Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January Secret Agent #42

TITLE: Hannah Rides the Pony Express
GENRE: Middle Grade Paranormal

“Robbie stinks.”

Hannah’s mom looked back from her crocheting. She gently rubbed Robbie’s leg. “Honey, we need to stop at the next rest area and clean this guy up.”

Robert looked up catching Hannah’s gaze in the rearview mirror. “Hold on Pumpkin.” Robert always called her pumpkin, honey, or sweet cheeks. She wondered if he even remembered her name.

“The travel books say this was the Pony Express route to California. I bet they had a rough ride back then. Didn’t you study the Pony Express last year?” Hannah’s mom asked, raising her voice to be heard over the country music flowing from the stereo.

“That was fourth grade,” Hannah grumbled and set the book aside. She stared out the window, imagining a horse and rider following the stream by the road. The vision faded and Hannah found herself back in the Explorer, sitting next to a baby who really needed a diaper change. She pulled the book closer to her face, trying to keep the smell out of her nose.

Robert chimed in, “Besides the Pony Express was a haven for outlaws and drunks. The movies always glorify the history around the reality.”

“Whatever,” Hannah sighed. Robert was always right even when he was wrong, according to her mom.
Hannah touched her scarab necklace she gotten from her father on her fifth birthday. At first, she’d hated the ugly silver bug. Scarab’s were Egyptian dung beetles, or poop eaters. Too bad Robbie didn’t have a scarab diaper right now.


  1. You have some really nice passages here and the voice is great. I was a little confused by the Robert and Robbie names. I think the mom should nudge Robert's leg? When you name a baby after a parent, it makes it hard to keep them straight. I suggest giving the baby a nickname like Jr. or stinky pants or headache maker, depending on how she feels about him - similar to what his father does to her. Love the scarab necklace. I have a feeling that cool stuff is about to happen. I would read more.

  2. I was also confused between Robert and Robbie, so I agree with Janice on finding a way to identify the two more easily. You set this up very nicely, I get the impression Hannah is a bookworm and doesn't much care for Robert.

    This may be nit-picky, but you say she set the book aside, and then in the same paragraph you say she pulled it closer to her face. When I read "set aside", I assume its been set down, maybe next to her lap in the seat or something. I'd think about revising that, maybe saying she peered over the top of the book, letting it fall away so the smell assaulted her senses, so she quickly brought it close to her face again, or something along that way.

    Good job, I'd keep reading to see what happens!

  3. Oh, VERY nice. First of all, my heart breaks for kids in this particular familial situation, so I'm drawn in right away--but that is maybe just me. (Also, my absentee father gave me a scarab when I was a kid, so you've hit a couple of soft spots for me...and kudos on the poop joke, nicely done.) Of course, the biggest problem right now is the stinky baby, but I know there's more on the next page and I'd definitely turn it. The writing is smooth, the situation real, Hannah's predicament suffocating. Great start.

  4. Cool idea. I love the scarab diaper comment! And your first line was a good hook for me.

    A punctuation quibble... "Scarab's were..." should be "Scarabs were." I would also put a comma after "Hold on" and "Besides."

    I'm interested in the relationship between the family members more than the paranormal part, to be honest... I'd turn the page.

  5. I think you did a very good job writing in a slightly petulant/annoyed ten-year-old's voice. The last paragraph was pretty funny and seems exactly like something that a smart fifth grader would say. (I'm assuming fifth grade because Hannah refers to last year as fourth grade.)

    I'm going to agree with everyone else about the Robbie/Robert thing; I had to reread the beginning a few times before I understood what was going on.

    Some little things: I wasn't sure why Robert said "Hold on Pumpkin." Since Hannah's mom is the one (presumably) addressing Robert in the previous paragraph, it doesn't quite flow for Robert to turn to Hannah and tell her to hold on. Also, in the phrase "to be heard over the country music flowing from the stereo", I don't really think "flowing" works very well here.

    Besides the grammatical corrections Anonymous suggested, there ought to be a comma after "Robert looked up" in the third paragraph. In the same paragraph, "pumpkin" probably wouldn't be capitalized (in the same way that "honey" isn't when used as a term of endearment). I'd also suggest a smoother transition between the last two paragraphs.

    Good job, and good luck!

  6. I agree that you need to differentiate earlier between Robert and Robbie and clearly show us that there are four of them in the car. Other than that, this is a good start. I like the detail about the scarab beetle.

  7. The sentence "The movies always glorify the history around the reality.” puzzled me a little. "The movies always glorify history." might work just as well?

    Liked the last line a lot, though! I'm intrigued to see where the story's heading after this page!

  8. I was similarly confused by the Robbie/Robert name game, and by Robert's line about the movies glorifying discussing the pony express, Hannah's mom was citing a travel book, and Hannah had studied it in history class, presumably via a text book and teacher, so why grumble about HOLLYWOOD'S effect on accuracy? I'm afraid I wasn't pulled in by this, and it seemed like a long way to go for the scarab diaper joke! Hannah's disenchantment came through really well, but maybe you could make her a little bit more endearing--she seems to be rolling her eyes at everything, and she even hated the necklace from her dad! Can't she like something sooner than later?

  9. I don't have much more to add aside from a few places where, if you switch up the sentence structuring a bit, it could make it stronger.

    "Hannah touched her scarab necklace she gotten from her father on her fifth birthday. "

    Should be she'd gotten, but I think the sentence would flow better if it were worded as such:

    "Hannah touched the scarab necklace her father had given her on her fifth birthday."

    Given instead of gotten seems to convey a greater sense of intent on her father's behalf, which you want if it turns out the scarab is special.