Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October Secret Agent #33

TITLE: Gladys Gatsby Takes the Cake
GENRE: Humorous Middle Grade

Gladys Gatsby stood at the counter, the spout of her father’s heavy blowtorch poised over the top of the first ramekin. Her finger hovered over the trigger button that was supposed to turn her plain little custards into crunchy, tasty treats. That's when she heard a car door slam outside.

Gladys froze for a second, but then she checked the clock. 5:16—still a good 44 minutes before her parents were due home from work, and they were never early. It’s probably just the neighbors, she told herself, and with that, she took a deep breath and pulled the trigger.

Several things happened at once. With a hiss, a blue flame several inches longer than Gladys had expected shot out of the blowtorch, passing clear over the far edge of the first ramekin. With a whoosh, the wind outside changed direction and began to blow in through the kitchen window, setting the gauzy blue-and-white curtains aflutter. And with a jingle and a grinding noise and finally a click, someone turned a key in the Gatsbys’ front door.

A moment later, she heard her parents’ footsteps in the hall.

“Gladdy!” her dad called. “We’ve got pizza!”

Fudge! Gladys thought.

She tried to release the trigger on the blowtorch, but to her horror, the spout kept shooting flame. She pumped on it desperately with her finger, but that only seemed to make the flame get bigger.
Their footsteps were getting louder.


  1. I was smiling by the time I finished the first sentence.

    Fabulous set-up!

    I want to keep reading!!

  2. Cute, but I think the writing style is a little clunky in places. I know it's MG, but the transitions feel like they need some work to me. And I'm not sure how many kids who read this will know what a ramekin is. But hey, it's never too early to learn about cooking.

    Well, maybe in the case of Gladys, it is too early. And I'm pretty sure that while most small pastry torches do have an ignitor button, a large propane torch like the one Gladys seems to be using typically needs to be lit manually unless it has an attachment, say for burning stumps or melting ice. But maybe that doesn't matter for the sake of the scene, which makes for a fun opening.

    I'd read on to see what happens, because I love MG books with plucky heroines.

  3. This is a fun opening scene with an adorable main character. It made me want to read on! :)

  4. Very funny, but I did wonder about plausibility.

  5. Very funny, but I did wonder about plausibility.

  6. I like it! I read your logline the other day, too, which gives me a sense of where the story's going.

    I can see why one of the people above questioned using the word ramekin. Could you describe it differently so that it wouldn't turn an MG reader away from not knowing a word in the first sentence? You could always educate them on some cooking terminology later in the book.

    In that third paragraph, I think you could drop the first sentence and use different lead-ins to show these things are happening at the same time. Otherwise it sounds like someone outside of Gladys analyzing the scene.

    Great job!

  7. I love this scene. I like the word ramekin because to me its more important to stay true to the main character and her knowledge than to dummy it down for readers. Kids that don't know will look the word up and you use it in context.

    I was distanced from the scene by "That's when she heard" and "Several things happened at once." I'd suggest you cut them and simply show the action as it happens, but it's more a matter of how close you want the pov.

  8. Very cute. I don't mind a little suspended disbelief in MG. I'd keep reading.

  9. I liked it. I would keep reading.

  10. I liked this - loved your logline when it was posted before and was excited to see you'd posted here. As a parent of a child starting to read MG, I like the use of ramekin, rather than dumbing down the vocabulary.

    My only small crit is in regards to the wind blowing the curtains. It seemed weirdly out of place. I think you already have the tension building with her overshooting the ramekin and the keys in the door. Maybe if what happens is related to the disaster in the making (although I was glad you didn't have the curtains go up in flames), it might not stick out as odd to me.

    Otherwise, good job. I think my daughter would read this in a heartbeat.

  11. I don't know. For me, there's something incongruous about that image of a middle grader standing there with flaming blow torch in hand (which is vivid and scary and pulls me right in) and the events that follow (which aren't vivid, and are rather ordinary, and don't keep me in the story).

    All these mundane things are going on (and they're being told instead of shown) and I'm wondering about that blue flame that has shot out more than it should. It seems the focus has been taken away from where it should be (the blow torch and the fluttering curtains.) The sense of imminent danger just totally withers away instead of being heightened.

    Perhaps find a way to keep that sense of tension in the piece.

  12. This is great. Hooked!

  13. Love the premise...I don't think the sense of your para would be hurt if you swapped out something else for ramekin....and I think it's hilarious that she thinks her dad's blowtorch is the proper tool for creme brule....but I'd recommend making it clear that this is what she's done....found the tool in the basement or whatever....also agree about the curtains (we already have a sense of risk/and it's humorous...don't need to be worrying about 3rd degree burns on the child)...also and this is minor the footsteps getting louder bothered me. Her parents are coming in, she hears them's not the footsteps that are clueing her into to that. Loud footsteps sounds like a mystery device. This is all minor stuff: charming idea, I'm hooked.

  14. On behalf of Gladys’ parents, I am horrified. ;) The sentences could flow a bit better, especially with this age group, but the set up certainly is unique and I do want to know what happens next.