Wednesday, October 9, 2013

October Secret Agent #40

TITLE: The Summer of Miracle Maud
GENRE: MG Historical


Emma scrunched down in the hayloft. She wasn't coming out no matter how long Aunty called. Nosirree. She’d seen Unk clomp across the yard, his ax over his shoulder. It was killing time, and she wanted no part of killing.

“Emma Sue! If you don’t come now, there’ll be no supper for you tonight.”

Big threat.

She’d rather starve than pick up dead chickens. And these weren’t just dead chickens. These were dead chickens with bloody necks and no heads. She sighed. It was 1935, for crying out loud. If Mom could buy her chicken at the store, why couldn’t Aunty?

The barn door squealed.

“Emma Sue, I know you’re in here. Now come on out. We have work to do. We’ve no time for silly games.”

Emma peeked through a crack between the floorboards. A sliver of sunlight sliced into the shaded barn below. Aunty stood in it, her back stiff as a rake, her flowered housedress unwrinkled, her apron spotless. Not one wisp of brown hair escaped the bun tied up on the back of her head. She peered over her bifocals and glanced up at the loft.

“All right, then. Stay here. But don’t expect supper if you haven’t finished your chores. And there’ll be no radio tonight.”

Emma jerked back from the floorboards. No radio? What was she supposed to do all night? Read? She peeked at Aunty standing there, arms folded across her chest, one practical black shoe tap, tap, tapping.

Chickens or the radio? Chickens or the radio?


  1. I liked this piece a lot. You do a great job establishing the historical setting, and I think modern kids could relate to Emma's dilemma, even though radio might not sound like a big deal today.

    My only criticism is that Emma's question about why Aunty couldn't buy her chickens in a store feels forced. Emma might not like it, but if she's spent much time with her aunt and uncle, surely she understands that this is how life works on a farm.

  2. This is well done. Excellent voice and pacing, and there's plenty of tension. I'm thinking maybe the mention of radio might be a nice place for a particular detail, like what program she anticipates listening to. For a terrific Old-Time Radio reference, I recommend John Dunning's, "On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio." It describes programs, dates, and even air times. And many of the original programs, mostly now in the public domain, can be found in MP3 format very cheaply or even for free.

  3. I really like this. I think you have the voice of the Aunty just perfect - I can imagine her clearly in my head.

    You also set up clearly the kind of life Emma is leading at her Aunt and Uncles place.

    The only word that I thought didn't belong was 'practical' when you're talking about the Aunt's shoes. I know exactly what you mean by this, it just doesn't seem like a word a young girl would use to describe an ugly shoe - maybe heavy, or call it a boot instead.

    But overall I loved it :) Good luck!

  4. Interesting! I'm caught up in the big question of why this city girl is staying on the farm. I'm in for the ride. The only thing I stumbled on was the sliver-sunlight-slice. I need to know pretty soon that it's not all grim and gory, but if you can show me a bright side, I'd read on. Good luck!

  5. You got me as a reader. The pacing is fast, the setting is authentic to the time, and your characters scream out of the page.

    I don't see a flaw.

  6. This is one I believe I would like to keep reading. The dialogue felt authentic and both characters rang true. I liked your use of "practical" to describe the shoe. I got an immediate picture of what this shoe must look like. I think I too, would like to seen a reference to a specific radio program. All in all, very nice.

  7. I thought this was excellent! The writing felt very clean and polished and I was immediately pulled into the story.

    A couple of notes:

    It doesn't bother me, but I was told by one agent who critiqued my MS that it's best not to start with unattributed dialogue, so that's something you might want to change (although I've definitely seen it done before).

    I would take out the line: "It was 1935, for crying out loud." To me, it felt like a contrived way to get the year in so the reader knows when the story is taking place, and I don't think you need it. First, the reader will probably know this information from the copy on the book jacket. Second, you do a great job of pinpointing the time period by the radio reference (so we know it is sometime before the invention of TV, but after the invention of radio) which is great.

    If Unk is short for Uncle, it might be best to spell it Unc instead of Unk.

    When you write: "No radio? What was she supposed to do all night? Read?" I would take out the word "Read?" I think the point you're trying to make is stronger without it.

    But I really loved all of your descriptions, especially "her back stiff as a rake." And I love the end of this with the shoe "tap, tap, tapping" and how the "Chickens or the radio? Chickens or the radio?" echoes back that.

    I would definitely read on. Best of luck with this!

  8. It’s great that this starts off with action and Emma in trouble. It sets Emma up as tough and having a mind of her own. We like the voice, and we can picture the opening scene nicely. We also like that 1935 isn’t a time period we see a lot in historicals.

  9. Great start and an interesting main character with definite personality! I would read more.