Title: The Adventures of Kirby Daring
Entry Nickname: Super Space Nerd
Word Count: 35K
Genre: MG Science Fiction

Kirby Daring is so not an action hero. He’s an eleven-year
old super-genius who would much rather spend his time aboard Space Station
Delta reading holo-comics or inventing a new device to help him get his chores
done faster. His life would totally be easier if his best friend Jake would
stop dreaming up new and exciting ways to get them both killed, such as taking
a space cruiser for a joyride during a solar flare. Spoiler alert: explosive
decompression is involved.
Even frequent near-death experiences aren’t Kirby’s biggest
problem, however. It’s his dad, the famous Dr. Daring. Sure, being the chief
scientist on Delta is kind of a big deal, but is his job really more important
than his son? Couldn’t the man come home for dinner, like ever?
Nothing, not even Kirby being nearly eaten by a very nasty
Snaarl seems to get Dr. Daring’s attention. Kirby starts to think he’d be
better off on his own, but when his dad disappears just before a Snaarl warship
attacks Delta, Kirby learns how wrong he was. To make matters worse, everyone
else on the Station assumes Dr. Daring is a traitor.
Kirby embarks on a quest to find his dad and clear his name,
but every clue he uncovers only implicates his father further. When he stumbles
upon the Snaarl’s true plan, and a secret weapon that could threaten the entire
galaxy, he’ll have to make some very un-Kirby like choices, such as breaking
into a restricted Science lab, eating some questionable fruit, and… sneaking
aboard a massive Snaarl warship? He’s going to have to hero-up big time for
this one.
First 250
Kirby Daring was full of great ideas. He also had good ideas
and sometimes even OK ones. He glanced over at his best friend Jake
Merriweather, strapped into the pilot’s seat of an XJ-27 space cruiser,
practically vibrating with excitement.
If Jake likes it, it’s a horrible idea.
It all started last week when Jake, hotshot member of the
Jr. Space Pilots, would not shut up about the new high score he set in the
flight simulator. After listening to a few hours of non-stop bragging, Kirby
stupidly said, “Who cares? Just because you can fly a simulator doesn’t mean
you can fly a real space-ship.”
And so here they were, down in the lowest level of Space
Station Delta, in the early morning hours while everyone else was sleeping.
Taking an XJ-27 for a joyride, with Kirby suffering from a mild panic attack
and Jake looking like a kid on Christmas.    
Worst. Idea. Ever.
Kirby re-checked the safety harness pulled tight over his
chubby belly. Still fastened.
Jake had calmed himself enough to focus, and was now busy
going over the pre-flight checklist. “Navigation systems?”
Kirby looked at the display in front of him. All lights were
green. “Navigation systems, check. Can we talk about this?”
Title: Bubba T. Jones: Southern Fried Witch Hunter
Entry Nickname: Alabama Witch Hunters
Word Count: 45,000
Genre: MG Horror
Twelve-year-old José Villa wants to be brave like his best
friend, 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 a pasture with Bubba in the middle
of the night, he encounters a horror he couldn’t have imagined: 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 a young witch expert, and the trio
works together to stop Agatha, encountering a creepy undertaker, an incompetent
sheriff, and a horde of demonic squirrels along the way.
When his friends get locked up, it’s up to José to become
the hero of the story. He 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.
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 happened to be
my best friend, Bubba—better known around these parts as the da Vinci of the
Unfortunately, like most great artists, Bubba had started to
go a little bit loco. 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 seventh 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 being 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 .


    • Super Space Nerd


      Immediately, I love the voice. The first paragraph is strong and draws me in. I can very much imagine him in his SciFi futuristic lab, just being a kid and blowing stuff up. Love it!

      The second paragraph weakens the query. It has rhetorical questions. That’s a huge no-no for queries. Also, I don’t really think it’s needed. You can connect the first and third paragraphs with the first line of the second paragraph. The rest of it’s not needed.

      There’s more rhetorical questions in final paragraph, and I wish the stakes were a little more clear. It sounds like a great adventure, but what are the consequences if he fails? Will his dad be banished? Will he? Give me the details!

      First 250:

      Amazing voice. Well written. There’s some passive areas that can be tightened up, but the beginning is pretty solid. It draws me in, makes me want to know what’s going to happen next. The only thing I’d maybe cut is the backstory paragraph. We don’t really need to know why they are in the situation. Just that they are, and keep it moving forward.


      Alabama Witch Hunters


      Love. This. Query. I would request in a heartbeat. The voice is amazing, the stakes are clear, and it sounds like a really great read. I honestly just don’t have much to critique in terms of the query, so great job!

      First 250:

      The voice matches the query. I feel like maybe the first two paragraphs should be moved because it’s all telling. It’s fun, sure, but it takes two full paragraphs for me to know what’s going on. Sure, I can get the idea that they’re cow tipping, but I want to be in the action.

      I wouldn’t say cut them though, if you can use them, but moving them around so the action comes first might be a good idea. Play around with it and see what you think.

      Great job to both contestants!


    • Super Space Nerd:

      -Plot sounds interesting!
      -I'd take out the word "however" from your query. It seems unnecessary.
      -"Learns how wrong he was" needs to be more specific in my opinion
      -What are the stakes? What will happen if he doesn't break into the science lab and become a hero?
      -Your first 250 are good.
      -I think "would not" sounds a bit too formal for MG
      -I'd take out "stupidly said" and just have it be "said." Let your dialogue show that it's stupid.
      -The sentence starting wtih Take an XJ-27" sounds like a fragment. Was that intentional?
      -Overall I think that with some tweaks, this shows a lot of promise!

      Alabama Witch Hunters:

      -I'm not a huge fan of horror, but this really caught my attention, and I think your voice is GREAT. It's impressive that you can draw people in who aren't typical fans of your genre.
      -I honestly have no constructive feedback.

      Victory to Alabama Witch Hunters

      Love it. Great voice, clear, nice stakes. I loved it in the last round. I *still* don’t think the explosive decompression joke plays well. To me it’s too wordy, not funny enough, and slows down your momentum. But that’s just me. Otherwise, love it all.

      Great hook, and I see you fiddled with the second paragraph line, but I think it needs more fiddling. Maybe something like, “Jake clearly thought this was a great idea, too, which meant it was actually a terrible one.

      Kirby’s heart pounded like a hammer.”

      Or something like that, but better!

      Love all the rest! Great voice, nice worldbuilding, nice humor.

      Reads really well. Fab voice, nice stakes.

      Still not a fan of how many names you include in the first paragraph for MG. Just reads too long for me and lessens the punch of the wit. I also *still* feel like this reads YA to me, but I know that’s subjective and it could be just me. I think the craftsmanship is really wonderful – nice voice, great humor. The voice really jumps off the page.


      I really don’t want to have to do this. I really don’t. You both have great voice. You both have a fresh-feeling concept and likeable characters. You both have great stakes. You’re both very talented writers. I also voted for each of you in round 1. But now I must choose one of you, so with all my love to both, I award


      -Molly Millions

    • Super Space Nerd
      This is such a great query! I wish I had a better idea what the world was like there. Are there more aliens than just Snaarls? Are there friendly aliens? Aside from that, there is nothing else I really have to remark on. I think your query is incredibly polished, and that it holds my interests and makes me want to find out what happens next. Your first 250 words are great too!

      Alabama Witch Hunters
      Your query and first 250 words have such an excellent voice. I feel like I can really get a good idea of what the characters are liked based on these small excerpts alone. One thing I was confused by if there was more than one POV in the story, based on the name of the manuscript. Since Bubba’s name is in the title, I had thought that it might switch between his and Jose’s POV. I think you can cut the list of names from the first paragraph, to avoid distracting readers.

      While I think both of these entries are well polished, I feel like SUPER SPACE NERD’s first 250 words are slightly stronger. VICTORY TO SUPER SPACE NERD!

    • Super Space Nerd

      I think the second paragraph of the query is a little overworked–I'm guessing that was something that's been iterated. I also think that final line of the query isn't strong enough. It's okay; it could be better. I also feel that your 'rule of three' joke could be tuned. I like the tone of this query a lot, although I will say it's very familiar for MG.


      As an Alabaman, I blanche a little at the all the cornpone language in this one. "Bubba", "Cletus", cow tipping, people talking like Foghorn Leghorn. But fine, I get it. It's an aesthetic.

      My biggest issue with the query is that Bubba sounds more interesting and more like the MC than the MC. I get that Jose's arc is to come out from Bubba's shadow. But I don't get much more than that. Who is Jose? I don't know anything about him, other than he's Bubba's sidekick. The query gives Bubba more attributes, which is a concern.

      The 250 is good, although I found the tone a little wavering. I can see the adult writer behind the kid in places. Some of the word choice, things like, for example, "that kid is nuttier than a pack of squirrels on a cashew binge" which feels like a construct that was written by adult. Also, why is Jose calling Bubba a kid? Aren't they the same age? Something to watch, at least.


      Love the first paragraph of your query. Don’t use rhetorical questions in the second paragraph. This is a query no-no.
      You’ve got me confused with verb tenses at the start of your 250. Kirby was. He also had. He glanced. But then: Jake likes.

      You’ve got the voice. And voice is the frosting that covers up even a flawed cake.

      I like either of the colloquialisms in your query (fish fry, three legged donkey.) I don’t really love both. It almost feels like you’re trying too hard.

      In the writing sample, I feel like there’s a bunch of telling. You’ve got great voice, which covers up for a lot of it. But it’s a pretty easy fix if you eliminate a bunch of the first two paragraphs. I know you’re using them for setting and voice. But when you come out of the gate with backstory and telling, it’s not a great introduction. Jump into the action and get us some of the backstory as we go.

      Love the line about nobody being arrested for being smart.
      In the last sentence, you’re back to telling.

      This is a close matchup. But I’m going victory to SUPER SPACE NERD, due to the stronger writing sample.

    • Super Space Nerd—

      Query: The voice in this query is so, so good! It’s a perfect dose of middle-grade snark, without being over-the-top. I especially like your first paragraph, and the final line of the query. I’d combine the second and third paragraphs, but other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing. Great job!

      First 250: Your first two sentences are priceless, and the rest of the 250 continues in a similar way. I want to keep reading, for sure.

      Alabama Witch Hunters—

      Query: I like how you’ve brought the southern flavor into the query, with the “fresh bass at a fish fry” line in the opening. I feel like the first paragraph needs a tiny bit of tinkering still. In the first sentence, what, exactly, is he so terrified of? Life in general? Getting in trouble? Adventure? The way you have it worded makes it sound just a bit too vague. Then with the second sentence, I feel like it’s missing a beat. Try something like, “So he accepts his role as Bubba’s sidekick, going along with his daring (and mostly harebrained) schemes, without ever taking charge.
      The end of the query is really strong.

      First 250: Oh my goodness, the opening paragraph is hilarious! Well done! And you have so many laugh-out-loud lines in this sample, I stopped keeping track. This piece is oozing voice, in a very good way. The line about trespassers being skinned alive and deep fried is especially good.

      In the second paragraph, I’d change the line about the pack of rapid squirrels to read, “*Bubba* was nuttier than a pack of rabid squirrels…”. Something about “That kid” sounds off. Otherwise, this is really solid.

      Oh, wow. This is SUCH a hard matchup to pick a winner on. These entries are both polished, funny, and full of great stakes. How can I choose just one??

      Argh, this is so hard!

      I’m going to go with the one that has a slightly more unique premise, but I want both of these stories to be published now!

      Victory to Alabama Witch Hunters

    • Just jumping in quick here to vote! This is a hard matchup…but based on voice, I'm going with


    • Super Space Nerd

      Query: the voice is great, and I like the father-son concept. Does Kirby ever consider his dad is a traitor? He's never been there for him, what makes him hold onto hope? Sounds like a fun read with lots of adventure!

      First 250: I like how you jump right into the action with a scene about them taking a spaceship for a joyride. What could go wrong? Haha!

      Alabama Witch Hunters

      Query: zombie cows and demonic squirrels! Ha! Not sure about the 3-legged donkey in the porta potty, although it certainly makes for an interesting image! So is this town known for witches? Might be good to mention earlier– something like '… and adventures in their famous witch town' for example.

      First 250: great voice & good set up. Skinned alive and deep fried? Yikes!! I'm really curious why he owes Bubba… I want to read more.

      Great entries!

      Victory goes to: Alabama Witch Hunters

    • Super Space Nerd:
      Query: This sounds like a really fun adventure plot—I don't think there are a lot of MG adventures based in space, so the premise stands out to me. What I did wonder, though, is if Jake is integral to the plot later in the book. He shows up and seems to be the big source of action in Kirby's life in the first paragraph of the query. If he sticks around, it might be good to mention that later; or, if he doesn't, you could streamline the first paragraph so that your pitch gets to the main conflict more quickly.
      1st 250: Great job of plunging us right into the action! We get the immediate contrast between Kirby and his friend, and it is clear that Kirby is the level-headed one. The setting is quickly established, too. Very fast-paced and tight writing. One suggestion: "If Jake likes it, it's a horrible idea" jumped out at me because it's suddenly in present tense. (If those are italicized inner thoughts in your manuscript, then it works! Otherwise, I'd say "if Jake liked it, it was a horrible idea.")

      Alabama Witch Hunters:
      Query: Really nice job of infusing the pitch with a folksy tone, giving us a feel for the writing of the manuscript. I think it's very tightly written, too—I honestly don't have too much to say. It's clear that this is going to be a story with plenty of humor to offset the spookiness, and lots of wacky developments before Jose comes into his own. One question that occurs to me is: what ARE Jose's strengths, and how do they help him when push comes to shove?
      1st 250: This one plunges us straight into the action, too. The narrative voice is excellent, and I can hear Jose's voice clearly in my head, as well as his friend Bubba. Very smooth writing, fun sense of humor, and even a little foreshadowing with the chill down the back of his neck. Also, finding out that Jose owes Bubba something is a great way to end the passage, making me want to read more.

      This might have been my toughest decision yet—I'd honestly read both of these books! Victory to Alabama Witch Hunters.

  1. Super Space Nerd

    Your query has soooo much voice. Just one thing, the last line. It felt a bit flat to me (though take into account that this is a personal opinion) I felt after such an exciting query you could have made that last line just a bit (or a lot) stronger.

    Your first 250 words made me laugh.

    Alabama Witch Hunters

    I initially thought you were going to be my next opponent (according to the first spreadsheet) And I'm glad you're not.

    Your first line is a big improvement. When I read your previous query I had no idea who Bubba was (in fact I read too fast and thought it was 'Budda')

    A great query. I especially love the last line.

    One suggestion for your first page (and remember it's just a suggestion):

    Change your second last paragraph to:
    I wanted to point out that nobody had ever been [skinned and deep fried] for being smart either, but Bubba didn’t like talking about that. I took a deep breath and slid my way through the fence.

    These two queries have a lot in common and I don't envy the judges. I think in the end it will come down to personal taste, but you both deserve to win.

  2. Sorry I'm not a judge (not that I want to choose between these two, but I'm sure you're eager for more votes). Here are my thoughts.

    Super Space Nerd

    Query – Fantastic. I love it and can’t think of anything I’d change. It definitely makes me want to read more.

    250 – My impulse if the get rid of the line “It all started last week.” Feels cliché and telling to me. You could say something like, “It was Kirby’s own stupid fault,” etc. I like how this page shows Kirby’s character. He thinks this is stupid but he isn’t tough enough to say no to his friend. That shows us the kind of growth he’ll need to go through to be a hero at the end, giving the story more emotional depth to go with the fun action adventure.

    Alabama Witch Hunters

    Query – Love the voice. Really strong and appealing. I wonder about the fact that Jose is the main character but Bubba is in the title. I get that Jose sees himself as the sidekick, but it was still confusing. The creepy undertaker, incompetent sheriff, and horde of demonic squirrels you mention in the third paragraph are cool and funny, but I’d like to know more about the role they play. Are they obstacles? If so, how? Or are some of them helpers? Just a little clarity would strengthen that paragraph and build tension for the end. And just a little more specificity in the last paragraph would also be good. What fears does Jose have to overcome and is there a specific thing he needs to do to help the townsfolk?

    250 – So much fun. I love the little worldbuilding details and the way you contrast the two characters. My only nitpick is the last paragraph. It’s a little tell-y. Maybe a specific about the last crazy adventure Bubba dragged him on? But I appreciate it because it leads to that last sentence, “But I owed him,” which is intriguing and makes me want to read on. Why does Jose owe Bubba? Good story question to end on.


    Query: The first paragraph may be a little too long, spending a bit too much time on backstory and Jake, who isn't mentioned again. If nothing else, I would remove his name. Too much emphasis on him, combined with the 250 starting where it does, sets us up for a buddy comedy.

    250: I'm seeing a contrast here–Kirby is a genius who prefers reading comics, but his best buddy gets him into "frequent" trouble. Why does Kirby allow this? Is it really all about getting his dad's attention? I love the voice in the beginning here, but I want some flavor of Kirby's deeper fears and concerns.


    Query: The voice sings! And it's not overdone. We get enough to get the idea, then let the absurd events (zombie cows, demonic squirrels!) speak for themselves. Very nice.

    250: Again, a great sprinkling of voice to give us a good sense of where we are and who we're with. I do think the final paragraph is a little on the telling side. If it's the only dollop of telling in the first, say, 500, I'd say it's fine. If not, I'd look for ways to mix things up.

    I love how we have two similar scenarios in the 250s, but wildly different environments in this match-up. These are both really charming entries, and I think the elusive boy reader demographic will love them. I do not envy the judges!

  4. Fellow Kombatent here!

    Super Space Nerd

    Query: Great voice in this query. You can tell right away that it’s a MC book by the word use and sentence structure. It did seem a little long to me. Is mention of his best friend necessary? Perhaps the first two paragraphs could be condensed and combined?
    First 250: Nice opening. I like how we immediately see the contrasts between Jake and Kirby. Great voice. No complaints overall. Good Luck!

    Alabama Witch Hunters

    Query: This sounds so fun! Whacky characters, zombie cows and witches! Love it. Just a little nitpicky, but as a fisherman (fisher-woman) we don’t normally eat bass— they’re not tasty. Maybe they do in Alabama, though. Catfish in a fish-fry may be a better line. Catfish are commonly caught around Alabama.

    First 250: Oh, the town is called Trout Bend? Makes me think it has a river with a lot of trout in it. Could you say trout in a fish-fry? Hmm, on second though, no. Trout are not really fish-fry kind of fish. I’d still go with catfish. Or maybe pickerel. And now that I’ve fallen down the google-hole of fishing in Alabama, I’ll get back to my critique. Sorry…

    Great voice. Love the squirrel on a cashew binge line. This is compelling, I think kids would love it! Well done, and good luck!

  5. Fellow Kombatant here. Good luck to you both.

    Q: So voicey. I love it. I haven't read in this genre since I was a kid, but you're making me want to. My only concern is that there's a lot of focused placed on the "near death experience" — what is Jake actually dreaming up?
    Something like "adventures" that TURN INTO NDE, right?

    Minor, but: I'd switch "being nearly eaten" to "nearly being eaten."

    250: The beginning of this seems like it's Kirby's idea, not Jake's. I love the first sentence, but I'd follow up by drawing a clearer distinction that this was very much not Kirby's idea. Also – isn't spaceship one word? Am I wrong about this?

    Awesome concept, really rich idea. Seems like lots of kids could relate to Kirby in a neat way.

    Q: I actually had a question on your title. Is it Southern-Fried, as in something that's fried from the South, or is Bubba a southern guy seeking fried witches…? (In other words, you might want a hyphen somewhere in here.)

    The only voicey part that didn't work for me was " as a three-legged donkey in a port-a-potty." The bass/fish fry comparison above was stellar, but this one — while humorous — didn't make sense.

    I'd redefine the "hero of the story" comment in the last paragraph — this made me fall out of the voice of this.
    250: Awesome voice! a couple minor suggestions.

    I'd tweak "wasn’t just a hobby. It was an art form" –> "was more than a hobby. It was an art form."
    I'd also set this line off, I think, and skip a line after to start the new paragraph. Makes me chuckle either way, though.

    Other than that – wonderful read.

  6. Super Space Nerd

    Query: You’re first line is awesome! It gives the reader an instant picture of who Kirby is. In the second sentence, it seems like reading holo-comics detracts from his super-genius status and I wonder if it could swap spaces with inventing new devices? Overall, Super Space Nerd sounds like a really cool world and a fun quest. Although, I admit I don’t like Kirby’s dad, especially if he doesn’t care that his son almost got eaten by a Snaarl!

    250: Love, love, love! You have a fun MG voice. My main critique is that I want to know more about Kirby’s super-genius personality, especially his affinity for inventions. I wanna know how his super smart brain sees the world around him. In the first 250, it’s more about reflecting on his daredevil friend. I’d love more hints at this in the query as well.

    Alabama Witch Hunters

    Query: Voice out the Wazoo!!! You’re premise is hilarious and so unique. Zombie cows, how fun and moo-velous. I love so many of your word choices.

    250: The first paragraph is so funny! I really enjoyed reading this and would love to read more. I agree with other comments about some telling instances, but I’m torn because it also delivers so much of Jose’s voice.

    I love both of your entries and I’m positive they’ll be on my bookshelf someday.

    You've got some nice voice and description here letting us know exactly who Kirby is and what his relationship is with his father. The first trip-up I have is the introduction of the term "Snaarl" without any description of what it is. At first, I assumed it was a feral space monster, but then the introduction of their warships makes me think they're an intelligent, if hostile, alien race. I would try to clarify this issue. I think the conflict and the obstacles are nicely set-up though, and I really like your closing line.
    I like your voice a lot here, and it makes me sympathize with Kirby right away. It doesn't really establish the inciting incident, as far as I can tell, but it does work to establish your character and ties in to that first paragraph in your query.

    You definitely drip Southern voice here, and I like establishing an MC as a sidekick instead of a leader. A nice little change.
    The conflict dropped into the second paragraph is totally zany, but I really like it. Zombie cows and a reanimated witch? Very fun.
    I'm curious as to who this young witch expert is mentioned in the third paragraph. A lot more voice and some more quirky obstacles thrown in work nicely. It's your last paragraph that I like most, though. It's a great conflict, and Agatha getting the whole town to jump off a cliff is a very spooky set-up. Nicely done!
    You really do have voice down, and "Da Vinci of the Dairy" is a fantastic turn of phrase. Bubba's definitely bold and quirky, and I can see a lot of fun playing that off of Jose's hesitation and sensibility. The last line is intriguing, and makes me curious as to what Bubba has done to make Jose owe him.

Comments are closed.