Monday, February 4, 2013

Bouncer Post #132

Genre:  Young Adult
Word Count:  92,000


The house has no doors. It’s been abandoned for decades. Yet one night, Malcolm Gilbert sees a face in the window.

Fifteen-year-old twins Malcolm and Valentine Gilbert moved to Nowhere-ville with their father to forget a painful past and start a new life. They never imagined an old house across the street could bring them so much trouble. A secret machine inside has woken up again, and its power is growing.

Meanwhile, unprecedented lightning storms are breaking out all over town. They’re destructive, getting worse every week, and seem to enjoy chasing freshmen who just want to pass Chemistry and mind their own business. Lightning, however, is rarely cooperative. When Malcolm and Valentine decide to investigate, they discover a connection between the house and the storms, and their situation goes from mysterious to crazy stupid dangerous. Someone is controlling the great machine, and their purpose is nearly complete.

In a race against time, the twins must uncover the chilling plan, the mastermind behind it, and the force that’s driving the deadly lightning storms. They’ll hunt a powerful enemy that threatens their town’s existence, and the only clues are written in the sky.

THE YEAR OF LIGHTNING is a Young Adult novel, complete at 92,000 words. While the story stands on its own, it is meant to be the first of a series.

My professional experience includes developing and writing the storyline for Exile Sun, a table-top strategy game, and freelance ad copywriting for a Scottsdale-based advertising firm. I’ve written articles for online news and comedy blogs, and currently maintain an author blog ( and a Twitter account (@iRyanDalton). I am also an active member of SCBWI.

First 250:

The machine’s roar faded into the distance. The tremors finally stopped.

Buster collapsed to the earth, breathing hard as jagged rocks cut into his hands and knees. His lungs ached, his body shook with exhaustion, and tears threatened to burn through his eyes.  Choking them back, he turned to look behind. 

“Everyone okay?” None of his three companions answered. He paused to steady his voice. “Whip? Are you okay?”

“I’ll live,” a dark-skinned boy replied. He cradled a broken left arm and leaned heavily against the tunnel wall. His good hand clung to their only remaining lantern. “But, I’m doubtin’ they can take anymore.”

Whip gestured at the two young girls in the dirt next to him. One hugged herself and rocked back and forth, staring at nothing, while the other lay sobbing.  How long would they carry this day with them, Buster wondered. Would they ever leave it behind? Could they?   

With a deep breath, he steeled himself and crept toward them. “Sweets, we gotta go. Can you get Blue to walk with you?” 

“Why we still usin’ the fake names?” Whip asked. “It’s safe now, right?”

“We don’t know that yet. ’Til we know they’re gone, no real names.” Buster turned back to Sweets. She stared out with wide, haunted eyes.  “Sweets, we can’t wait. Another one might be coming.” Getting no response, he crouched in front of their fourth companion. “Blue, please. We gotta keep running!”

“Too late!” Whip shouted. Hugging the wall, he shielded his face.


  1. I think your query is okay, but the first line doesn't mean much until we meet the characters. It think you should move it to later in the query. Also, you might consider revising the "They never imagined..." line. It's a bit overdone.

    And the last line (They’ll hunt a powerful enemy that threatens their town’s existence, and the only clues are written in the sky.) falls a little flat. It's too vague to have the impact you want in a last line. Can you give a little more about who the enemy is?

    The writing is great in the first 250 but I'm not sure you're starting in the best place. Is this a prologue? Do these characters play a major role in the story? I think if you're going to focus the query on Malcolm and Valentine, then that's who we should meet in the opening pages. Maybe consider moving the scene with Whip and Buster to later in the story. Just my opinion, of course.

    Having said that, the opening scene is interesting enough that I'd keep reading, at least long enough to see what happens to Whip and Buster. How's that for conflicting feedback? ;)

    Good luck to you! :)


  2. I agree that the first two lines left me a bit flat because they read more like the beginning of the novel... until I got to the third. Once I read that first line, I kind of liked the opening. You'll vary with how agents feel about it.

    Overall, it's a strong query that gave me a good sense of the set-up and tone. One quibble, this line: "While the story stands on its own, it is meant to be the first of a series." I would phrase this as "The Year of Lightening is a stand alone with series potential."

    I'm on the fence on your first 250. As a writing sample, I love it -- it shows me that you can craft a compelling scene that makes me want to read on. But it reads like a prologue, and a lot of agents are anti-prologue for first pages. If your first chapter can stand on its own, I would lead there. Right after the query, I really want the first 250/500/5 pages/etc. to dump me right into the story, with the MCs mentioned in the query.

  3. Huh - I was lining up my comments only to see Abby beat me to it - she covered everything on my list.

    I think your story has wheels. However, I also suspect you need a little distance to be able to view it from the perspective of a naive reader. The reader isn't sufficiently grounded to understand what is going on. Can you back up to a place where things are happening, but still allows you to unfold your world?

  4. I think you could combine the first two sentences of your query to get us to the punch - your third line - quicker. "The house with no doors had been abandoned for decades." If makes it more concise. I like the idea of this book, but your first 250 pages doesn't contain your main characters so I'm guessing it's a prologue? This actually takes me out of the story. I had wanted to jump in with the twins, but these are names that weren't in your query letter. If it is prologue, I would switch it up for submissions and use the first chapter instead. Save the prologue for submission on request for a partial or full. Your writing in the sample is strong, but I was prepared for Malcolm and Valentine instead of these characters.

    Best of luck!

  5. I like the query although the actual stakes feel a little vague as they are written.

    I'm not sure this is the best place to open the book though. None of the characters mentioned in the query appear, and by dumping us in the middle of an action packed scene, it's hard to know what's going on, who's who, and why we should care.

    The writing is great, but I just feel a little lost....

  6. The question has been asked why you didn't start the story with Malcolm and Valentine, but seeing as Whip says they're all using fake names, I'm wondering if two of these kids are actually Malcolm and Valentine. If that's the case, I'm really curious as to why they're using code names and who they're fleeing from. This whole idea of a cryptic machine that causes dangerous lightning storms sounds fun. Best of luck in the contest!

  7. Thanks, everyone, for your feedback. Sorry I didn't respond earlier, but I'd expected my entry to show up in Round 5 based on when I submitted. I had a friend bouncing for this round, and a second bouncer is someone who already rejected this story for another contest, so I'd hoped to avoid Round 4.

    I really appreciate everyone's suggestions, and this has definitely given me a couple of ideas for adjustments. The story is a sci-fi mystery, and I'm thinking now that I should state that explicitly in the query. It's why some details that I give are a bit vague, and it's part of why the opening chapter is a scene with code names. Malcolm and Valentine could be in this group, but part of the mystery deals with who these people are.

    Thanks again, everyone, for taking the time to read this and offer feedback!