Wednesday, September 9, 2009

18 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Minesweeper
GENRE: Middle Grade Historical Fiction

July, 1944 Italy

Nineteen-year-old Charlie Wissmeyer didn’t have time to dig a foxhole or even a slit trench. The Germans, hidden high in the hills, rained mortar, rocket, and artillery shells down on the 88th Infantry as they approached the ancient city of Volterra. Charlie needed shelter now. He dove into a shallow depression left by the enemy, who had occupied the hill the day before.

As he lay in his hole in the ground, Charlie smelled something awful. He looked at the front of his shirt. It was covered in human excrement. Angry, Charlie knew a German had relieved himself there on purpose. The stench was bad, but the incoming fire was worse. Shells exploded all around him.

Careful to keep his head down, the young American shifted his eyes upward at the two castles which stood prominently within the city’s gates. Charlie knew there must be German watchdogs concealed in the tower windows, relaying information to their gunners. How else would the enemy be able to target the Americans so precisely?

Charlie tried to shrink into the earth around him as ‘Screaming Meemies’ whizzed by. This was the first time his company had faced these German rocket shells. Flying like tormented demons through the air, the rockets made an intermittent ‘whuufing’ sound, which grew farther and farther apart as the ‘Meemies’ came closer to their target. Charlie knew the longer the time between ‘whuufs,’ the more likely he was to be hit.

Whuuf, whuuf, whuuf, …….. whuuf…...…..….. whuuf .….………..…..BOOOMM!!!


  1. Well, my first thought, is this is Middle Grade, but your first sentence talks about a 19 year old. I'm guessing he comes back reincarnated as a young boy in today's time?

    I'm not really hooked.

  2. I feel too distant from Charlie. I think it's a case of telling rather than showing.
    I'd like to be in Charlie's head a bit more.
    I'd start with the last sentence of the first paragraph.
    "Charlie dove into a shallow trench as the shells began to explode all around him..." You can work in the backstory as you go along.

  3. I don't think this is middle grade. It might not even be YA because of the character's age.

    Unless this is just a prologue and the real beginning of the story is different?

  4. I know the conventional wisdom is that protagonists should be a few years older than the intended reader. But I'm not sure the conventional wisdom is right, in this case.

    I read this sort of thing voraciously in 4th grade. True accounts of soldiers in WWII, historical fiction (not the holocaust stuff, I read that later) and WWII non-fiction. The school library ran out of material long before my interest flagged. I know I wasn't unique, I had friends reading the same stuff and my brothers in law tell me they went through similar phases.

    Yes, it might be harder to sell because the protagonist's age bucks current conventional wisdom. But librarians are desperately looking for more books to inspire middle grade boys to read. I think editors who buck conventional wisdom on books like this may be well rewarded for their risk taking.

  5. I was a bit confused as to the identity of the character - he had a German sounding name, was in Italy fighting the Germans, but then in the third paragraph we learned he was an American. At that point I had to pause for a second to readjust my mental image.

    I agree with the above comment, that it feels a little removed from Charlie, but it's an easy fix. Is it day? Is it night and the mortars are flashing? Is Charlie peering through grass or clods of dirt when he looks at the castles?

    With a little tightening (ex. 4th paragraph, Charlie tried to shrink into the earth as 'Screaming Meemies' whizzed by), you'll be off to a good start.

  6. I agree with Sue Layborn. The reader is too distant from Charlie and it's because you're telling us what happened to Charlie, rather than letting Charlie live it.

    What's more exciting? Hearing about a hostage situation on the news? (what the reader is reading) Being there and witnessing it? (What you're telling) Or being an actual hostage? (Getting into Charlie's head and becoming Charlie - what you need to do.)

    This story could work very well if you show it, rather than tell it. Become Charlie. Put yourself in his shoes. Don't tell us there was excrement on his shirt, have him look at it and go "Ewww. S***!

    You have a story here, you just have to tell it a bit differently.

  7. I was hooked. I agree with Mike, too; this is exactly the sort of book that upper elementary/middle school boys I know like. And what are you going to do, have a 14-year-old fighting?

    I think "Charlie" is a pretty clearly American (or English) name. And you did a good job putting us inside Charlie's head with the diving into excrement bit.

  8. I would like to see how Charlie is feeling. Can you show us him weighing his options "No time to dig a fox hole, not even a slit trench." Add some urgency to his taking cover that feels missing as it stands. Show him thinking "somebody up in those turrents must be directing the fire."

  9. Not hooked. I felt too distant from Charlie. I didn't get a sense of *him*. The first paragraph read more like a synopsis to me.

  10. Agreed with everyone before--no connection, no sense of true feeling, for me.

    Not hooked.

  11. I wasn't entirely hooked, but I think you have something here. I agree that older elementary and middle school boys would like this sort of thing. Pretty cool, just needs some adjusting here and there, maybe.
    Good Luck! = )

  12. Hooked, sort of.

    I think this has potential.

    Personally, I think it would be a fantastic story if it were more in Charlie's head instead of being an overview. But I'm not familar enough with this specific type of book to know what is being published now-a-days.

    The writing is good and I love the choice of starting with human excrement--perfect.

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  14. I agree it feels a bit distant. The details are really good though. I can imagine it all happening.

  15. This doesn't feel like MG to me. Sorry, I didn't finish it. Sorry, not hooked.

  16. Sounds like a video game rather than the real terror of war.

    in the sentence, "The Germans, hidden high in the hills, rained mortar, rocket, and artillery shells down on the 88th Infantry as they approached the ancient city of Volterra." I believe Infantry is singular, which means the "they" would refer to the Germans. Either way it is ambiguous and I don't know which side is advancing.

    I'm intrigued by the unintuitive way the sound get's farther apart when it's closer on target. I'd like to know how this works though, or I'm just confused about how to see and hear the scene.

  17. I'm not intrigued--Charlie seems a bit distant to me. I'm also concerned that at 19 years old, he's probably not going to work as a lead character for a middle grade novel.

  18. Doesn't grab me. Pacing seems slow. Some of the phrasing is too formal (ancient city of Volterra reads like something in a history book - How else would the energy be able to target the Americans so precisely? could be from a 1950 news reel.

    I'd advise the author to read this aloud and then revise - it helps tremendously to improve pacing and voice.

  19. I don't have a problem with his age - he's fighting a war!

    But I felt like you were telling me too much and not showing me enough. It's a difficult concept sometimes, and I imagine this is a difficult situation for it.

    Sorry, but not quite hooked.

    Best of luck.

  20. I think I'd like this better (especially if it's MG), if Charlie was younger, but tricked his way into the military by lying about his age (which happened quite commonly in the past). It'd be great to see a historical MG with an MG age character thinking they're ready for war, but finding out just how not ready they are...

    Not hooked, yet.