>Dear Secret Agent,

HOW TO SURVIVE ANCIENT SPELLS AND CRAZY KINGS is a 38,000 word middle grade contemporary fantasy.

Twelve-year-old Bianca freaks out when the chimney in her dad’s study explodes and transforms into an ancient Maya temple. And then the room turns into a jungle, one sofa at a time. Bianca and her brainy cousin, Melvin, set off to find their grandfather, Zeb, in the ancient city of Etza, where the people haven’t aged in 2,000 years. The cousins must learn to work together as they face loin-cloth wearing skeletons from the underworld, a backstabbing princess, and an ancient prophecy—one that says in three days the city will be destroyed. They’ll find Zeb and zip right out of there. No problem.

Except, Bianca starts to care for her new friends, and Zeb does not want to be rescued. The fact that a crazy king wants to serve Bianca up to the gods as an appetizer is just a minor technicality. But this ancient evil dude has finally met his match.

The ancient Maya culture is in the spotlight with the highly debated 2012 prophecy. I have completed extensive research, and the details are woven into the story. I belong to SCBWI and participate in critique groups. The completed manuscript is available upon request.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



Melvin and I sat face to face, the Checkers board between us. Ever since he
denied the fact I beat him last month, the board game had turned into a

“You’re move,” he said, eyes riveted to the board.

I’d been looking forward to this rematch all week, except I couldn’t concentrate. A heat wave had swept through my dad’s office. The kind of heat that sucks the breath right out of you. Sweat dripped down my back and soaked my shirt, like I was in a jungle or something. So much for my honeysuckle rose deodorant.

Melvin snapped his fingers in my face. “What’s wrong with you?”

Looking at Melvin was like peering into a mirror, if I were a boy. Same dark, twisty hair. Same dimples. Same green eyes. Except I wasn’t a nerd, or at least, I hoped not.

“Seriously. You’re dripping with sweat and it’s December,” he said. “You sick?”

“Nothing’s wrong.” Total lie. I stole a big ole necklace from my dad’s desk drawer. And I felt guilty. But I wasn’t about to tell Melvin. He probably wouldn’t steal a cookie. I moved my Checker piece.

He jumped three of mine. “Has your dad heard from Zeb?”

“No.” And that’s the reason I snooped in my dad’s desk in the first place. Our grandfather, Zeb, had been missing for two years. He was the one person who truly understood me, and my parents didn’t seem to care that he might be in trouble.


  1. Kelly Hashway says:

    >Query: The first sentence of your synopsis is very long. First, why is she going to find her grandfather? I think I'd mention that in the first sentence and then save teh info about the people not aging for the next sentence. The survival tips thrown in there were awkward to me. I'd take them out.
    I'd move your first paragraph to right below the synopsis and before the paragraph beginning "The ancient…" I think it should read Mayan culture, not Maya culture.

    First 250:
    Hyphenate "face-to-face" in the first sentence. The line about the deodorant made me laugh. I liked the voice, but the opening paragraph didn't really get my attention. It definitely gets stronger toward the end.

  2. patesden says:

    >I had to read the second sentence of your query twice before I understood what you meant by 'explodes'. If you'd used something like 'explodes and transforms' that would have helped me get it right away.

    I agree about cutting the survival tips.

    I like the first 250. The voice is fun and I'm curious to read more. The fourth paragraph would have been easier for me to read if you'd ended it at the dialogue and put "looking at Melvin…" in a new paragaph.

  3. Michelle says:

    >Query: Fun title. I agree about trimming down that first big sentence. The voice really starts to shine through toward the end of that paragraph and continues through the end. I thought the survival tips were fun; they made me chuckle. I wonder how you might incorporate them so they aren't quite so abrupt.

    Sample: Fun voice and nice writing. Good job weaving in physical description in first person. Is it "ole" or "ol'?" I'm not sure.

    But I'm sure I think this is fun. With some trimming on that query, I'd like to see this advance.

  4. B. Light says:

    >Query: A lot of what I wanted to say has already been said. The long sentence should be split up. The survival tips don't feel like they belong, which is a shame 'cause I like them. Perhaps there is a way to segue to them smoothly.

    Sample: I like the voice here. I would like to know why she stole the necklace in the first place, though. It doesn't make sense to me without knowing her motivation.

  5. ChristaCarol says:


    Agreed that the first long sentence needs to be worked on, but really, that whole first paragraph is full of really long sentences. And I would double check, but I also believe it is Mayan. In all of the query where you state "Maya".

    Maybe to lose some confusion with how you start the query, I'd introduce Bianca first. Or, something like "When 12-year-old Bianca's chimney explodes into an ancient Mayan temple, "interesting" doesn't even begin to describe it. A jungle invades…" I don't know, not the best example, I'd play around with it though.

    Your last para, you can cut "I hope you will enjoy"…POV isn't needed, plus, "hoping" doesn't come off as confident. The sentence just doesn't need to be there.


    Wonderful. I love the voice, and I have a feeling after the first 250 I'll know WHY she stole the necklace (because I also want justification or understanding to why…) And "big ole" jarred me. Why not "gigantic" or "huge" or something simpler?

    Loved the read, good luck!

  6. brendao says:

    >I agree with the comments above, especially about the awkwardness of the tips—although I liked them and wish they could be incorporated more smoothly.

    I like the voice in the first page. It should be "your move" in that bit of dialogue. I thought some of the description of the heat could be tightened and/or reworded, for example "A heat wave had swept through my dad's office. The kind that sucks the breath right out of you. Jungle heat."

    Then I wondered why Melvin isn't sweating. But that's probably addressed as things move forward.

    Overall, this one seems fun and catchy!

  7. E. L. Schneider says:

    You seem to be receiving the same comments repeatedly – but that just means you now know what you need to fix!

    First sentence is long – but can be broken up into two. Easy.

    Survival Tips – I really liked what these added to the overall query, and would love to see how you can somehow blend them better into the query. I think adding a quick and witty line to the third paragraph, that leads into the survival tips, could do it.

    BTW, great title too!

    250 Submission:
    I thought you did a great job capturing your MC's voice!

    Other than the grammatical error (You're vs. Your), I didn't have any issues with your flow, tone, or POV. In fact, I really enjoyed reading the first 250 and would love to see more.

    Great job!

  8. Wendy says:

    >I can't believe I missed a you're/your error, but I was really sucked into it. That was really great. I can see what has been mentioned above as being details that would be great to fix, but I also like the concept enough that I missed them in the read through on my own.

    So, this isn't the most critiquing of critiques, but I really liked how quirky and fun it was.