Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May Secret Agent #32

TITLE: Freedom Boys
GENRE: Historical Middle Grade Fiction

A shiver shoots down my spine. I grasp the rabbit’s foot for protection from spirits—not that I’m scared or nothing.

A cool breeze whips oak leaves and ashes into a dust devil. It whirls past the remains of Master’s big house, twists through Captain Ross’s cemetery, and comes toward me in the woods. Sweet Jesus! Near a wooden cross, my friend Gibson hops from foot to foot. Maybe a haunt blows hot breath on his soles.

“Granville, hurry!” he says.

In the tree above me, owls hoot back and forth, regular as a tick-tock. I lower my head and pray hastily, “May God help y’all rest in peace. Amen.” My hand shakes as I pluck up a string of cowry shells, a piece of plate, a ring carved from a horn, and a brass amulet from my friends’ graves and stuff them inside my jacket. In case of trouble, I scoop up a handful of cemetery dirt. Uncle Hannibal claims it throws off a slave’s scent.

We race downhill, cutting across the fields where the cotton bolls peek out. Most of the stars have already faded from the sky with the moon shining a pale white before dawn. We should be safe in bed, but Gibson lags behind me. Again.

I stop dead in my tracks and say, “Come on!”

A dog howls in the woods.

Brownie! That’s trouble all right. Most nights, he’s chained behind the overseer’s cabin.

I pick up a stick—not much of a club.


  1. Awesome way to deliver information without it seeming forced. You led me right along, giving me the setting, the characters, the thing at stake. Great 250! Good luck to you. Would love to read more.

  2. Great writing. I'm not a fan of MG novels, but I know my son would love to read a book told from the perspective of a slave boy, and I like this so much, I would read it along with him.

  3. Wow! You've got me wanting to read more! It makes your heart beat faster for these boys. You've set the scene well with sounds as well as sights, giving us hints as to where they are with little things like the cowry shells.
    Great job!

  4. I do like how you start in the middle of the action. Something is at stake and I am ready to run as well.

    I might suggest doing some research on slave dialect. Find some other books with it (Roots, does that have a lot?) and use those to convey his voice in appropriate dialect even more.

    Watch your overall language. I feel this is for an older audience than MG. Either write it for an older group (it would be great if there was great historical fiction YA) or read some historical fiction meant for middle grade. Good start, keep trying.

  5. I love this - the voice, the pace, the subtle tension, the vivid descriptions of the setting. You do a great job combining all of the elements into one seamless, captivating start. Excellent job.

  6. Loved this as well. Wouldn't change a thing!

  7. So happy you got the dog howling on the first page to give us a sense of the tension right away.

    There were a few places where I was a little confused about exactly where we were, and also a few nitpicky things:

    I'm not sure I would start with the shiver--is he actually shivering? Why is he shivering? Protection from what? Is he shivering because of the dust devil?

    Did they have rabbit's feet back then? Seems off to me, but I did like the voice in "scared or nothing." Timeless MG boy language.

    In paragraph two, I didn't get that the boy was in the woods right next to the cemetery because the dust devil took us on a big sweeping view of the whole plantation. I figured it out soon enough because Gibson was near the cross, but I didn't get why he was hopping from foot to foot. Running? Or avoiding the dust devil? Seemed like a strange action to me.

    Why would he say "Sweet Jesus" when he does? Because the dust devil is that scary? Or because he's escaping through a graveyard?

    "Throws off a slave's scent" was confusing too, did you mean that it masks the slave's scent? And the slave would be "your scent," right? Unless these boys aren't escaping slaves...which I'm guessing they are.

    The sentence starting "most of the stars" seems a tad long to me.

    What does Gibson lagging behind have to do with the MC being safe in bed? Are they running back to bed? Or away from the plantation?

    Why would he stop dead in his tracks to say "Come on"?

    I love that the scary dog that's howling is named "Brownie." Makes it very real, but doesn't take away from the tension.

    The last sentence definitely makes me want to know if this kid will be okay against the dog and whoever's coming for him!

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  9. Great beginning to a historical fiction! Puts us right in the middle of the action. I wonder just a little about the character’s voice, though. With it being in first person, most of the descriptions (while lovely!) didn’t sound like a slave boy’s voice. (I did love the line: “owls hoot back and forth, regular as a tick-tock.”) You might use “haint” instead of “haunt,” and cut off a letter every now and then: han’ful instead of handful, cuttin’ across the field, etc.

    Couple questions. How could the MC see the dust-devil coming from beyond a house on the other side of a cemetery at night? If he was already in the woods, how can he be by his friends’ graves? Also. when the breeze whipped the oak leaves, I automatically pictured them on a tree, so think about saying “dried oaks leaves” or “fallen oak leaves.”

    Really good writing, though!

  10. First off: GREAT voice. It's not easy to pull off first person in historical middle grade, but I absolutely believe the character here.

    The opening lines don't quite work for me. I suspect your opening lines might lie in the second paragraph, although I definitely think you should keep "I grasp the rabbit’s foot for protection from spirits—not that I’m scared or nothing." It's a FANTASTIC line. Perhaps after "comes toward me in the woods."

    You intrigued me with Gibson imploring Granville to hurry. And when Granville paused to scoop up the cemetery dirt, you hooked me.

    Well done.

  11. Voice was believable and the suspense makes me want to read on. Far too few historicals out there so congrats and best of luck!