Wednesday, September 12, 2012

CAGI Entry #52

Genre: YA Sci Fi
Word Count: 75,000


Sixteen-year-old Stella lives with her papa on Shadowglen, an asteroid colony set up in the style of a romanticized Victorian era. They’re in a sector of the galaxy ruled by a man who calls himself the King, and thanks to his misogynistic laws Stella isn’t allowed go to school, receive payment for the clockwork toys she makes, or choose her own husband. She doesn’t understand how wrong this is until a rebellious group of girls on the colony opens her eyes to the truth behind their oppression.

But between the girls’ everyday struggles for basic rights, strange things are happening on Shadowglen. The temperature regulators on the colony feel like they’re malfunctioning, Stella’s papa – normally a stable and kind man – becomes lost in a haze of alcohol and nonsense, and a charming man called Thief arrives with an agenda that seems to have everything to do with Stella. If she doesn’t work with the group of rebels and Thief to figure out the King’s true plans for Shadowglen, the entire colony will burn.

It’s Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE meets Joss Whedon’s FIREFLY.

First 250:

The little spaceship rolled toward the precipice, unaware it was about to meet its doom. Its gears whirred without stopping, without slowing, growing ever–nearer to the abyss…

Stella reached out and caught the toy as it fell off the table. She turned it over to check the underside. The wood was freshly sanded and varnished, shining beneath the room's star lamp. The wheels continued to spin even as the gears slowed. She checked the finished product against the sketch in Papa's copy of Spaceships, Satellites, and Star Lamps. The exterior was more detailed in the book, with scratches carved into the soft metal pages depicting a window, an insignia, and fine layers she couldn't possibly imitate with a wooden toy. But her creation moved, and a sketch in a book had nothing on that.

Still... she sighed and swiped at the scratch mark that now scarred the pine table. The winding mechanism on the belly of the ship was supposed to be shorter than the wheels, but she’d miscalculated. It had to go somewhere, and it always ruined the aesthetics if she stuck it on the side.

If she could talk the blacksmith into teaching her how to make a key for the toys –

No, there was no point asking him.

Someone rapped on the front door, breaking through the monotonous ticking of the twelve clocks currently in the house. She dusted the wood shavings off her muslin dress and set the ship down on a shelf in the bookcase.


  1. Sounds like a very interesting concept - Austen in space, I like it. The Village (movie) is another parallel perhaps - where a colony is set up and everyone lives like they're in the 1800s in modern day.

    "ever–nearer to the abyss…"
    I'd avoid the ellipses.

    "The exterior was more..."
    Maybe getting a bit too much into the toy now. Perhaps cut back a little?

    "If she could talk the blacksmith into teaching her how to make a key for the toys –"
    One other thing to watch is historical accuracy. If you were setting this is actual Austen times, and your character is wearing muslin, she's not going to be talking to the blacksmith. You've hinted at that, so I'm not trying to say you're 'doing it wrong' or anything - just wanted to say it's something to be aware of.

  2. Love this - the premise is so interesting!! Great stakes at the end of the query.

    Great 250, too! I want to know who's at the door!!

  3. I don't typically read Sci-Fi, but I do like the sound of this! I think your query is pretty darn solid. The last line I had to read twice. I think if you took out "group of rebels" in favor of just "If she doesn't work with the rebels and Theif" it would read better. I like the fact that your query has voice, which is really important( and for me hard) to do!

    In reading your first 250, I found myself really enjoying it. I am actually going to have to disagree with Jess on the whole if she wears msulin she shouldn't talk to the blacksmith thing. Even thought girls typically weren't the ones to go actually use the blacksmithing tools or use what the blacksmith made, they would've run the errend to see the blacksmith. I am a a History major, so I know this for a fact :) However, I would also try to stay away from ... at least in your first 250.

    I comment I did have is that I was a little confused at where the key was on the toy. I assumed the thing that made the skid mark was the wheel. Then you started talking about the key and I understood, but you may want to throw it in there a little earlier.

    Other than that, I really liked it! I am wishing you the best of luck in the contest!
    Jessica #96

  4. Hi, 52! I’m a HUGE fan of Joss Whedon and Jane Austen (great comps), so this book is right up my alley.

    I think the query could be cleaned up a little. The second sentence reads distant. Cut “They’re in the sector of…” in favor of something like “In a sector of…” and you’ll inject more immediacy.
    While I love that this query is short and sweet, some of the facts seem a little familiar—and there’s nothing familiar about your concept. I would fix this by expounding on the “rebellious group” and the “truth behind their oppression.” You’ll find rebellion and oppression in a lot of YA books out in the market right now. If you could use more specific details from your manuscript to explain the rebellion and the truth, that would go a long way toward showing agents that your book is unique and marketable.
    Also, is Thief a man or a boy? He’s reading smoking hot, so I’m thinking love interest. To fit into YA, you may want to use “boy” or “guy” instead of “man” to describe him. If you work on these issues (which truly are small issues), you’ll have an awesome query!

    First off, cut both instances of the ellipses. A lot of people think one should never use them (and I belong to that camp). Even if you want to include a few in the manuscript, two instances of ellipses within the first 250 are far too many. It’s a reason to make agents pause, and nobody wants that.
    Also, I love this first 250, but I’m not a fan of the first two sentences. The part about the toy falling off the table feels like tricking the reader, and readers get annoyed with these openings. To me, this type of beginning is like opening with a dream sequence. Start with the reality of the story, and establish the trust of the reader immediately. If you begin with Stella building the toy, you’ll have a much stronger sample.

    Lots of luck to you! If you have questions, ask below in the comments or find me on Twitter (@novelista85). -Jessica

  5. I LOVE IT! Sounds so cool, fingers crossed for you that it gets picked up ahhh Stella is a sweet name. So interesting and fresh my dear!

  6. I'm pretty sure I saw this on Write on Con, right? I liked it then and like it now! The query is pretty strong, although I do agree with the comment that you could elaborate on the stakes a bit to show what sets this apart from other controlling-society/regimes stories. I love the Firefly angle, too.

    In your first 250, you have a few opportunities to cut extraneous words which will allow you more room for story.

    Example: Stella reached out and caught the toy as it fell off the table. She turned it over to check the underside.

    You could say: Stella caught the toy as it fell off the table. She checked the underside.

    If she caught the toy we assume she reached out, and if she checked the underside we get that she turned it over. If you lose redundancies you have more room for your awesome world-building. I also agree to lose the ellipses.

    You have a strong entry. I hope you make the cut and find success with your story!