Mentee NameTitle of ManuscriptMentor NameAge CategoryGenre(s)Total word count (approx.)
Daphne DadorCHALLENGE THE STARSMarisa NoelleYASci-Fi/Adventure/Romance89000

I am seeking representation for my YA #ownvoices sci-fi, CHALLENGE THE STARS. Complete at 89,000 words. Its adventure and romance would appeal to fans of the Ash Princess and Divergent, with the voice and setting of Aurora Rising and The Expanse. It is written to standalone, with series potential. 

S.J. Muros has trained for over a decade to get into Space Coast where only the school’s top students become officers in the Astronaut Corps. But when rumors of war with Mars arise, defeating her wealthy and well-connected classmates is not her only challenge. Now S.J.’s true-identity puts her in danger. 

Born in a settlement on Mars and sent to Earth at six years old for her safety, S.J. longs to reunite with her family in the Martian highlands, which only Astronaut Corps officers may travel to. To avoid suspicion and discrimination, S.J. must keep her origin as Martian-born secret, including from the boy who has fallen in love with her. Asher is the school’s best student and heir to a family corporation that is rumored to be oppressing S.J.’s people on Mars. 

As S.J. faces dangerous tournaments testing her space combat and exploration skills, she also finds herself caught in a growing war: Martian rebels seek her assistance to spy on her classmates, the children of their enemies. S.J. is forced to blur the lines between friendship and duty, and finds herself having to make an impossible choice: help her people start a war, or prevent it with the aid of a boy she is forbidden to love.

This manuscript was selected for the 2020 WriteMentor Summer Programme, which paired me with a published author who guided my revisions. I am a Filipino-American, as is my protagonist, and a member of SCBWI. I work for NASA, and am passionate about commercial, character-driven fiction with hard science.

Thank you for your consideration.

Daphne Dador


I stare at the list of astronaut names. Heroes who died for Earth by stepping into the darkness of space. Their names, containing flecks of gold to symbolize the stars, are etched into a formidable obsidian monument that faces east, reflecting the morning sun. And Mars. Where these brave women and men perished. 

Unlike the other students, I’m not searching for a specific person. I don’t let my fingers trace the letters. I keep a few feet back as if I’m not worthy to touch it. There is so much power here. So much history. The monument barely contains it.

I will be a hero like the people on this wall one day. Just like my parents, even if their names aren’t here, could never be here.

Tita Lorna’s sniffle brings me back to Earth. My forehead wrinkles. I should have known to avoid the monument, as much as I wanted to see it. Any reminder of the Red War brings on Tita’s tears, sometimes mine, too. Because of the war, my parents are in some unmarked grave in the Martian highlands. 

“It’s okay, Tita.” I whisper. To her credit, she held in her tears all through registration this morning. “My orientation will start soon. Otherwise, I could spend all day saying goodbye to you.” 

Not that I have the time or energy for this outpour of emotion. Space Coast Prep is where the best of the best train to be explorers for all of humankind. Tita blows her nose loudly. As an aspiring badass astronaut this is not exactly the first impression I had in mind. But I should give Tita anything she wants. She raised me, her sister’s problem daughter, since I was six.

I try not to fidget as she lifts a hand near my hair, fingers lingering by my side braid. “Anak ko, you are like your mother. Both of you wore pigtails running around in space costumes,” she finally says. Her brown eyes are warmer than I deserve.

I wink. “Yes, and soon I’ll be wearing an actual astronaut suit.”  

Tita frowns, tsk-ing at me. “S.J., no. We talked about this. You are going to pursue a job on the ground. It’s safer than being an astronaut. I couldn’t bear it after what happened to–”

Her tears come again. Not that she has much to worry about. Students with my background never get to be astronauts. We’re always stuck with boring support roles on the ground. My school’s leaders will agree with Tita.

Mission Objective One: I need to crush it my first year here. I will be an astronaut, not on ground crew. No disrespect to ground crew… but just like my parents, I’m meant for the stars.

As our eyes lock, we are both surprised when a hand taps Tita’s shoulder causing her body to crackle and fade. The girl jerks her hand away and my Tita’s hologram returns. “Sorry! I didn’t realize your Aunt was a holofeed,” she says.