Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July Secret Agent #19

TITLE: Lang Sawyer and the Den of Nostromo
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Here's the thing about finding out your great-great grandfather Tom Sawyer was a big time monster hunter, that he killed Dracula, and that your Dad's running the family business out of the former Indian cave behind your house.

(You know, in case that ever happens.)

The thing to remember? It's not all fangs and glory. It's a hit-or-miss proposition.

Like literally, hit or miss. Sometimes you hit the crossbow target your Dad sets up for you in the backyard. And sometimes you miss. And hit your neighbor's poodle.

In the tail.

Yeah, that was a thing.

The upside? Leaving ordinary seventh grade life behind to jet to Peru and track a deadly creature called the Mapinguari.

But there were drawbacks. Hunger being one. Sweat, too. That's what has my attention on the afternoon of our first full day in the Amazon rainforest. Late afternoon. Heat still in the triple digits. Everywhere green on green, the sun strafing the leafy canopy.

Dad skids to a stop in front of me and points at a spot on the ground inches from my right foot. I attempt to wring the sweat from my already-drenched St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap.

"Freeze, Lang," he says.


I don't know much about the jungle, but I've read about the snakes. Fire hose-sized ones. With a proclivity for squeezing people until their insides turn to Cheez Whiz.

"Python?" I ask.

Dad scowls and jabs his finger toward the ground. "No. Some sort of track. And it's a big one."


  1. the language in this passage is too adult for a middle grade boy/girl IMO. this feels like an adult telling the story with words like proclivity. i would go through and look at each word and phrase and ask, how would a kid say this?

  2. Ha! This was a fun excerpt. I love the voice, even with the big words. My nitpick comes with the phrase, "Yeah, that was a thing," which kinda sounds like the phrase du jour, & might become outdated in the year it would take for publication.

    That said, though, I would totally read further and find out about monster tracking.

    Good luck!

  3. Really like the snarky voice in this one. Great job. And the premise sounds like a fun read, too. I just get a feeling of mixed tenses here that kind of makes me uncomfortable. Perhaps just me.

    I think your word choices for the MC are great, too. The way he describes the pythons and hitting the poodle made me laugh out loud.

    Great job so far. Best of luck to you.

  4. I really enjoyed the voice and thought it sounded "middle grade" to me. The only word that threw me off was already mentioned (proclivity) - definitely not a MG word and I believe would leave many parents in a stupor over the meaning as well!

    Otherwise, I'm interested to learn more, especially the connection to Tom Sawyer (although, not sure many middle grade kids would know who he is in this day?)

    Otherwise, I thought it was pretty snappy!

  5. I liked this too. It has a great set-up, plenty of opportunity for mayhem and adventure. I also like the snarky voice.

    Consider changing the line, "Yeah, that was a thing." It's a little too hip. It pulled me out of the story. I had to re-read the previous material to understand the reference.

  6. Love!
    Oops, that may come off as cheerleading so here's my one question: do you have a purpose in making this Tom Sawyer's descendant? Obviously in 250 words you have to get to the action, but I will assume Tom Sawyer plays into it in a big way, otherwise it's just a kid - in his own right, not his great-etc grandfather's- battling all kinds of monsters. Cheese whiz made me snort.
    I like big words in MG. As long as you use them in a way young readers can guess their meaning which I think you did bc every kid knows pythons are huggy-squeezy.
    Flora Segunda and the Fairyland series are two MG that immediately come to mind that have an elevated vocabulary.
    Best of luck!

  7. There’s a lot going on in this passage, but you balance all that against a very strong voice and sense of character, so I think it works – no easy feat! That said, it is a little jarring to be in the backyard shooting a poodle, and then suddenly in the Amazon rainforest. You might consider where you really want to begin this story. I agree that, “yeah, that was a thing,” is slang that’s going to date very quickly, so I’d re-word. But overall, this opening moves quickly and gives me a good feeling about overall pacing; I’d read on!