Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February Secret Agent #4

TITLE: Waiting For Augusta
GENRE: Contemporary MG

Daddy died last week and his ashes were sitting on the display shelf nice and quiet, just like powdered particles of dead people are supposed to. Things had been way too hectic around the house for me to get a handle on what it all meant. I was busy ducking under weepy kissing aunts during the last seven days, and hadn't done much thinking about him actually dying and all. About him being dead and not ever coming back.

All that sad and mad got my chest achy, so I pretended he was just missing dinner lately.

The Tuesday after the funeral, I was alone in the sitting room, sipping kool-aid and trying to teach my pet bird to talk. Mama said we should get our money back because that dang parrot has never said a single word.

"Come on, Phyllis." I stroked her feathers. "Say my name."

And then, miracle of miracles, she did it... in Daddy's voice.

I choked for a second, coughing up purple splatters of juice that sprayed all over the carpet like chicken pox. I was shocked and a little insulted--all these years of me being her owner, and Phyllis chose to say her first words with Daddy's extra-thick Alabama accent.

"What'd you say, Phyllis?" I poked her, hoping she'd talk again.

"Benjamin Hogan Putter, where the heck am I?"

Holy crabapple, I just about peed my pants, because that voice wasn't coming from my pet at all.

It was coming from Daddy's urn.


  1. Goodness. I almost never comment on MG entries, because I don't read MG, for the most part,but this one rattled me. I'm not sure whether to feel engaged or creeped out, but I'm leaning toward creeped out.

    There's something about the jaunty tone of "powdered particles of dead people" that makes me uncomfortable (caveat: I have a dead father). "Getting a handle on what it all meant" feels like a grown-up speaking, not a kid, and sort of telling, not showing. The achy/lately semi-rhyme in the second paragraph made me think the rest of it was going to be in verse. "Purple splatters of juice ... like chicken pox" seems way over-written (caveat: maybe this works in MG? like over-acting and caricatures of performances in Disney channel television). The father communicating through the parrot might be an interesting twist - but no, the ashes are speaking. OK, I'm not wanting to turn the page.

    To me, the tone of this is herky-jerky, and ashes of dead father speaking to a child - while perhaps a topic that could work - it's going to have to handled very skillfully, and what's here doesn't give me confidence.

    Of course, what's on the next few pages could be brilliant, and I'd be missing out by not continuing to read.

  2. This is great. The last two sentences hooked me completely! I also love that there is a definite sense of place conveyed by the narrator's voice.

  3. I've seen weirder things than dead communicating from an urn, so I thought the quirky tone/action in here could be the start of something interesting (not creepy, even if other readers found it odd). However, there are things in here that made me worry if the writing is up to par.

    Things had been way too hectic around the house for me to get a handle on what it all meant. This phrase seems a little too grown up.

    I choked for a second, coughing up purple splatters of juice that sprayed all over the carpet like chicken pox. By this point, I was convinced your MC was a girl. You never show her drinking the juice. She talks to the parrot and then spits up juice with nothing in between. It threw me out of the story for a second, because I had to stop and think: did she just take a sip, or is she puking it up? Don't skip things.

    I was shocked and a little insulted-- Again, a bit too grown up.

    "Benjamin Hogan Putter, where the heck am I?" OK, if I could put my finger on what made me think your MC was a girl, I'd tell you. I think it's mostly the voice and the "achy chest" and the "Daddy" and everything...seemed a bit feminine. But I'm guessing the MC's name is Benjamin, making him a boy. I suggest changing "daddy" to "dad" and having a different reaction than an achy chest, something "tougher" to invoke that sense that your MC is a boy before you give us his name. That's really important. You don't want other readers assuming girl and then getting thrown out of the story when they see boy! (Also, Putter is probably too close to Potter. Don't associate your story with Harry Potter from the start.)

    Otherwise, this is pretty good. You almost have the MG voice.

  4. I liked this one for the most part. Nice creepy cliffhanger (voice from the urn) and I would read on.

    The chicken pox line was overdone, and I agree with the above commenter about the gender of the MC. I thought it was a girl until the end. Characterize through action (or details such as clothing) earlier on so that the MC doesn't surprise the reader with a sex change at the end of the first 250.

    But this does show promise. And the best thing about it is the memorable set-up (the non-talking parrot; the talking urn.) Good job.

  5. I liked this for the most part, and I didn't find it creepy, but the voice seems really young. Usually when I think MG, I think middle school age, but your protagonist seems more elementary school--which is cool, if that's what you're going for. And I definitely agree that I thought the MC was a girl, so maybe you should try to insert gender subtly into the first paragraph.

    And I really liked the weeping kissing aunts.

  6. Interesting concept! I like the voice from the urn and think it would be a great story to build upon!

    That said, I'm not hooked. Mostly because the voice sounds off to me. A lot of comments sound too old, others perhaps too young. I have a hard time getting a sense of character here, so I don't exactly know what fits.

    The first three paragraphs are all backstory, so I think you can cut a lot there. I loved the first sentence, but I think the real start is his trying to teach the bird to talk. All the rest - the funeral, Dad's death, are pretty much implied by the ashes.

    I should hope, anyway!

    Best of luck with it, it sounds like a great story! :D

    (By the way - I honestly thought the MC was a girl too.)

  7. I probably wouldn't read more. I felt this was all over the place. We get the sad opening with the Dad just dying, but the kid doesn't show any sadness at all.

    Then you jumped to the bird, which seemed totally out of place. In my mind, Im asking, where is this going? What's it supposed to be about? When the bird talks in Dad's voice, I start thinking, okay, she's going for humor, not seriousness, and I re-adjust, but then she's insulted because it's talking in Dad's voice instead of hers, and it seemed to me that would be more creepy than insulting. And then you jump back to the ashes and we learn that's where Dad's voice really came from, so now the bird doesn't matter at all.

    The overall idea could work, but I think you could perhaps focus the opening more. Perhaps starting with - The Tuesday after Dad's funeral? It elimantes the switch in mood, and we'll know from the start you're going for funny. And then show some of the things you're telling us. It'll pull us into the story more.

    I liked the chicken pox line, and I also thought she was a girl. I thought Benjamin Hogan Putter was just something Dad said in lieu of cursing. I never took it to be the MC's name.

  8. Totally thought it was a girl too. I had no idea who Benjamin was until I read the comments. Loved the aunts too. Great detail.

  9. Excellent set-up!!

    Loved the last 2 sentences, which completely hooked me.

    Your MC definitely shines through in your first 250 words - and I thought this was fun and flowed well, with solid story building. So great to see it's a boy POV - and while I'm not normally into MG, I really liked this one!

    I would definitely read on.

  10. Maybe too much back story. Provide more of the kid's reactions to what's going on, but I'm still hooked. Keep working on this. Definitely a great concept.

  11. I agree with fictionwriter....some items need to be tuned up a bit, but I'm a sucker for ghost stories. I'd love to see where the opening leads to.

  12. I thought the premise holds great potential. May have started out with the voice from the urn as the first paragraph. Then go back and give us a little backstory on the MG's father being dead.

    Agree with others about the voice of the protagonist coming across as too old. This age is difficult to pull off but is so wonderful when done right. Really get into the head of someone this young and think about how they would actually see/speak/react to things. As a writer we are always told to relate to our characters; but you have to really think back to be able to relate to a grade-school age child.

    Also, the gender of your MG was confusing.

    Keep working on this, there's potential.

  13. Kalen O'DonnellFebruary 10, 2011 at 1:02 PM

    I really really want to like this, as there's so much potential in it. But I think the problem is while I feel there's a great story in here, and an idea you're confident in and feel strongly about, that confidence isn't coming through in your execution. The story just feels like you're not sure what its supposed to be, if that makes sense. It doesn't feel middle grade for one, and your main character doesn't feel well defined as others have said - the voice jumps over the place a bit, and at times feels like different genders, different ages, like you're still searching for the right fit for it. And until you find the right fit, there's only so far the story can go.

  14. I'm having some mixed feelings on this one. There are some brilliant lines (powdered particles of dead people - LOL!) in it, but sometimes the reading age level jumps around - sounds too young *and* too old for MG. Hard to put a finger on it. MG is tricky. Love the premise. And for the record, I got the impression the MC was a girl, as well, and as someone mentioned above, that the father's exclamation was his way of cursing.

  15. I choked up when the parrot spoke in her daddy's voice, too! Man, that line hit me hard. Very nice.

    I thought it was a girl MC because of the word, "Daddy." A little boy might say that, but this character seemed older. The mood of the piece shifted from sad to something else . . . I think it's the words "a little insulted." I wanted her to be nothing but happy and pained and filled with longing at hearing her daddy's voice (woops, still thinking of the MC as a girl). That can be fixed.

    This has a strong voice and some terrific lines (the sprayed like chicken pox). I'd read more. Best wishes to you with this!

  16. The tone is - to use a modern word - adorkable. It's awkward, yes, but in a way we'd associate with a MG protagonist. I honestly thought it was perfect.

    At first, I thought the dad would be reborn in the parrot and got all excited! The voice coming from the ashes is okay, too. I would definetly read on, and I get the feeling this might be a book that explores a child's coming to understand a dying parent, and maybe comforting them?

  17. You have an adorable MC who would keep me reading on. Holy crabapple . . .)

    The only disppointment for me, was, I was expecting the parrot to father her from time to time, making the bird a sidekick in her journey to cope without a father. But it's a twist I get that, and I'd read on just to see if the voice had any somewhat real foundation (remembering fantasy lives flourish best in ten and under). MG MCs are often about coping with exciting changes, becoming a teenager, the opposite (yuk) sex. The classic story structure (see Vogler's The Writer's Jurney among others) would peg the parrot as your sidekick. Okay, I ramble, but what a concept. Believable, charming. I'd scarf it up in a moment, if the parrot becomes her father in helpful moments, how sweet.

    If there's an element of paranormal here, I apologize. If there a prank brewing, I missed it, only becuase the parrot had me thinking one way.

    I'd read on.