QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May YA Contest Winners!

Agent Roseanne Wells from the Marianne Strong Literary Agency judged our last QueryTracker Blog contest on May 9, 2011. We had 244 Young Adult entries. We will contact the winners directly as well as posting them below.

Ms. Wells chose three winners to receive a critique of their first 10 pages!  We will be listing those winners below, as well as contacting them directly and supplying them with an email address to which they should send their pages.

Ms. Wells also found a few entries that intrigued her enough that she is going to be contacting the authors directly to request material.  If you are one of these people, you will get an email directly from Ms. Wells by Saturday, June 4th. Please do not contact her to inquire whether you are on that list -- you will get an email from her if you are.

WINNERS: Please send your first 10 pages (QT will provide you with the address in an email).

On to the winners of the 10-page critiques -- drumroll please!

Winner 1. Darkest Light by Rebecca Sutton (YA Paranormal)

First page:

"Hi, my name is Ava and I'm," I say, pausing to pick at a splinter sticking up from the wood podium.

"Hi, Ava." The crowd responds in a monotone unison.

I know I'm supposed to continue. But what's the point in me saying it? We all know why I'm here. One of the tracks of fluorescent lights flickers and I look up. The ceiling of the church basement, filled with brown water stains, sags with age. The smell of one of those gross flavored coffees (hazelnut or creme de nasty) and mildew make me want to gag.

Someone coughs in the front row. A clear your throat kind of cough meant to get attention. Leonard, the man who runs the meetings is staring at me, his eyes bulging, nodding for me to continue. Beads of sweat collect at the top of his shiny, bald head.

From the moment I met the guy he was pushy. Play by the book, stick to the schedule. Trust the system. If it weren't for him I wouldn't even be up here introducing myself like this is some goddamn AA meeting. At first glance, this meeting looks like a regular support group, but it's far from it.

Ignoring the fact that Leonard's practically falling off his chair to get my attention now, I take a deep breath and say,"...and I'm here because I made a deal with the Devil."

Winner 2. Seeing by Nik Johnson (Quinn) (YA Paranormal Thriller)

First page:

I didn't know who she was, or what the f--- she was doing in my room, but she was naked. The shirt I was holding slipped from my hand and I stopped short.

She was in front of the window with her head cocked to the side, looking right at me, like she had been waiting for me. White-blonde hair, parted in the middle, fell to her waist. Her left breast was covered, but the other one, I could see. My eyes drifted lower. She was shaved. No hair. None.

"Who"--I took a breath and began again--"who are you?"

"My name's Alice," she said. I glanced up at her face and she smiled, straightening her head."Don't be afraid, Eden."

Alice seemed like a nice name. A girl named Alice wouldn't hurt me. I wasn't afraid. I was more focused on the fact that my jeans were getting tighter. Normally, I guess I'd be embarrassed getting hard in front of someone, but she was naked; we were past that.

My mind wasn't working right ... I couldn't really piece together my thoughts. I didn't know her. I'd never seen this girl before. I thought of walking back out of the room; instead, I stepped into the room and closed the door.

Winner 3. The Silent Sister by Megan Macijauskas (Paranormal)

First page:

It is eight-oh-six a.m. Visiting hours have just begun but the waiting room is empty. I sit in a squeaky plastic chair as my mother fills out my release papers. The nurse behind the plexiglass divider slides a bottle of pills across the counter. Mom shoves them in her handbag without looking at them.

The nurse's voice is high-pitched and annoyingly bright. I hear her say things like psychotic break and catatonic state and sink low in the chair. If she knew what I was capable of, she would not be signing over my freedom so cheerfully.

I'm wearing the standard-issue white t-shirt and gray sweatpants that everyone wears here. They take the strings out of the pants, but the elastic is so tight, an angry red groove digs into my waist. I don't know how the extended stay patients endure it. No wonder they're crazy.

When my mom is finally done with forms and instructions, she turns to me and jerks her head toward the door."C'mon. Let's get out of here."

Outside, the morning sunlight is hard and white and makes me ache everywhere. It's not warm. Or comforting. It burns my eyes, which are used to florescent lights and darkened windows.

The second we are out the door, my mother grabs me by the shoulders and shoves me against the hospital's brick wall. I stop breathing. Her face is inches from mine. She bunches one hand tight in my t-shirt and pulls it right up to my chin. Her knuckles are as white as the cloth they're wrapped around. Behind her, a startled bystander mumbles under his breath and quickly shuffles away.

"Do you have any idea what you've done?" My mother's voice is a brittle shard."You can't ever, ever lose control like that. Do-you-understand?" She draws out each syllable of the question through clenched teeth.

* * * 
A huge congratulations to all the winners, and thank you again to Ms. Wells!


Anonymous said...

Wow these are all incredible, congrats to the winners! :-)

Stina said...

Congrats to the winners!

Robbin said...

The Silent Sister by Megan Macijauskas was my favorite - want more! Congrats to the winners :)

Dorothy Dreyer said...

Congrats to the winners! :D

Melissa Cunningham said...

I am shocked and extraordinarily disappointed that the second winner won a place at all in a YA contest. There's no way I would allow my teens to read a book where the first sentence has the f-work and the first scene is so sexually explicit. For an adult novel? Fine. But YA? That is terrible. Who are these judges? No wonder the world has so many problems.

Matthew Tandy said...

I'm going to agree with Melissa. That second place, while I acknowledge it being well written, is soft porn. I would never want any child of mine to be reading that drivel, just as I would not be happy with them or anyone else letting a fourteen year old sit at a computer in my house with family around and watch Girls Gone Wild while flipping through Playboy and porn.

I do not agree with banning books. I am just shocked it would be second place and get an agent out of it. Good skill in writing does not equal a good book.

Lacey J Edwards said...

Wow! These are FANTASTIC! Congrats, all!

Rebecca Blevins said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the first and third entries. However, even though the second entry is well-written, I am appalled that the casual nature of sex and language in this "story" is considered appropriate for a YA novel.

Along with drugs and alcohol, books like these are something I won't make available for my kids to read. When they're adults they'll be old enough to choose for themselves.

Kudos to the other winners. I'd love to read their stories.

Patricia A. Timms-McGehee said...

Congratulations winners! You deserve it! Yes, even #2. I was disappointed in the comments above for being so narrow-minded and censor driven. I hope these aren't the faces of people who like to ban books as well, though I imagine they are. How absurd to blame the world's problems on the freedom of speech. Jealousy isn't a virtue, writers!

Quinn, well done. You've not only won, you've created the kind of controversy that will have many more people interested in reading your story.

Matthew Tandy said...

Patricia, great straw man argument. None of the people who were unhappy with the nature of the Second Place entry ever mentioned censorship outside the home. All of us said we would not want our kids to read it and it was an inappropriate choice for school aged children. Do you let your kids watch hadrcore bondage orgies in your home? How would you feel if not only they watched it, but they watched it because it won an award for short films targeted at their age group? That you may not want them to watch it at that age does not mean you feel that outside of the rules you keep in your home you feel it should be censored for actual adults.

Free Speech is great. But Wisdom dictates you set personal boundaries in your own home and you promote an environment you feel to be nourishing to your family. And no, promoting does not mean legislating. It means speaking out about issues you feel important, such as Erotica posing as suitable young adult literature.

The not so subtle implication that we want to ban books is also a canard. Way to imply more nefarious motives without actually coming out and saying it.

I am not in the least bit jealous. I acknowledged the writing skill of Quinn. It simply should be targeted for an older audience.

Megan said...

Thanks everyone! I'm thrilled and shocked to be one of the winners. Congrats to Ms. Sutton and Quinn (ironically, both these names are characters in my book) for their amazing first pages as well.

Sending those 10 pgs. to Ms. Wells today. Can't wait to get her critique. Thank you queryTracker, for a great contest!

Megan Macijauskas

Rebecca Blevins said...

I agree, Matt. Thank you for speaking out so eloquently.

Call it art or whatever you like, but I do not agree with the practice of marketing sex to children. They may hate the term, but a teenager is still a child--albeit full of raging hormones.

I think the author of the second piece is a good writer. However, I cannot in good conscience condone sex and language being celebrated in a contest for YA children. And no, I don't believe in banning books, but I do think judges of a contest such as this should exercise more discretion in what they promote.

Rebecca Blevins said...

For what it's worth, no jealousy here, either. My current work is for middle grade and I have no entries in any contests--yet.

Melissa Cunningham said...

I just wanted to add my two cents one more time. I did not mean to imply that #2 wasn't a great writer. His ability isn't in question here. I think his story could make a great adult novel for those who read that genre. To each their own. I just wouldn't let me kids read it. YA should be driven, fun, intense, beautiful and clever. Not sexual. I'm not saying no sexual tension--because that can drive a story forward. But graphic sex and foul language is not appropriate for teenagers. That's just what I think. I write YA myself. I know it can be done.

Congrats to the winners on their efforts and talent.

I would encourage #2 to use wisdom in his writing, to try to help kids feel good about themselves in constructive ways instead of destructive ways. =)

Other then that, great job.

Rebecca L Sutton said...

A big congratulations to the other 2 winners! I'm so thrilled to have the amazing opportunity with Ms. Wells. Thank you!

Patricia A. Timms-McGehee said...

It doesn't surprise me that the three of you came back to offer more of your "two cents".

If you three are so concerned about what kids might be subjected to when buying YA books, then why aren't you spending more time trying to get explicit labeling and less time tearing apart the artists? Come on people, be proactive in the right direction.

I imagine your kids don't listen to popular music either. Geez, you three have a big job on your hands, and while you're at it make sure your kids aren't smoking pot and having unprotected sex in the tree house out back. Forward motion!

And congratulating everyone but #2 is just short-sided. Get off the playground and start acting like mature adults.

Matthew Tandy said...

Ah Patricia, more false humility and pride accusations. Who is on the high horse? I am willing to concede both of us. We both feel we are right. Either way, thank you for coming back to participate in the dialog. Like you with myself and others, I am not surprised you came back to put in your two cents. I actually do appreciate your views even if I disagree with them.

Again, I do find your accusations to be simplified. You also didn't address my contentions, but instead resorted to making unfounded assumptions in an attempt to cast some of us as some sort of fundamentalist societal freak show.

Let me clear a few things up, at least in my regards:

Love popular music. I disagree with certain genres such as rape rap, which is a small niche rap that violently depicts the rapes and brutal murder of women and even children, often targeted to the young adult market. I do love Rage Against the Machine, Nine Inch Nails, AC/DC, Queen, Bon Jovi, Weezer, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, etc. I also think some of their material is over the top and think they could have done better, especially in regards to if they push it on kids or not. But hey, morality is a personal choice. I don't listen to those songs. I would not let my kids EVER listen to Rape Rap in my house. Ever.

As for a rating system, it is apparent that YA = Young Adult. This is typically the 14-17 age group, with some foray into 18-21. What other rating system should we consider? It seems anything more would be a bit redundant.

Further, I have repeatedly stated I am against legislating morality. I have my morals, you have yours. I have no desire to do something as useless as the MPAA ratings to books, which is a highly political and profit-driven system.

Either way, it is the awarding of a prize for writing erotica for the YA group that blows my mind. I don't find that forward motion. I find it silly. If that same scene was in video format, the same kids wouldn't be allowed to see it in theaters without parental consent. Depending on how far the story goes later, maybe at all until they are 18.

I have no problems with Nik getting the novel published. Again, it is the awarding such a work that seems to me not a wise action. If controversy and writing skill meant a great book, then most conspiracy books about the moon-landing should be awarded in all fields. I don;t have a problem with the anti-moon landing people. I just wouldn't award them for their writing skill in a general contest.

And yes, thank you, I will teach my children not to have unprotected sex in the treehouse out back or to smoke pot. If they do, they do. I love them anyways and recognize their other achievements. It's just not allowed under my roof. They want to talk about it openly, great. Just don't do it here.

And all of us acknowledged winner #2's writing skill.

I encourage you to cut back on the insults such as "get off the playground", "I imagine your kids don't listen to popular music", implying we are not for "Forward Motion", calling us "narrow-minded", and "imagine they are..." the same people who like to ban books, etc.

Your imagination is wrong, although apparently quite active. If you are interested in educated dialog instead of imaginary insults, then drop them. I have been persuaded I am wrong many times. Never with childish name calling though.

Betsy Love said...

You wouldn't hand a playboy to a 14 year old. Yet this is what #2 has done. So disappointed in the content. I couldn't even finish reading it. There is no way I would ever allow this in my home. As a mother, I try so hard to keep my boys safe in a predatory world. Allowing them to read something like this throws the door wide open.

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Hi everyone,

I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to look at the comments after I posted the winners, but I've been out of town without a lot of time online.

While I appreciate why the conversation happened, and while I think these are important conversations to have, I'm disappointed that things deteriorated into attacks on the author, the agent, and each other. (It seems to me that the genre of edgy YA might have been the best thing to focus on. Because yes, sexuality and other taboo subjects do indeed make their way into a part of the genre known as edgy YA.)

Please remember that when an agent judges a contest for us, she or he is doing us all a huge favor. If we become known as a blog that attacks judging agents or the authors who enter our contests, we're going to have a lot fewer opportunities available. And that has the potential to impact ALL of us in a negative way.

My request to all of you, then, is this, should something similar happen in the future: Please think about the way you're wording things, and do your best to be respectful of everyone involved. As in this case, the issue may not actually be the entry itself -- it may be an entire block of the YA genre.

One of our bloggers wrote a great piece on edgy YA fiction a while back. It explores YA fiction that does venture into places not everyone would be comfortable with (or comfortable with their kids reading): http://querytracker.blogspot.com/2010/11/wicked-truths-of-edgy-young-adult.html

I want to thank Ms. Wells again for judging, congratulate all three of the winners, and say to Quinn...well, they say any publicity is good publicity! :)

Matthew Tandy said...


Thank you for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully. I appreciate your efforts, and those of the Query Tracker website and blog.

I cannot speak for everyone, so I will speak for myself. I do not have an issue with edgy YA. In fact, I quite enjoy it. I really think the YA genre could do with a little more realism and a lot less fluffy fantasy (which I also enjoy, but is getting a bit overdone...).

I did read the blog article from Stina Lindenblatt, and it made excellent points. In fact, I find myself in near total agreement with it.

Realism is critical in writing. My concern is definitely with a sub-genre of the sub-genre of edgy YA, that being what can be considered erotica marketed as edgy YA. While we only read a single page, which may very well have been the most descriptive item in the entire novel, it is more likely that the novel will continue down that path.

Let me reinforce:
* I think the page was in many ways, but not all, well written.
* If the person self-publishes or finds an agent or publisher for the book, more power to them, although I personally would avoid such an agent or publisher. I would never call for a boycott. Let people read what they will.

My questions asked previously are indeed applicable to this sub sub-genre. They are still valid and difficult to counter.

Although I never directly targeted Roseanna Wells for good or bad, I realize this has a direct application to her own judgment. Thank you Carolyn for reminding me of this. For Roseanne, I do greatly appreciate you taking the time and effort to act as a judge for May's contest. I do hope you will continue to assist in future capacities, even in the face of contrary opinions.

Ultimately Carolyn, I believe the biggest complaint I have resides in a possibly unchangeable judging guidelines. It seems to me that if QueryTracker is going to sponsor these contests for general YA, that it should be noted that certain items bordering on Literotica be considered invalid entries for a general purpose contest. A large section of YA writers would never frequent or support a site that awards erotica marketed to YA. An additional large section feels uncomfortable.

That the first or second group could one moment be reading a first page about what appears to be a clean, humorous AA meeting for people who sold their souls to the devil, and the next moment be reading "Her left breast was covered, but the other one, I could see. My eyes drifted lower. She was shaved. No hair. None..; I wasn't afraid. I was more focused on the fact that my jeans were getting tighter. Normally, I guess I'd be embarrassed getting hard in front of someone, but she was naked..." seems to be a bit curious at best.

Matthew Tandy said...

My response was too long by about 10 characters, so broke it in two. here is the second part:

Perhaps in the future a contest specifically for edgier YA fiction would be in order? At least that would give readers a heads up so they are not quite so blindsided. If that is not an option, even a bolded disclaimer at the top about the content of the second place winner would have helped a good portion of your readership make an educated decision ahead of time about whether they wanted to read the all or some of the first pages.

To summarize:
1) Thank you Carolyn for taking the time to respond (and all the other work you do).
2) Nik Johnson, you have skill as a writer. I disagree with the content due to who it is marketed towards, and also believe it could have been written even better without such clear description, but that does not change the fact that you have talent and should be recognized for it.
3) Roseanne, you are awesome for taking the time to judge the contest.
4) I advocate either a different contest for YA with graphic sexual realism OR a clear content warning in the future should such graphic sexual (or even obsessive graphic violent realism) be included so that readers can make an educated decision.

I recognize my own relative nothingness in the grand scheme of things, but I hope my suggestions, which have arisen out of discussing this now with about fifty people, will be considered.

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Hi Matthew and everyone,

I think that's a good idea, to let people know there's an edgy YA winner among the excerpts, so people will know to skip it if it's not their thing. I will keep that in mind for the future!