Wednesday, April 11, 2012

April Secret Agent #27

GENRE: Middle Grade Mystery

Twelve seconds until summer vacation. Maggie’s eyes locked on the jerking hand of the classroom clock that counted down the last seconds of sixth grade. Someone in the back of the room began chanting, “Ten, nine, eight—”

Everyone else joined in, “Seven, six—”

No more homework! Maggie thought.

“Five, four—”

No more books!


No more teachers’ dirty looks!


RRRRINGGGG!! The class erupted into cheers.

Maggie jumped out of her chair and slung her pink backpack over her shoulder. She waved good-bye to her teacher, Mrs. Davis, and slipped out the door where her best friend Lyndsay was waiting.

“Hey Lyns!” Maggie said, nervously glancing at her watch. If she was going to make it home in fourteen minutes, she needed to hurry.

“I know you have to go,” Lyndsay said, “but I wanted to give you this.” She held out a small gift bag tied with a pink bow.

Maggie smiled. “You didn’t have to get me a present.” But she took the bag anyway, untied the bow, and looked inside. Wrapped in tissue paper were five brightly colored pens and a small roll of postage stamps.

“It’s so you can send me a postcard from each state you visit this summer,” Lyndsay explained.

“Thanks,” Maggie said, giving Lyndsay a hug. “I’ll call you as soon I get back.” Lifting the gift bag she added, “And I’ll write you from each state.”

Maggie looked at her watch again. “Sorry Lyns, but I’d better go.”


  1. I think this is cute, but I wonder if it starts in the right place. The way it is right now, it could be any number of stories starting like this. If you jumped forward in time a bit, though, I wonder if you could find a jumping off point that is more unique your particular story -- because based on your title it sounds like it's going to be a really interesting one!

  2. I am hooked just reading this much of the book! The way these first couple hundred words are written pulled me in and got me just as excited as Maggie is for her to get home. I can't wait to find out where Maggie is traveling to this summer and what kind of adventures she has in store for her. The title sounds so interesting too! Sounds like a fantastic book!

  3. I agree with the first commenter that this is a nice scene, but maybe this isn't the right place to begin the story.

    Since it's going to be a mystery, I'd love to see it open with a scene that underscores that mystery, such as something mundane to contrast the mystery with, or a hint of something to come, or at the very least, a spotlight on the main character's personality (and/or flaw) so that when she gets into the thick of the mystery, we're rooting for her to solve it because she's the only one who can do it, or whatever the situation may be.

    The title sounds really exciting. Good luck with it!

  4. I liked this. It pulled me in and has a great voice. That said, I'm also wondering if this is the right place to start. It might be. Without seeing more, it's hard to tell. But it's definitely something to think about.

    Still, well done! I'd read more.

  5. I don't have much else to add. This is really cute, and I think I already really like Maggie, but I don't know if this is the right place to start either.

    That said, I think Lyndsey's gift of pens and stamps is ADORABLE. Love that. Says a lot about their friendship, too.

    I'm really intrigued by the idea! I'd love to read more.

  6. I would definitely read more. It's so hard to say this is the right or wrong place to start in the ms because honestly, we only have 250 words to tell. I can say this, off the writing alone, I'd read more. Just the way you translated her excitement as the clock winds down. I remember that same anticipation when I was in school. Great voice! Looove your title. ;)

  7. LOVE the thoughtful sweetness of the stamps and colourful pens for a gift. I like this and would keep reading. :)

  8. I love the opening with the kids counting down the end of year, and the rhyme of No more book, No more dirty looks. Maggie is getting ready to go on a trip, and I assume the mystery will be introduced in short order. I'm not sure why she needs to make it home in fourteen minutes?

    I agree with the others that this might not be the best place to start or if it is, perhaps drop a little hint of the mystery to come.

  9. I agree with the other commenters that the voice is really sweet. I thought it was a cute intro, if not the most exciting, but something a lot of kids would probably relate to. Maybe if you said how many states she'll be visiting, we'd get a better feel for the kind of trip she's taking (I'm assuming a family road trip). I'd definitely keep reading :)

  10. Cute story. I agree that younger MG kids would like the opening whereas older kids might get impatient. The MC having her backpack threw me because we never brought them to school on the last day - there was no reason,but that's minor. Sounds like an interesting premise and hoping will have plenty of geography and history throughout the family's journey.

  11. I like your title about Butch Cassidy's Gold. Since it implies a treasure hunt, maybe you should consider moving action related to that earlier in the story and then summarize the part school ending for the summer.

    "I know you have to go" doesn't sound like realistic dialogue for a young girl. She'd have been like, "Here! I got this for you!"

    The wait for the ringing of the bell didn't create tension that is compelling enough in the first paragraph of a novel and the "No more teachers" rhyme is cliche-ish. You need to maximize the impact of your first page by writing words that fully engage a reader in a fresh way.

    I love the concept of the treasure hunt, though. On a personal note, I've been through Butch Cassidy territory and it's fascinating.

    Good luck! :-)

  12. First off, let me say that I love books for YA that include a little learning. The title implies that it is going to include a story around Butch Cassidy which may inspire children to learn more about the era.

    I felt that the blurb really captured the excitement that is felt when you are about to get out of school. I remember counting down the seconds until I was out of school for the summer.

    Wish that we could read more so I could get a feel for the adventure. Sounds like it is going to be a book that teens will enjoy and parents will be happy with them reading!

  13. This intro really pulled me in. The author sets a great tone with this segment. As a middle school librarian I could see the kids really enjoying this book, and having a great time unfolding the mystery of Butch Cassidy.

  14. I think the opening could be streamlined or at least altered so that the counting down is accompanied by something other than a song that is too cliche. The title is really enough to make you want to go on. I am wondering when this is set - because that dreaded technology has made it difficult for writers - as in everyone over the age of 7 seems to have given up stamps and pens (huh what's that?) for texting. So, unless there is a family rule against that or this is set in the not so distant past when that access wasn't quite so ubiquitous, you might have to find a way around it.

  15. I did this at the end of every single school year in middle school! I liked the beginning, but it didn't set up enough for me. We then switch to getting Maggie out of class as fast as possible (when we'd spent a lot of time watching the clock count down) and then she's hurriedly exchanging a gift and I feel like we wasted that time counting down the clock.

    So, perhaps starting in a different place would work best. I felt rushed and I didn't like that after such careful detail at the start. It's not a feeling of deliberate constraint anymore, so I'm miffed that you constrained me so much watching that clock and then didn't give me a pay off.