Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Title: Punishment Summer

Genre/Sub-Genre: YA/Crime


Sent to live with her grandfather in the Mendocino forest, sixteen-year-old Nicki Steele faces a new world. As if the dead animal heads hanging on the cabin walls aren’t bad enough, there’s also no electricity or cellphone service.

Nicki doesn’t trust easily, but she and Grandpa’s German shepherd become fast friends while she learns to fish, hunt and tend vegetables. She tries to fit in, hoping good reports about her behavior will encourage her dad to bring her home before summer’s end.

The prospect of romance with a neighbor gives Nicki hope for some fun, but she soon starts to doubt his honesty. Adding to her unease is the belief Grandpa is living under an assumed name. From secret pot farms to human trafficking, Nicki discovers nothing in the ‘Mendo’ is what it seems. Before the summer is over, Nicki learns there are some choices you cannot undo.

Opening sentence:

Fingers dug into my shoulders, strong hands shook me.


  1. The second paragraph of your query really cranked things up. In the opening, I think you need to show us a bit more of Nicki and why she's being banished to her grandfather's house.

    I like the first part of your first sentence, but I think you can make it more interesting by showing her reaction. Give the reader an idea of why this might be happening to her.

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I really appreciate it.

  2. I really like the second sentence of the first paragraph. It has a nice strong voice. Also the idea of using an exotic local I find truly fascinating. I would not be brave enough to attempt that.

    The main thing for me is that I'm not sure what the stakes are. What happens to Nicki if she doesn't come home before the summer's end? Is that all she wants? Or is there something more?

    Also, in the second paragraph, you mention her trying to fit in. Fit in with who exactly, her grandfather or the potential romantic partner maybe?

    Hope this helps and good luck!

  3. What I like: This line is what most interests me>> ‘From secret pot farms to human trafficking, Nicki discovers nothing in the ‘Mendo’ is what it seems.’

    What I would like: I would love that to be incorporated more to show how your story is unique to other teenager-banished-to-live-with-grandaddy stories.

    Really nice work! I’m intrigued by this one.

  4. You state the genre is crime but I didn't get the feeling this was a crime novel until right at the end when you mention trafficking and drugs. Can you bring up the crime part sooner? As others stated, I want to know why she was sent to live with her grandfather.

    1. Thank you to all who have commented so far -- the feedback will be enormously helpful when I revise and begin querying 'for real.' :)

  5. The setting is really interesting and the query paints a pretty bleak picture for the MC's summer. The stakes get really intense toward the end of the query. I wish they could make an appearance earlier in the query. Maybe a "things are going from bad to worse" type of structure. The pot farms and the human trafficking and the involvement of her grandpa and love interest -- now those are some stakes.

    Is the honesty issue centered around the pot and trafficking or is there more of a story there?

    I like how the query gives us a glimmer that the MC's summer might not totally suck: the German shepherd and the love interest. What is the MC's relationship with the grand father like?

    Good luck!

  6. Clean writing here, and a great plot set up. I'd like to get a better sense of who your MC is though, what landed her this punishment, and maybe more of a focus on the "crime" aspect of the story, because that feels a little glossed over.

    Love how the first line pulls us immediately into the story. BUT, if this is your main character being woken up, please rethink! :) Starting with a character waking up has become a pet peeve for a lot of people in the industry. If it's not that though, then awesome! :)

    Good luck!

  7. Have to agree with the comments above. Love the idea and the line "From secret pot farms to human trafficking, Nicki discovers nothing in the ‘Mendo’ is what it seems." Other parts of your query seem to skirt the meat of your story with more general statements (she tries to fit in, there are some choices you cannot undo) - so I'd agree with bringing in the stakes earlier and being more specific with the crimes and relationships at play.

    I also concur with Kimberly above about your first line.

    Sounds like lots of fun and I love her voice showing through with the 'dead animal heads' reference. Good luck!

  8. This is interesting! If I am reading this correctly, Nicki has some assumptions about herself/the world/her life that are about to change. Perhaps the query would benefit by more specific stakes up front about her misplacement-inside and out with regard to the crimes? As a part-time Mendonoman, I want to read this! Best of luck to you-


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