Friday, November 29, 2013

(59) MG Contemporary: TREE ROPER

TITLE: Tree Roper
GENRE: MG Contemporary

When his dad lands in the hospital, one-eyed twelve-year-old Declan Parker’s cosmetic surgery hopes are wrecked, unless a neighbor girl and her uncle, a wounded army veteran, can help him save his dad’s tree care business.

It was the third day of summer vacation, and I was hanging in a tree. Finally. A chance to have some fun and make a little money. My first client of the summer stopped pacing as I glanced down at her tired face and messy nest of white hair.

“Please don’t walk right under me, Mrs. Murphy. It’s not safe.”

“Oh, of course. Are you sure you’re okay up there? Maybe you should come back down and I’ll try again with the food.”

“I’m good. I’ve done this lots of times. Besides, I don’t think your cat’s that hungry yet.”

“Well, I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I won’t.”

I needed to show her I could do this. I still burned from the way she stared at my face three days ago when mom introduced us. Mrs. Murphy couldn’t have known then that my right eye was a fake, though. Mom probably told her later.

As I hung on the rope above her yard, my arms throbbed. I relaxed into Dad’s old canvas and leather climbing saddle and slid my right hand down to rest on the friction hitch. Dumb move. The knot slipped and I shot down two feet of rope before I could let go. When I released it, my body jerked to a stop.

I looked down to see if Mrs. Murphy noticed. She stood quietly, staring at the street, folding and unfolding her hands. Probably praying. I know I just said a quick one.


  1. Very nice. Reads smoothly.This is something that I think will sell. Congrats to the author. I'm still a little unsure about the title :)

  2. This starts with him hanging from a tree, and my immediate assumption is that he's hanging from a branch by his arms. It's only near the end I learn he's in a climbing saddle. Perhaps mention that at the beginning so the reader envisions it correctly.

    You might cut 'Dumb move' because it tells us something is going to happen before it happens. If you just go immediately into 'the knot slipped . . .' more tension is created. We feel the fall because it comes as a surprise, rather than being prepared for it.

    You might also cut, "I know I just said a quick one' because he didn't say a quick one. It's not shown. So either cut it, or have him actually say a quick prayer. At the very least, tell us he said a quick prayer. You might also show his reaction to that sudden plunge.

    Good luck!

  3. This has a lot going for it conceptually. A one-eyed boy is an unusual protagonist, and the tree-roping aspect is also new. It reads smoothly and assuredly. I did stumble a bit at the last line, possibly because of tenses (should read "I know I'd just said a quick one), but Barbara's idea of actually saying a prayer might fix this--and give us an insight into whether the character actually does pray (and is therefore religious) or whether this was just an exclamation of "Holy s**t."

    Bottom line: I was impressed, and I think this one will receive some love from the trash-talking agents. Good luck!

  4. You have created a great hook here with your very unique premise.
    Liked your description of the client - I could really picture a nervous older lady.
    I liked that "finally" was its own sentence, but then the next sentence gave me pause. Nothing too jarring but for me it would be smoother if it started something like, "All I'd wanted was..." or "I was happy to have a..."
    I would love to see where this goes!

  5. This sounds like a fun read. I like that the kid's up in the tree to rescue a cat, but has all this equipment to do it.

    The two mentions of summer in the first paragraph bothered me a bit--it felt like you were repeating information we already knew, especially since on the third day of summer, it'd be likely that this would be the first client.

    I agree about "I know I just said a quick one" feeling off because it's telling us something that didn't happen on page.

    The paragraph describing the eye felt a little off to me--why was she staring if she couldn't tell? How does the MC know the mom told the neighbor later? (And why would that be the assumption?) I get that you need to convey that information right up front, but I'm wondering if there might be a better way to do it, especially since it seems like depth perception and climbing trees might neatly tie into a concern the neighbor could express.

  6. I agree with changing "I" to "I'd just said a quick one." but I disagree with taking the line out or adding in a quick prayer. When I read the lines, it tracked for me that he'd said it internally while falling. I'd have been doing the same thing.

  7. I like this. It's a little more down to earth than most of the entries, but that is part of what gives it its charm.

    We don't have the main conflict of the story yet, but we have the main character acting in immediate circumstances which tell us something about his character and kept me interested.

    Also, the last line of the entry made me laugh.

    I'd keep reading on this one.

    Best of luck with it.

  8. I really like this premise. The protagonist has a strong voice and is really interesting. Dad's tree care business sounds fascinating and even a little dangerous-- perfect for MG.

    Here's where I think it needs a little detail layering to add some depth and clarity.

    From the log line: lands in the for what? Hospital for a bad case of pneumonia is a lot different than in the hospital for a sawed off leg.

    Para 1: hanging in the tree how? with one arm wrapped around a branch and one reaching for the cat? A few paragraphs later you mention a climbing saddle, I think that's needed in this para to ground us a little more.

    Para 2: ground us by telling us what Declan is doing up in this tree. Is he trying to save a cat? And if that's the case, why's it not safe for Mrs. Murphy to be under him (is this just a tree safety thing)?

    Para 7: stared at his face how? with a wary glance? with a bit of confusion as she lingered on his right eye? If that's the case, I feel like here is a great place to mention how most people look at Declan--those who know and who don't.

    Love the para this 250 ended with the fall and the prayer line. I'd like for the slip and fall to have a little more impact though--either by separating it out into it's own paragraph so it's not lost in the paragraph and giving it a little more show/not tell. So instead, what did rope feel like slipping from his hands? What did that fall feel like and then the jerking stop? How far was he from the ground at this point (and how far up was he to start with?)? Did the panic set in after he realized he was safe? Did any tree climbing training or dad's warnings run through his head?

    I know contests limit the writer to 250 words, but here I feel like a little more will fatten up the count, but make for a richer read.

  9. I liked the way this read. From the log line and a little bit of knowledge about arborists, I got the tree sling reference. I think you have a good tension between Declan and his client. Felt real.

    I chuckled at the last few lines about quick prayers. :) I'm hooked.

  10. I definitely agree with the duplication of the 'summer' mentions in the 1st paragraph. But other than that, I adore that paragraph. Love the flow of it. Love the set up (though, yes, as per previous comments, more detail on just how he's hanging would be helpful...on a side note, the beauty of the English language is that with just a change of one little preposition that first sentence goes from your wonderful MG gem to something far different: 'It was the third day of summer vacation, and I was hanging FROM a tree' and suddenly you have YA Horror. Sorry, just had to mention that :D)

    The set-up here is just great, especially with a young boy in the role of 'hero firefighter going to rescue cat in tree' which is just so appealing. I did want a little more of the panic of falling (since Declan seems to be trained in this, he's most likely 'fallen' to some extent a number of times before so his reactions should reflect on that, which just deepens the character there).

    The one sticking point for me here is the paragraph where he discusses his face/eye. I realize this is an important character trait with deep emotional ties to the rest of the story, but I want to SEE how Mrs. Murphy (who seems like a kindly enough older woman) stares at him so drastically that it causes such a reaction in Declan. Isn't he used to the stares by now? Is Mrs. Murphy someone he's just met so she's never seen his face/eye before? If she knows Declan's mom well enough for his mom to be telling her things, wouldn't any reaction she gave to his face/eye have happened long before summer vacation started? Just a thought. For me, I think Declan's need to prove himself is just that, a need to prove himself. To his father, to himself. That he is capable of climbing trees, rescuing cats, etc no matter what 'handicap' the loss of an eye entails for him. To me, there's no need for the use of the 'prove to the old woman' card to set up his character as one with something to prove.

    Then, when he slips (but saves himself) it's double effective because he almost let himself down as well as his father, not just his client.

    Just my thoughts. Overall, I loved the humor and direction of this and think MG would be richly served by a boy like Declan!

  11. Definitely a charming and unique premise! Loved the last 2 lines! Really, no big crits from me, just a few minor suggestions:

    1)If Declan's mom told Mrs. Murphy about his fake eye later, she probably wouldn't have "stared" at him when they first met since she didn't know about it yet. Maybe change that up so he assumes she knows about the eye. Is he always self-conscious about it?

    2)Canvas and leather are similar materials, so maybe just use one of them but not both to describe the saddle. It comes out as a mouthful as is.

    3)Change the line "She stood quietly..." It might flow better as "She stared at the street, folding and unfolding her hands."

    Good luck! Hope you get bids!

  12. I've seen this before and it sounds like a great story :)

    The beginning starts at a great place, letting us know who the character is, giving us a strong sense of voice, and giving us some tension.

    I have a nitpick about the stakes though. If it's hard to tell if his glass eye is fake, then why is the cosmetic surgery so important? If I remember from before, it was also sort of a facial reconstruction? Again, this is a little confusing here though with the line about the woman both staring at his face but also not being able to know his eye was fake?

    But I think if you just clear that up a little in the log line, everything else looks great.

    Good luck!! :)

  13. I like your premise, but I'm sure you could think of snappier, more catchy title.

    You actually lost me on the first page, because you were too subtle. It wasn't till I read the comments that I realised he was up there after a cat, because the cat is mentioned so briefly in passing. Maybe just me being dim, but I think a visual of the cat at the start would add a lot to the scene anyway.

    Because otherwise I thought he was up there doing a job for his dad, and all I could think was that tree surgeons use things like chainsaws and there's no way anyone would let a twelve-year -old use equipment like that. So if you just cleared that up a bit, I think this is a nice unusual opening scene, and I'd read on.

    Good luck!

  14. Declan sounds like a normal kid, ready to make some extra money by following in his dad's footsteps...and then we discover he doesn't feel normal, all because of his eye. He's different, and not in a good way. I got this without a lot of description and some nice dialogue and I think MG readers would as well. Declan is just like them, struggling with who he is to other people. I'm not sure about the title, but that can be figured out later. I would read more. Good luck!

  15. This is great! I love the log line (and I personally like the title - it seems to fit your story) and it sounds like a story a lot of middle school kids could relate to even if they don't have one glass eye. I would definitely read on.

  16. The thing I didn't like about your log line was makes your MC sound so selfish, no concern for the dad just - dang there goes my cosmetic surgery. That's how I read it anyway.

    The page though, I really enjoyed that. I like how he speaks with such authority, no doubt having learned a lot from his dad.

    As for the prayer line, I vote keep it in. It made me laugh!

  17. I like this MC! His concern for his client's safety and his determination to do the job hooked me. I liked the early twist--I started out thinking he was trying to do tree trimming, which would be way beyond his age level, and then when I realize it's about a cat, it's perfect! The climbing gear idea, placed earlier, would have made me create a more accurate visual. There are so many ways to hang in a tree. . . .

    Good luck!

  18. Hi there!

    I LOVE this premise. A one-eyed protagonist who secretly (or perhaps not so secretly) dreams about getting cosmetic surgery because he wants to change something about his appearance (or fit in better with his peers)? Middle grade gold. I so often read submissions featuring a girl protagonist who is insecure about some aspect of her appearance—it’s always a breath of fresh air to see these same insecurities in boy protagonists. Boys feel, too!  The school and library community continues to reiterate how much they want to see more contemporary middle grade books featuring strong male protagonists that will strike an emotional chord with and provoke discussion amongst an entire school class. I feel that this story could have that potential.

    I find it interesting that Declan works for his father’s tree care business. Was it assumed that he would help out or was helping his family in this way a conscious decision that he made himself? I think his frame of mind while working—his motivation for doing so—could illustrate a significant amount about his character. Does he resent his father for making him participate in caring for trees? Or is it something he genuinely enjoys? This would be a great scene to use to paint a picture for readers with a few thoughts and words as to who exactly Declan is.

    I’m not sure if this is the best excerpt to initially share with readers. It’s fairly stationary—not much seems to happen, plot or character development wise. I would have loved to have seen a scene with Declan’s father or with the neighborhood girl and her uncle. I would be interested in hearing why you chose this excerpt. What about Declan in this scene and Mrs. Murphy spoke to you?

    I wish you the best of luck in this competition! You have something here. I look forward to seeing how it develops.

  19. Good opening. I'd keep reading. I agree with other readers about the duplication of the word summer. I also wanted more show and less tell. I want to be able to picture him in the tree before you tell me he's in a climbing saddle. Why would Mrs. Murphy stare at him if she didn't know about his missing eye? Is he just self-conscious and thinks everyone notices? And when he falls I want more reaction and more tension. Again, more show and less tell.

  20. Is there a way you can show him hanging from the tree instead of saying, "I was hanging in a tree?"
    Maybe describe the bark scraping his legs? Same thing with his fake eye. Maybe make it do something weird...I'm not sure, but could it feel dry or move out of place? I'm also wondering the main character's name. Great premise! Best of luck with this.

  21. This comes with the caveat that I'm neither a contemporary nor an MG reader, so I'm reaching outside my usual zone.

    But the fact that I am is a testament to the premise. I have a blind brother (not born that way, but that's a whole other story) and have taught students Declan's age and younger who have injuries or deformities. One was a girl who had a facial cancer and had to have major bone reconstruction and a glass eye following her treatment.

    My point is that Declan's voice and attitude ring true to what I know in reality about people who are "different." I'm particularly struck by, and a fan of, his maturity and calm in the face of a difficult job.

    Even though this isn't my normal wheelhouse, I would absolutely keep reading.

    Good luck!

  22. This is great! I was really intrigued by the first 250. I obviously don't know what happens after, but it does set the scene really well, so that's a good start. The pitch pulled me in, too, but not as much as the first page.

    MG is not my realm, but I'd still enjoy this book! Very cool premise, and I would be excited to see how much information you've included from your experience as an arborist.

    Good luck tomorrow!