Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#18 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Saving Miner's Gulch
GENRE: Middle Grade

November 1848, Boston, Massachusetts

"Look alive there, boy!" Stumpy Henderson barked at me from the loading dock. He leaned against a wood carton, cleaning his only thumbnail with the tip of his knife. "I don't pay ya to daydream."

He'd caught me. I was sitting on the edge of the docks, my legs dangling in the breeze, dreaming about gold nuggets as big as Stumpy Henderson's fat head. I jumped to my feet. "Sorry boss. Thought we were done."

"Would be if I hadn't lost three men this week." His gaze drifted over my head to a spot way out to sea. "Stupid McGee brothers. Not a brain between them, running off to find gold like that."

I scratched an itch on my left shoulder and drew his bloodshot eyes to me again. "There's one more crate aboard the boat, Jack. Unload her quick, or I'll dock your pay!"

Since my wages were on the line, I didn't bother with the gangplank. In one great leap, I jumped from the dock to the fishing boat. I realized my mistake the moment the soles of my boots hit the slimy fish muck on the deck.


My arms and legs flailing, I slid like a locomotive out of control. I was about to sail overboard. If I landed in that freezing Boston Bay, I'd drown, but I couldn't stop myself anymore than I could fly. My boots hit the side of the boat with a bang and suddenly I was flying.


  1. i like the end of this, and like that we get a feel for the kid. Kind of lazy. But the tone doesn't seem very 1848 to me, and I think it's somewhere in the dialogue, or the line "he'd caught me". it seems too contemporary

  2. A MG historical? I'd read it just b/c I don't think there's a lot of that around and this sounds promising.

  3. I like the tone here, and I think it fits into 1848 just fine. I think the reaction to getting caught doing something you're not supposed to be is one that would cross generations.

    And I really like that Stumpy is picking at his fingernail with a knife when he accused the MC of being lazy. (Nice job slipping in that he only has one thumb nail that tells a lot.)

    I love the line: "Not a brain between them."

    I didn't particularly like the "Whoooaaaa" and the last paragraph felt awkward to me.

    I'd keep reading though. I love historical fiction!

  4. I've had a certain soft spot toward books featuring kids in the 1800s in Boston ever since reading Johnny Termain, so I'd have to say I'd keep reading on. :)

    If I were still middle grade aged, I know that I would definitely keep reading on. The writing style isn't too simple, and it feels like a nice transition from simplified writing style for children to YA writing style.

    I like the MC and I like his situation. We don't get a lot of action going on, but we do get a lot of characterization. The seemingly easy way the characters speak doesn't feel forced at all, it seems natural, and sets the mood for me and makes me believe I am in 1848 Boston, Massachusetts.

    Good job, good luck! :D

  5. It's nice to see historical fiction here :)

    The title definitely intrigues me, and the scene you've set up prepares me for an adventure.

    I found the "Whooooaaa!" stopped me short, and using 'bang' to describe boots hitting the side of the boat seemed 'off'...maybe thud, or thump?

    This is a book I would like to read.

  6. I'm interested in the setting and I like the writing.

    Stumpy seems to me a pretty cliche name for a grizzled worker, but you make him a real character with just a short space (his looking off to sea while talking does it for me).

    The last two paragraphs make me feel like the novel is going to be pretty slapsticky, a trait that would turn me off from reading.

    I'd keep reading, though, until my slapstick fears were confirmed.

  7. Interesting time period. I'm guessing he'll go to California for the gold rush? Or maybe Alaska?

    The main issue I saw here is that it's mostly told and would be much more immediate if you showed it. The first paragraph is shown. STumpy is doing something.

    The second is told. You tell us he is caught. You tell us he was sitting at the dock. SHow him scramble from the dock and jump to his feet, then go into the dialogue. Then the next STumpy parg is shown and then you go back to telling.

    Go through it again, and every time Jack tells us what he's doing, rewrite it so he's just doing it. An example --

    In one great leap, I jumped from the dock to the fishing boat. The soles of my boots hit the slimy fish muck on the deck. Arms and legs flailing, I slid like a locomotive out of control. My boots hit the side of the boat with a bang and suddenly I flew (to wherever he went flying.)

    Those are all your words. You're already doing it. Just leave out all the explaining and you'll have a much stronger manuscript.

  8. Interesting opening.

    I don't if the rules for MG historical fiction are the same for adult historicals but I have a few thoughts.

    "Since my wages were on the line" seems too contemporary.

    Also the word "locomotive" seems like a word a kid in 1848 Boston wouldn't use. I think train might be better.

    I'd read on.

  9. I liked this one. You set a good scene, and I can see your MC and Stumpy, too. Daydreaming about the motherlode fits the time period, too. Now I'm wondering how the kid is going to stop himself from falling overboard to certain death. I want more!

  10. I really enjoyed this, and I'm not a historical fiction fan. I don't like the 'Whoa' either. The locomotive image didn't really work for me because I don't think a human sliding on fish much has enough in common with a locomotive for the comparison to work.

    Great voice - I love Stumpy. I really want to know what happens next.

  11. I liked this and am interested to read on. You did a good job of illuminating the characters and the setting. A few small comments:

    -I didn't like "He'd caught me." I'd prefer to see a reaction from the MC rather than an admission of guilt. Plus, if the MC was 'caught' why did he go on to tell Stumpy "Thought we were done."?

    -I didn't find it convincing that Jack interpreted "Unload her quick" as a reason to jump to the boat rather than taking the gangplank. If the fishing boat is close enough to jump to without even taking a running start, the gangplank doesn't seem like it would have been that long. Plus, Stumpy doesn't come off as an unreasonable guy, so I find it odd that Jack was so concerned about his wages that he jumped to save a second.

    -Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't see why he would drown if he fell in the bay. He's close to both the dock and the boat, and neither are moving. Couldn't he just grab onto one of those and pull himself out? And even if he can't swim, Stumpy is there and could help

  12. Hey, Secret Agent here! Lots of good action and lively dialogue. I especially like the “…dreaming about gold nuggets as big as Stumpy Henderson’s fat head” bit. Engaging!

  13. This was fun and engaging. The title also pulled me in. As others have said, you could do more showing to punch it up even more. I was also put off a bit by the "Whoooaaa!" But I did like the comparison to a locomotive flying full steam head image. I want to know what happens next. Although I also wondered why he would drown when they are at the docks and even if he can't swim, others could fish him out.

    Fun characters and language. I'd read on.