Wednesday, September 23, 2015

September Secret Agent #26

Title: The Antidote
Genre: MG Fantasy

England, 1348

No one in this village was safe.

A woman sat weeping, a still man laid out on the bed beside her. His fingertips were black, rotted away. Blood crusted at the side of his mouth. An hour before he’d been coughing, hacking, rust-tinged sputum filled his soiled handkerchief. Now he was quiet. An hour before, his breath came heavy and harsh. Now there was none.

Outside the cottage, at the end of the lane, in the churchyard, a pit waited. Shrouded bodies lined its bottom. Soon the man would join them.

A hooded man stood beside the pit, looking over the scene with satisfaction. One of his greatest creations. Oh, he didn’t invent the plague, the rats, the fleas. Yersinia pestis had been around for centuries. But he improved upon it. More deadly, easier to catch. In a few years, a third of this village would be dead. In the pit.

* * *

Before that pizza day, Adam never thought twice about the windpipe.

Everyone loved pizza day. Except for Adam. The school made the pizza with whole wheat flour, but they put enough tomato sauce and cheese on to make it tasty. Most of the middle school bought lunch on pizza day. Kids crammed the lunchroom, sitting ten or twelve to a table, jostling, laughing, joking. All so easy, all so casual.

Adam didn’t jostle or laugh or joke. He sat at an uncrowded table, with a few guys he knew well enough to nod to and say, “Hey.”


  1. Interesting set up. I'm curious how Adam is going to link back to the plague in the prologue, and what the windpipe has to do with it all. I loved the opening line about the windpipe especially, because even though it's not mentioned in the prologue, it lets your reader know that something is going to connect the two scenes together.

    You mention Adam doesn't love pizza day, but we never find out why. The pizza is said to be tasty, so that must not be his reason. (Granted, that could be shown in sentences farther down that we don't have here). Still, I would have liked to have see the reason mentioned in the paragraph his dislike is brought up in.

    Maybe check some of your words and descriptions in your prologue. It reads a little older than an MG but that could be your intent to set it apart from the rest of the narrative.

  2. I like the contrast you have between the prologue and the actual story. My one thing is to actually avoid saying the word "pizza" as often as you do. I felt like, while reading it out loud, I was constantly making that zz sound.

    Should "the windpipe" be "his windpipe?"

  3. I like the contrast you have between the prologue and the actual story. My one thing is to actually avoid saying the word "pizza" as often as you do. I felt like, while reading it out loud, I was constantly making that zz sound.

    Should "the windpipe" be "his windpipe?"

  4. For me the language of this seems very disjointed. The opening section is very adult, the cafeteria very childish. The opening paragraph in the cafeteria is also rather dull. There are three or four sentences devoted to pizza right at the beginning of the story. Consider focusing on the kid rather than on the pizza.

  5. The descriptions in the first part are amazing. I did cringe a little though (I found it a little harsh for MG,but that's totally a personal thing).

    The Adam section is a huge contrast to the first, which really has me curious about how Adam will fit into the plague, and I'm wishing I could read further to find out. I was left wondering why Adam doesn't like pizza, simply because everyone else does.

  6. You don't need the first sentence - you go on to tell how no one would be safe - which is much more effective.

    As with others, I'd like to know what Adam doesn't like about pizza day. "Tasty" sounds like an odd choice of words from a kid. And there could be things about pizza day - other than pizza - that he doesn't like. I like your description of where Adam sits! It tells a lot about him. And boys do have friendships that can be summed in "hey." Very real.

    The tone of the plague section and Adam's section are very different. Then again, dealing with the plague can do that to you. ; - )

    The story begins with such an an enormous juxtaposition - can't help but be intrigued!

  7. Quite good.

    I agree about the first line, I'd rather you'd started with 'In a small mud cottage at the end of the village, a woman sat...' and then delete 'the cottage' at the start of the paragraph 3.

    I'm not fond of the repetition in paragraph 2 either. The last two lines really just repeat the two lines before. I know it's for effect, but it doesn't work for me. Sorry.

    I'd change 'hooded man' to 'hooded figure' or something because 'the man' in the sentence before makes me think instead of enjoy. If that makes sense.

    I do agree that 'pizza' is overused in that short section too.

    I would keep reading :)

  8. There's obviously a huge jump from one part of the writing to another. As a reader, I always find that jarring, but good authors always make it worth my while. I like the mood of the first piece, but wish I could get into the second piece a little faster. Do I need to know that there is a lot of tomato sauce or that the crust is whole wheat? I'd rather know a little more about your MC.

    The first section starts with a date, but the second does not. Is that on purpose? I'm assuming because of the pizza it's modern times now, but I'm wondering if it shouldn't say that? I also wonder if we are still in England, or even still in the same village? Maybe that comes into play later though. I would definitely read on to find out more!

  9. Here’s an instance where I find that a prologue does work and I’m curious to see what the plague and pizza day have in common. For a MG audience, some of the descriptions are a bit on the adult side (keep in mind that most often middle grade books are purchased by parents, so you want something they won’t mind their kid reading)… and then we switch to Adam’s POV and you’ve lost the earlier elegance from the prologue. Adam’s sentences are disjoined and you are going on and on about the pizza but don’t talk about what it is about it that makes Adam not like it. If it’s tasty, in his words, why does he still not like it? Further, the comment about the windpipe seems out of place as I can’t quite come up with a correlation between it and pizza!

    For me, I don’t like getting a MG voice that feels like it’s trying too hard to be for MG. You have a great voice in the prologue (even if I’d tone back the gory descriptions a touch) so carry it through into Adam’s section too.

  10. A very dark intro. It worked as a hook for me.

    You might cut the last two sentences of the second parg because they basically say the same thing as the two sentences before them. And I wondered about a third of the village being dead ‘in a few years.’ It seemed too long a time. Does the story take place in a few years, or a lesser amount of time? If the story will all happen in say a week or two, or even a month, and you change that line to match the length of the story, you’ll add more urgency to the scene. All these people dying in two weeks is more compelling than all these people dying in two years.

    In the second half, you might cut the first parg and just get into the story. And you tell us everyone loved pizza day but Adam, but you don’t tell us why. Perhaps it comes later, but you could put the reason immediately after that statement.

    And the difference between the two sections feels huge. The first half feels like it’s written for an older audience, and then we jump to a world of 12-13 year olds. I have no idea if it will work for you, or against you, or if it even matters, but the change between 1348 England, the plague, and the hooded guy to a modern school cafeteria was a bit jarring. A bit chilling, actually, when you think about Adam being touched by that earlier world. And that, I suppose, is a good thing.

    I’d read more.