Thursday, February 19, 2015


Word count: 37,000
Genre: Middle grade contemporary fantasy


Eleven-year-old Jenny ran to the forbidden woods to escape her tumultuous family. She discovered there a world of magic and music, of elves and unicorns. In the woods, there was no fighting, and she could solve every problem. She freed a trapped unicorn. She helped birth a foal. And so Jenny ignored the warnings of her family and the elves to stay away from the woods.

But Jenny was wrong. She exposed the unicorns to a virus, and now they are dying. Jenny is the only one who can get the medicine they need. According to an ancient elven song, she must pass a roaring lion and take blood from the neck of a giant. Her grandfather, who saw the unicorns as a boy, gives her his beloved horse and Jenny sets off. Her journey will be long and arduous. For Jenny, though, the hardest part will be coming home.

First 250:

It began with the fireflies, as magic often does. Jenny was in the field behind her grandparents’ house with her younger brother, chasing fireflies. She spied a good one, low-flying and lackadaisical, and followed it past the shed and into the darkening woods.

“Jen-ny,” Billy’s voice echoed through the trees. He always worried about her. He was worse than Gran. Jenny wouldn’t be bothered about Billy and his fretting, though. Or about her grumpy grandparents and their boring old house, or her parents a million miles away in Evanston. She scanned the woods like a prowling jaguar. She wanted that flashing light, and she was going to get it.

The light flared to her left. Jenny crept up to it. She had her special blue jar, the one her dad gave her right before she left, tight in her hands. She lunged for the firefly, but it darted past a thin beech. Jenny pursed her lips and blew her bangs out of her eyes. You’re not getting away that easy, mister.
Little sticks and sharp pebbles replaced the soft July grass under her bare feet as she got deeper into the woods. That should have been a sign – the woods knew Jenny didn’t belong there, and tried to urge her away. Jenny didn’t notice the warning, though. She only had eyes for that small and magical glow.

The firefly lit beyond a low bush, and Jenny’s eyes lit with it. It was close. She could get it. She tiptoed toward it.


  1. I love the concept for this story! You do a great job of building tension in this first page--we know something big is going to happen if she goes deeper into the forest just as we know she's going to ignore the warnings and go after that firefly. Your writing has a nice magical feel to it and I want to know what happens next!

    In your pitch, you give great details about the magical elements of the story, but you start and end with Jenny's family troubles without giving us enough detail to know why she'd be worried about going home. What's the "tumult" going on in her family? Must be pretty bad if returning home is going to be harder than getting blood from a giant! Just a few concrete details will really make this pitch shine!

  2. This story reminds me of this little silvery bubble most of us would like to escape to. A place where we can solve all our problems, where we make friends, a place for peace. But not everything is what it seems. Very inspiring concept that reminds me of The Never Ending Story. You managed to convey the feeling of a girl trapped in an adult conflict (separation, divorce) like many kids are. That tells me that this story will prove to introduce the reader to serious themes. We will be able to sympathize with real characters with real problems. Maybe a little bit dark for MG, but a thoughtful and interesting read I'm sure.

  3. I'm in love with this. I love the fireflies and the hint of magic we get from these 250 words. Good luck! x

  4. Good Afternoon Author!
    Pitch is good, just some tune ups.
    At the start you say she already goes into the woods and does fun stuff... Birthing Unicorns maybe a little much for an eleven year old; horse births can be pretty gross let alone being part of it... no wonder it got a virus. At the end of the paragraph you start the last sentence with *And so Jenny ignores.. How can she go do all of that stuff... And so then she ignores... She starts by ignoring doesn't she?
    And in reading the 250, does she ignore or does the firefly cause her to ignore? (oblivious)
    What problems does she solve if there is no fighting, and what seems to be no sickness before she comes?
    Grandpa letting his eleven year old grand daughter go fight giants alone for their blood? Where are her actual parents? Correction, why are they in Evanston?
    Fireflies is used right away and seems pretty repetitive.
    When I read Jen-ny, I laugh and imagine Forest Gump shouting it.
    I echo the above sentiments
    I Enjoyed your work so far.
    Fellow Contestant & Writing Friend

  5. Great pitch! I love your examples of your mc’s power in the woods, compared to her lack of power at home. I wonder if the fighting at home really comes through though. It’s not clear that it’s her parents and not a sibling so the stakes aren’t as high as they could be. Maybe something as simple as "her parents weren't fighting" instead of "no one was fighting." Also, your last sentence is such a change from the rest of that paragraph, perhaps set it off as it's own paragraph?

    Your first page...great voice! Prowling jaguar, you're not getting away that easy, mister. I love it!

    Best of luck,

  6. Thanks, everyone! I so appreciate the feedback!

  7. Pitch:
    Very interesting! However, I'm confused by the last sentence of the first paragraph. Didn't she already ignore her family's wishes? You may not need this. Also, why will the hardest part be going home? What do you mean by tumultuous? I love the twist with the virus--very original!

    First Page:
    Not only do I enjoy this, but I relate to it! Every little kid likes catching fireflies, but your descriptions really brought me back there as well as into this new moment you've created. I'd read more--good luck!

    Domenic (#28)

  8. Hi Pitch neighbor (I'm number twenty-one).

    This is a really interesting read. Which I think is even more of a compliment because you are starting with spare building blocks--woods, girl, fireflies, adventure. The total is more than the sum of its parts, and I echo the other readers that there is some magic in the words that makes it all very enticing.

    To that end, I have no desire to pick apart your entry as its already very appealing.

    First, I want to ask a question of your title. I'm not a huge fan of "great". I think because it can also be used sarcastically but you are going more in the line of "awesome" or "renowned". I think there is probably another adjective that captures the same meaning but does not have such a diverse number of contradictory nuances.

    Re: the pitch, the introduction gives us a lot of background on the woods, but then when you get to the crucial incident (poisoning a unicorn with a virus) we get only the barest details. I'd like to have that clearer in the narrative and much earlier. I don't know how one poisons a unicorn with a virus but I'd like to hear and that makes me interested further in the story.

    You go on this extended digression about her brother in the second paragraph, but its not clear why we need to know that information now. He is somewhat off-scene and the MC is doing her own thing with the fireflies. Perhaps best to keep the narrative focused on the fireflies and the different images those critters conjure?

    Great writing, I would be surprised if you didn't make it to top 25!

  9. Hello, Katharine-

    You've got a really nice 'feeling' going on here. It feels like magic and it talks like magic, too. Great job on that front. As far as your pitch is concerned, I think the second line is a little clunky. "She discovered there…" I might just go with, "What she discovers there is…" I know it's a little less - eloquent? - but it's more direct, which I think is always the key to a good pitch. Also, after mentioning the creatures she encounters in the woods, you go on for a bit before you mention one of those creatures (the elves) warned her not to enter the woods. I think this needs to come earlier, when you first mention them. The fact that you tie the elves' warnings to her parents' warnings seems to muddle things up, too. If the warnings are related, I'd like a hint about how her parents are connected to the woods. The pitch is all about the specifics of YOUR magic story and how it's different from other magical stories, so I think describing her journey as "long and arduous" is doing you a disservice on that point.

    As far as your first 250 are concerned, I love your first line. As indicated above, I love the whole mood you've established in general. That's hard to do and well done here. I think you've got a few instances where you repeat the same idea, with the second line being better than the first. "He always worried about her. He was worse than Gran. Jenny wouldn’t be bothered about Billy and his fretting, though." I have a terrible habit of writing this way myself, but you're letting us know that Billy is worried three times. I think the first line can go. "He was worse than Gran" is a great way of saying he worries without using the word 'worry' plus it adds to his character, comparing him to the grandmother. Also, "she wanted that flashing light, and she was going to get it." I think you're already showing us this idea without actually having to say it. In regards to the magic in your world, I really love the subtle way its introduced with the ground beneath her feet changing to keep her from going forward. Very cool.

    Best of luck going forward and thank you for sharing.

  10. Pitch: I love the concept of merging a fantasy with elves and unicorns with a cautionary tale about disobeying your family's warnings. I suggest that you make the first paragraph present tense as it feels a little slow. I would cut some so you can add more about the difficulties in coming home to make the stakes clear: she must get the cure to save the unicorns, but what makes the journey arduous? Is the homecoming hard because her life is in jeopardy, or because she has to face up to her mistake with her family?

    250: Excellent! Your first sentence lures us in with the promise of magic and the rest of the page shows us Jenny's ability to stubbornly persevere and her view that her family worries too much. I also think the ground changing is an excellent touch.

    Both your pitch and your 250 really capture a mood that is a powerful hook. This has the potential to be a powerfully fun read for MG audience. Good luck! (#38)

  11. Thank you all so much! This feedback is really helpful. I'm revising now, and will comment on all of your submissions soon.

  12. I love this idea! In your pitch, I got a little hung up on the second sentence, where you have 'there' placed. I think someone else mentioned it too... I would just move it around to seem less clunky. I don't know that I've ever read more than your twitter pitch for this ms, and I love getting all these fresh details:)
    The first 250 are great. That line you added about the prowling jaguar is fantastic. Good luck!


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