Title: Children of Mars

Nickname: When Bugbots Attack

Work count: 51K

Genre: Middle Grade Science Fiction


Twelve-year-old Zoey Graves was content to run amok through MIRA Station, the only inhabited colony on Mars. But then the shuttle carrying vital supplies from Earth exploded.

As the colony leaders bicker over survival strategies, Zoey escapes to the solitude of the tunnels deep below the colony. It is here she discovers the shuttle explosion was just a ruse.
When Zoey tells what she’s witnessed, she’s ignored by the adults and turns to her friends for help. But will a torrent of booby traps, escaped lab animals and robotic eyeballs be enough to defeat the coup that threatens to destroy their Martian home?

First 250:

Zoey Graves knew all the rules, she just didn’t think that most applied to her. Sure she followed the big ones like never going outside and attending class more times than not, but the others were a nuisance. Besides, what could they do? Deport her? She wasn’t that lucky.

The atrium was the largest room on MIRA Station, the only inhabited colony on Mars. But just because it was inhabited didn’t mean it was nice. Every year they received word from Earth that the colony would be decommissioned soon, but no one really believed it anymore. Especially tonight, because tonight was Opposition, the biannual celebration that marked the arrival of the shuttle.
Zoey paused and stared up at the workers high overhead. She would be up there, too, volunteering with the rest of her class. Those who volunteered were always first in line at the buffet tables, but this time, she’d have to wait in line with all the rest.
One of the two elevators swooped into motion, prompting her to start walking again. She had to be quick, but not so fast as to draw attention. There was still plenty of time to find what she was looking for. Her nimble fingers pressed the white molded walls until a small panel dislodged and she moved it aside. With the ladder exposed, she pulled herself in, twisting her feet against the sides so she could fit the panel back in place, plunging her into darkness as she began her descent.


Title: Bubba T. Jones: Southern Fried Witch Hunter
Entry Nickname: Alabama Witch Hunters
Word Count: 45,000
Genre: MG Horror
José Villa wants to be brave like Bubba, but he’s more terrified than a fresh bass at a fish fry. So he accepts his role as sidekick in Bubba’s daring, and mostly harebrained, schemes and adventures.
But when José sneaks into homicidal Buck Miller’s pasture with Bubba in the middle of the night, he encounters a horror he couldn’t have imagined. Three words: zombie freaking cows. Oh, and the evil witch Agatha Winters, back from the dead and ready to get revenge on the town that killed her. 
Now, José and Bubba are in as much trouble as a three-legged donkey in a port-a-potty. They team up with young witch expert, Goat Leg Sal—whose smell definitely lives up to her name—and the trio works together to stop Agatha, encountering a creepy undertaker, a crazed necromancer, and a horde of demonic squirrels along the way.
When his friends get locked up, José must overcome his fears and stop Agatha before she hoodwinks the whole town into jumping from the same cliff they pushed her off of years ago. He must learn to become the hero of the story. 
First 250:
In Trout Bend, Alabama, cow tipping wasn’t just a hobby. It was an art form. All the great tippers came from our town: Billy the Bold, Cletus the Clever, Gil the Gassy. But the greatest of them all was my best friend, Bubba—better known around these parts as the da Vinci of the Dairy. 
Unfortunately, like most great artists, Bubba had started to go a little bit crazy. Actually, scratch that. There was nothing little about it. That kid was nuttier than a pack of rabid squirrels on a cashew binge. I mean, why else would he have dragged me out to Buck Miller’s pasture in the middle of the night?
Gulping hard, I read the cracked wooden sign nailed to Buck’s fence. “Warning: Trespassers will be skinned alive and deep fried.”
A chill rattled my shoulders. It’d be a miracle if we lived to see the eighth grade. “Bubba, are you sure this is a smart idea?”
He laughed as he squeezed his round body between a couple strands of barbed wire. “Course it ain’t no smart idea, José. But it’s like my daddy always says, ‘Ain’t nobody ever have any fun bein’ smart.’”
I wanted to point out that nobody had ever been arrested for being smart either, but Bubba didn’t like talking about that. I took a deep breath and slid my way through the fence. 
Bubba was always dragging me around on some crazy adventure or another. Frankly, it terrified me. But I owed him. 
Posted in Blog and tagged .


    • When Bugbots Attack:

      Really well done!

      Great hook and conflict. It really feels like a compelling Middle Grade adventure.

      I’m not sure I follow why the arrival of the shuttle is called the Opposition, or why Zoey isn’t volunteering with her class, or what she’s trying to do.

      Once you clear some of that up, you’ll be off to a terrific start!

      Alabama Witch Hunters

      Holy voice Batman!

      I’d like to know how old Jose and Bubba are to really ground it in middle grade, and also get a sense of why Jose and Bubba are the only ones who can stop Agatha.

      There’s also maybe a little too much going on in the query. Generally it’s best to keep it to 2-3 named characters. For instance, do you really need Buck Miller’s pasture? Stick to whichever conflicts are the most important to the story. Generally two is plenty.

      Um. The first paragraph is a thing of beauty. I just want to say that. I also love the conflict you set up about Jose being the voice of reason yet going along with Bubba.

      Fantastic job!


    • When Bugbots Attack

      Query: From what you have here, I get a general sense of what the story is about. However, I feel like you’re really shortchanging yourself by telling us so little. You have another good 200 words that you can add here to flesh this out. Give us more details so that we can dig deeper into the story. What does Zoey discover in the tunnels? Why was it a ruse? What’s the real thing that’s happening? Why is she ignored by the adults? How does booby traps, lab animals, and robot eyeballs help? What’s trying to destroy their home? I’d also love to know more about Zoey and who she is as a character.

      250: I like the opening paragraph here, I think it hints at who Zoey is as a character. In the next paragraph I want to hear more about what MIRA Station looks like. You mention it’s not nice, but I have no visual of the setting at this point. Or where she is that she’d be able to see workers overhead. The next paragraph is a little contradictory, volunteers get to eat first, and she would be volunteering, but she has to wait in line? I’d also like a hint at what she’s trying to accomplish here and why she’s going down this mysterious ladder.

      Alabama Witch Hunters

      Query: You have got some A+ voice going on in this query. Honestly this whole thing is pretty solid, reads well, and tells us just what we need to know. Up top, my only qualm is with the word “homicidal.” It just reads a bit odd with the rest of what’s going on here. Other than that the only real place I think this needs work is in the last paragraph. Can you expand more on why or how his friends get locked up? How they’re attempting to take down Agatha? I like the sentiment on the last line, Jose needing to learn how to be the hero of his own story, but as-is it falls flat. I think if you can reword that line and give it a bigger punch that would take this query to the next level.

      250: This opening really lives up to the query you’ve given us. Again, not too much to stay here. I love the opening, the humor, the voice. My only caution would be in terms of the accent you’ve given Bubba, using certain words like “bein’”. I think it works, but using it too much throughout the book can become a bit too much.



      Oh man, I’m a sucker for stories of colonies and Mars. This sounds like a book I loved as a kid.

      I like that it’s clear and cuts to the point, but I think you can add a little flavor to it. What does Zoey like to do that’s more specific than running “amok”, also, is there any sort of skill that she has that makes her suited toward figuring out the conspiracy. Or is there something about her that she has to overcome in order to succeed. Is her family important to the story? In speculative fiction, it's good to whittle it down as much as possible but I’d really like to know more about your protagonist and your world and I think the overall setting is familiar enough to get into more detail.

      Also, your nickname is when bugbots attack – is that a spoiler, or can we know more about who or what the antagonist is? Even if it’s just a tease. I love robots and I’d be hooked more if they’re in the story.

      The first 250:

      I like the attitude in the first line. (Maybe it can tied into something in the query that alludes to whether she causes trouble because she’s bored, or is a bit of a snob? Is her attitude a liability or a strength?) I also like the line about not being lucky enough to be deported. She obviously isn’t happy here. Maybe you could show it a bit more than tell it, by describing what’s not nice about the place in greater detail.

      I feel like something is missing between the last two paragraphs too. Why is she sneaking around? I’m guessing she does this a lot.

      Overall, I think it’s a good start, but I think you have some room to play around a bit more.


      I love the nickname and the Southerness of the language in both the query and the first 250.

      Maybe start by saying his “friend Bubba,” so we know his relationship, otherwise it feels like we’re being introduced to two people at once. Also the sentence “and mostly harebrained, schemes and adventures” shouldn’t have a comma between harebrained and schemes” if no one else has pointed that out.

      I think there may be one too many characters named in the query, but overall it’s really solid and sounds like a lot of fun. The last line could be a little stronger, maybe sell the stakes more somehow.

      The first 250:

      I don’t have much to say here except I really liked it. Especially the line “Warning: Trespassers will be skinned alive and deep fried”. If I had to suggest anything, maybe substitute the word crazy for something that more specifically designates Bubba getting a bit full of himself, or reckless – if that’s what is meant. Crazy as a broad catchall can be problematic.

      I’m curious what made José owe Bubba one.

      I’d definitely read both of these. I love zombies and space colonies. But I have to go with Alabama because it’s so rich with flavor.


      -Outer Space Potato man


      Query: Your query is a bit on the slim side (which is a good problem to have!!). I’d like to see a little more about Zoey in the beginning, more of her personality showing why she’s an engaging protagonist. Some other points you could further flesh out are explaining why the shuttle explosion is a ruse, why the adults ignore her, and who is leading the coup (and why). I don’t have a sense of who the villain is beyond some shadowy Big Bad.

      250: Great opening! That is a perfect dash of her personality. You do a good job of introducing us to the world without overwhelming with unknowns. I would love to keep reading!


      First off, both your title and nickname are making me swoon.

      Query: There’s a lot of love here. The characters, the voice, the similes—everything is spot on. I’d request this in a heartbeat!

      250: The only thing giving me pause is the dialect (specifically replacing dropped letters with an apostrophe). I know it’s tempting because that’s how you hear it in your head, but it can be too distracting on the page. It’s better to rely on word order/diction to get that southern sound across, and you’ve done a great job with that too. Trust the strength of your writing!


    • From Catattack

      Query: I like the set up and voice, but wanted to know more about this ruse. Did the shuttle not explode – or was there never a shuttle coming? Or was the shuttle damaged to create chaos and a change to the power structure? Also, given the colorful nature of her world, I wanted to know if her friends are also human or the lab animals and robotic eyes mention in the closing line. This world sounds like it’s be full of action and adventure.

      250: Wonderful opening line – really sets the tone and is full of voice. I found the line ‘she would be up their too’ unclear. I’m assuming ‘she’ refers to Zoey, but then it goes on to say ‘..she’d have to wait in line with all the rest.’ I like that we start with Zoey doing something other than what she’s supposed to be doing – a good introduction to the character.

      Query: ‘Zombie freaking cows’ – funny, funny, funny! Great voice here. In the query, I’d like to have an idea of Jose’s age and whether Bubba is a contemporary or older. Like the overall stakes for the town and for Jose.

      250: Love this opening. The pace is strong, the character introductions smooth, the humor’s not overdone and Jose comes across as eminently likable.

      Two great openings with rule-breaking protagonists.


      Query: I am a space geek to the core, so I love a story about MARS!! While I love the voice and premise of your query, it's really short. You've got about 300 words to play with for what I call "the book blurb" portion of your query. You've currently got 103–almost 200 words to use and you're not. It doesn't mean you HAVE to…but why wouldn't you? You could really ramp up the stakes and conflict more with that many words to play with!

      First 250: I loved this opening and the voice. A great descriptions, too. I know MG novels mean doing a lot with fewer words, and you do it nicely here.

      Query: Great voice in this query–fun and appropriate for middle grade readers! “As much trouble as a 3-legged donkey in a port-a-potty”–that made me laugh out loud. Ha ha ha! Couple of things: How old is Jose’? My understanding is that age is usually put into queries for MG and YA novels. And I’d give some notation as to who Bubba is (“…be brave like his best friend, Bubba.”). I’d also remove “Now” at the start of paragraph 3 in the query. In the last paragraph you mention that Jose’ has fears–which is a nice tie back to his wish to be brave. But the use of the word “fear” makes me say, “Fear? What fear?” so a suggestion would be to stick along the “brave” lines. Also, the last line of the query feels out of place and a little “too general”–sort of like saying “he plans to save the world”. If there is a way to be more specific on how he is striving to be the hero, that would have a bigger impact.

      First 250: I LOVE your voice!! So great and I laughed at so many of your lines! The best part is that you did a great job of showing, rather than telling. Nicely done!!


    • When Bugbots Attack:
      Great premise! I’m working on an MG SF, and I so appreciate how hard it is to balance SF world-building with MG voice and age-appropriate plot. I think you did a great job. I’d add a bit more info after the line about Zoey discovering it is all a ruse. A ruse for what? Who’s involved, and what are the stakes?
      I’d also rework the sentence about her telling what she knows. I’d take out the rhetorical question and turn it into a statement about what happens if she fails.
      250: This needs some work to sparkle for me. The opening feels like an info-dump. Generally, you don’t want to open with exposition and telling. I’d start closer to the bottom, but also make sure that your first sentence has some interesting action or interesting dialogue.

      Alabama: I’m torn here. I really am. In terms of prose and voice, your query and 250 sparkles to me. Really well done, seriously. LOVE the hook in your query. Hilarious, great image, and really great character-building. Also low the zombie cows idea – I know my students would eat that up.
      The voice in your 250 is just fab, full of wit and zing. I would consider taking out the da Vinci line. I don’t think you need it and it might lose some MG readers.
      And yet….
      Okay, so I write MG. I read a lot of MG. And the voice and a lot of the plot feel more like YA to me. I mean, there’s no such thing as one MG voice, or one YA voice, and it’s also cultural and always-shifting….and yet I just have this feeling that your whole book would work better for me as YA. I imagine you’ve considered it, and have ultimately decided against it for Reasons, but I have to throw it out there.
      Overall: I don’t want to make this choice. I really don’t. Overall Bugbots is much more the kind of book I’d choose for most MG readers, just because Witch Hunters, as amazing and funny it is, also feels more YA than MG to me. Again, this is a matter of taste and preference and a million subjective things. I loved your entry, but I would consider aging it up. Amazing job, both of you. I really agonized over this one.


      -Molly Millions

      Query: First, this sounds like fun! However, I do feel the opening of the query falls flat. We see she's a rule breaker, but I feel there's a better way to convey this. You do a great job describing your world, though I think you have room to expand. I want to know more in how Zoey ended up on MIRA. Maybe even mention why the colony would be decommissioned as mentioned in the first 250. Dig deeper, why does Zoey feel she needs to be the one to uncover the truth?

      First 250: The voice is great and I'm liking Zoey as a character! I would perhaps explain more about the arrival of the shuttle to ground us a bit more in your world. I want to read more to find out why she doesn’t want to draw attention to herself. Keep doing this. Give the reader a reason to turn the page, over and over again!

      Query: The voice pulled me in instantly. I don't even know if I have anything to add. This sounds great! And your word choice is really spot! Wonderful! The only thing I will mention is the number of characters mentioned in your query. Although, I didn't find it difficult to follow.

      First 250: This is great! Again, voice is fantastic! I would follow your main character through then entire book! This is really strong.

      This match up was nearly impossible to judge. Personally, I loved both, but can only pick one. For me voice rules all!




      I found it effective and fun. That said, while I got a pretty good sense of plot and story structure, I could have done with a bit more character description. I know what's going to happen and I get a vague sense of who Zoey is, but I'd love to get a bit more of a hint of what makes her tick from the query itself.

      First 250:

      You know what I was just saying about getting a hint of Zoey's personality through the query? Well, you do that beautifully with YOUR FIRST SENTENCE! It's cute and fun and tells us tons about your MC right away. It's also reinforced by the rest of the first paragraph, which I found a great introduction to your book. All that being said, I found your last paragraph a little confusing: why would an elevator prompt Zoey to move? I think we could use a little more description of where she is.



      I love the voice and the sense of your MC that I get from the query. Also, good job on setting out the stakes right away. I really do think this is a fairly effective query. My only concern would be the mention of Bubba (also in your title), because it's kind of a quirky nickname and, from the query, I don't get a sense of who this character is and why he should even be part of the title, if he's not even the MC.

      First 250:

      Cute beginning and great for setting the tone of your story. I do wonder why the MC is following this Bubba character around, though, but the way the 250 words end certainly is intriguing: why does the MC owe Bubba? So, I'd say, good set-up all around.

      Yet another hard choice!


  1. When Bugbots Attack

    Query – Nice, straightforward query. There could be more voice, though. I like that the MC is 'content to run amok', telling me she's going to be an unlikely hero, and also think the adults-don't-listen rings well with MG readers. Great MC name, too.

    1st 250 – Great first line. I'm already picturing the attitude. The rest of the first paragraph cements that imagery. Paragraph two ignores Zoey for info dump, though. Get her in there somehow. Then we're back to Zoey in P3, and it took me a few reads to realize she was in the atrium. Maybe look for a way to tie P2 and P3 together so we see her in there as it's described. I get the feeling she's a thinker as well as a doer, which I like a lot.

    Alabama Witch Hunters

    Query – Wow that's a lot of voice. Very nice. Love that the MC is the sidekick. Another unlikely hero. 'He must learn to become the hero of the story.' doesn't fit, though. it feels out-of-voice. I'd drop 'encountering a creepy undertaker, a crazed necromancer, and a horde of demonic squirrels along the way.' That sentence is really long, and I don't feel these details add anything to the query.

    1st 250 – Nice. Same voice from the query. Book starts in a place I recognize from the query, which isn't always the case. Love it.


  2. When Bugbots Attack
    Query: I agree with rdelaneyjr. It's interesting, but could have more voice. I think it's a bit short, and you've got space to expand it. The premise is really cool.
    First 250: I like the first sentence, but the comma should be a semicolon. At the end of the paragraph, I'm a little wary of "what could they do?" because "they" is ambiguous. I don't understand the third paragraph about Zoe volunteering. In that paragraph, the use of "would" is confusing; does this mean she was going to be up there soon? If so, you might want to use a time marker, like "In an hour, she would be…" Or is this saying she was supposed to be there but wasn't? I can't be sure. I do like how you've used the first 250 to raise some questions. Overall, very good. 🙂

    Alabama Witch Hunters:
    Query: This query has more voice than Aretha Franklin. 😀 😀 😀 I'd be careful, though; some agents might think this is too many similes in one query. I don't know, but for me, it's hilarious and awesome. The last sentence of the query feels like a sudden transition from humor to solemnity, and it's a bit odd.
    First 250: Funny and interesting. I personally don't mind the word "crazy" in paragraph 2, but some people might find it off-putting. YMMV. But I do like what you've accomplished with that paragraph. Excellent entry, overall.

  3. Not a judge. Just a fellow Kombatant. Take advice for what it’s worth – an opinion.

    Bugbots Q = Tight and efficient…I love it. Watch for tense change. Would stick to present tense the whole time in the Q. First paragraph is past tense, second and third are present.

    Bugbots 250 – I WANT TO READ THIS BOOK! I love the idea. I’m a sucker for sci-fi/MG and this hits all the buttons in the first page. A few changes to ponder.
    First line – Z G knew all the rules, they just didn’t apply to her. OR ZG knew all the rules, she just ignored them.
    Second line – She followed the big ones like never going outside and always attending class, but the others were a nuisance.
    The only confusion I had was with paragraph 3. ZG looks overhead and says she would be up there. Do you mean should? or she will be in the future? The word would threw me off.
    Awesome words! Want to read more.

    Alabama Witch Q – Unique concept! I want to read your story. It sounds like a blast with good humor. A few ideas to consider in the Q. Maybe lose the last paragraph…feels like it doesn’t fit. Four names in the Q is a lot to keep track of for a reader. Any way to cut Buck Miller’s name? Is he a main character? In paragraph three…maybe lose the words “three words” …flows better without.

    Alabama Witch Q – Oh wow! You nailed the opening. It’s strong and unique and funny and I’m immediately in the story. Great great words. A few ideas…really small, because you do a great job. Maybe "the Dairy daVinci” flows better than “the daVinci of the dairy.” I’m a big fan of getting rid of words. Some words to consider losing. Para2 – Instead of “had started to go” use “was”. Maybe ditch “bit”?
    “slid my way through the fence” to slid through the fence”
    “Bubba was always dragging me around on some crazy…”
    “Bubba was always dragging me on some crazy…”
    Awesome work! I really want to read more. Such talent!


    -“But then the shuttle carrying vital supplies from Earth exploded.” I get that the supplies is important for her survival without you telling me, but for me, it doesn’t answer why more wouldn’t be coming.
    -“explosion was just a ruse”…Oooh! This has me asking why? What’s the purpose? It makes me want to keep reading. Good job!
    -“When Zoey tells what she's witnessed”. This confused me. How can she witness something that has already happened? Perhaps she overhears someone talking about the ruse?

    First 250:
    -“Zoey Graves knew all the rules, she just didn't think that most applied to her.” Hahaha! I love this! So teenagery!
    -“ She would be up there, too, volunteering with the rest of her class.” I feel like “would” should be “should”, or that there is a “but….” to follow about why she didn’t volunteer.
    -I’m not getting a sense of what’s she’s doing or why she is doing what she’s doing in the beginning 250.
    -Watch the overuse of the word “was”. Try rephrasing words so you use it less often.
    -This intrigues me because I’m wondering why someone would create a ruse about the supply ship. This sounds like she needs to unravel some sabotage and reasons behind it, which could make a most interesting read!


    Bubba T. Jones: Southern Fried Witch Hunter

    -José Villa wants to be brave like Bubba, but he’s more terrified than a fresh bass at a fish fry. (I love this sentence!)
    -Zombie cows has me busting a gut! Love this!
    -… three-legged donkey in a port-a-potty. (Okay, this made me snicker tea out my nose!)
    -Goat Leg Sal—whose smell definitely lives up to her name—(Except I don’t associate the name to a smell. I initially thought she probably herded goat, or if she had a deformed leg that looked like a goat. Maybe clarify if you mean she smells like a goat. But then, why the “leg” part?)
    -The last paragraph might be arranged to clarify the stakes, which I assume is Jose must stop Agatha before the entire town jumps off a cliff to their death. Ending with “He must learn to become the hero of the story.” Is too generic and makes the previous stakes lose its punch for me.
    -Lastly, you’ve got some great voice in this query, which really makes me want to read this story (because I LOVE MG horror) but you also got a lot of stuff going on/mentioned. Perhaps narrow down on just a few things to keep focus on who the MC is, what he wants and what stands in his way, and what will happen if he doesn’t accomplish it.

    First 250:
    -cow tipping (Ahh, this brings good memories. My Grandpa told me good stories about cow tipping when he was young.)
    -The first 250 has a LOT of voice. And “I wanted to point out that nobody had ever been arrested for being smart either” latterly made me laugh out loud! I really don’t have anything to point out here. I can’t wait to see this story on the shelves so I can read it!

  5. Bugbots

    Nice idea and great query! I'd change paragraph 2 and make it all one sentence. Replace "It is here…" with ", where" and add it to the previous sentence. Then add a little more detail.

    250: Why wasnt she with the other volunteers? should that sentence say "she SHOULD be with her classmates" instead of would?
    The voice is great but I would like to see a little more world building. What does the atrium look like? What's outside? Where are the workers at in the building besides up? I don't write middle grade but have respect for those that do. You have a lot fewer words to accomplish a lot of things!

    Witch Hunters
    Query: Very tight but I would lose a few names and the metaphor about the donkey. Not sure why one would be in a port-a-poty. 🙂 The zombie cows are hilarious! Paragraph 3 is sooooo full of voice.

    250: Excellent! Great voice, great descriptions, great dialogue…I have nothing to offer here.

    fBoth are wonderful stories and I hope you get offers soon! Good luck!

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