Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Secret Agent #34

GENRE: MG - Arthurian retelling with a sci-fi twist

Stale sweat inside the executioner’s mask soured my snotbox, forcing me to breathe through clenched teeth. It stank, and so did my sister Fay for making me wear this hood backwards to keep her precious tunnel secret.

Rats squealed as she maneuvered me through another puddle. They must have recognized Fay, because they scurried ahead faster than a fox leaving a henhouse with takeout. A rumored shortage of rat tails, the key ingredient for casting spells in her also-rumored magic practice, kept Camelot’s rodent community on high alert.

Inspired by blindness and the tunnel’s acoustics, I sang, “Three blind mice . . . see how they—ouch.”

Fay jammed a rat-nosed elbow into my ribs, expressing displeasure toward my dream of becoming a minstrel

“Why drag me along?” I asked.

“To keep the cow slayer from catching me.”

I yanked my makeshift blindfold off. “How? I have no sword.”

“No worries. I can outrun you. Besides, I’d be madder than a bag of ferrets to let you wave a sharp object around in the dark.”

Great. Hoodwinked into missing Saturday Night Juggling to become beast bait. I debated leaving, but my recent chivalry lesson on Damsel in Distress dictated I stay.

We reached a ladder leading to the surface and climbed up into a tree hollow. Outside the gnarly hole, Fay's breath fogged. “We’re here.”

I scratched my head beneath branches besieged with mistletoe, staring at a moonlit meadow ringed with giant rocks. “Where’s here?”


“Road apples! Stonehenge takes three days by horse.”

“Great tunnel, don’t you think?”


  1. This is really intriguing. I would definitely read on!

    My only critique is how often "rat" shows up in short succession. Really, what I would recommend is not calling her elbow "rat-nosed", as you've already referenced actual rats.
    Unless of course, her elbow has a rat nose on it. Like some spell gone wrong.

    Otherwise I really like where this is going!

  2. This is a lot of fun and intriguing. I was a bit confused in the first two paragraphs. It took me awhile to figure out they weren't on their way to an execution, but that she was leading him blind-folded down a tunnel. You might consider leaving the "executioners" description off and making it very clear what they are doing.

    I also felt their exchange about why she brought him along (and why he agreed to go in the first place)isn't clear. I would like a little more motivation for why they are in the tunnel together. Most of the descriptions are fun, but rat-nosed elbow doesn't work for me, and a fox with takeout feels too modern. Also, if she's so concerned about keeping her tunnel secret, why doesn't she get upset with him for taking off the mask?

    Overall, this seems fun and fresh and I would definitely keep reading.

  3. The title captured my attention, and at the end of the excerpt, I was ready to read more.

    Three nitpicks:
    "Soured my snotbox" didn't work for me. "Keep her precious tunnel secret" gave me pause, as well. Maybe "keep her precious tunnel a secret" would flow easier without changing the meaning. "Rat-nosed elbow" also made me stop and consider, though it's an apt description.

    Minor things! The passage indicates that this novel is going to be lots of fun. Good luck with it!

  4. I am totally hooked. I love this kid's voice and attitude.

    For the record, I had no problem with "soured my snotbox". It really added to his voice for me.

    If he had a hood on, how did he know the rats were staying well ahead of Fay?

    If she insited he wear it, why didn't Fay protest when he pulled off the hood? It sounds like she let him keep it off.

    This sentence confused me: "rumored shortage of rat tails, the key ingredient for casting spells in her also-rumored magic practice, kept Camelot’s rodent community on high alert" Who's rumored magic? Fay's? She's just a kid. I think.

    I am really enjoying the glimpse of life at Camelot with Saturday Night juggling and Damsel in Distress lessons.

    Great work. Would definitely read on.

  5. This is quite clever. The only thing that took me out of the story was the reference to the fox leaving with "takeout". That's a very modern concept, totally at odds with your medieval setting. Also, I'm not sure why a cow slayer is after Fay or why Arthur--and I do think you need to name him here--thinks she a damsel in distress. She seems very capable to me. Otherwise, a great introduction that compels us to read more.

  6. "Soured my snotbox" didn't work for me either, although I didn't mind the takeout reference.

    I didn't like 'rat-nosed elbow', because to me it just plain didn't make sense, but then again, if it's a nonsensical world I guess it might be okay. But I thought "expressing displeasure toward my dream of becoming a ministrel" was an odd phrase. Didn't fit with the rest of the voice.

    I did like "madder than a bag of ferrets" and "Road apples!".

  7. This was fun and I enjoyed it. 'Snotbox' didn't work for me because it just seemed if he thought of his nose as a snotbox, then he shouldn't care about the smell. (It kind of goes with a snotbox) But if it was a nose (held in a bit higher regard than a snotbox) then he might care about the care. Not that there's any logic in that, but that's how it felt to me.

    On the other hand, I liked the rat-faced elbow, and thought it was an original way of describing an elbow.

    The takeout didn't work for me because it's too modern, and you've kept all his remarks consistent with the time period he lives in. That took me out of the story.

    Removing the blindfold didn't bother me because he was already in the tunnel and didn't see where it began, so it doesn't seem she'd be all that concerned.

    If you can keep this kind of humor up through the whole story, this will be great.

  8. He might care about the 'SMELL.'

    See what happens when you don't proofread.

  9. Lots of fun. I love the medieval milieu with the contemporary attitude. (A nit-pick, maybe, but if this is a historical, even a humorous one, would "takeout" be an anachronism?)

    My one caution would be to watch out for over-doing the verbal play. The fun of this story will in part be, of course, the funny way your narrator sees and describes the world. But the danger with these Douglas Adams / Terry Pratchett-esque narrators is the voice can overwhelm the story. For instance, "expressing displeasure toward my dream of becoming a minstrel" felt a little clunky and overlong.

    Otherwise, a fun read!

  10. I like this set-up and the interplay between the sibs. You had me at Stonehenge! (A joke, because we don't know we're gong to Stonehenge till the end). And we never find out why.

    I had to pause a moment at "snotbox" to figure out if it was part of the mask. (LOL) Too many words go by to remember what "it" is, so I'd say "The mask stank..."

    If his hood is on backwards, make it clear that he hears the rats.

    "Expressing disdain" might be stronger than "expressing displeasure." Or: "ridiculing my dream..."

    You might say: “Why are you dragging me along, anyway?” I asked.

    Love some of your phrases: faster than a fox leaving a henhouse with takeout. (Although, unless the sci/fi part brings us to modern times, would "takeout be a word they'd know?) Also: kept Camelot’s rodent community on high alert. madder than a bag of ferrets. beast bait. recent chivalry lesson on Damsel in Distress.

    Great job!