Wednesday, August 29, 2012

#5 First Line Grabber 500

GENRE: MG Mystery

Up until that fateful Friday the Thirteenth, Jacob Beanblossom's claim to fame had been the ability to fart on cue. But that was about to change.

Jacob dragged Old Man Fudgewick’s bratty Pomeranian down Main Street. Everyone from the businessman with an overstuffed briefcase to the teenage girl texting on a hot pink cell phone gave them a wide berth because the dog yipped and snarled like it would earn him extra doggie treats. The lady pushing the stroller with red-headed triplet boys checked for cars and, seeing the coast was clear, jaywalked rather than cross paths with the yapping Pomeranian.

Jacob tugged on its navy blue, rhinestone-bordered leash. “Calm down, Special Fella.” Every time Jacob said “Special Fella,” he cringed at the stupid moniker. But the only chance he had to be obeyed was to call the dog by name. Jacob eyed the black curlicue sign on the storefront ahead that read Madame LeChance’s Psychic Palace. “We’re almost there, Special Fella.”

Jacob shoved open the Psychic Palace door, wondering what quacks he’d see there today. As he yanked Special Fella from the sidewalk and into the waiting room, Jacob heard high-pitched classical music.

Anjali Sharma, the biggest nerd in the sixth grade, sat on the floor on a large dark purple cushion. She plucked at the strings of a weird guitar on her lap. She was probably here to find out if Madame LeChance could see if she’d get straight As for the rest of her life.

Special Fella growled at Anjali. She stopped playing the instrument and glared at Jacob and Special Fella.

“Get that dog out of here! You’re ruining the ambiance.” Anjali darted a meaningful glance at the ancient lady clutching a black and white wedding photograph in her tiny, age-spot dotted hands.

Jacob folded his arms and gave Anjali a smug smile. Apparently the know-it-all did not know it all. “We’re clients.”

Anjali’s eyes widened behind her huge glasses. “What?”

“We have the four o’clock appointment.”

Anjali took the weird guitar off her lap and laid it down beside her. She stood up and marched over to the desk with the phone. She opened the only drawer.

Jacob’s eyes bulged. “Whoa! Snooping in other people’s business, Miss Goody Goody?”

Anjali rolled her eyes. “I’m allowed. I work here.”


Anjali flipped open a notebook with fairies on the cover and ran her finger down the page until she got to 4 p.m. “You’re SF? What does that stand for? Serial Farter? Sir Fartsalot? Senor Flatulence?”

Jacob smirked and nodded at the Pomeranian who was sniffing the ancient lady’s shiny black shoes. “He’s SF. Special Fella. Since when do you work here?”

“Since Madame LeChance found out I learned to play sitar in India last summer. She thought it would add to the ambiance here. I’m working everyday during Spring Break, but I’m starting today because it’s an auspicious day.”

“It’s a what day?”

Anjali’s nostrils flared. “Auspicious. Lucky.”

“Friday the Thirteenth is lucky?” Smart people could be so dumb sometimes.


  1. The voice sounds fun. It reminds me of a tale like Because of Wynn Dixie or even The Magicians Elephant.
    I found myself smiling while reading which is a good thing.

    The second sentence of the second paragraph reads strange to me. Maybe some simple rewording will make it flow a little better.

    Sounds like a fun story, I'd continue reading to see what the psychic tells the dog. I'm also curious as why someone would send their dog to a psychic.

  2. I'd keep reading. There's some great humor here (love the dog's name), and Jacob has a strong voice.

    A few comments, however: I'm not sure the average sixth-grader would use the word "moniker" (in "he cringed at the stupid moniker.") Seems advanced. But I'm OK w/ Anjali saying "ambiance" and "auspicious" because already she strikes me as the sort who reads the dictionary and thesaurus for fun.

    And, because you're writing for MG, keep an eye out for your sentence structure. ninidee commented on the second sentence in the second paragraph; it may have jumped out due to its being lengthy and somewhat convoluted.

    This last part is my editor-self jumping in (I work at an educational publishing company). Be sure you check the US Youth Labor Laws and make sure Anjali isn't working longer hours than she'd be permitted to by law. :)

  3. Oh, and I just thought of one other thing. Keep in mind that for this age group, you typically write older characters. So having a sixth grade protag means your audience is more likely to be be in grades 3-5--all the more reason to simply some of the sentence structure.

  4. The voice sounds quirky. I like that.

    I agree with the other comments on the second sentence of paragraph two.

    I would read on, but I'm not sure your target audience would. Words like "moniker, ambiance, and auspicious" aren't in an average MG reader's vocabulary.

    You have a nice style. Good luck.

  5. Really funny. I like the friction between the two characters, and your mc seems likeable.

    Don't feel like you need to dumb anything down. Fifth and sixth graders are capable of learning new vocab.

  6. I liked the sample a lot and I second the comment not to dumb the vocabulary down. Keep the sentence structure clear, but a few visits to the dictionary is part of the reading experience. If Fancy Nancy can teach kids to expand their vocabulary, so can you. Plus, my 6 year-old is enjoying listening to The Chronicles of Narnia, even if he cannot read it himself. If the story is interesting, people keep reading.

  7. I'd read more, fun voice and I like where the sotry is headed. But there are so many darn colorful, creative, witty, and descritptive adjectives....

  8. I think there is a lot of good energy here. I do think that the author has entered The Modifier Zone a bit, and could use a bit of self-editing so that not EVERY noun is described.

  9. I liked this quite a bit! I love the quirky the voice and situation.

    The sentence about hearing classical music was the one that threw me. Instead of "heard" maybe he got a "faceful" of the high-pitched classical music?

  10. I really enjoyed the wackiness of sending a dog to the psychic, and the voice is great. I'd definitely read on to see where the story goes.

    I'd be better able to believe in Anjali working if she were related to the psychic.

    As far as "moniker," I don't think the vocabulary needs to be dumbed down, but the very fact everyone's noticing it (myself included) might be a sign you should choose a less obtrusive word.

  11. Haha, I think you got lucky on your 500 word break there. It was a good place to end.

    This is spectacular. I like the editing you did to the last sentence, splitting it up. It reads much better. This is fun, quirky, and the descriptions are great. My only critique would be to use the term "dog" instead of his name or Pomeranian all the time.

    Good luck with this! I really love it.

  12. There's a lot to like in this, the voice is light and fun, easy to read. I agree with an above commenter on the use of 'moniker', not sure a kid that age would use it or if the readers would know it means name. That's all I found!

  13. This seems fun, but I had trouble getting into it, perhaps because it is a little overdone. As Josh said, there are a lot of modifiers.

  14. I love a good fun middle grade, but this didn't grab me-- it felt like perhaps it was trying too hard? I'd probably like this more if they author reined it in a bit.

  15. Cute! I do like the idea of a dog going to a psychic.

    Agree with "modifier zone" - also you don't need to describe all the blocking. Like so:

    "Anjali took the weird guitar off her lap and laid it down beside her. She stood up and marched over to the desk with the phone."

    could be easily something like:

    "Anjali set her weird guitar down and marched over to the main desk." (I get that she took it off her lap and stood up to do so)

    Agree that "Pomeranian" and "special fella" could be "dog" in many instances.

    Basically it feels comical and fun, but currently too clunky.

    Also I have a mad passionate dislike for Extremely Excessive Alliteration. But that is a personal problem.

  16. Chillax, baby; don't try so hard. You've got a whole book to get your story across, so no need to rush it. Or to force it to be funny, because it is, all on its own.

    Take some time with the details. Tell us more about the "weird guitar"- most kids outside of a San Fransisco commune have no idea what a sitar is, so explain the long skinny neck and small round body. Maybe tell us what Anjali looks like, or the dog. SF is a Pom, but what color? Fluffy or trimmed? A big one or a small one? Get us in the groove, bring us into the story.

    I still love your intro and bet the story is darling, but you've just got to relax and let it flow. No more espresso for you- sip some herbal tea and chant to that sitar! It'll come if you let it.

    PS~ I'd vote no on the "moniker" usage, just because I hate that word. And no kid would ever use it on purpose unless someone paid them to. Of course,your MC could be some sort of language genius, but as he farts on cue, I'd say probably not. I also don't like "auspicious", because I'm pretty sure it was translated wrong way back when. I'm always suspicious of auspicious!