Wednesday, February 12, 2014

First Two (MG Fiction) #12

GENRE: MG Sci-fi/Adventure

According to The List of Chumps to be Pounded After School, today was hang-Mike-like-a-piñata-Thursday. Mike glanced from his math book to the soccer field. Still no sign of the owner of The List. Brutus wouldn’t drag him away in front of everyone else. Right?


Just Little League batting practice. Mike gritted his teeth and hoped no one saw his panic. He was not going to hide in his house like a friendless dork. His plan to escape both Brutus’ fists and Dad’s goals for him becoming a lawyer had to work.

Mike pulled his teacher’s recommendation letter for Space Camp from his book. Step one: attend the Academy section two years early. Step two: become the first teenage astronaut—

“C’mon Mike, we need another player.” Carlos stood with his hands spread wide and his usual grin smeared across his face.

Demonstrating his sorry soccer skills was not Mike’s favorite after-school activity, but he could never turn down his best—and only—friend. Besides, doing homework on the bleachers just encouraged the dork title.

Pretending he couldn’t run fast enough to get to the ball never worked because everyone knew he was quick even if he was shorter than half the fifth-grade girls. No, the whole kicking-the-ball thing proved his lack of eye-to-foot coordination.

Maybe soccer balls warped space. Yeah, that was it. A tiny gravity field curved his leg sideways, not his own Bambi-on-ice legs. As usual, groans and laughter followed his latest failure.

“Good job, hermano, you almost walloped the ball into next week!”

Mike raised an eyebrow. Even Carlos shouldn’t be happy with that dismal performance.

“Oh look, it’s Mini-Mike.” Brutus’ screech drowned out laughter from both teams. “If you’re afraid of the ball, there’s a pee-wee league on the other side of the park—in the sandbox. Ha-ha.”

The other players turned away or made sure their shoes were tied. In the classroom, even teachers called Brutus by his self-chosen nickname rather than risk flying, juicy spit wads plastered to the whiteboard.

Mike dragged his feet downfield to make sure he wouldn’t be anywhere near the ball’s space warp—or Brutus and his buddies, Trevor and Cole.

Brutus kept up the jeers. “Mikey’s running away!”

“Don’t let him get to you,” Carlos called softly as he jogged across the field. “You ever see him play soccer? Two left feet! Seriously. Here’s the plan: stick with me, I’ll get the ball to you and move downfield. You don’t have to score, just angle it back to me, easy-peasy!”

“Easy-peasy?” Mike shook his head. The phrases Carlos picked up from his grandmother’s diner were even more confusing than the random Spanish he learned from his dad. It would take a fifty-foot force field generated by the starship Enterprise to give Mike the time and space he needed to connect with the ball. And he’d still miss the target.

“Mikey’s afraid of a little ball. Mikey’s a chicken, Mikey’s a chicken.” A couple fourth-graders picked up Trevor’s tune.


  1. Your title sounds like a fun MG, and the idea of becoming a teenage astronaut is intriguing. Mike is a sympathetic MG character, but my sense of this is that you're trying to force too many story facts into the first two pages. The action section after the break engages me more than the first four paragraphs; however, some of the action isn't clear. For example, I didn't realize Mike had actually kicked the soccer ball until the response to it. If you could show him entering the game, I'd be there with him. I'm also concerned that the internal monologue is out of proportion to the action. In a workshop I took, I remember the instructor pointing out (and this is paraphrased in a big way!) that when you go from action to internal monologue, you're kinda playing freeze tag with the other characters in the scene. You don't want to make everyone hold their positions too long.

    Maybe someone else here can offer a better idea of how to determine the ratio of action to internal monologue?

    Try to let the story unfold without set up and see if you're just as happy with it. Good luck!

  2. I like the idea of escaping to Space Camp. Brutus seems a little stereotyped but this excerpt is pretty well-written. I wonder if somehow Mikiy is going to turn this scene around. If so, I'd like a hint of something coming.

  3. This one left me confused. From the title and genre, I thought this was a space adventure. Buried in the beginning is Mike's desire to attend space camp. The rest of the piece is about soccer with a few space references thrown in.

    If Brutus and his gang play no other role in the story except to show Mike's lack of friends and soccer prowess, perhaps the story is starting in the wrong place.

    If this is a story about how Mike overcomes his circumstance to make it into space camp, then okay as written.

    If this is a story about Mike in space camp, then start there.

  4. I like it overall. It gets my attention and makes me want to know what is going to happen next.

    Here are a few areas that could use some help.

    His plan to escape both Brutus’ fists and Dad’s goals for him becoming a lawyer had to work--This sentence is awkward and I had to re read it to get the sense of it. Maybe put parenthesis around becoming a lawyer to set it off more.

    Pretending he couldn’t run fast enough to get to the ball never worked because everyone knew he was quick even if he
    put a comma after quick

    the random Spanish he learned from his dad
    Did Mike learn it from Mike's dad? Carlos From Carlos' dad? Some other combination?

    You're introducing 5 characters in the first 500 words. You might want to try to introduce Trevor and Cole a little later. 5 Characters is a lot for a middle grade novel.

  5. Love the Title!! Love the list idea. But I wondered how Mike knows about the list? Is it posted online everyday? Does Brutus show it around at school?

    I thought he was on the bleachers near Little League practice and all of a sudden they're on a soccer field.

    I didn't get: "A tiny gravity field curved his leg sideways, not his own Bambi-on-ice legs." Loved "Bambi-on-ice legs" but how can legs curve legs? ("Not" implies they could have, but didn't.)

    Mike's use of time and space warp in soccer is a good connection to his desire to go to space camp.

    You say a couple of fourth graders picked up the chant but never indicate Mike's grade level.

  6. I like Mike's goal (teenage astronaut to get away from life he doesn't want) and his relating everything to space terms. The action in this section confused me, though. In the beginning, I couldn't tell if he was inside a classroom or at home and then when you mentioned the bleachers I had to readjust my mental picture. See if you can ground the reader in the story a little better.

  7. There's a lot to love here - you establish Mike's voice well right away.
    I think your opening scenes are a little internal though. It's hard to start a book with a lot of "what's going on inside the mind" stuff. Maybe get to the soccer game earlier?
    Also - there are a lot of very complicated sentences -- some are a bit confusing. For example, MIke is determined not to hide in his house -- makes it confusing - is he at home or at school?

    I think some of these facts are better telling not showing (all bad-at-soccer descriptions -- too many) Some of your long sentences may possibly be darlings you have to kill. (Teachers call Brutus by his own nickname -- do teachers really fear a kid half their age? ) (The Bambi-on-ice line is cute but is too much after the warped-space part)

    I like the way you set up Carlos and Mike's friendship as well, but again - I think there's too much initial description. You interrupt the action with the ball to describe the Carlos's ecelectic language. Stick to the action, talk about Carlos's SPanish and old fashioned expressions later.
    Good luck with this!