Thursday, 2 May 2013

Quest to be selected as a team member for the Writer's Voice 2013 blogfest

Scent of a summer meadow...
Yikes!  Bit of a wordy post title, huh?

I've been fortunate enough to make it through the lottery stage of the Writer's Voice blogfest - yay me!  I now have to post my query and the first 250 words of my YA fantasy novel, A SHADOW OVER NERENNOR, in the hope of getting chosen by one of the judges for the next round.  So, on with the quest!

Here's my query:

A traitor's daughter is one thing Callie isn't.  So when her foster parents are unjustly accused by their overlord and detained, she strikes out across Nerennor to save their necks from the gallows.  Her only recourse is the King.  Trouble is, at sixteen, she's never ventured far across the realm before.  She's barely dented her map before her horse and money are stolen.

With no other option, Callie presses onwards and sings in exchange for overnight shelter at an inn.  There, her bawdy song attracts the attention of cocky woodcarver Rafe; lyrics insulting his tribe will tend to do that.  Oops.  Still, he's amused by her backbone and provides safe passage to the castle--for a price.  But her relief is short-lived when guards bar her way.  If she wins Nerennor's annual tournament, however, she can petition for the King's help at the victory banquet.

Riddles, archery and an ominous hunt through woodlands bring Callie's competitive nature to the fore.  Falling for Rafe, though, is one event she didn't anticipate.  She can't afford his distracting smile now she's pitted against him--and she'll be the traitor if she succumbs to her heart.

Then Callie learns the overlord is using her foster parents as pawns in his own twisted game of high treason.  Unless she reaches the King in time, her loved ones won't be the only ones swinging from the gallows.

A SHADOW OVER NERENNOR is a 96,000-word YA fantasy novel.  Thank you for your consideration.

And here are my first 250 words (rounded up to the end of a paragraph):

The cottage door slammed open, and a wintry draught gusted inside.  Callie jolted awake, nearly falling off the window seat where she’d been keeping watch.  Before she could catch them, her charcoal stick and leather-bound book tumbled from her lap.  Neth’s teeth, how late was it?  She jumped to her feet in a panic.  She’d only meant to rest her eyes for a moment.  Moonlight shone through the window into the sparse room, and the fragrance of grass and wildflowers mingled with the smell of smoke from the dying fire in the hearth.

Strange.  It was still winter--and there were no plants in the cottage--so why did the scent of a summer meadow linger in the air?

The back of her left hand tingled.  She rubbed it, suddenly uneasy; the sensation of icy cold fingers trailing over her skin had been no dream.  And she was certain a girl had spoken.  Whispered words.  “ home soon.  Promise you.”

The door banged again, and her heart thudded.  The door shouldn’t have been swinging in the wind--she’d latched it.

Hope warred against anxiety.

“Is someone there?”  Her mouth was dry, but she forced out her question.  Callie edged towards the threshold, each step she took ripe with promise--or disappointment.  After eight years of this ritual, she didn’t know which she preferred.  She paused in the entranceway and peered into the garden.  An owl hooted.  Her gaze swept the path to the lane beyond.

Silence in the shadows.

No creak of a gate.  No excited cries of greeting.  No crunch of footsteps on the icy path.  The wind caught its breath; nothing stirred.


  1. Archery? Oh yes! Love the epic sound of this, I'm a sucker for quest stories, and this sounds right up my alley. Good luck! :D

  2. This sounds like all sort of fun! I do love a good fantasy adventure story. :)

  3. Good mood-setting in your first 250. I thought it was spot-on. And good luck in the contest!

  4. I so admire people who can write true fantasy like this! And it doesn't hurt that your MC shares my daughter's nickname! Good luck, Annette!!

  5. Love the evocative voice in your snippet! And your query sounds super fun, too. Good luck!


  6. This sounds like the type of fantasy book I'd snap up in a heartbeat! Good luck!

  7. I'm totally intrigued! Big fantasy fan, and it can be hard to find a good YA one.

    My only quibble is that the query neatly sets us up for a quest, and then the first 250 (which were riveting) seem to deal with this strange sort of waiting to see/experience something that reminded me of waiting up to see a specter or something, which was vastly different from anything in the query. Don't misunderstand, both the query and 250 drew me in an won my desire to read more. I just like it when there's more continuity between what's described in the query and then what I read in the beginning of the story.

    Good Luck!!!

  8. YA Fantasy! There's not enough good ones out there! This looks like a winner. Good luck!

  9. Really like the last tine of the query. Good luck! (and thanks for commenting on my post! :) )

  10. Wow - this sounds like quite the adventure! Agreed - last line of your query nails it. :) Best of luck to you!

  11. Can not go wrong with YA fantasy adventure! Great job!


  12. I love "Neth's teeth". And you have riddles, archery and a hunt! Sounds awesome! Good luck!

  13. Right away she's lost her horse and money! NOW she's really going to have an adventure. How clever. Good luck!

  14. The tension in the opening is great--and I agree with Caitlin, I really like that final line. Wind catching it's breath is such an interesting image. Good luck!

  15. My fingers are crossed for you Annette!

  16. Reminds me of Elizabeth C. Bunce's STAR CROSSED, which I loved. Good luck in this contest and beyond.

  17. Great premise and 250. my fantasy senses are tingling at the words "foster parents". Is there going to be some secret to do with her real parents? just wondering.

  18. I love the feel of your writing! And I'm definitely hooked by your premise! Good luck!

  19. You novel sounds wonderful! And I like this version of your query even more than the one from Pitch Fest. Good luck!

  20. Wow.Vivid concrete descriptions, appealing to the reader's senses, putting them right there in that cottage with Callie and peering out the door.

  21. Loved the 250, and especially the last few lines. Best of luck to you. :)

  22. I found the query a little hard to follow in places, but would probably keep reading based on the sample. Good luck!

  23. This line caught my attention: The wind caught its breath; nothing stirred.

  24. I remember this too from WoC! And I love me some fantasy :) Good luck in the contest!

  25. I see over 90,000 and Fantasty and I get REALLY excited. This sounds so wonderful! Best of luck!!

  26. Yay for YA fantasy! I think you did an awesome job building up tension in the first 250 words. Good luck in the competition.

  27. Fantastic mood in your 250, and a compelling query to boot :) Fingers crossed for you!

  28. I second the way this feels like STAR CROSSED--in a good way. I loved that book and I love the details you've got in this beginning. Best of luck!

  29. I love a good fantasy, and this sounds like it's got all the right elements - intrigue, forbidden romance, riddles and it! Good luck!

  30. Glad to see some YA fantasy! I would surely read this.
    Good luck!

  31. Loved the descriptions, the atmosphere, the tension in the first 250. Really well done!

  32. Wow that's an intense concept in the query!! And I love the mystery in the first 250 words!!

  33. Hey there,
    Popping in for a little critiquing. Thanks so much for your comments on my entry. I really appreciate it.

    I think your query is really close. There's a few things but I think they are minor nitpicks. The line: "Her only recourse is the King." What is she going to ask the king to do, I know he's the king but give a detail on what more specifically he can do for Callie. also if you can clue us in as to what kind of man the king is it might help or hurt her case. If he's the type that doesnt usually help commoners then definitely add that, it adds to callie's struggles.

    My other minor nitpick about the query is it reads a bit more like a synopsis than a query/summary. It feels like you are saying and then this happens and she reacts and then that happens and she reacts again etc. this isn't always a bad thing but in this case I think it's affecting your flow of the query so if you can smooth out the transitions a little I think that will help you.

    As for the first 250 I really like the voice but I think you might be starting your story in the wrong place. You've unfortunately fallen into one of the common story starting tropes by starting with your MC waking up. I'd definitely change that. Maybe she is startled by the door as she presumably is drawing in her book?

    I like the ominous setting, but I'm not sure where you are headed or how it relates to the overall story. If you are heading to her parents not coming home that night cause they've been taken as prisoners for committing treason then get there faster. If this is the case have Callie reacting with some kind of worry or something to their absence that is out of the ordinary. If this isn't where you were going with this then I think you need to cut this bit and get as close to the inciting incident as possible for the start of your story.

    I hope this helps :) As with any critique feel free to use what works and ditch the rest. Good luck moving forward with your manuscript :) I think you've got a good story you just need some finesse :)

    1. Hi Jamie - thanks for your comments (much appreciated!).

      Believe me, if I could start it elsewhere I would (because of that very trope!), but the visit she's just had while she's been asleep ties up with later stuff.

      Argh, and I'm still struggling over what makes a query a query and not such a synopsis, lol.

  34. Thanks to everyone who commented prior to Jamie, btw. I really appreciate the feedback. :o) (I didn't want to reply to individual posts while the blogfest was going on as it made it easier to see all the comments from you all without my intrusion.)

  35. Hi Annette, here are my thoughts:

    This query is solid, but it could use some more to make it stand out, at least for me. Maybe it’s because the stakes lack urgency, or perhaps it just needs a little something extra.

    The first sentence might be a little awkward. Maybe switch some words around. Callie’s no traitor’s daughter. They way you have it now, I’m wonder what she is because you emphasis what she isn’t.

    You never specify who or what Callie’s rank might be, but it might give the query a kick, extra dimension, if she is a peasant. Callie might be a peasant, but she’s no traitor’s daughter.

    I don’t believe “King” should be capitalized.

    But her relief is short-lived when guards bar her way. Maybe: But her relief is short-lived when guards make her clear a peasant’s place is outside with the pigs. Her only choice is to win Nerennor’s annual tournament so she can petition the king at the victory banquet.

    I’m also wondering how she knows all the talents needed for the tournament.

    Also her reactions in the first 250 seemed a little dramatic. It just felt a little pumped up for the sake of effect.

    I hope this gives you some ideas.

  36. Annette,
    Thanks for your comments. Popping in to return the favor.

    I like the voice of your query, but it's missing the mark for me. I agree with the prior comment that it reads a bit like a synopsis. I see where your story is going by the end, but you are asking an agent to read through the play by play to get there. Instead, I would focus on her task (getting to the tournament and winning), what's in the way (long journey, other competitors, a potential love interest with a competitor) and what's at stake (she might lose her parents and the king's life is in danger, but winning the tourney might cost her love). Make this the focus and less about signing in taverns and how she meets Rafe.

    For your pages, you have some great tension here, but it left me confused to your genre. Your query is clearly high fantasy, and there's no mention of magic or spirits. But the opening pages have smells that shouldn't be there, whispered words in an empty room and door that open on their own. If this is going to be an element of the story, you need to find a way to incorporate it into the query.

    I also agree you should avoid opening with waking up. You could easily change this to her studying/drawing/writing/whatever it is she's doing with that notebook and losing track of the time.

    Good luck with all your future queries!

  37. Hello Annette!

    I think your query is strong and does everything it needs to be. As Jamie said Jamie said, perhaps you should explain what you mean with "Her only recourse is the King"? I know that later you say that she wants to ask for his help, but what makes her think the King would help her if her parents were accused of treason?

    As for the 250 words: I like how you use descriptive verbs as "slammed" and "jolted", and the rest of the first paragraph really pulls you into the scene.

    I also really like the tone, the mystery, the uneasy feeling. I don't think the trope here hurts you, since you jump into action as soon as she awakes. Tropes exist for a reason, after all ;)

    Over all I think it's a great concept with strong writing, and you're walking in the right direction. I wish you the best of luck with this and your future projects, but I'm sure you won't need it ;)


  38. As I mentioned before, I really like the last line. I am also VERY intrigued by the romantic story in this, and LOVE this line: "lyrics insulting his tribe will tend to do that. Oops."

    I am a little confused though why she will be a traitor if she falls for him. Also, I get that she wants to make it to the castle, but what is her plan when she gets there? Just to break them free?

    That said, I'd still want to read this based on what you have, so great job and good luck! :)

    Also, thanks for commenting on mine and sorry about the technical issues! I deleted the extra comments :)

  39. Hi Annette,

    I just saw your comment re Brit spelling on Twitter to Michelle and thought I might throw out a question. I'm canvassing among Brit writers to find out what they think of the idea of doing an agent/writer contest in the UK. It seems strange there hasn't been one - RL Stevens YA writer did one last year and is doing another in July but apart from that....crickets.

    As much as American agents say they're open to international writers, I really think in reality it's quite tough to sway them. I'm writing contemporary so that makes it even harder. Fantasy is probably different.I love all these contests - I've been in Writer's Voice, am now in Query Kombat and also in MSFV's Secret Agent this month.

    So, what do you think? Is there a place for agent contests in the UK? Wouldn't it be great to pitch directly to Brit agents? If you have any thoughts. I'd love to hear them.My email is:

  40. I don't read a lot of fantasy, but liked this quite a bit. I don't mind that she's jolted awake--her circumstances don't sound cliched to me. I love all the sensory details in the scene. My only suggestion is to cut: "Hope warred against anxiety." I think we get that from the other description and it sounds a bit like telling. I like Callie a lot! Good luck!