Wednesday, January 14, 2009


TITLE: Emme Maru and the Salamander Scrolls

GENRE: Middle-Grade Mystery

It all began with a letter. I wasn’t expecting it and I certainly wasn’t expecting the guy who delivered it. He wore a milkman’s uniform with a starchy white cap and a perky bow tie and he pedaled a three-wheeled bike straight up my gravel driveway. He parked near the front porch, then rifled through an overflowing bike basket.

He spoke while he rifled. “How was the sixth grade? Glad it’s over, I bet. Ready for summer? Going to be an interesting one,” he said, tossing aside two small boat cushions and a polished wood oar. “I’ve got them somewhere...Here we go: Emme Maru and Lucas Hamm.” He selected two official-looking letters and climbed the front porch steps.

As soon as I realized he was there for us, I quickly brushed the dust from my wrinkled shorts and tried to cram my tangled hair into a decent ponytail. I glanced over at Hamm, my best friend since the first grade. He didn’t look much better: he was wearing an orange striped shirt with green plaid shorts and his hair stood up on end.

When the milkman hit the top step, he handed us each a thick ivory envelope. It smelled of warm chocolate and fresh jasmine from the garden. Then he tipped his cap, swung aboard his extra-large trike, and tootled back the way he came.

Strange? Yes. But by the time night fell, it wouldn’t even crack the top ten.


  1. I'm on the fence.

    I liked it, but the only thing is it doesn't really seem that strange to me like the kids think.

    I'd at least read a few more pages before I could make up my mind.

  2. This almost hooked me, but there was something missing. I would read a few more pages and see if I could make up my mind. The concept was really interesting, but I couldn't get a sense of the characters, just that something very strange was about to happen.

  3. I loved the imagery here, but I think "You're going to have an interesting summer" would make a stronger first line than the one about the letter. I'm thinking the way the delivery guy was dressed was why they thought it was strange (if this takes place in the modern day, that is.) If that's the case you may want to have the main character mention how outdated he looks.

  4. Interesting start. I was thinking as I read this that if it took place in the modern day, would kids even know there was such a thing as a milkman? Mine wouldn't.

    They'd recognize the ice cream man, though, who rides a similar cart, but with a cooler on the back.

    I think this needs a little hint of something to zip it up. I would read on to see if it's there - something new.

  5. I'm intrigued, though right now it makes me think of a fantasy more than anything. I would read more, though I don't think it's going to be my kind of story.

  6. Undecided if I'm hooked. It's quirky and has hints there might be funny things to come. My thought the entire time was why would a milk man deliver letters and how does he know so much about the kids? Is that the hook you're going for? If not, give more about the kids or the letters up front.

  7. I would read on to find out more about this mystery letter.

  8. I do like the idea of the mysterious, creamy envelopes (I love when paper products are described in terms like "creamy"; must be the writer in me.). But there was something about the flow that didn't carry me into the story. The names themselves, being delightfully odd, threw me. I wasn't sure at first that the milkman was actually reading names.

    I would read a bit more, but overall I'm feeling mired down by the language instead of driven forward.

  9. It worked for me, definitely! The only place I waffled was here:

    As soon as I realized he was there for us, I quickly brushed the dust from my wrinkled shorts and tried to cram my tangled hair into a decent ponytail. I glanced over at Hamm, my best friend since the first grade. He didn’t look much better: he was wearing an orange striped shirt with green plaid shorts and his hair stood up on end.

    I don't know--the guy was so strange and all, I guess I didn't believe that your MC would be worried about being presentable. Therefore, it came acroos more like an opportunity to slip in physical descriptions and so pulled me out a bit.

    Thanks for sharing and good luck!

  10. There is a moment where I felt myself getting hooked, but somewhere I lost interest. I think I get bogged down in some of the details.

    I had to stop and reread the boat cushions and oars lines several times. It seemed so bizarrely out of place that it slowed me down.

    I absolutely loved the imagery at the end of the passage...I can smell the chocolate!

  11. Very interesting. I’d love to see what the letter contained. What could more odd than a milkman delivering a letter with a three wheel bike as big as a boat? Great descriptions.

  12. Almost,

    I can't tell you why not, because I'm not sure. I think the voice needs work.

  13. I'd read on. Great descriptions.

    Two suggestions: drop "He spoke while he rifled" and "As soon as I realized he was there for us." Both of these things are clear without you stating them.

  14. The last sentence was hands down the best. I wished I saw it earlier in this piece.

    Interesting set-up, and for the recorded, maybe stick with 'trike' throughout.

    There's a lot of clear cut telling going on here, but I'm mostly okay with it given it's middle grade. However, this small bit feels like a rush of information and some of it feels plugged in just to have it there. Particularly stand-outish for me--Hamm's clothes and the smell of the garden. They're nice add-ins but don't fit the flow for me.

  15. I'm intrigued, and I do like the description of the envelopes too.

    Was it a milkman or a mailman?

  16. I loved this!

    I agree that the physical description feels forced.

    I think you can lose the "he said" that comes right before the boat cushions. You already told us he spoke while rifling and after all those things he spoke, it feels off to say, "he said."

    I loved the names, loved the title, and loved the voice.

    this is a character I'd like to get to know.

  17. I normally hate obvious foreshadowing, but your "top ten" comment redeemed it.

    Alas, the "milkman" knowing so much about the kids screamed "stalker" to me. I might be alone in that--we have a creepy in our neighborhood, so I'm super-sensitive to a stranger knowing too much.

    The narrator seems old for her years (11? 12?) but I can go with that.

    I'd read on to find out what the Top Ten weird things are. :)

  18. I might be in the minority here, but I think this would have grabbed me better without it being set up as flashback. The first two sentences don't do much for me, but I was intrigued by the rambling milkman delivering them letters.

    How important is the flashback structure to your novel? If it's just a device to get the ball rolling, you may want to consider jumping into the story without it.

  19. The writing is lovely, and I have no problem accepting the quirkiness. MG can get away with a lot of quirky, it seems. I'd definitely read on. My only question would be whether an MC of that age would know what a milkman is.

  20. I'm with Alice on the creepy stalker man in white. And a chatty one at that. I think I expected more from the viewpoint character than just reporting what she observed. I want her interpretation, how it makes her feel other than simply thinking it was "strange" to get letters from someone dressed as a milkman. Why doesn't she ask him who he is? Why doesn't she ask why he's delivering mail? That's a major point that's missing and makes this beginning feel a bit contrived.

    I also think the framing technique of using a flashback to start things off doesn't work here. I think it would be more interesting to actually start at the beginning.

  21. I liked this too. I'm with Angela, though, that the description of what they're wearing and the MC wanting to look more presentable for a strange mail-carrying milkman seemed kind of off.
    Otherwise, I totally want to know what's in those envelopes!

  22. Oh, this is a good set up. I'd definitely read on (though the 'letter' idea immediately calls HP to mind)

    I see the wierdness in a good way. The milkman is priceless, tossing boat cushions and oars from his basket while looking for the letters. LOL.

    Start with his dialogue, action, then description rather than her reaction to his appearence (before we've even seen him).

    IMHO. Luck with this.

  23. I'm a little hooked.

    But I think it could be stronger if you concentrated on interspersing the delivery guy's weirdness with the kids' reaction. How did he know they were in the sixth grade? How did he fit the boat cushions and oars in his basket? Why were they there? I think the kids would be much more interested in his strangeness and forget about their own appearance.

    Your last paragraph is a hugely magnificent hook. That's what tipped me over to read on. If you can carry the voice of that one paragraph through your novel, it will be a winner.

  24. I'm not sure why this doesn't snag me. I read it a couple times.

    Maybe I couldn't get past the milkman 'rifling' thing. And then he's talking to the kids before he gets up to the house....

    I don't know.

  25. Love the last sentence.

    Throughout the narrative, I'd like a little more sense of location. I.e. just a sentence saying that the kids were on the porch, how far away the delivery man was. Also, the size of the bike basket threw me--an oar and boat cushions? How big is this thing? Bigger than any bike basket I've seen.

    For me, this feels more fantasy than mystery. It DID intrigue me, and I would totally read on.

  26. Good idea for a beginning, and the last sentence grabbed me. I'm with mermensing though, I'd like to see more of Emme's reactions to this odd situation other than fixing her clothes. You have some great imagery.

  27. I'm hooked enough to keep reading, but a few things would pull me in more. Is this a fantasy? If not, is there a way to set the time and place?

    And I'm confused why she was concerned about her appearance once he showed up. This made me think they thought he was important somehow. So it wasn't clear to me if she was surprised by him because she had never seen anyone like him, or because she knew of him, but never expected him to show up at her house.

    But, it's an intriguiging setup and it's clear something very interesting is going to happen, so I'd definitely read on.

  28. Hooked me…
    Because you did an excellent job building interest. It sounds faintly Harry Potterish, but looks original enough that I’d still probably keep reading… Especially with the “crack the top ten list” line at the end.

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  30. This his some wonderful traits, but as other have said, it's a little bogged down in details. Then last line, though, would keep me reading more.

  31. I love the imagery and the writing. I just didn't catch what was so strange about that. <-- my brain may be slow.

  32. The delivery guy wasn't a milkman, right? He just wore a milkman's uniform.

    How can a bike basket contain two cushions and a wooden oar? You lost me there.

    Gave the guy some personality with the dialog.

    Not sure you need the descriptions of the two kids right away. That would get us further into the action sooner, too.

    Why would the MC want to fix her hair to receive a package? Not understanding that.

    Good writing, though.

  33. This rather cracks me up, and I would definitely want to read more.

    I think if you tried doing away with the flashback aspect, and let the kids' dialogue explain to us this guy's weirdness, it might work for those who don't like the indirect approach.

    However, I realize we're only seeing the first page here, and the last sentence would certainly make me turn to at least the next one.


  34. My interest weaved in and out on this. There's definitely something cooking in the plot but this felt a little wordy--and the descriptions of the MC and her friend didn't seem necessary just now.

    I'd read a little more.

  35. The language seemed a little old.
    And for some reason, first thing I thought of with the letter was Harry Potter. Then I went back and re-read MG Mystery and figured I was way off.

    I would read on.

  36. Not sure I get the "top ten" line, but I do like the descriptions (esp. of the milkman) and the oddity of him delivering letters rather than milk bottles. I'd definitely like to read on and see where this one is going.

  37. This is quite arresting - because it's original! So many questions (why a milkman? Why a magical bike basket, big enough to contain cushions and an oar? Why are the kids so apparently unsurprised by Mr Milk's arrival?), and yet I'm intrigued by these 'thick ivory envelopes'. What will be in them??? Two more commonplace things jarred: 1) repeat of 'rifled' (OK once, but not twice) 2) 'tootled'; makes it sound silly rather than mysterious. Goodness knows what is going to follow, but at least I'm intrigued!

  38. Er, I'm undecided. I'm not all that familiar with mystery conventions and the like. I did like the weirdness of the postman, but I'm not sure I'm sold on the foreshadowing about how weird it would get and how it started, etc.

    Personally I'd like to just see them get the letters, without the "it started with" and the other telling what will happen, but it could be me. I'd probably read on a few pages.


  39. No return conversation to the delivery guy, who apparently was talking to no one. And fixin her shorts and hair was too much time passing. Where was the MC at when the milkman was talking to her? because he walked up to the porch later. Jasmine (a flowery smell) and chocolate. Ewwww!

    But it sounds very intriguing. Even though the words sound very cool, your brain unconsciously tells you something is wrong, even though it's not obvious when you read it in your head. Picture scenes out very slowly in your head.

  40. Almost hooked, but a bit too much "telling."