Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

SVS 10: Initiation – YA Mystery January 23, 2014

Filed under: Blog,contest — chasingthecrazies @ 6:10 am
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Category/Genre:  YA MYSTERY


Word Count: 55,000 words



My main character is uncomfortable with:



Noble’s immersed in scoping out the houses of her pet sitting clients, a good snow storm would totally put a chill on her mojo.






Fifteen year-old Noble Martin will do anything to make the Hampton Hills High School cheer squad, even if it means performing a risky initiation stunt like breaking into a teacher’s house to rearrange the furniture. Too bad she drops her phone inside the house. When she returns to retrieve it, she sees a police car in the driveway and an ambulance speeding toward the house. She bolts out of there, only to discover later that the teacher was found dead at the bottom of the stairs.


When someone returns Noble’s phone along with an email that includes a photo of her inside the house, she knows someone else was there that night. She begins to wonder if the teacher fell or if she was pushed. Then someone starts robbing the houses of Noble’s pet sitting clients and rearranging their furniture. Taunting text messages after each of the robberies confirm Noble’s theory that she’s being set up for the crimes. She decides to scope out the remaining houses on her pet sitting schedule hoping to catch the real culprit, but what if it’s someone she knows? And worse, what if that person is a killer?



First 250 words:



I waited that night behind the thorny bushes in Hobslinger’s front yard. An evening downpour had swept through, leaving the night hot and sticky, and me, soaked and sweaty. The cute pair of black skinny jeans I’d picked for their camouflage value clung to my legs in thick rolls that made me resemble a Shar-pei dog from the waist down. My calves ached from crouching in one position. But I didn’t dare move for fear of being seen.


Instead, I studied the house. It was Tudor-style with brown planks of wood and gingerbread windows. It reminded me of the ones I read about in fairytales, the especially Grimm ones where children were ransomed to giants to spare the family goat. I wondered if that was why Hobslinger bought the place—for its fairytale curb appeal. I could imagine her offering up poison apples to the neighborhood children on Halloween, so it was definitely a possibility.


“Noble, think she’s home?” Sarah whispered, her breath, warm against my ear, stunk like stale cotton candy. I looked back at her as she popped another tootsie pop in her mouth. Sarah’s got a wicked sugar addiction she doesn’t like to talk about.


“Instructions said she’s supposed to be at some church meeting.”


I’d read those instructions over and over until they were singed into my memory and then I burned them along with the pretty white envelope they came in. Leaving evidence behind of our crime would give Taylor more rope to hang us with—not that she needed anything more.



21 Responses to “SVS 10: Initiation – YA Mystery”

  1. Kalinda Says:

    Team Snow #6 here to wish you good luck in the upcoming mentor round! I’d love to connect on Twitter, so I can keep up with you after the contest! @kranky_crow

  2. Jeannine Johnson Maia Says:

    #SunTeam member here. Really liked your query — sounds like a fun-to-read whodunnit. (Maybe a couple too many mentions of “someone,” but that’s a detail.) It’s great the 250 gets us wondering what she’s up to, but I agree that the house description is a bit long — unless perhaps she’s noticing all those details because she’s trying to figure out how to get in? I was surprised to see she was with somebody — that could be mentioned earlier. Also, you might want to say who Taylor is or leave her out altogether.

  3. RobL Says:

    I couldn’t find much to fault here at all. Your query’s so well structured. I’m absolutely clear on what the premise is, the stakes come through perfectly. Brilliant. I wish I could write them so well!

    You first 250 reads equally smoothly. I like it a lot. I’m sure you’ll do really well in the agent round. Good luck!

  4. Hi there! It’s mentor Rachel here to chime in. 🙂

    Such a great premise!

    Your query does what it needs to do: packs a punch. It’s very clear what this story is about. Good job! I think I’d tighten it up a bit, though. The word “house” is used a lot and if you find another word it may flow smoother, make the sentences feel tighter.

    Your first 250 words are great. I’d certainly keep reading. Good luck!

  5. michelle4laughs Says:

    Sounds like the MC has been setup. Very interesting. Good luck!

  6. Janet Wrenn Says:

    Love the premise!! You’ve gotten good advice. Nothing that I can really add. I liked that you opened with the action, stalking the house and your description and scene setting worked well. I agree about the questions at the end of the query. Kill them with fire! Don’t ask questions, tell us something! This would definitely keep me reading on though. Good luck to you!!

  7. I really liked your query, it made me want to read the book right away. As far as the 250, the only thing that sort of took me out is the first section where she says “I waited that night behind..” If you took out “that night” it would read a little cleaner. But other than that loved the voice and great job setting the scene!

  8. Susie Says:

    I have to say that I love a good cheerleader story. Initiations of new cheerleaders definitely happens–my high school squad initiated new members every year.
    Query–The query drew me in. I definitely wanted to read more. I’m not fond of the questions. I assumed the person breaking into the pet sitting houses knew who she was.
    250-Great start. I love your descriptions. I did find that the house description pulled me away from the moment. Maybe paring it down would help. I did like the “poison apple” reference. Right away I knew why that teacher was chosen for the prank. Good luck.

  9. suja Says:

    I love YA mysteries. My question would be re: the last part of the query – “but what if it’s someone she knows? And worse, what if that person is a killer?” I thought she’d automatically assume it’s someone who knows her well enough to know her email ID and to know her pet sitting clients. That person also has to know what she was supposed to do – break in and rearrange the furniture .
    As for the opening, I love the voice. It promises a fun read. A bit of tightening as the others said. Best pf luck!

  10. EM Castellan Says:

    A YA Mystery! How fun 🙂 I agree your query is almost perfect, even if a little more voice could make it outstanding. Your 250 are what needs a bit of work, like your mentors have said. I agree with their comments on your descriptions of the house. Also watch out for filler words like “studied”, “could imagine”, “reminded”.
    Good luck with the agents round!

  11. I think this sounds like something I’d read. I agree with the comments, too much in the query and leave out the questions. Email and phone returned can’t be the same. Maybe a text on her phone instead? Tighten it up and take out most of the description of the house, just a few words is enough. Good luck!

  12. Query:
    I…don’t have much critique to give here, actually. This query is tight and chock full of stakes and mystery! I know what the MC wants, what she does to try to get it, and the fallout and stakes that ensue. I also like that it features an MC who’s a wannabe cheerleader – so often it’s the person on the social sidelines who’s solving the mysteries (at least in the ones I’ve read), so this feels like a fresh point of view to me.

    First 250:
    • Love the voice!
    • What are gingerbread windows? The house sounds cool, but it’s a bit long.
    • Nice character trait with Sarah’s sugar addiction.
    • Who’s Taylor? If she’s introduced in the next line that’s fine, but if not, perhaps more of a lead-in here?

    Good luck!

  13. Jennie Bates Bozic Says:

    I really love the content of the query, but it’s reading a bit like a synopsis to me. I’m missing Noble’s voice.

    This section is really fun, but I agree with the comments the others have made. The house description comes too soon and too detailed for me. You’ve already hooked me into her situation and I want more of those emotions. I want to know more about the MC and the segue into the house is distracting.

    Overall, great concept! I would totally read this.

  14. S.M.Johnston Says:


    This has a great Pretty Little Liars feel to it (comp title perhaps: Pretty Little Liars meets Bring It On). While I agree the query is very tight, I found it a bit flat with a lack of voice. Try swapping out some ‘safe’ words. I felt pulled out of the query by the pet sitting service late reference. I also found the sentence “When someone returns Noble’s phone along with an email that includes a photo of her inside the house” a bit odd because how do you return a phone and an email simultaneously. You need a rephrase to something like “After Noble’s phone mysteriously ends up back in her house, she also receives an email…” They’re two separate actions. I also found myself wondering how her phone was identifiable in the photo.

    Minor technical issue:

    Fifteen[-]year-old Noble Martin


    For the first line I’d remove “that night” as it sounds like a retelling of events to someone else, like it’s being narrated from the future, but it’s that time for the narration. I’d also like to see more of a hook in the first sentence. Something like:

    I waited behind the thorny bushes in Hobslinger’s front yard feeling like my heart was bouncing against my rib cage like a basketball being pounded against a court floor.

    It brings the reader in to know the stakes are higher and the sporting reference works for the cheerleading aspect.
    I don’t think you need the second line as it is. Work the downpour reference into the third line for better showing.
    Look for ways to eliminate words like was and were. Example:

    Instead, I studied the Tudor-style house, with its brown planks of wood and gingerbread windows.
    I agree with the previous warm breath on the ear comment.

    When you introduce characters, it’s good to give us some context. We have no idea who Sarah or Taylor is. I am assuming Sarah is a fellow pledge.

    I was left wondering how a white envelope could be pretty. Maybe look at your descriptors to ensure they are not vague. This also helps establish your voice.

  15. amyereichert Says:

    Query: Great first paragraph and interesting premise. I think you take the query too far past the hook. I think you can stop with her wondering about if the teacher fell or was pushed. Also, questions aren’t great in queries. I’d suggest reworking them into sentences.

    250: I like the sentence about Sarah’s sugar addiction. Good voice.

  16. This is such a great query! I love it. It’s concise and hooks me. Like Amy said, I do hope there is some sort of B-story to the mystery in the MS, but I don’t think it’s necessary to the query. It’s tight and made me what to read the MS!

    The first 250 are great too! The only quibble I have is this graph: “Noble, think she’s home?” Sarah whispered, her breath, warm against my ear, stunk like stale cotton candy. I looked back at her as she popped another tootsie pop in her mouth. Sarah’s got a wicked sugar addiction she doesn’t like to talk about.

    First, I would say: Sarah’s warm break stunk like cotton candy.
    And this sentence switches tenses, so you’ll wanna say: Sarah had a wicked sugar addiction she didn’t like to talk about. (although, do you really need this sentence? Her breath and eating a tootsie kind of tell the reader that.)

    VERY cool premise. Honestly. Love mystery and YA and this sounds awesome. Good luck!

  17. Liz Fichera Says:

    I love the mixture of humor and mystery in this very concisely written query. Great story questions too.

    Regarding the excerpt, I like how it starts out with action. Great opener. Plus, “Shar-pei from the waist down” made me almost choke on my water. 🙂 Great visual. Loved that line.

    Thanks for sharing your work and good luck!

  18. Lanette Kauten Says:

    Query: This is a very tight query and gave me the chills knowing that Noble’s being stalked by the killer. This sounds like a fun book, but I wonder if it’s a tad young for YA.

    250: I love the voice and the descriptions in this. I noticed some of the other mentors gave tips for tightening the wording just a bit and I agree. Otherwise, this is a great start to what sounds like a fun book for younger teens.

  19. Oooh, a thriller! Fun!!!

    Query: Really concise, which is great. I’m wondering, though, if there’s a B-story that would set the stakes higher that we can hear about in the query. Is Noble all alone in her quest to find out who’s threatening her? Is there a love interest? We have high stakes because this person might be a killer, but what about this person not only being someone she knows but someone she’s close to? I don’t know if this is part of your story. These are just questions I’m left with at the end. Since the query is really tight, I think you have a bit of word count to play with to bring us into the story a little bit more.

    First 250: Great job starting in the action! My biggest suggestion is to omit unnecessary details. First line: “I waited that night behind the thorny bushes in Hobslinger’s front yard.” ‘That night’ isn’t needed, and it jars me out of the moment in the first line. “My calves ached from crouching in one position.” I don’t know if there’s more than one position you can crouch in. To me a crouch is a crouch, so you could end it at crouching. 🙂 Little touches like that will make what’s already pretty concise even more so. Another tiny nitpick is to be careful of using the same word twice in one sentence: “Leaving evidence behind of our crime would give Taylor more rope to hang us with—not that she needed anything more.” The ‘more’ and ‘more’ can be edited to vary wording.

    Overall, great start! Good luck!

  20. Very fun/intriguing premise! I like.

    Query: Well done, I felt totally creeped out for Noble (love her name). What a terrifying thing to be framed for and then hounded by, especially at the age of 15. Your query is to the point and seems to cover everything concisely. The only thing I would add is a little more voice (though you have some for sure). Okay, is it obvious I’m really grasping to give you something to work on here?! 😉

    250: Again, well done. The only thing that stuck out for me was that Noble refers to the home as a ‘Tudor’. Maybe she’s into architecture, but I wouldn’t have known a Tudor from a Colonial at her age…hell, I’d still have trouble. Love the Brothers Grimm reference, definitely adds to the creepy factor. I keep seeing this – and maybe it’s more a personal pet peeve – but Sarah doesn’t need to mention Noble by name in casual conversation. It’s only the two of them there, so feels awkward. Other than that, it’s honestly really great. Your descriptions are unique, your voice pulls me in, I love Sarah’s wicked sugar addiction and Noble’s Shar-pei pants…it’s all good. I’d definitely keep reading!

    Good luck!

  21. Katie French Says:

    Mentor Katie French here. Intriguing premise. The query definitely piqued my interest. Pet-sitting made me think this might be more middle-grade, but that’s just me. Is this for a younger crowd? With the pranks being to rearrange furniture, it makes me think younger. And yet, you have the main character at 15. A bolder prank might make this more intriguing. I know in real life breaking into a teacher’s house and rearranging the furniture would be terrifying, but in books you can be a bit more bold.

    I like that you start us right in the action. That’s good. Keep that momentum going. Good luck!

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