Thursday, February 19, 2015

Entry #35: Bixby Timmons and the Grand Master’s Riddle

Title: Bixby Timmons and the Grand Master’s Riddle

Genre: YA Riddle/Mystery/Tech Adventure

Word Count: 65,000


Thirteen year old Bixby Timmons’ family is now the new caretakers of vivid inventor, gentle creator, mildly autistic, fantastically rich, and now missing Cody Dragonthorp’s estate: Pinnacle Manor.  Intrigued by puzzle boxes and clues left around the Manor, she quickly discovers that Cody has brilliantly left hints to begin an adventure to rescue him.   Upon accepting his hidden challenge to compete in a dangerous game of holographic riddles; Bixby rapidly learns that not everyone is taking this puzzle as just a game. She is thrust into a contest that will pin greed, competition, and the people she loves against each other. 

With a cast of fun-loving characters that include robots, a grumpy computer program, bullies, unlikely allies, a nerdy companion, and her family; Bixby has her mind made up that she will stop at nothing to help find Cody, and bring him home.

First Page:

Chapter One: Extraordinary New Beginnings

Each move had become a little less exciting.  Each new house started to look a little more like the last... until this one: Cody Dragonthorp’s estate.

As Cooper Timmons drove the family minivan up Buckbird Place, a certain stirring began in the Timmons family.  A small grin peeked from the corner of the normally stagnant face of Mr. Timmons.  He couldn’t help but be proud of moving his family out of mediocrity as he moved into one of the highest ranking positions at Dragonthorp Inc.  He would be overseeing the Research and Discovery department effective immediately.  One of the job’s perks was to assume the position of caretaker at one of Cody Dragonthorp’s five estates.  The Timmons family was assigned to Pinnacle Manor, formally Cody’s day home.
Mary Timmons held silent.  She knew if she spoke most of her words would come through as bumbling nonsense amidst the tears that were welling in her eyes.  She was proud to be married to Mr. Timmons.  He had sacrificed so much, and worked many long hours to be considered for such a prestigious position.
The twins Darby and Wyatt sat in their booster seats gnawing on whatever was in reach.  Anything they touched was instantly covered in a combination of slobber and boogers dripping from their snot infested faces and hands.  The twins were the only ones oblivious to the fact that they were no longer living in the dumps of Snaglyville.  For the two of them, moving multiple times had gone unnoticed.


  1. LOVE that this sounds like the Westing Game, one of the best books of ALL TIME!

    PITCH: Your first sentence, while intriguing, is a little long and the first time I read it I thought the estate was somehow missing! Should be easy enough to fix. You may want to think about changing the genre to middle grade. Most YA characters are more like 15-18, or grow to be that old by the end of the book.

    Your first 250 starts with way too much info and not enough action. I would start off immediately with Bixby's POV. What does she think of the manor house? Is she pissed off at her parents for making her move again? Is she leaving behind a best friend? These are the things your readers will care about.

    I think with a bit of rearranging you could be onto something great here. Good luck!

  2. Thank you Jenny!
    I originally had it MG but was encouraged to put it as YA. That 13 year old range is so hard because my word count is at 65,000. I will most likely settle it at Upper Middle Grade, because it is part of a 4 book series. She does grow up throughout each book (3/4 complete). I was bummed about it having to stop at 250 because the very next paragraph is Bixby and her discord for this move. I worked my way to the backseat, which is just outside of page one. C'est la vie. Your input is valued and appreciated! Thank you!

    1. As the "Middle Grade Mafioso" I will fight for this to be MG.
      [Leads chorus of "MG, MG, MG"]
      It reminds me of Chris Grabenstein's Escape fro Mr. Lemoncello's Library, which is an incredibly fun middle grade, puzzle-solving mystery!

  3. Haha! MG or YA - we all have our own opinions, don't we? But ultimately it's your book - you choose. If Bixby grows up then the readers could grow up with her - kind of like Harry Potter. (Wouldn't that be nice!) I would still start w/ Bixby's POV because you have to hook your reader right away. She can describe the people in the car the way she sees them. Just my two cents! Best of luck. :)

  4. Jenny,
    Yet again great stuff!
    There is a 103 word prologue that I think may have satisfied your need for that real hook/punch right there at the beginning, but sadly it really chops the first chapter short in the 250 limit. If future rounds are bestowed upon me, the urge is to skip it as a prologue, and make it a part of the first chapter. Do MG's even read prologues?

  5. I'm intrigued and absolutely love the idea of a kidnapped boy leaving clues to aid in his own rescue. Great premise!! :)
    The words "hidden challenge" in your pitch throw me off a bit, making me wonder if this is a game or a real rescue mission. The latter means higher stakes and ampted up tension; unless, of course, all of this is a cleverly set up test. Interesting!! I also agree with Jenny that the opening coming from Bixby's POV would be so much stronger, allowing us to hear her voice/get a sense of her character.
    I wish we had more than 250 words...*sighs*
    Good luck & fingers crossed!

  6. Thank you Katya! Love the feedback! Your mind is wandering exactly where Bixby's does: Yippee! I am seriously considering adding the short prologue right to the beginning of Chapter 1. Defiantly will do it if I need to submit another 250. You all rock!

    1. Love it!! Your book sounds awesome! And when I saw the comp to Indiana Jones and the Goonies... *squeaks in excitement*...

      There was an agent looking specifically for a YA retelling of the Goonies, will try to think of her name.

    2. Just wanted to say that I thank you for that help in advance! Second, you are my first squeaks in excitement. Free book for you... well when it gets an agents, reviewed, rewritten, publisher's first take, reviewed again, corrected a third time, and then published :0)

  7. The premise is great. I like that you pitched it as a tech adventure, that gives me an idea right up front of what kinds of things to expect. I might rearrange that first sentence to make it less awkward, but the point definitely comes across.

    The first 250 read like an intro to the cast of characters (because that's what it is). Sometimes this works, sometimes it's a little confining to the reader who wants to know exactly what's going on right away. It's my firm belief that if kids could get through the opening bit of the first Harry Potter book with its description of Privet Drive and Mr Dursley's waking and work habits, they can get through the first 250 words of description just about anywhere. Yet we don't want to be in a position to have to say "wait, it gets better." I'm sure there's a way to introduce Bixby straight away that doesn't take away from your narrative (I loved the description of the twins gnawing whatever was within reach.

    I would suggest combining Mr. & Mrs. Timmons' reactions into one paragraph, then let Bixby react to the mess the twins are making so you can get to her much more quickly. 250 characters is an arbitrary cutoff point, isn't it?

    Good luck!

    1. Gwynne you are a kind gentle soul! I honestly felt i got to Bixby rather quickly but... Darn you Brenda! Let them see page two!!! I agree with you 100% that books can have some lead in without having an explosion, magical kiss, or dark peril in the first 250. My book is about the thrill of the chase, and the anticipation of another puzzle to solve. There is something to be said about not walking into a relationship; guns blazing.
      Think of if Indiana Jones' teen daughter teaming up with the Goonies to go on a tech-savvy riddle adventure somewhere between Ready Player One and National Treasure. That is what Bixby Timmons is all about.

  8. I enjoyed the premise, but I'm afraid I have nothing more to add besides what gwynne has said above. That was my greatest issue, but it appears your novel is meant to proceed in this sort of way: quiet, steady, methodical. I think that would be a good tone for the story you've pitched, but like gwynne said, if there's a way to get to our MC sooner, it's always better--for a majority of audiences, anyway.

    Good luck! :)

    1. Thank you Kayla,
      I think your insight is good stuff. The crowd is crying out for Bixby!
      I am definitely in agreement with all of you; Bixby has to have a strong presence when she steps on stage. With a puzzle/riddle book, being methodical is key to not revealing an answer a riddle or a larger secret. I hope the audience is reading along and actually attempting the puzzles as they go. To the extent that when Bixby cries out; "that's it," they put the book down to be Bixby themselves. Hiding answers in a book like this is an absolute passion of subtleties. My prayer is that one day it will be on a shelf and you all will get to see pages 2 through the end...
      Good Luck to you as well!

  9. Hey!
    I love your pitch and descriptions of Cody! I think you just need some comma's so it sounds like Cody's missing and not the estate. Also is the challenge really hidden?

    Also you say a stirring began in the Timmons family, but it sounds like just Mr. Timmons has the excited stirring, not his wife who is trying not to cry. "Held silent" was a little awkward for me "keep quiet" might be better. The twins sound hilarious, but I want to know about Bixby on the first page not them...Just a few thoughts.

    And I think this is definitely Upper MG not YA. Just from the tone and everything. Good luck and great writing!

    1. You are totally right CG!
      Missing Manor would be bad because it plays such a huge role in the story.. noted!
      Yes the challenge is hidden among puzzles inside Pinnacle.
      By adding the word 'joyful' in front of her 'held back tears' it gives her more of the sense that she is ready to explode in a happy way verses fighting back a different cry. It also ties it back to the stirring. Your feedback is excellent!
      I hear you all - Give me Bixby or Give me Death!

  10. I absolutely love the idea you have here. Just to weigh in on the MG versus YA debate, In my non-expert opinion, I'd definitely pitch this as MG. I think the MG reader will respond positively to the clue solving aspect and the mysterious nature of the mansion. And for me, this pitch reminds me of the many of the MG books my daughter loved like THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY and I felt positive about the association.

    On the pitch, as others have noted I think the first sentence needs some finesse. On the 250, I afraid I'm with Gwynne. I think you need to start with the twins and radiate back to the parents. I haven't read your whole book, so what do I know. But I do try to picture my daughter, who's 12, opening your book and I think she'd want to know right off what the kids are thinking/doing.

    Overall though, I think your entry is really cool. As both a reader and a parent, I love these kinds of books and I wish you all the best of luck.

    1. Kelly,
      *Bows humbly! Such great feedback and coming from a mom really adds depth to your insight! *Gears churn... Best of luck to you as well!

  11. Hi MP,

    Your premise is really intriguing and promises a lot of fun with the puzzles and family members being pitted against each other, and robots, love that there's going to be robots. I have to agree with some of the other comments that this feels like MG rather than YA, but follow your gut on that. I also agree that the first line of your pitch, while good at setting a tone, is confusing in terms of what you're trying to get across. I don't mind a long sentence, I'd just be careful to make sure what it imparts is clear. Also think you should start with Bixby's POV in the opening page(s), as it's her journey that we really care about. Good luck!

    1. B~
      I knew it! MG it is for the rest of the time I pedal this book! Edits have been complete. I have heard my fans as they cry out - "BIXBY"

  12. Lots of great feedback here already. Agree with the others that it sounds more MG than YA. Is Cody a boy? I thought he was an adult. I think you could cut most of the last line of your pitch and just leave this "Bixby has her mind made up that she will stop at nothing to help find Cody, and bring him home."

    While I enjoy the style of your writing, I agree with the others that it would be more compelling and immediate if Bixby appears straight away on your first page,

    Best of luck,

    1. My dear Madame Von Bee. Your input is excellent as always. Cody is indeed an adult. I have also spent a great deal of time pondering all the feedback that has been provide, so that I can provide the audience with a smashing read right away. Your notes have also been placed in the stew that is my revisions. I wish you a pleasant evening and Good Luck too you!

  13. What an interesting concept! This sounds like a very fun read.

    In your pitch:

    “vivid inventor, gentle creator, mildly autistic, fantastically rich, and now missing Cody Dragonthorp’s estate” feels a bit over-the-top. I’m not sure what a vivid inventor or a gentle creator is. I love the rest though.

    “She is thrust into a contest that will pin greed, competition, and the people she loves against each other.” I understand how the contest could set the people she loves against each other, but not how it could set greed against competition. Consider rewording. Better yet, can you give us an example or two of the craziness the contest creates?

    I’d also like to know why Bixby will stop at nothing to bring him home.

    In your first 250:
    I like the story. I’d love to see the main character in your first 250. Maybe move the twins back?

    Best of luck!

  14. Rebecca,
    Thank you! I value your input. It is always so tough to cram in what you want to say in 150. For example I use greed because it is a condensed version of the 'competitors who are in the hunt for Cody because of the 100 million dollar reward'. Competition is used instead of 'the competitors who seek the accolades of winning' and people she loves is used instead of 'the house robots and her family who took on the challenge because it was the right thing to do not only morally, but also gives them a bonding chance as a family.'

    Lol and another fan cries, "Bixby, Bixby, Bixby" She will not fail you! You have her word!

  15. Not much to add here, after all these astute comments. We all want Bixby first.

    Pitch nit: I think it should read "pit greed etc.," instead of "pin"

    First 250:
    OMG! "Anything they touched was instantly covered in a combination of slobber and boogers dripping from their snot infested faces and hands." You have hit the MG motherlode with this description, my friend.

    N.b. I also wondered if Cody was a kid. I think it was the line "The Timmons family was assigned to Pinnacle Manor, formally Cody’s day home." Change Cody to Dragonthorp, and I picture a man instead of a kid.

    This is going to be total, tremendous fun! Great title, great concept--let's also see a great character called Bixby arise in the first 250!

    1. Mike,
      *summons best Wayne's World voice...
      I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!
      Good advice. How many times do we read over our own pitches and 250's, and miss little things like pit verses pin that add that little verbal punch?
      It was a pleasure and an honor to have your feedback!

  16. The premise is unique to me and interesting. The description of the twins was spot on and made me want to vomit. My nephew is a saliva FACTORY and it's disgusting. That really brought things to life and I wish there was more than the first 250 to go on. Overall I can only nit pick things I might have done differently which is of no use to you so I won't mention it. Bixby is an awesome name and like the others pointed out, I want to get to know her. Still, you've got me wanted to read on and that means job well done.

    Good luck!

    John #26:Aurum

    1. Thank you John for your feedback! Lol I had my little niece in mind when I wrote the twins description. I pray one day there will be a lot of people getting to know Bixby better. Good Luck to you as well!

  17. Hi MPEagles,
    So many great comments already, and a lot of my initial reactions were already covered. For example, I was also confused by the first line, similar to Jenny. I also agree with Jenny about more action and less backstory in the beginning. There's so much in your premise to draw the reader in, and I think it would help to hint at more of this early on.
    I also remember seeing an agent mention a YA Goonies on his/her wish list. If you haven't already, check out #MSWL. Could be a perfect match!
    To add another vote to the MG/YA debate, from what you have, it feels slightly more MG to me. But I think only you can find the best fit for your story - it just may need some tweaks.
    In regards to the prologue, I'd be careful. I've read a lot of articles and agent interviews against having a prologue.
    A couple places that could benefit from commas: "research and discovery department, effective immediately. "She knew if she spoke, most..."
    I like the "grumpy computer program as a character" and the puzzle premise. Very intriguing. I also like the description of the twins.
    Best of luck!

    1. Gloria,
      First off thank you for your clarification on your work. I can tell you are passionate about the topic. Thank you for the comments here as well. I will do a re-search of the #MSWL. I only found an editor who was looking for a fun Goonies type of work. I have moved back to my original MG stance. This is my first contest so I let one of the bloggers persuade me to move to YA because of word count, but I am confident that this is MG event though WC is 65,000. It reads so quickly, that I don't think anyone will really notice it is that long. The prologue I have reworked into the first few pages as well because you are most definitely correct. Plus nobody reads the prologue.
      Spoiler: The twins stay in the first 250, and Bixby makes her debut in the revisions.
      Good show & I hope to see you in round 3~

  18. Pitch:
    I also agree that the first sentence is long and confusing. I love the premise (YA mysteries are so cool!) but I wonder if the pitch would be more compelling if you upped the stakes. Why is she so interested in this? What will happen if she fails? What's driving her? Answering these questions may add an extra umph to your pitch.

    First page:
    I too think that you need more action at the beginning of your story. And even if it's not action, a little more "showing." That first paragraph sort of throws info at readers, but if you expanded on the characters/situation/feelings this may not be a problem. Like I said above: this is such an intriguing idea. Adding the extra action will just help carry that idea along. Good luck!

    Domenic (#28)

    1. Domenic,
      Thank you for your words of advice and encouragement! In the past few days I have really enjoyed everyone's input. Yours has challenged me to go deeper with the first 250. I am confident that the updated artwork will quench everyone's desire for the raw protagonist that is Bixby.
      Keep up your good work as well! I did enjoy reading your work on the Lost Pearl of Indarnini.

  19. Not that I have much to add to the wealth of discussion above, but this is GREAT! Plus I love the name Bixby! I can hear the chanting as well. ;) Good luck with this project! ~lara, #25

    1. Laura!
      I hope my comments to you were of some help! For me this writing contest is a bit of a new feel towards a community that I am supposed to be 'competing' against. Everyone is very warm and helpful. Maybe one day we will swap signed book copies?
      As for Bixby, she has strapped on her armor and stands at the arena gates ready to make her world premier in the ring that is PitchPlus1
      "Bixby, Bixby, Bixby!" She hears the crowed beckon as the gladiators known only as Judge 1 and Judge 2 wait with sword of pen in hand. Will they slay her even before she has the chance to rise, or will this be the day she is promoted to glory!!

  20. I love the YA Riddle/Mystery/Tech Adventure angle, and don't have a lot more to add to what others have already said. I do think it reads more MG than YA. Especially because of the fun-loving cast. Which contradicts with the tension of the puzzle not just being a game. Also that troublesome first sentence. :) Also not being sure who Cody is and why he is worth saving? Also who are the people that Bixby loves being pitted against each other? Mom/dad, bro/sis, best friend, etc. Add in those specific things and stakes and I think this pitch will sing. Nice work.

    1. #32 here -- I always forget to add my number!! :)

    2. Rose!
      First off great name, second I wanted to say that I think I forgot my number on half of my posts.. Sorry to all!
      Anyway... I have definitely moved this to Upper MG. I always chuckle like Santa Claus in the Night Before Christmas when I think of my cast of characters. They really are a hoot, and they provide great comic relief at the right time in the book when Bixby needs them the most.
      I did cover pitting greed... etc etc in a reply to Rebecca above. It is so hard to get everything framed well in 150! I hope the above explanation helps!
      Cody is worth saving because he is awesome... *summons Reading Rainbow theme music... 'But don't take my word from it,' says Lamar Burton as Bixby Timmons and the Grand Master's Riddle opens up and a child reads eagerly from its pages.

  21. Pitch: I love the first sentence as it helps establish your voice, but do agree it could be clearer. Maybe state your MC's family are the estate caretakers and then describe Cody in the next sentence.

    250: You know I could totally hear this as read by the narrator of Johnny Depp's movie version of Charlie and the Chocolate factory-it has a MG whimsical quality. Great voice. Good luck! (#38)

  22. Melissa,
    Let me say... my day has been made by your fantastic feedback... I have clarified the first sentence, and now if only I could get Mr. Depp's narrator to read this in front of a room of agents.. hmmm. *checks bank account.... "Maybe worth an investment," he pounders out loud.

  23. The concept of your book is truly fascinating, and I would love to read it! I can’t remember that last time I read a good novel about puzzles and riddles. I sensed your voice from the first line of the pitch. As some of the others have already said, I also think it would help to have some idea of how the family became the caretakers of this estate.

    Your first 250 words have a lot of personality, but I’m afraid I wasn’t drawn into the father’s POV. Is your novel written in an omniscient POV? Also, the start of your book has a very this-is-the-beginning feel to it with lots of information. You’re starting with a change in the family’s life, which is good, but I’d be more interested in experiencing this change through Bixby’s (awesome name btw) eyes. Just my personal taste. I’m sure you’ll make this work.

    Good on luck on getting into the next round!


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