Title: The Chess Girl
Entry Nickname: Play Chess Not Checkers
Word count: 66K
Genre: MG Historical Fiction
To win her family’s freedom, Ruchel must play the greatest chess match ever.
As World War 1 begins, 7 year old Ruchel’s father is forced into the Austrian Army just before the Russian Army invades her border town. To survive, her mother opens a tiny cafe. Business is terrible until Ruchel challenges and defeats a customer in a chess match. Soon, the restaurant is packed with people coming to watch her play.
Ruchel hopes to use her newfound celebrity to discover what’s happened to her father, who’s been missing in action since the war began. Unfortunately, as different armies take turns occupying her hometown, it’s all she can do to help keep her family from starving.
When civil war breaks out and both sides start hunting Jews, Ruchel must beat a Polish chess champion to win her family a chance at a new life in America.
First 250 Words:
Poland – 1919
Ruchel’s opponent carefully pushed his knight forward then left using the two fingers remaining on his right hand. He nodded to Ruchel as he pulled the hand back. The burned side of his face remained frozen, as did the milky white eye sunken within, but the other side of his mouth tried to turn upward.
Once Ruchel would have felt both pity and horror at his appearance, but she’d seen so many ruined men in the last couple of years. Besides, the stakes were too high. The fat constable by the window kept playing with the holster around his waist, grunting every so often in case she hadn’t noticed him. “Pig,” she mumbled in Yiddish.
She looked away. If he realized what she’d said, it wouldn’t matter who won this game. Fortunately, he was focused on the Jewish shopkeeper across the street struggling to remount his store’s smashed in window frame. The grin on his face made her say pig again, but this time only to herself.
She looked back at the board, started to reach for a piece then stopped. She liked to play fast to force her opponents into mistakes trying to match her speed, but she wasn’t at home and there would be no second chances. Whatever the damage to the old soldier’s body, it hadn’t taken his skill. She’d only played two men this good and been crushed both times.
She was already down a pawn and the shadow hovering behind her wasn’t helping.
~ VERSUS ~
Title: The Windup
Entry Nickname: One-Handed Wonder
Word Count: 40,000
Genre: Upper Middle Grade, Contemporary
Kyle Whalen, a southpaw Little League pitcher, had enjoyed a typical adolescent boyhood until a car crash took his right hand, his twin brother, and his passion for life. Now, three years later, Kyle is fourteen and determined to play ball again in memory of his brother and fulfill the dream they shared: win the Brookhaven Invitational Baseball Tournament, a feat his home team has never accomplished.
Kyle practices hard with his catcher Hailey—the girl he’s crushing on and best friends with—but he struggles to pitch and bat one-handed. Those challenges mount when he discovers she likes a rival ballplayer. Things get worse when his coach and several of his teammates bail, leaving his team ineligible to compete. It’s game on, though, when Kyle convinces his estranged dad to take over as coach and his troublemaker cousin joins the team.
As Kyle leads his ragtag club toward the championship, he grows closer to his father, the man he thought no longer cared—about anything, not since the crash. Encouraged by the enthusiasm and support of his cousin, Kyle begins competing for Hailey’s heart. But when a bully on an opposing team pulls a nasty prank intended to put an end to Kyle’s comeback, suddenly nothing seems sure.
First 250 Words:
I stood atop the pitcher’s mound, baseball in hand. My only hand. Perched over the stub where my right hand used to be was my baseball glove, pocket-down.
“Last one, Kyle. Fire it in here,” Hailey said, punching her catcher’s mitt. She was my age, fourteen, but she could have passed for sixteen.
The two of us had been practicing on the weed-choked Little League field for about two hours. Summer rays warmed the back of my neck. My tired pitching arm sagged at my side like a wet noodle. I dug my cleat into the soft dirt in front of the pitching rubber, wound up, and slung a fastball. After my follow-through, I slipped my hand into my glove, fumbling a bit, and got into fielding position. Mastering the transfer of my glove was the hardest part. I had no doubt teams would test me by hitting comebackers.
“Sick pitch, Kyle,” Hailey said, hopping up. She pulled off her mitt and approached me. “You’re ready for this.”
I shook off my glove. “I hope so.”
It was one thing to practice without a batter standing at home plate. It was another story to pitch in a tournament, which was what I planned to do in just a few days. The last time I laced up for a game was three years ago. Back when my dad was the coach. Back when I had a right hand. Back when I had a twin teammate to double high-five.
A lifetime ago.