Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August Secret Agent #32

GENRE: Middle Grade magical realism

Josh Albright sat at a worn wooden table in his clubhouse surrounded by nails, a tin box of craft supplies, and a slightly chewed pencil. The smell of fresh cut pine filled the room. He wiped excess glue onto the crumpled directions for a do-it-yourself birdhouse.

Light came from overhead where a lit model of the solar system spun around a fiery sun. Josh stuck the last piece of the birdhouse into place and admired his work. Transforming one thing into another was a kind of magic.

“There.” He spun his project around so his visitor could see it. Outside an open window, a crow stood in the backyard’s only tree. The bird’s sleek feathers gleamed against the reddened sky of a Utah sunset.

“Ready to move in?” Josh brought the new home closer to the familiar crow, but it didn’t move from its low hanging tree branch.

“Fine. I’ll paint it. Will that make you happy?”

The bird tilted his head. Its deep black eyes looked like a tunnel to some far away place.

Josh’s best friend Steven squeezed in the narrow door of the clubhouse with his arms full of supplies for a sleepover. Josh lightened the load by taking the food.

“I can’t believe you made a house for the symbol of death,” Steven said. “Besides, they stalk us from nests. Not birdhouses.”

“Stop that, will you? Crows don’t mean death.”

“Then why do they always show up in movies, right before someone gets it?”


  1. Hi,
    Nice use of descriptive language, but there's nothing here to hook me, except a suggestion from Steven. It needs something more to stand out.
    Good luck!

  2. So, this is a good start. It's reading like a play-by-play, though. I think there are two things you need to work on: Voice. I'm not connecting with your MC, and I think it's because there's nothing unique about him. In giving him more of a voice, you'll accomplish number two - give us some more action and internal thought. You're telling me what he's doing, but how is he feeling? What are the thoughts going through his head as he's doing this?

  3. The writing is good and the descriptions are fabulous. But I'm not connecting with this character and I'm not feeling a hook.

    Perhaps the hook is the comment about the birds stalking them from nests? If so, I'd like this developed more and sooner.

    Also, why the MC making the birdhouse? How does he feel about it? I need more from him or a different start to the story all together, so I already know who he is when you get to this quiet passage.

  4. You do have good descriptions. I also like him talking to the bird. I would move that up a bit to really but the reader in though. If he's talking to the bird from the very beginning we will be more intrigued. You can also give him cool things to say. You have a good concept though.

  5. I'm sorry to be the voice of dissent here, because I know as a writer that always throws me off, but actually I felt like all the pretty description WAS the voice. I felt like Steven has a very unique, peaceful, and glorious way of seeing the world, and that's what we're getting. I liked the calm setting, and I felt transported. i felt the set up was the tug between his desire to create this beautiful thing for this crow, and the idea that it's a symbol of death. That theme, to me, was the hook--the stakes.

    Just because something's got a young protagonist doesn't make it MG, though. Take Time Traveller's Wife. It's an adult book, but through much of it the protags are young, even children. I do think this is written as more of a literary adult book, and the people you have here in the forum are primarily YA or MG contemporary/genre, with a blend of some edgy women's fic.

  6. I'm with Petre Pan on this. I thought Josh's careful attention to the birdhouse and his conversation with the crow made him stand out as a unique character. I particularly liked his observation that transforming one thing into another is a kind of magic.

    I find the literary tone refreshing. It's not a typical MG voice, but nothing here seems out of place for middle grade, either.

    The last line is eerie. It makes me worried about what will happen next.

  7. I really liked this! The description was spare but thoughtful eg. 'slightly chewed pencil' and his interaction with tthe crow foreshadowed something bigger. The dialogue is punchy and 'right before someone gets it' is pitch perfect for a middle-grade boy. You set the scene very well and I'm keen to read on.

  8. I loved this! You've got the transforming one thing into another comment to let us know we can expect some magical transformations. Loved the line about the crow's eyes being a tunnel to some far away place - another subtle hint of strange things to come. STeven's remarks about it being a symbol death, and his last line also clue the reader in. I'd definitely read more.

    My only comment would be to pick a better verb in 'light came from overhead.' Not a biggie at all.

    And I do think it suits a MG audience.