Wednesday, September 5, 2012

CAGI Entry #41

Genre: YA Dystopian
Word Count: 70,000


Sixteen-year-old Lori Gibbs’s parents have registered her in Easten's Talent Show. If she impresses the judges, her parents move into the Palace for life. If she fails to impress, she'll hang.

Easten is an island surrounded by metal walls and ruled by a Council selected from the parents whose children impress in the shows. In Easten, pride is everything, and a parent’s status depends on how talented their child is. Lori can fly, a rare gift, and with that comes her parents’ plan for her life: levitate, impress, secure them a Palace room, and then go home to pop out her own talented children.

But ever since Lori’s best friend was hung for not impressing, Lori has had trouble controlling her anger towards Easten’s system. And worse, she starts to bond with another contestant, even though it’s forbidden. Davis is a smart, timid fifteen-year-old with a talent of holding his breath. His mom is dying of cancer, so she figured she had little to lose by registering him for the show.

While Davis is sure he’ll do well, Lori knows the truth. Davis’s talent is just as lame as his love for Easten and even lamer than the boy whose talent was picking up marbles with his toes.

With Davis’s time running out, Lori devises a plan to save him. If she fails, she'll lose her only friend and become a part of the system she’s vowed never to follow. But if she gets caught, she’ll hang quicker than her parents signed her registration form.

First 250

My talent was about the only thing that made my parents happy. And in my sixteen years of experience, I had learned their happiness usually ended in my suffering. So when they called me for dinner, their voices high and excited, a hard knot formed in the pit of my stomach. I walked into the kitchen where they sat at the table, holding hands and smiling. The knot in my stomach grew.

Our best silver platters were piled high with fish, chicken, and rice. Fruit and rolls topped our porcelain bowls. And our crystal pitchers were filled to the brim with tea. Eating well was not rare for us. Eating for a family of ten was.

Dad cleared his throat. “We’ve decided-”

“Wait until she sits,” Mom said.

I didn’t sit, and I didn’t touch the food. It wasn’t like it was poisoned. If I died, my talent would die with me, and then I’d be about as valuable as the platter of dead fish. But if they were going to wait until I sat to tell me what they were about to tell me, I’d stand for the rest of my life.

They exchanged a glance and then looked back to me.

“We’re registering you in the Talent Show,” Mom said.

My teeth clenched together. Our kingdom held Talent Shows four times a year. If a child’s talent impressed the judges, the parents were rewarded. If the child didn’t impress, the child suffered the consequences. You could see why the little I had eaten that day threatened to come back up. 


  1. I was really drawn in to the premise of your intrigued me. Maybe it's just me, but for whatever reason, the first line of your second paragraph kind of confused me at first. I had to re-read it a few times to get what you meant. (I did understand it better once I read the entire piece.)

    I'm guessing I will also understand it more as I read, but I'm finding it hard to get why parents with a child with a "lame" (as your character calls it) talent would enroll their child if the consequence for impressing the judges is death. (I mean, I could see if it was like in the Hunger Games and it was mandatory.) Again, I'm sure you probably explain this better in the novel, and I'm just jumping the gun! =) But that might be one thing that as a reader would make me wonder about grabbing the book. Otherwise, again..I think it's a really interesting idea, I like what I see of your main character's personality.

  2. Oh man, this is the clincer for me: 'If she fails to impress, she'll hang.' I wonder if you could get away with losing the dystopian tag - obviously any dystopian is an extremely hard sell right now. Is there going to be social upheaval and a strong focus on the society, or is it just set in a sort of evil world. I suppose it does give a sort of Hunger Games vibe in a round about way - teens fighting for their lives as part of a show for a corrupt government.

    In the opening I think you could make it a lot stronger by showing a little more. I really like the premise and the emotion, and what is up with those parents?!, but I'd love to learn the backstory of this world more slowly, in snippets. e.g. if we only get the emotional reaction of her fear about the talent show, it was draw the reader in much more effectively. I'd *have* to read on to know why she's so terrified, and we could learn these details slowly, teasing it out in little tidbits.

  3. Er, by 'clincher' I mean that line was just fab and made me want to read - just realised my comment was totally vague in that respect.

  4. Ok... I like your opening. Your second paragraph gets a little muddied up. Short, and crisp is your best friend when describing different worlds. I'd say- "Easten is an island ruled by a Counsil. Pride is everything and a parents status..." (Personally I think the metal walls isn't needed)

    I love the next paragraph--but the info about Davis's mom isn't needed either. Stiick with only the most important things :)

    I'm torn with the last paragraph b/c I don't think it's needed either--but I like it, so it's your call.

    As for the opening 250--I thought it was great! I loved the voice. I would def. read on. Seems like a very original story :) great job and good luck :)

  5. Wow, thank you all for your comments and encouragement!

    I'll definitely take another look at the second paragraph of the query, and make sure it is cleaner/less muddled. Thanks for the suggestions- it helps a ton.

    If any of you have entered the contest, let me know your entry # via Twitter (jk_adams), and I'll make sure I take a look at your entry! Thanks again!

  6. I agree with the other comments about the query--but, even with those, I think it's a cool concept. Just the fact that this girl can fly would intrigue me to read more.

    I'm a little lost on the parent angle though. It's easy to buy into one crappy set of parents that would enter their kid in this contest--but a bunch of them? As a parent, your number one instinct is to protect your child, so this is a hard angle for me to believe. Especially since it sounds like signing up for the talent shows if voluntary. Is there a reason why the parents in this particular world are less protective of their children and, if so, could that somehow be touched on in the query? I know nobody else mentioned this, so it may just be my mom instincts that made me react. ;)

    One other thing--the last line of the 250: "You can see why the little I had eaten that day threatened to come back up." It always pulls me out of the narrative a little when a first person character seems to speak directly to the audience. It's like stepping out of first person and into omniscient POV. I might change that line to just, "The little I had eaten that day threatened to come back up." Again though, that may just be me. :)

    I really like the first 250, I get an immediate strong sense of the MC and some of the lines are very visual/funny. I loved the platter of dead fishes line!! Good luck with this!!

  7. The parent thing did seem a little unbelievable to me too - is there a reason they're so willing to give their kids up? I mean, this may become clear later in the story. Presumably the talent show's been going on for a while.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Hey everyone- thanks again for the comments! (and sorry if this posted twice!)

    You're right, the whole parents willing to sacrifice their children thing is a lot to swallow and comprehend. There is definitely a reason for all of it, and it is shown in the novel. Half of the fun of writing this story has been taking the impossible and making it believable. Hopefully, I accomplished that!

  10. I think it seems really compelling! As long as you've factored it in. It definitely intrigued me - what mean parents!

  11. Very interested in reading more!

    I'd have to agree with the other comments about the confusion in the second paragraph. I found myself reading over it a few times to understand.

    Really enjoyed all of the detail at the dinner table scene. I could picture everything so well!

  12. I think you have an interesting premise here. A talent show that is punishable by death, that is rather intriguing. I like the voice that comes through in the query and the first 250.

    I agree with come of the other comments above though, that it is unusual that so many parents agree to have their children enter given the possible outcome. I can imagine her parents being so selfish,(Love the evil parents angle) but all the parents? You probably get more of a chance to explain this later in the book, however.

    I would definitely want to read more of this though. Great job and good luck! :)

  13. I don't think there's a problem with the query's second paragraph, I think it's the third.

    Additionally, this throws me out of the story right away:

    Lori’s best friend was hung

    Men's privates can be hung. When someone is executed, they're hanged. In general, a mistake here or there in a query or pages isn't a huge deal, but one like that does raise a red flag for me, and I'd be on the lookout for others (which isn't really where you want me to be).

    I'm torn on your opening. You're walking the border or telling vs. showing, and lines like But if they were going to wait until I sat to tell me what they were about to tell me, I’d stand for the rest of my life and You could see why the little I had eaten that day threatened to come back up come across as heavy-handed and a bit melodramatic since you haven't really set the scene yet.

    On the other hand, your description - though it's spare at the moment - is good, and your dialogue is quick, sounds natural to my ear (this is HARD!) and funny. That alone makes me curious enough to give it at least a few more pages. I'd be hoping the voice in the dialogue would match the voice in the prose as we got deeper into the story.

  14. Hahaha well, after that comparison, I will never be making the "was hung" mistake again, I assure you ;). Thanks for pointing that out. I definitely should've caught that. I actually corrected the same mistake in the manuscript a while ago, and then I put in the query- awesome.

    Glad you liked the dialogue, and thanks for all of the feedback, Rick! You judges rock.

  15. Very intriguing premise. I agree that you may not need the dystopian tag.

    It seems to me that the motivation for the parents to enter their children in this talent show is power. " Easten is an island surrounded by metal walls and ruled by a Council selected from the parents whose children impress in the shows."

    If that is so, then I'm confused as to why Davis's mother has entered him in the contest. If she's dying what's in it for her? If he impresses, does he get to live in the palace even if his parent is dead?

    I'd look forward to reading more!