Title: Spiritwood
Age and Genre: YA/Fantasy
Word Count: 77,000

Oak trees and alchemy bring Zharo, an emotionally scarred dragon and Mac, a three-time leukemia survivor, together. After spending months in the hospital, 15-year-old Mac is officially in remission. He’s a few days from discharge when he witnesses three men emerge from an old oak tree in the hospital’s healing garden and drag a sick child into the tree, ordering Mac not to follow.

Never great at obeying rules, Mac steps through the oak’s trunk and finds himself in the central hub of the linked worlds that form Spiritwood. Once there, his path crosses with Zharo, the troubled prince of a dwindling race of dragons. A horrible accident in Zharo’s youth left him unable to breathe fire or bond with trees.

The unlikely comrades discover that an evil king is extracting cancer from the blood of children for use in a spell that will make him incredibly powerful, even immortal. What’s worse, this dark magic has begun sickening the oak trees that link the worlds together and, consequently, the dragons that bond with these trees—Zharo’s people.

The relentless nature of the disease that’s killing the trees is a lot like Mac’s leukemia, a disease he’s been battling since the age of eight. He possesses the knowledge to stop it from spreading through Spiritwood’s worlds. After all, you kill trees the same way you kill cancer—you cut, you burn, you poison. But with each child stolen, the king is growing stronger and Mac’s chance of stopping the disease is growing weaker.

With Zharo’s help, he must reach the sacred tree that is the source of the first outbreak of disease and cut it down or Zharo’s people will die and the children in Mac’s world will continue to be harvested for the sickness in their blood.

First 250 Words:

Mac sat facing an ancient oak tree, his eyes drawn to the orange moon that filled the sky. This was the only place in the entire hospital that didn’t make him feel like a patient. His gaze shifted to the tree as he thought about the conversation he’d overheard, the one that had driven him here—his cancer was in remission, but it wouldn’t stay that way forever. For the first time since his original diagnosis eight years ago, he’d heard his doctors admit defeat.

Tucked away in a partially enclosed courtyard, the hospital’s healing garden was almost always empty. This suited Mac just fine. They’d built the garden about a year ago and it was the perfect place to escape prodding nurses, crying roommates and—worst of all—his parents. Right now it was technically closed, but you could get to the garden from the outside of the hospital.  Mac had quietly slipped past the abandoned security desk to come outside and look at the moon.

Slumped on a wooden bench, his backpack at his feet, Mac tried to pretend he was outside in his own backyard. His phone buzzed and he sighed, looking down as the screen lit up.

They need to do vitals in 30 minutes.

be there in 25

Don’t be late!

Mac slipped his phone into the front pocket of his backpack and shivered in the evening chill, looking at a cluster of spiky green plants without really seeing them.


Filed under writing


  1. This is incredible! You’ve taken an old idea (kid finds out he’s something special and has to thwart villain to save the universe etc.) and managed to find a new spin, bravo! It’s like Avatar meets the Pied Piper of Hamlin but with cancer. You capture teenage angst perfectly. The reader already gets the idea that Mac is miserable where he is and doesn’t want to be bothered without being bombarded with a wall of information. Good luck to you 🙂

  2. The query feels pretty long. Rule of thumb is 250 words.

    I like the ideas, but it feels like it needs to be sharpened and polished. The first sentence in particular is a bit confusing and IMO if the story’s about Mac, he should lead, not the dragon. On the whole it just needs a good trimming, keep it lean and mean.

    For the 250 words, you write well, but bringing up the leukemia like that is just too blunt IMO. We know he’s in a hospital, and you can dribble out the rest as needed. It really doesn’t matter why/how he’s sick in the first page and it’s precious real estate.

    I don’t understand how an ancient oak tree is in a one-year-old garden and as with the leukemia, the history of the garden doesn’t do much to push a hook in your audience’s mouth anyhow. I found the time a little confusing too. With the moon high and the garden deserted, I thought it must be very late and Mac snuck out, but doing tests means it must be early in the evening because they wouldn’t disturb him for anything but an emergency or critical care late at night AFAIK.

    The situation works and I think it’s an okay hook, but some hint the tree is more than it seems in the first page would go a long way.

  3. Wendy Parker

    Your query is what people would call a perfect query.It gives us the setting,protogonist,stakes everything.All I can say is good luck.<3

  4. I love this idea! I think you automatically have an audience just based on the premise. Any child battling an illness, physical, mental, or emotional, will connect with Mac and I think the escapism of finding a hidden world with a villain that can physically be battled gives a sense of power to both your readers and Mac. I think this book could easily help a child or young adult find strength to battle their own sickness.

    I’m very new to this, so please take my advice with a grain of salt. From the research of query writing I’ve done, I believe a lot of agents like to see comparable works so they know where the book will sit on the shelf in a store. Also, the query is a bit wordy. Someone mentioned queries should be about 250 words, and I’ve seen this as well. Try cutting out words like “that” and “of” unless they’re absolutely necessary.

    I’m not sure if this goes for queries, but definitely in your first 250 words, try not to use the second person. You could use “one”, but it might be better to reword. For example, you could change “Right now it was technically closed, but you could get to the garden from the outside of the hospital. ” to “Right now it was technically closed, but Mac snuck in from the entrance outside the hospital”. This also gives us more action and less “this is how it is”.

    As I’ve said, I really love this premise. It’s like you’ve written this for your audience, or perhaps even an individual you know. I think agents will really like that.

  5. I like the premise of the book – a friendship connecting a sick teenager with a dragon, especially the idea of a dragon suffering from disabilities – that’s new. The concept is an interesting, fresh angle on fantasy meeting the modern world.

    The query read a bit wordy and, as a result, loses the reader in the middle. I found the explanation of trees vs. evil king vs. Mac/dragon confusing. Are the trees good or evil? If good and Mac wants to preserve the trees between worlds, why then does he need to chop down the sacred tree? The query doesn’t need to tell a complex explanation of the story – just reveal the main protagonist & their conflict/problem.

    Immediately in the 250, the reader feels sympathy for Mac. The reader connects with him through the ambiance of the scene. The emotional tone speaks loudly. The text message helps make the story “real”. Scaling back on the use of passive voice will strengthen the narrative. More description of the garden would assist in setting the imagery for the scene too.

    Best of luck in the contest!