Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summer '16 YayYA Entry #18: THE EYES IN THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE

Name: Raina Xinyu (@xinraina)

Genre: upper middle-grade adventure with fantasy and sci-fi elements

Title: THE EYES IN THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE (or THE CANDY CANE CONSPIRACY...still deciding between the two)

35-word pitch: 10 years after Santa has revealed his existence to humanity, a school trip to the North Pole goes awry, revealing some unpleasant secrets, and 3 kids must take down Santa's global surveillance operation.
First 500 words:
My name is Angela Xue. I am twelve years old and probably about to die.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not some morbid pessimist spending all her time writing profound and depressing observations about death and mortality in a personal journal. It’s just that with the elves after me, I’m not exactly optimistic about my chances, either.
What elves, you ask? Why, the ones helping Santa spy on you, of course. Those elves.
And this isn’t exactly a journal either. At least, not the kind in movies where people write down all their sappy feelings about life that nobody really cares about unless they’re written by someone famous. And besides, I don’t think anyone has actually written a journal, with pen and paper, for fifty years. Old school, much?
Consider this more of a journalistic news report. Or a witness statement about what really happened last Christmas. Because if Santa has his way, I’m probably going to need something like that in the near future. Unless, of course, he chooses a different method of dealing with dissidents, in which case consider this my last will, testimony, and confession. Read it well, when I at last am sleeping...with the fishes...courtesy of the elven hitmen.
You might not want your fingerprints on this, by the way.
The reason I’m writing this down, ink on paper, is because as far as I know, Santa hasn’t figured out a way to hack into paper yet. He probably will in the future, of course, but for the time being, the only way he’s getting his mitts on this journal is if he prys it out of my cold, stiff, though preferably not dead hands. This journal that I’m now giving to you.
Keep it safe. Read it. Pass it on.

The world needs to know.

Be good, kids. Santa's watching.
###
I’ve always hated peppermint. I think that’s going to be my fatal flaw.
That, of course, made the ten hour ride to the North Pole in the “Holiday Express” rather unpleasant.
Then again, twenty kids stuck in a railcar decorated like a gingerbread house, hurtling across the Canadian tundra at seven hundred klicks an hour for half a day does not a pleasant experience make. For anyone involved.
As if the oversized plastic candy stuck to the walls and hanging from the ceiling wasn't enough, the Christmas overlords had managed to thoroughly saturate the area with artificial scents of candy. I’ll admit, the scent of gingerbread alone would have been nice. The vanilla icing and hot cocoa, a bit excessive, but still enjoyable. Gumdrops, still not unbearable. But by the time the smell of peppermint hit my nostrils, it felt like the saccharine “goodness” was practically oozing out of the walls like blood in a horror movie.
The first hour of the trip was occupied by me tearing the railcar apart searching for the source of that awful smell.

REVISION:

Pitch (revised slightly): Ten years after Santa has revealed his existence to humanity, three kids must take down his secret global surveillance program after accidentally discovering it on a school trip to the North Pole gone awry.

500 Words (not so much a revision of the original, but the other one of two different versions of the beginning that I'm trying to choose between.):


There are three things you need to know.

One: You’re being watched. Oh, maybe not all the time, and maybe not right now, but sometime in your life you’ve been right smack dab in the center of a computer screen in the North Pole, under the watchful gaze of elves. Maybe it was just a brief, second-long glance; maybe they have an entire file on you. But it doesn’t matter. Because no matter if you’ve been good or bad, some time or another you’ve been under watch, and sooner or later you will be again. All you can hope for is that they don’t see you reading this journal. Because if you do, well, I won’t say you’re screwed since you probably already are, but bad things are going to happen at a much higher frequency. But maybe you already know that. And maybe you don’t care, or don’t care about safety as much as you care about finding out the truth. Good. You’ll need that determination.

Two: You know this. It may just be an inkling of doubt at the back of your head, but you've always known this. After all, how does Santa come up with the Naughty and Nice lists? He gets it right, every time, doesn’t he? Your parents don’t report you, you certainly don’t fill out self-evaluations, and there are simply not enough elves to go around to have one stationed in every home. And even magic only goes so far. No, it’s the digital age, baby. There’s a better way to skin this cat, without the cat even knowing. Because what it doesn’t know can’t hurt it, right?

But it still quite uncomfortable now that you think about it, isn’t it.

Three: Maybe you want to do something about it. Maybe you don’t. (No, this isn’t need-to-know number three. That’s coming up later. This is something to do. Or don’t.) I don’t know and it’s not in my place to tell you what to do.  But at least you care, and that’s a start. You’re already further ahead than probably ninety percent of the adults on the planet. 

All I can do is tell my story, what I’ve done, how it turned out, and hope that it makes you think a little bit, whatever those thoughts may be. And let me tell you something: I’m still not completely sure what I think. That’s why thinking is a verb, right? Once you start, you have to keep doing it. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s the there is no such thing as true right or wrong in the world of grownups. Not even the side that I’m on. And that sure makes things a whole lot more complicated, as I’m sure you’ll see for yourself. I did what I did not because I wanted to, but because I couldn’t not do it. All I can do now is tell what happened and see what happens from there. 

Hopefully something. Maybe nothing.

12 comments:

  1. YAY! Hello PitchWars Query Gang buddy!

    Lets go Candy Cane Conspiracy, I know adults are choosing your MS but they are choosing it for a MG audience.

    Brilliant first line.

    Love the voice.
    Just needs a bit of trimming to tighten.

    I wouldn’t reveal the elf spying on people so early, keep the suspense high with the ominous scary santa.

    I’ve put my trimming below:

    spending all her time writing profound (CUT and depressing) observations about death and mortality in (CUT a personal journal.) I’m not exactly optimistic about my chances, (CUT either.)
    What elves, (CUT you ask?) Why, the ones helping Santa (CUT spy on you,) of course.
    And this isn’t exactly a journal either. (CUT At least, not the kind in movies where people write down all their sappy feelings about life that nobody really cares about unless they’re written by someone famous. And besides, I don’t think anyone has actually written a journal, with pen and paper, for fifty years. Old school, much?)
    (CUT You might not want your fingerprints on this, by the way.)
    he prys it out of my cold, stiff, (CUT though preferably not dead) hands.
    You’ve got a great thing going there. Keep at it!

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  2. Pitch: This sounds like such a cute story! I love your pitch! :)

    500 words: The opening letter from the MC is so ominous, very very cool! I love that Santa is dangerous in your story. I could totally see that working really well! It could definitely be a bit more condensed, though it seems Kit covered a lot of that, so I'll try to suggest something else.
    It’s just that with the elves after me, I’m not exactly optimistic about my chances, either.
    Try to condense that sentence a bit, maybe like this: But with the elves after me, I'm not exactly optimistic about my chances, either.
    Read it well, when I at last am sleeping...with the fishes...courtesy of the elven hitmen.
    Whenever I think of the phrase 'sleeping with the fishes', I think of mobsters. Is that what you're going for? If not, I'd suggest a different *ahem* method of torture/killing? You could even go a humorous route with this, like getting trampled to death by reindeers, pushed off of a flying sled, there's so much you could do with this really. And I tend to be on the twisted side, so if you need ideas, by all means, shoot me a message. lol It was just an errant thought though.
    I really love this sentence: But by the time the smell of peppermint hit my nostrils, it felt like the saccharine “goodness” was practically oozing out of the walls like blood in a horror movie.
    This could be a really awesome dark comedy. I love the potential here! Great job! :)

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  3. Pitch: I was chomping at the bit to read your 500 after seeing your pitch. I would say that 'unpleaant secrets' feels a little vague.

    Firstly, love this concept! The voice reminded me of a young Veronica Mars.

    I agree with K about the 'sleeping with the fishes line.' I think you have the opportunity to come up with something fun if you decide to change that up a little.

    I love the line: 'You might not want your fingerprints on this.' It drags reader into the story in the same way Lemony Snicket books often do.

    I wasn't sure about the line regarding Santa's failure to 'hack into' paper. The wording felt a little off and pulled me out of the story.

    Ending the journal with 'Santa's watching' was a nice touch. Reminded me of the threats parents make, but this time it really is a threat. Great work.

    Overall I think you have a great concept and voice. The excerpt reads as effortlessly humourous. As the other commenters have said, I think you can trim the journal section, but this is SO good so far.

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  4. Pitch:

    For a 35-word pitch, always spell out numbers. It should read like prose as much as possible.

    As far as the content, consider something more concrete than "unpleasant secrets". I know it's hard to do in 35 words, but the more precise you can get the central problem the more interesting it will become. If it's known in the first 70 pages it's not a spoiler.

    Also, consider writing a pitch focused on your first POV character's arc. That gives us someone to latch onto for the story.

    Pages:

    This voice is strong, but it actually reads more YA to me than MG. That said, I'm not much of an MG reader so I may be way off.

    I don't have much to critique. The voice is your own the character is expressing themselves very strongly through the word choice, and it gets right into a thing that intrigues me.

    Sorry I couldn't be of more help!

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  5. I first have to say that this idea just sounds like so much fun! I'm so into it. I can also see a book that's a little subversive about Christmas being really popular among 11-13 year olds who are just beginning to experiment in being subversive themselves.

    I love your 35 word pitch, but am in agreement with the other critiquers that the "revealing unpleasent secrets" line isn't doing much for you. Ditching it completely and going with "10 years after Santa has revealed his existence to humanity, a school trip to the North Pole goes awry, and 3 kids must take down Santa's global surveillance operation." is snappier and stronger, in my opinion. You could also add another line in it's place, but I would go with something a little more specific.

    I also really like the "I've always hated peppermint" line but would ditch "going to be" it makes the tenses kind of confusing?

    I'm also a little confused by the final line of the pitch. It says they spend the first hour of the trip looking for the source of the smell, when a few lines above, it sounds like they understand that it is being artificially pumped through vents or something. What would be their motivation to go looking for it? Wouldn't it be a fruitless task? Especially when they likely don't have free run of the train.

    I don't read a lot of MG, so I could be totally incorrect about this note, but the vocab used kind of raised a flag for me. Would words like "saccharine, dissidents, morbid, etc." be alienating to your MG readers? Also are they words a MG narrator would naturally use?

    I think your idea is really fun and I can't wait to see where you go with this!

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  6. Charis M. EllisonJune 27, 2016 at 11:16 PM

    I love your premise! (and I vote for Candy Cane Conspiracy for sure). I do think that your pitch could be be a little stronger in the middle, as someone else already said--even simply cutting 'revealing some unpleasant secrets' makes it tighter and is just as informative, I feel, since the unpleasant secrets are implied. Possibly those four words could be put to work communicating another extra detail?

    I love the opening line and your character's voice is really strong, although I do agree with another critique again that this opening could be tighter--you introduce such great tension in that first line, it would be great to have that sense of urgency more present as you introduce the scenario. Trimming lines like 'don't get me wrong', 'you ask', the bit about journals, etc. might tighten up this section, and still preserve the tension and conversational tone that make it so enganging. I'd encourage you to be as direct and brief as possible, really--ss a super rough example, "Now, I'm not a morbid pessimist writing profound observations about mortality. It's just that with the elves after me, I'm not exactly optimistic about my changes.
    What elves? The ones helping Santa spy on you, of course. Those elves.
    Besides, I don't think anyone has written a journal on paper for fity years.
    The reason I’m writing this down, ink on paper, is because as far as I know, Santa hasn’t figured out a way to hack into paper yet. He probably will in the future, of course, but for the time being, the only way he’s getting his mitts on this journal is if he prys it out of my cold, stiff, though preferably not dead hands. This journal that I’m now giving to you.

    You might not want your fingerprints on this, by the way.

    Be good, kids. Santa's watching."

    Again like others have already said (I feel a bit like a parrot oops) there are a few places where the vocabulary felt a little old for 12, although I wondered if your MC is the kind of kid who has seen a bunch of noir films? so possibly that's intentional, but without context it was just a bit distracting.

    Overall you definitely have a strong voice and a great concept!



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  7. Title: I prefer “The Eyes in the Gingerbread House” because it’s different and creepy. Maybe a little too R. L. Stine, though? “The Candy Cane Conspiracy” is probably more in line with what MG publishers would be looking for.

    Pitch: This book sounds hilarious. I used to acquire/edit MG for a small press, and worked on a Santa book that was a little like this one.

    Write out Ten and three instead of using the numbers.


    500: This is the first crit I’ve done in YayYA that’s been from first person POV instead of third. Way to go, bucking the trend!

    Angela has a strong voice from the very beginning. That’s fantastic, she’s a fun and readable character. However, with the POV choice, you’ll have to be extra careful about not over-explaining things and adding in fluff. Who she is comes through loud and clear, even in a few lines.

    I think the opening will work better if you get the scissors out and start cutting, keeping the parts that best serve Angela’s character development and discarding the fluff, especially parts that veer toward cutesy or explain the story to the reader. For example, this is the first portion of your text with 1/3 of the words cut:

    `
    My name is Angela Xue. I am twelve years old and probably about to die.
    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not some morbid pessimist. It’s just that with the elves after me, I’m not exactly optimistic about my chances.
    What elves, you ask? Why, the ones helping Santa spy on you, of course. Those elves.
    This is my witness statement about what really happened last Christmas. If Santa has his way, this is probably going to be my last will, testimony, and confession too. I know how Santa deals with dissidents. Read this report well, because soon I’ll be sleeping with the fishes, courtesy of the elven hitmen.
    You might not want your fingerprints on this, by the way.
    The reason I’m writing this down, ink on paper, is because as far as I know, Santa hasn’t figured out a way to hack into paper yet. He probably will in the future, of course, but for the time being, the only way he’s getting his mitts on this journal is if he pries it out of my cold, stiff hands. Or out of your hands, because I’m giving it to you.
    Keep it safe. Read it. Pass it on.

    The world needs to know.


    Be good, kids. Santa's watching.

    `

    The next section is lots of fun and gets settled into a good rhythm. Angela’s character provides a lot of energy and personality to the story. I like that she’s portrayed as smart; many MG books struggle to portray kids realistically, but I find her to be just smart enough here—knowing things, taking action, but not speaking like an adult.

    This seems like it’s going to be a wonderful story, great job!

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  8. This is fantastic - reminds me a bit of Percy Jackson and has that sort of appeal!

    I think everyone above has covered anything I would've pointed out (older words like dissident, sleeping with the fishes usage).

    I do think it would be great to get a bit more about the characters from the pitch - maybe take out the 10 years part or weave it in.

    Cheers!

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  9. The pitch is pretty clear, my only notes would be to eliminate the "some" and change the last phrasing to read "sending 3 kids on a mission to take down Santa's global surveillance operation" (or another more succinct way to describe Santa's nefarious deeds)
    I like the second title better for an MG book, although if you're going for a creepy thriller MG, the first would be better :)

    As for the writing, I think the premise sounds MG but the actual writing seems YA...from the vocabulary to the attitude of the MC. I'm no expert in MG, but that's the way it came across.If you're genuinely going MG, I would trim the opening few paragraphs to focus on: I'm about to die, because I discovered Santa's secret(s), and skip most of the banter about journals maybe with just a: this isn't a journal, it's a warning. And it's on paper, because as far as I know, Santa can't hack paper yet (My favorite line)

    I like the premise and the early reveal of why the character is writing what they're writing but the jump from it to the candy cane train was a bit abrupt and took me out of the story. I would work on that transition, while keeping the MC's on-going critique of sweet stuff :)

    I could see MG readers loving this, especially since they're not too far removed from having the real world Santa hoax revealed to them...so making him the foil with twisted elf helpers would be pretty alluring.

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  10. Pitch: I suggest cutting “some” as unnecessary. Other than that, it’s a strong pitch that establishes your unique idea.

    “Now don’t get me wrong” is a little casual for me. I might change it to “Don’t misunderstand me” or something else that sounds less like spoken language. Also “either” at the end of the first paragraph seems like an unnecessary word.

    The next couple paragraphs also feel like there are places where you could cut words and keep the meaning the same. “More of” and “probably” and “at last.” Also, your tone is still very casual. To some extent, I like the style, but I think you can keep that same style of train-of-thought while polishing the language. “Be good, kids. Santa’s watching.” is a great ending line! I like how you’ve homed in on the creepier aspect of Santa.

    Other people mentioned the transition to the 2nd scene. I agree that it’s abrupt. I think it would work if you made it sound like the first scene is a forward added to the journal later. And then the writer doesn’t know everything about Santa’s evil yet when she’s writing the beginning. That would help with the transition. I like your description of the ridiculously over-the-top candy train.

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  11. Hi, Raina! Nice plot and very funny character.

    Pitch: There are two things that caught my eyes from the first glance.

    01) Numbers not being spelled out. That's a must in literature. Unless the number needs two words to get spelled out and isn't used as subject or at the front of a sentence.

    02) Not clear enough stakes and conflicts. Like others before me have stated, "some unpleasant secrets" isn't enough. Santa is evil, we get it and it's a very unique subject. But why is his global surveillance bad? He uses it to enslave kids? To control their lives? Tell us.

    500 words: I absolutely loved your MC. She's fab! Her sarcastic tone, also casual, was very fun. I'd suggest you to break down some long sentences. Twelve years olds are still kids and their minds aren't yet that complexly developed. She sounded mature which is great but even prodigious kids are kids at heart. So try shortening up some sentences to give it that authentic "twelve years old's mind" feel. Their vocabularies also aren't as rich as young adults'. So be careful with your word choice.

    Otherwise, unique concept and great, strong, sarcastic voice. Best of luck with revisions!

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  12. Here's my feedback on the revision:

    I feel like the new pitch flows better, so I would keep it.

    I like the new beginning paragraph. In particular, starting with "you're being watched" and then highlighting the creepy aspects of Santa.

    However, by the time I get to number three, I feel like your momentum has slowed. Numbers one to three are pretty similar, after all. I'm going to suggest combining your original and your revision. That is, keeping the first paragraph of the new one and then ending the same way you ended your old version. (I still really like the "Be good, kids. Santa's watching." line so I want to keep that.)

    Overall, you have a great sense of humor in your tone and a really cool plot idea.

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