you insert information as slick as slug slime! I'm sure your sample is a delicious tasting of a wonderful MG that 8-10 year olds will gulp down!

  3. Is My Name
    Query: The opening of the first sentence vaguely pitches the story right before the query, so I think that part can be removed, and the rest of the section (word count/comps/etc.) can probably be placed at the end. In the next couple paragraphs, I suggest getting Chancey directly involved in the mystery earlier on, because she seems to stray on the outskirts of the plot for some of the query. Finding a way to shorten the first two-thirds of the query a bit would leave more room to show the steps Chancey is taking toward her goals.

    First 250: Nice job of getting the plot rolling right away! One minor thing: I don’t know what “wattle and daub” is, or “rushlights,” and I bet many MG readers won’t know either.

    The One That Got Away

    Query: Seems like a fun adventure! The anthropomorphic part makes me think chapter book, but a love story makes me think YA/Adult, or a fairy tale. For this reason, I think it is even more important to establish an MG tone in the writing and the query if you believe MG readers are your audience. Adding more details about Ceph’s personality and how he acts in the plot might be a way to make him seem more MG, because right now I’m picturing an adult octopus with adult octopus problems.

    First 250: Ceph’s situation and motivation is established right away, which I like. It may be nice to learn more about Ceph’s other character traits in the first 250 other than just his infatuation with Sylvia.

  4. Is My Name


    Chancey becomes most active in the final paragraph (there's a lot of passive voice in the first half of your query). Can you focus more on what Chancey does from this point on? I don't think we need to know so much detail about the village believing Mama to be mad. Can you clarify how convincing the mother-to-be to have her baby in the village is going against Mama? I was a little unclear on why convincing the mother wouldn't be in Chancey's best interests.

    Also, I'm not clear on the Rumpelstiltskin connection - is Papa Rumpelstiltskin? Since you're pitching this as a re-telling, can you show us more clearly what the connection is to the original story?

    First 250:

    Wow, you do a great job setting the mood in your first paragraph! I love "the fire smoldered like a sulking dragon" and the reference to the boy falling from the sky. That intrigued me. Overall, I think this is a strong opening - you start with trouble for your main character. My one nitpick is I think you could clarify a little more what it is Papa expects of Chancey.

    The One That Got Away: An Octopus Love Story


    You do a great job of setting up the problem immediately, and the fact that no octopus has successfully reached the ocean is a nice touch. [] Love the last line – the fact Ceph doesn't even know if Sylvia will care if he returns, for me, adds to the tension. Is there anything other than Sylvia which drives Ceph to return to the ocean? You might think about adding a little about what else he misses about home and how he doesn't belong in the aquarium. I want to feel more on an emotional level how the aquarium is not the right place for Ceph.

    Small note: your first line is in past tense. I would reword to present tense. I.e. "Ceph pines for..."

    First 250:

    I agree that you do a good job setting up what Ceph wants right away. What prompts Ceph to talk to Sylvia today? What's different? Based on your query, I think Ceph's capture will have more impact if we know he really was going to talk to Sylvia today. You do a great job of establishing the scene - I could visualize the setting and what was happening very clearly.

  5. Okay, "The fire smoldered like a sulking dragon no matter how much dried dung she tossed in" is an amazing line, and the lyrical voice being used in the 250 creates a lovely tie back to the ethereal fairy tales of old. It's wonderfully atmospheric. Some of that magic needs to be transferred back to the query, which reads to me a bit more like a short synopsis as opposed to it being infused with the lyricism in the language of the text itself. Easier said than done, I know, but if you can write that hot of a sentence, you can get the query to display a little more of your talents for whipping words into a frenzy. Go for it--don't hold back on that voice.

  6. (I’m a fellow Kombatant leaving feedback.)


    Yes, yes, and yes. I love retellings and reimaginings of Rumpelstiltskin. Your query shows that this feminist-take will have the same concept and aspects of the original tale, but you’re coming at it from a different angle and adding new twists. Really great job. I have a few suggestions.

    1st para> some agents prefer this kind of information at the end of the query, while others prefer it just as you have it (especially if they’re actively seeking fairy tale retellings). So as you’re querying agents, read their bios and interviews to find out their preferences. You might’ve already been doing that; if that’s the case, then yay.

    2nd para> add a hyphen “Twelve-year[-]old”

    3rd para> suggestion in brackets: “Mama disappears, and the village men claim her insanity has driven her to [go] confront the King.”

    3rd para> I actually liked the character arc within the query—how things keep changing or getting worse for Chancey, or around Chancey, until finally, she takes matters into her own hands. But maybe there is a way you can focus more on Chancey in the 3rd paragraph, showing her becoming more and more active. Try to play around with it to see what happens, but like I said, I love the query and I feel for Chancey’s character arc.

    4th para> consider making the following sentence a little less definite: “Turning down Mr. Stein’s offer means Chancey //will// end up as a nameless serving girl.” One possible way is… “Turning down Mr. Stein’s offer means Chancey [could very well] end up as a nameless serving girl. But if Mama’s right—accepting it [would] ensnare Chancey forever in the same man-made web of vengeance, deception and greed that’s trapped Mama, the Queen—and the first-borns.”

    Oh! By the way, have you ever read DARKWOOD by M. E. Breen? Your query made me think of it, along with the Brothers Grimm tale of Rumpelstiltskin, of course.

    First 250:
    Great start! Trouble is already brewing, and the mood is set. I feel for Chancey even more, and I love it.

    1st para> I’m immediately intrigued. But as another commenter pointed out, some (or most) readers will have no idea what “wattle and daub” means. Consider showing it. Maybe something like, “Fog seeped through the cracks in the mud-and-sticks walls, shrouding the room.”

    4th para> the following sentence sounds like Papa is explaining what “the golden tongue gift” is for the reader’s sake. “The Queen mastered the golden tongue gift—beguiling straw to spin itself into gold, mind you!—in three months.” --> The explanation isn’t bad, but it doesn’t sound completely natural since Papa and Mama already know what the gift means. So here’s a possible suggestion: “The Queen mastered the golden tongue [[gift—in three months, mind you! But our daughter? Heh, I know]] two merchants in the city in want of a serving girl.”

    6th para> consider omitting “Eland” as it doesn’t sound necessary for Mama to say his name.

    7th para> suggestion to replace “forever” with “stuck” or “fixed”

    8th and 9th para> suggestion:
    “We can’t live in [[dreams, Vyleen,” Papa said.]]

    Yet [[he]] expected Chancey to live in a nightmare.


  7. (I’m a fellow Kombatant leaving feedback.)


    Oooh, this feels like Finding Nemo meets Finding Dory meets The Little Mermaid. My heart is happy just by reading the query alone. I love “love” and that’s a good enough motivation in my eyes for this short book. That being said, Ceph does sound like an adult, but it’s not a bad thing at all (just like with viewers who enjoyed Marlin’s epic journey in Finding Nemo). It all depends on the execution, imo. Still, if you wanted to, you could tweak Ceph into being an older teenager (like with Ariel in The Little Mermaid). If you go for that, you could change Ceph’s love into a growing crush or something along the lines of a first love. With either option, or just keeping your query as it is, your story sounds great!

    *For tense purposes, change “pined” into “has pined” in the first sentence of the query.

    First 250:
    Great visuals and feels. Just like with the query, I know I’m going to enjoy this story. I agree with the suggestion to add what makes today the day Ceph has to talk to Sylvia. That would strengthen the opening even more.

    1st and 2nd para> you could get right to it with “Ceph stretched arm after arm after arm, peeling himself off his favorite sleeping rock. Today was the day. Come hell or high water, he would talk to Sylvia today.” --> Of course, if you like that suggestion, you would have to replace “hell” and “high water” with whatever funny, crazy things Ceph has to deal with (e.g., sharks, havoc-wreaking tentacles, distracting shiny things).

    So, yeah, GREAT JOB!

  8. Is My Name: Your voice in your 250 is absolutely beautiful. Wonderful descriptive prose!

    Your query confused me a little bit; there’s a lot going on in there and I had particular trouble getting the stakes straight in the last paragraph. Fixing this might be as simple as breaking the last paragraph into two, and starting the second one with “Turning down…”. I also wasn’t initially clear on whether “Accepting it” in the last graf referred to the offer or to Mama’s belief about the King. Good luck!

    You Octopi My Heart: I tried really hard to find something to pick on about this. I couldn’t. I love your query and your sample (and I adored that story about Inky the escaping octopus). If I were an agent you’d be getting a full request. Good luck to you too.

  9. Fellow Kombatant here (A Boy Named Pez.)

    Thank you both for sharing! I very much look forward to reading your books when they are out in the world! Now onto the feedback...


    First, let me just say, sign me up for feminist retellings! I love it!

    For the query, there’s so much of interest here! I will say that I did get bogged down with the details around the 4th paragraph. There are A LOT of characters mentioned (I’d limit it to 2 or 3 if possible) and I was confused by the connection between her mom being mad and the baby being born in the village. Whose baby is it? And why is this important to Chancey? So, I’d suggest possibly focusing on the really important events/characters to make it less confusing. I agree on moving the first paragraph to later.

    For the 250: I love the part of the first line about the boy falling from the sky. It definitely caught my attention. I tend to agree on the “wattle and daub.” I usually love these sorts of terms, but since it comes so early it sort of was confusing. Overall I really enjoyed the scene and the dialogue. It’s a great scene to start with since it puts reader’s right into a sense of danger for the MC. Nicely done!

    You Octopi My Heart

    This is such an imaginative story idea! I’m so in love with it and how it was inspired by real life. The one main thing I’m wondering about is what has been mentioned earlier regarding this being a story about an adult octopus. Even kid’s movies with animals, usually have a child character, at least that I know of. However, perhaps there are comps that I don’t know about with adult animal characters. The voice in the first 250 was also somewhat formal, so I was having trouble placing how it would fit into the MG market. Though, that could just be me. If others also find this is the case, there are definitely ways to go about making it MG—perhaps adding some humor to the voice or a younger octopus character. The story has just so much potential and I adore it, so I wouldn’t want it getting overlooked because of the age category. Of course, it could just be about finding the right publisher for it. Overall, very interesting and something I would definitely want to read.

  10. Is My Name: The query for this one seems more like a synopsis to me, and there's a lot going on. Maybe a bit too much with the mother and the father. It could use a bit more focus. But I do like the idea of this fairy tale gone awry.

    The first 250 have a bit too much fantasy in it for me, and when I see the name, "Chancey," I think of "Chauncy," which is a boy's name, so I kind of have to remind myself that this is a female character. Maybe use a different name? But that may just be me.

    The One That Got Away: An Octopus Love Story: Alright, I'm sold. I'm already in love with this story. It reminds me of the octopus in Finding Dory (Played by the fantastic Ed 'O Neil!). The query flows so well and gets right down to the nitty gritty early on and keeps your attention. If this ever gets published, you have my money.

    First 250: Again, I love this. Especially that first line. I'm really not sure how I could help you. You have the voice, you have the visuals, wonderful work!

  11. Feminist Rumpelstiltskin Reimagining
    I’m a big fan of fairytale retellings that take original tropes and twist them. Your query shows that you’re clearly a good writer, but it’s a bit too long and bogged down in details. There are too many named characters—just focus on who you need to introduce (besides the MC) so that readers can understand the story. The final paragraph, about the babies gets confusing. I can’t tell if it’s the focus of the story. As is, it seems a bit disconnected. The stakes seem unbalanced. Why can’t she do what she needs to do as a serving girl? I think the last paragraph just needs some reworking for clarity.

    I quite like your pages, and your writing. You weave in a bit of backstory well, without it reading like exposition. You change up your sentence lengths and structure, and nothing reads as repetitive—there’s a nice flow to everything. The only thing that has me concerned is that this reads like a story for adults, or at least young adults. I don’t read middle grade literature, so take that for what you will, but if I were simply reading the pages with no added information, I would automatically assume this was for adults. It’d probably be easier to change Chancey’s age, and make this a YA, than re-write everything. Plus, you’re writing is good, so I don’t think you should change it. This isn’t my forte, though, so I’d get an opinion from someone well versed in middle grade literature. So yeah, my criticism isn’t really a criticism, because you’re a great writer, it’s just a concern.

  12. You Octopi My Heart
    I really want to be helpful and give advice to everyone, but I didn’t even read middle grade literature when I was a child, so I feel like I should begin with a disclaimer: “This review is coming from someone who doesn’t read, and doesn’t know much about books for middle grade readers.” In the spirit of that, to me, 27k seems really short, for any book. Because of your audience, maybe that’s a standard length? Most of the other middle grade I’ve seen in this contest are, at the very least, double that. Having room to work with isn’t a bad thing, though. You can go through your story to make sure each plot point and character are fully fleshed out. Having said that, your query is so concise you could stand to add a few more details, just to bring a bit of emotion to it all. In the second paragraph, you use the MC’s name twice, and I don’t think you need to the second time. It’s very clear who you’re talking about—that’s a small point, though. Maybe just add a few more details about Sylvia and what she’s like? You’ve got some space! In the first paragraph you mention a character once, then never mention them again—that’s typically a no no. But, again, you have room, so you could expand on this character if you don’t want to just take them out. Even though I don’t read middle grade literature, I think you story is cute, and unique, and I’ve walked away with a clear picture of what I’d be reading, were I to pick up this book.

    The writing in the pages is sweet, and seems appropriately constructed for the age of your readers. Though, in the first paragraph, I’m not sure what to take away from, “he peeled his body off.” Is this meant in a literal sense? Do Octopi shed something? Maybe clarify this line so it can’t be read as gruesome. It’s hard to tell from the first 250, but I hope Ceph likes Sylvia for more than the way she looks, and the readers gets a good idea of her personality and why she’s worth so much effort. This isn’t my forte, so I don’t have too much to add here. Seems like a sweet story, though maybe a little familiar, what with Finding Nemo and Finding Dory.