Wednesday, September 5, 2012

CAGI Entry #38

Genre: YA Historical
Word Count: 75k 


When sixteen-year-old Evelyn’s father accepts a position with NASA’s Project Gemini to land a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, she and her family are thrust into the spotlight. Evelyn pushes aside shyness to embrace new opportunities: the head cheerleader at school rallies for Evelyn to join the team, and popular football player Kip seems like potential boyfriend material. She’s even offered a spot with an exclusive debutante cotillion. Whether it’s all due to her father’s celebrity doesn’t matter; for the first time, Evelyn is in

Then Evelyn meets David, a rising student civil rights leader, whose family’s store is vandalized with racial slurs. She’s drawn to David’s passion for the cause. When Evelyn speaks too readily to a reporter that segregation is immoral, her actions threaten not only her reputation at school, but also her father’s high-profile job. Tensions rise between Evelyn's classmates and the rival all-Negro high school when prank wars turn violent. Evelyn must decide whether her newfound popularity is worth her silence. If she does speak out, will her father lose his chance to set foot on the moon?

THE ASTRONAUT’S DAUGHTER takes place in the space race era. I am a member of SCBWI and RWA and active in local chapters.

First 250:

I never gave the moon much thought until my father told me he wanted to walk on it.
Ever since NASA hired him for the Gemini project, the one that set the stage for Apollo and the future moon landing, that rock in the sky dictated my family’s every move. Life magazine’s latest issue made my father a household name, and now that we’d arrived in Houston, the spotlight included me, too. I was Stephen Richardson’s daughter — the daughter of a United States astronaut.

Now, if I could only stop sweating.

At tonight’s gala, held at some big-time rancher’s estate, I escaped to the balcony for cooler air, but the Texas heat was unforgiving. I’d aimed for more Audrey Hepburn and less Shirley Temple, but I didn’t quite feel like the glamorous society girl I’d hoped to show off.

"Evelyn, there you are!" I jumped at my mother's presence and despite my best efforts, my dress stuck to my back. She looked like a carbon copy of Jackie Kennedy with her bouffant and slim-skirted evening gown. "I'd like you to meet someone."

I expected another lady from The Daughters of the American Revolution, or The United Daughters of the Confederacy as both were well-represented tonight. Instead she introduced me to a boy about my age, sixteen. His sandy-colored hair faded at the tips like he'd spent all summer in the sun.

"Pleasure to meet you." He shook my hand with a firm grasp — probably from a military family, like me. 


  1. With all the coverage of that time on the news last week following Neil Armstrong's death, this topic really has captured my imagination and I would love to read a book about the space program back then. I also love the double entendre of "space race" as it pertains to your story. In reading the query I pictured David as African American so I was surprised in the opening at his sandy hair. If he is white, why is his family's store vandalized with racial slurs? The details (little things like the name Kip) show that you've done your research into the time period- I'd definitely read on. I do think we get a lot of background information in the opening scene that you might want to reveal more organically throughout the scene or first few chapters. Love the opening line, though!

  2. Such a cool hook! I love that you set this in the 60s, and that you involve the space race. Sounds like a fun read. Good luck!

  3. Oooo, this makes me think American Dreams. Oh how I miss that show :( I think this is a great premise, especially with the vast changes in the space program today. The query made me want to read more and I think you are off to a great start with the first 250. I would definitely read more. Good luck!

  4. I really enjoyed this one - I'd keep going. Good hook!

  5. Hi #38! This is your first-round judge comment.

    Comments on your query:

    First paragraph: Great first line. Establishes setting, establishes character’s identity, establishes problem. I really couldn’t improve on that! The rest of the first paragraph does a good job showing us this teen’s little world where popularity matters. I do worry a little that “cheerleading squad + football player maybe-boyfriend” is a bit too much of a popularity cliché, so maybe you could pull back on those details and still convey that she’s becoming popular despite being a shy girl previously?

    Second paragraph: Maybe a bit too much detail? “When Evelyn speaks too readily to a reporter that segregation is immoral” sounds awkward. Maybe she speaks on segregation’s immorality, or leaks her beliefs on the immorality of segregation to an eager reporter? Taking out the extras leaves the sentence as “When Evelyn speaks that segregation is immoral,” which sounds weird. I really like the line “Evelyn must decide whether her newfound popularity is worth her silence.” It’s a good clincher. I don’t know if it’s possible, but maybe you could find a way to end the paragraph with this?

    Last paragraph: I think it’s clear that this takes place during the space race era since you give us the decade and the premise, so I’d cut that reference. Your list of involvements is fine.

    Language notes on the query:

    * I’d say “tension rises” instead of “tensions rise.”

  6. Comments on your first 250:

    Great first line (again). Stick with it. But maybe consider opening with this zinger on its own line to increase its power?

    I’m a little lukewarm on the infodump though. These are necessary details—who her dad is, what his candidacy for moonwalking is doing to their family—but our protagonist sounds like she’s talking to us. There might be a more natural way to connect these details to her thoughts, like you did with the first line. You connect us right back up when you say “I was Stephen Richardson’s daughter,” but try not to lose us at all. I also think it’s wonderful that you define her as his daughter before you tell us her name. This says a lot about her situation and who she is.

    Suddenly, setting. We’re on a balcony with the (so far, nameless) Evelyn. We jump from concept to action and I got a little tripped up on the speed bump. This would work better if you connect what she’s thinking about to where she is immediately; it’ll lose that feeling of a director yelling “action” after the setup was shown to the audience in captions. You want to go for a voice-over in Evelyn’s voice, not the disconnected cue cards.

    I’m not loving the jump from telling us Evelyn’s on a balcony to telling us her philosophy on her wardrobe, either, though I like the comparison itself. Can you connect what she’s wearing and her choices about it a little more securely to her previous thought? Otherwise it comes out of nowhere and you don’t want disconnected non sequitur facts thrown in. Plus her line about how she didn’t feel like the glamorous society girl she’d “hoped to show off” sounds a little awkward, because she’s saying she wants to show off a glamorous society girl, not be one. (Though again I like the image itself—it helps us see who Evelyn is and what she wants to be.)

    You say the dress stuck to her back “despite [her] best efforts.” I’m now trying to imagine what an “effort” to avoid dress-sticking would look like. I can’t quite get it.

    I don’t like that Evelyn narrates that the boy is “about [her] age, sixteen.” I can tell you have the writing skills to do this more gracefully, so this is one spot you could apply it.

    “His sandy-colored hair faded at the tips”—I’d drop “colored.” You do a good job giving us an image of the sun-kissed hair without saying it’s sandy-“colored,” because that is after all extremely vague. (How many colors of sand can you picture?)

    “He shook my hand with a firm grasp”—I don’t like “grasp” here. Maybe “grip.” I do like that she recognizes the firmness as a sign that he might be from a military family and uses this to say that she is too. It doesn’t sound too much like narrating to the faceless audience.

    Overall, this is promising, but I think it needs a spit-shine/tune-up. One page isn’t much space to establish anything, but here you’ve cemented this girl’s family, established the time period and made reference to an issue that is going to figure heavily in the book, and thrown in a cute boy shaking her hand. On page one. Great start.

    Language notes on the first 250:

    * I’d say “I’d expected” instead of “I expected” when her mother introduces her.

    * Dashes aren’t supposed to have spaces around them. Please look up style guide information on dashes if you’ve got doubts. You’re using the correct punctuation mark (not confusing em dashes, en dashes, or hyphens), but incorrectly inserting spaces.

    * You have no other consistent language issues that I can see, which is great news. Your phrasing is natural and readable.

    Please feel free to reply or contact me privately if you have any questions about my feedback. I’m honest but I don’t bite. Good luck!

    1. That was super awesome, thank you! These first 250 have morphed quite a bit based on previous feedback and I personally think I lost some of the voice in the process (readers wanted more historical references). I've been struggling with it. I suppose in the end I can't please everyone, but you've given me direction on what I can add back in and what I can rework to be more clear.

      A million thank yous!

  7. Just realised I missed this one - I really like your start here, it's such an intriguing concept!

  8. One of my favorite entries!
    I read your query and your "first 250" and wanted to read more.
    I'm tempted to write this is "solid" writing. Your voice is strong.
    Good luck!