Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Query Kombat Round 2: Raspberry Moon vs You Octopi My Heart

Title: Under A Raspberry Moon

Entry Nickname: Raspberry Moon

Word Count: 56K

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Query:

On the eve of the galactic alignment, all practically-eleven-year-old Emma Baines wants is to
escape the school’s miserable bully game, Pick-Off. She doesn’t have time for rumors about the universe collapsing and the moon turning pink when the planets align. Besides, she’s a math-and-science girl. There’s no science in that load of pink baloney.

But Emma quickly changes her mind when A.C. Enniston slams into her backyard. The universe is collapsing, and it’s because this old man has been busting through parallel realities, searching for—of all things—her. Emma is the last element Enniston needs for his perfect computerized reality, a reality in which he and his dying wife, an eighty-year-old Emma, can be healthy forever.

Emma can hide like she does every day in Pick-Off, or she can figure out how to outsmart Enniston and save the universe. As the moon blazes pink, Emma learns about being brave and gets advice from two very different versions of herself from parallel realities. Emma must race across alternate dimensions to learn how to repair the universe and return home. But Enniston isn’t about to let that happen until his computerized reality is complete. If Emma doesn’t act smart and fast, the planets will align, the raspberry moon will fade, and the universe is toast.

UNDER A RASPBERRY MOON is a stand-alone novel with strong series potential, and the full manuscript is available upon request. My magical adventure would appeal to fans of THE VERY NEARLY HONORABLE LEAGUE OF PIRATES series and VOYAGE TO MAGICAL NORTH.


First 250:

Prescott Hadley City Honors campus was too quiet for a Wednesday morning, and Emma Baines didn’t trust it for one minute.

She gnawed a raggedy thumbnail and inched through the main gate. Even when it was raining, kids hung around in jabbering bunches, waiting for the warning bell. Not today. Today they sloshed through puddles straight to the front door. Where were the footballs, Frisbees, or those lousy rubber bands? They were the smallest but nastiest, zipping out of nowhere and snapping you into next week.

She took a few tiptoe steps. Today’s game could have been called because of the weather . . . but that was way too obvious, and it wasn’t raining that hard. Narrowing her eyes, she drummed her fingers around the purple umbrella’s handle.

All this quiet was just a trick, a trap, and she wasn’t about to be fooled. She’d stick with the original plan—sprint behind the school then bolt through the back entrance, the one near the picnic shelter. It would take more time, and she’d be drenched before coming anywhere near the door, but that route completely avoided today’s Pick-Off zone.

That psychopathic bully game moved every day, and if the P.H.C.H. buzz and Twitter had it right, today’s zone was the school’s front lawn. Scores doubled when the zone was right under teachers’ noses. Picking off advanced-placement kids earned twenty points, and Dillon Block had a wicked arm. That kid was the biggest, meanest commando-wannabe in the whole school— maybe the whole county.


VERSUS


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

Entry Nickname: You Octopi My Heart

Word count: 27K

Genre: MG Anthropomorphic

Query:

For a long time, Ceph, a giant Pacific octopus, has pined after Sylvia, the octopus next door at the bottom of the sea. She’s beautiful, bold, and clever, but before he can muster the courage to speak to her, he’s captured by a human diver and imprisoned in an aquarium. It’s an awful place, with kids tapping on the glass and two taunting eels in the neighboring tank. Even worse, he’s forced to rely on his kidnapper for every meal. But unlike the other captives in the aquarium, Ceph has the ability to escape. He learns that octopuses before him have done it, though none have ever made it back to 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 is a 27,000-word anthropomorphic middle grade and 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 white, polka-dots decorating all eight of her arms. No matter what color she turned, her polka-dots remained.

She was the loveliest creature in the entire sea.

And she was smart. What could Ceph say to her that wouldn’t sound stupid? He breathed deeply, oxygen ballooning through his gills. Then he moved forward, arm over arm, scooching across the ocean floor, practicing what he would say: Hello? How are you? My name is Ceph . . .

Something moved under Ceph’s second arm on the left. He shot straight up into the sea, the rest of his arms flailing, scaring the ink right out him.

15 comments:

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

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Congrats on making it to round two of QK!

      Raspberry Moon

      Query:
      Oh my gosh your voice is so lovely! I absolutely adore the “pink baloney” bit. I stumbled a bit over “practically-eleven-year-old,” but that could be personal taste. I think you could do without practically, as there’s plenty of additional voice going on in your query.

      Overall, this is such a unique concept — kudos! The third paragraph gets a little telly for me, especially the second and third sentences. “Emma learns about being brave and gets advice” reads a tad stiff after you infused so much lovely voice in the earlier graphs. Perhaps you can combine them and play with some word choices/examples of bravery? Food for thought.


      250:
      I don’t have much to say here because I think you opened this up beautifully. There are a few nitpicky things (like, I’d go straight for the verb of “She tiptoed a few steps” instead of “She took a few tiptoe steps”), but nothing jarring. The details are wonderful and believable, and the voice sings. Great job.

      You Octopi My Heart

      Query:
      The stakes are very clear in your query — kudos! I’d just like to see more voice infused into your words. Right now, it’s reading a bit like e a series of events. I also think you can combine some of this to tighten it up a bit while giving it some flair. Also, I’d love to know what makes him special — why does he have the ability to escape? Is it specific to being an octopus? How does he learn this information? (i.e., “Between the kids tapping on the glass and two taunting eels next door, escape is all he can think of. Which is fitting, seeing as the drain lid is missing a few screws.” — your voice is going to be way better than mine, you’re the author, just trying to illustrate.)

      250:
      Maybe I don’t know enough about octopus, but “dominant right eye” made me pause. Other than that, I think you do a fantastic job at describing the overall movement of an octopus. I can see him crawling across the floor, and I think you set up his internal plight of confronting Sylvia well.

      Hmmmm… For the most part, both entries are clean. I’m going to have to vote for the one I thought had more voice …

      VICTORY TO RASPBERRY MOON

      Delete
    2. Raspberry Moon

      Query: This is a great premise with an excellent hook! I have a few suggestions to improve your query. “Practically-eleven-year-old” sounds a bit awkward and unwieldly, even though it works well at showing her voice. Additionally, it’s never clear how Enniston intends to use her to form a new reality. One or two more sentences of explanation would go a long way and clear up some confusion. I would also remove “and the full manuscript is available upon request” as it can be assumed that you have completed the manuscript.

      First 250:
      I love your first page! Emma’s voice is so strong, it pervades through the entire narrative. I feel that your first page is really strong already, but I also would like a little less setting and some more action. Consider removing a sentence or two of description or internalization.

      You Octopi My Heart
      Query: First of all, great nickname and premise! Your query is quite strong, and I love how you’ve chosen to write about an octopus, which isn’t exactly your ordinary animal protagonist. I was totally on board with this query up until the last paragraph, where you wrote “all the while wondering whether Sylvia will even care if he returns. Octopuses are solitary creatures, after all.” This doesn’t exactly make me want to read more; if Sylvia doesn’t care if he returns home, why should the readers?

      First 250:
      Good start to the story. Was there a reason you wrote about his “dominant” eye? It threw me out of the narrative a bit. I’d definitely keep reading if I had the whole book in front of me.

      Both entries are great, but I’m going to have to go with the one I felt was a little stronger:
      VICTORY TO RASPBERRY MOON

      Delete
    3. To The Sword 159June 15, 2018 at 6:07 PM

      Raspberry Moon:
      Awesome premise! In your query, I'd eliminate the phrase "practically-eleven-year-old". It sounds like it's trying too hard to be middle grade and sounds clunky, especially within the phrase "all [she] wants...". You could go with "ten-going-on-eleven-year-old", or mention her upcoming birthday if that's important to the plot, but based on the rest of the query, I doubt that. So, I'd just say "ten-year-old". Then, if Emma is a math-and-science girl, I don't see why she wouldn't care about galactic alignment. Isn’t that concept, by itself, scientific? I love the second paragraph. The third one is vague. I’d eliminate the phrase “learn to be brave”. It sounds like you’re being too general by telling us what the character does instead of what she learns, and it has a movie trailer vibe that doesn’t quite mesh with a query. The line “the universe is toast” is cute but dated. It’s a phrase reminiscent of the 20-aughts (2000-2009). I’d ONLY keep that if you can tie it in to something punny relating to the plot or title. But what I’d do is eliminate toast altogether and make a joke about a “raspberry ripple in space-time” or something similar.
      Your first page has good imagery, but I feel like I’m not “in on it”. I.e. it must be talking about something interesting, but I don’t know what it is. You don’t have to fully explain Pick-Off in the first page, but give us something that helps us understand what it is Emma is specifically avoiding, or at least makes us feel like we’re on the same page as her (no pun intended). Also, do rubber bands literally snap you into next week, or is that a figure of speech? Anyway, what exactly does she think will happen? Is she scared that someone will come up and snap her, causing spontaneous time travel? If that’s the case, I’d make it clearer.

      You Octopi My Heart:
      This query really catches my interest. However, I’m not clear on Ceph’s motivations. Does he ONLY want to get back home to be with Sylvia? That motive doesn’t sound so strong, since there are other fish in the sea—erm, other octopi in the aquarium. ;) The query itself points out that she might not want to be with him. I’m not saying Ceph’s motivation isn’t strong; I’m saying it reads small in the query. Make us care that he wants to be with this specific octopus. Or, if he has other reasons to return home, make that clear. Does he love and miss his home? You could try that angle. Just let us know if it’s ALL about the romance or if it’s something else.
      The first page is bursting with creativity, which is awesome. My biggest critique is that the voice sounds too adult. It’s not that the language of the page is too elevated; it’s quite simple, but too distant, like in adult litfic. I don’t feel like I’m in the character’s head. Maybe this is because there isn’t much focus on showing Ceph’s emotions. The page also feels too rushed. I sincerely hope that the thing happening at the end is not the inciting incident, because if that’s the case, we don’t have enough setup to really care what happens to Ceph yet.

      Congrats to both of you on your great work. You're going to go far!

      VICTORY TO RASPBERRY MOON

      Delete
    4. RASPBERRY MOON:

      I’m with the others on axing the “practically” in describing her age. I was zipping along fine, great voice, great details, etc., until that third paragraph. I think it’s too long. You’ve closed your second paragraph setting up the conflict nicely. If you pare that third paragraph down to one to two snappier sentences on the stakes, I think it would read clearer and add more punch.

      The first 250 is solid! My main hesitation is that the query makes it sound like we’re not on Earth, so when Twitter was mentioned, it threw me a bit. For that reason, this line, “They were the smallest but nastiest, zipping out of nowhere and snapping you into next week” tripped me up because, remember, I’m coming from the query where it talks about planets aligning, etc., so snapping someone into next week could definitely be possible in this story, which is why the mention of Twitter made me confused as to exactly where and when we are. Some more grounding would be good before we get too far into it. Overall though, great job!


      OCTOPI MY HEART

      I love this concept! Reminds me of Soul of an Octopus! I think the query needs more voice, something to punch it up. I also wonder about detailing the stakes a bit more, like what specifically blocks him from escaping the tank and then getting to the ocean other than the obvious that would apply to any octopus in his situation. If you could give him more personality, more voice, we could see him as the main character rather than just any old octopus.

      Same thing with the first 250—more voice, personality. I’m also not sure about ink being scared out of him, as I think octopuses (and I believe that is the correct form of the plural, not octopi) use ink as a defense mechanism, so I’m not sure it would be scared out of him, as opposed to him deliberately shooting it at a predator.

      Two great entries. Because I think one is a bit further along in terms of voice, I’m going to give victory to RASPBERRY MOON!!

      Delete
    5. RASPBERRY MOON: “practically-eleven-year-old” stole my heart. That is exactly what middle graders sound like, and I love, love, love the voice in this. Also, your stakes sentence is spot on. If I were an agent, I’d be requesting just from this query. The first 250 words are just as amazing, and I know that you’ve worked hard on the voice and the writing. If I had anything to say that’s nitpicky, I’d say be aware of passive verbs and try to write more actively if you can and still keep the voice. Voice trumps this though. Again, bravo!

      YOU OCTOPI MY HEART: I absolutely love the voice and the fact that this is loosely based on a true story. The words are even better than I hoped and I can tell that you’ve done some research to make this a wonderful read for middle graders. I have almost no feedback here because the voice is so strong. The only thing I can really say is that the first paragraph has a lot of “he” in it, so maybe restructure some of that to make it stronger. Other than that, I really enjoyed this.

      Okay, so I can see both of these making a splash when published, but I had to pick the one that I feel would probably grab immediate attention from an agent. VICTORY TO RASPBERRY MOON!

      ~Red Ink Slinger

      Delete
    6. Raspberry Moon

      Query:
      First off, I LOVE your title. Your query has a lot of voice, which I also love. I do have to agree that “practically-eleven-year-old” sounds a bit awkward. Perhaps you can integrate her being almost eleven in the second sentence? “She’s almost eleven, and she doesn’t have time for rumors about the universe collapsing… etc.” or something like that.

      I honestly thought AC Enniston was one of the bullies in Pick-Off.

      Personally, I wouldn’t name Enniston in the query anymore so the focus will be on Emma. I’d refer to him as “the old man” or by his profession. What IS Enniston anyway? Is he a scientist? A computer programmer?

      Also, take note that “Enniston” and “Emma” can be visually confusing in a paragraph together. If you’re skimming through a query (which most agents / interns do since they get loads of submissions), this is unavoidable. It might be better to use A.C. Enniston instead, or leave your villain unnamed.

      First 250:
      I like the sense of environment you invoke in your first 250. It might be better though to drop the word “psychopathic,” as this implies a negative connotation of mental illness.


      You Octopi My Heart

      Query:
      Poor Ceph :(

      You might want to end your first paragraph with “…he’s captured by a human diver and imprisoned in an aquarium.” This seems to be your inciting incident, and it would give your “hook paragraph” more impact if you end it with sizzle. The sentence following it describes the aquarium in detail anyway, and tells us more about the plot, so I think it might work better if you separate this first paragraph in two.

      Is Sylvia the only reason why Ceph wants to go back to the sea? Or is it because it’s home? The reason I’m asking is because the stakes of his motivation doesn’t seem high enough in the query. What does Ceph have to lose if he doesn’t get back to Sylvia? Like, will he literally die if he doesn’t get to be with her? Or does Ceph have to find it within himself that he doesn’t need Sylvia to be happy? I’m probably off-base with my questions, but we need to know from your query what Ceph has to lose if he doesn’t accomplish his goal.

      Also, I do wonder though… Might this book be better classified as a chapter book instead of MG? Or perhaps lower middle grade?

      First 250:
      I love how you described Ceph’s movements. It’s almost as if you have a pet octopus yourself—no judgement if you do, that is actually SO COOL! :) One thing though, the voice feels a bit too adult for me. You might also dial down a bit on how Ceph describes Sylvia, like, make it more fun instead of “in love.” Remember, you are writing for an audience where “romance” is mostly just first crushes and hand-holding.


      Great entries! My vote will be a subjective one, as I’m really particular about voice, so I’ll have to give VICTORY TO RASPBERRY MOON.

      Delete
    7. Princess FalafelJune 16, 2018 at 4:49 PM

      I'm having internet problems, so I will post a comment with feedback later.
      VICTORY TO RASPBERRY MOON

      Delete
  2. (I’m a fellow Kombatant leaving feedback.)

    ======================
    RASPBERRY MOON
    ======================

    Query:
    I’m hooked from the 1st paragraph. I like the voice and premise, but the 2nd paragraph brings up some questions. What makes Emma the last element? What does Enniston need from her? Also, in the 3rd paragraph, consider changing “every day in Pick-Off” to “every day from Pick-Off” or “every day during Pick-Off”


    250:
    Her voice shines through this piece, as do her fearful suspicion and awkwardness. I feel like I’m right there with her. Great job! I want to read this book.


    ======================
    YOU OCTOPI MY HEART
    ======================

    Query:
    Ooh, yes, I still love this entry. But now I see what a few commenters in the past meant when they said this story might be too “A Fiction.” The cuteness and the sea-creature aspect give the story a youthful tone, and Ceph having to make sense of these new environments could appeal to all ages—but overall, this query doesn’t sound as MG as I think it could. Sure, octopuses have “short” lifespans, but what fictional age did you have in mind for Ceph as you wrote his journey? Would it hurt the story if you made him more of a young teen with a deep crush? That might speak more to your target audience.


    First 250:
    Nice imagery, and that last paragraph makes me want to find out what happens next. My main suggestion is to start off with the reason why today is the day he has to talk Sylvia. I think that would be more grabbing, and it would put readers right into Ceph’s head. Besides that, good job!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Raspberry Moon
    Query: This is a really interesting premise! I love that Emma is a math and science girl. The query itself is strong. I’m a little confused about Pick-Off, though. Is it somehow related to the stakes? If so, try to show us how a bit more. If not, I’d consider just mentioning it the first time because otherwise I feel like mentioning it by name twice indicates it’s central to the plot. Also, the very first sentence tripped me up a bit and I had to read it twice. I think it’s because of the word practically. There’s nothing wrong with the sentence itself, but considering it’s the very first one I’d see if there was any way to make it roll of the tongue just a little easier.

    First 250: Without reading more it’s hard to say, but it’s difficult to tell if you’re starting at the right part. It kind of goes back to my concern with the query – if Pick-Off is central to the plot, then the first page is perfect. If not, it may need to start elsewhere. Overall, the writing is wonderful and very descriptive.


    You Octopi My Heart
    Query: I’ve read the query several of times, looking for anything that wasn’t clear, needed more description, gave too much description, etc., but I couldn’t find a thing. This query is strong, tight, yet gives great detail. I don’t usually read middle grade, but I’d read this in a heartbeat. I’d consider using your entry nickname as a title though. There’s nothing wrong with your current title, but You Octopi My Heart is just so catchy, and you know you’re getting a story that somehow relates to an octopus.

    First 250: I love the first line with the arm after arm after arm. Very cute. The page is vivid and I can easily see Ceph making these movements.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Raspberry Moon:

    I would think a math-and-science kid would be pretty interested in the planets aligning. Love "pink baloney" though. Great voice in both this and the excerpt. I'm just not sure how the universe is breaking. I'd like something more to grasp than just the idea that the world is about to end. How?

    First 250, it's odd that she's questioning where everyone is when there's social media that already told her what was probably going on. The game seems interesting, but there's a lot of time spent going through her thought process for something she already knows. Like I said before, great voice, but it could probably cut a little and just get to what happens next.

    --------

    Octopi:

    Such an interesting concept, a story from a cephalopod's POV. Kinda like Finding Nemo if Nemo were an octopus. It feels like something is missing from the query, but I can't quite pinpoint what. Maybe that it says what Ceph HAS to do but not what he DOES. I guess maybe it feels like it gives the whole story away in this format? Like, I'd guess that he gets through the aquarium, back to the ocean, through a few issues there, and back to Sylvia who did miss him for his happy ending.

    First 250, it moves so fast. It feels like there's information missing. How long has he known Sylvia? How long has she lived so close? Has she ever paid him any attention? How exactly is she smart? She's his motivation, but we have no information for exactly why, and then, he's captured, right on the first page. Blink, and his motivation is out of the picture. I need more information about their relationship.

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  5. Raspberry Moon

    The query works well, although it raises a couple questions for me. Seems like Emma would need to be really, truly terrified by the Pick Off game to care more about that than the sky changing color. Maybe you could tone her posture down to *distraction* rather than indifference. I wasn't sure about the significance of Enniston's wife also being called Emma. Is this another version of your MC? Is Enniston trying to kidnap a younger version of his current wife?

    I like the first 250, except the question lingers about why she's indifferent to this enormous climate problem everyone else cares about. I think "she drummed her fingers around..." should be "she drummed her fingers on..." Otherwise, really enjoyed your writing. Nice work!

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  6. Octopi

    The query is tight and fun, and made me think about Finding Nemo (I'll bet lots of people say this). First 250...it's hard to pin down, but I think what I'm missing is a little more sense of backstory, which is weird to say about a first page. Maybe a feeling of a momentous occasion, as if he's been pining after Sylvia for ALL THIS TIME and today, finally, at last, he's gotten up the nerve to say something to her. Seems like this would be a hugely significant day in Ceph's life and it would be nice to feel the weight a little more. Otherwise, really enjoyed this. Otherwise: fun, cleanly written, and made me smile. I enjoyed all the physical octopus details.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Raspberry Moon

    Query:

    I love the opening sentence. This does a great job of setting things up – nice work! The next sentence reads a little awkward, but I think the content is good. I'm still not clear as to why Emma is needed for the virtual reality. Your third paragraph gets a little long. I think you could cut the but about being brave. I.e. "As the moon blazes pink, Emma must race..."

    First 250:

    Nice first sentence, drew me right in. Love the description of Dillon block – nice! I don't have much else to say I didn't say the first time around. Good luck!




    You Octopi My Heart

    Query:

    Your query reads more streamlined to me – good job! I love the final line. Not sure if that was how you ended it before, but I think it's perfect.

    First 250:

    I don't have much new to say on our opening page. This reads great, and your description is excellent.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Raspberry Moon: I don’t remember noticing last round that Enniston’s wife was an older Emma, and that’s a GREAT detail to add — it really made me want to read more. The line “But Enniston isn’t about to let that happen until his computerized reality is complete” raised a question in my mind about what, exactly, he’s going to do to Emma to bring that computerized reality about, but that’s something I could learn by reading the book, which I’d definitely want to do after reading your query.

    As for your 250, they’re very vivid and engaging. Can’t think of anything to critique here.

    Octopi: I still think this is a great query and 250. If I had to nitpick, I’d edit the line in your query about “Even if he manages to get back…” because you have two instances of “back” in the same sentence. Maybe put “return” in there for one of them?

    Good luck, guys! These both sound wonderful.

    ReplyDelete