Friday, November 6, 2015

On the Block #20: THE DOLPHIN NEXUS 12:10 PM

GENRE: MG Magical Realism

In THE DOLPHIN NEXUS, when a sheltered, scientific-minded thirteen-year-old girl discovers she has a mystical connection to the sea, she must unravel her past and harness her growing powers to prevent a secret military project from silencing the ocean forever.
A streak of iridescent silver flickered past the port side of the tour boat. Waves of eager onlookers rushed to get a glimpse at the elusive shape. All except Irene. She shuffled starboard.

Typical tourists, she thought. She tried to forgive their silly ‘oohs,’ since these inlanders didn’t observe dolphins daily like she did.

"Well, folks," said the yellow‑toothed tour guide. Locals called him Captain Crunch, but Irene reserved Jimmy’s nickname for when she wanted him to leave her alone. "That there’s a sight we don’t see just ev’ry day.” His cheeks crinkled around his gray eyes as he aimed a wink her way.

I do.  A dolphin pod used the cove behind her house for their private vacation spot. She cast her gaze to the deck, catching sight of lobster-red shins sticking out of black-socks-in-sandals. British, she guessed. Looking over her shoulder where Jimmy stood behind the helm, she pointed to the sandals and mimed a monocle.  Jimmy lowered the mike so he wouldn’t snort into it.

Sandal-socks told his son, “Budge up, Johnny. Your sister fancies a look.”

Irene mouthed to Jimmy: That’s twenty.  Jimmy gave her a thumbs up.

Seventy-eight tourists correctly pinned to their countries so far this summer. Not bad for August. She congratulated herself as Sandal-socks held his little girl up to see over the side.

“Emma, stop your whinging and see the fish.”

Fish? No, that’s a mammal. From the Delphinidae family to be specific.

As Jimmy reeled off his usual speech, Irene mentally recited along. “That there's an Atlantic bottlenosed dolphin. Some say they’s deeper than us two-leggers.

"Wow,” said a girl to Irene’s left.


  1. Okay, for me, I needed more to tell me about what "kind" of story this would be. You've done a good job placing us in the scene, but I felt like I needed to be placed into the story with a promise of what was to come. I hope I'm making sense. Perhaps there might be some inclusion of the magical realism you have indicated, something that tells us there is a spark of something to come? I believe this must come from the main character. It doesn't have to be much but it gives us a better sense of the book and its intention and I think we need that sooner than what's given. For me, and just my opinion, at the moment it was a little dry even though there was a strong sense of character building. I hope this helps. You've done a great job in-scene.

  2. I didn't understand the "seventy-eight tourists correctly pinned to their countries so far" sentence. Otherwise I like your choice of words and I get a slice of Irene's fun side.

  3. I really like your premise and would love to read on to learn about her mystical connection to the sea. Your first page is very well done. I think your opening line is beautiful, but it may be a little too beautiful to grab a middle grader. They might be more excited by: Three dolphins streaked by the port side of the tour boat. So they don't have to think too hard about the meaning right off the bat. I agree with the previous comment that pinning the tourists to their countries was unclear. Especially since she mouths "that's twenty." If it's twenty, why does she say it's seventy eight? I had to read it twice. Also, "theys deeper than us two-leggers" threw me a bit. Does he mean smarter? My initial thought was deeper in the water, which didn't make sense. I love your imagery. (especially sandal-socks!) Great character building! Good Luck!

  4. You have strong characters in Irene and Jimmy, with their specific speech patterns. And Irene’s snark is well-played. I might suggest that you consider combining your first and second sentences for a tighter first sentence.

    ie: Waves of eager onlookers rushed to get a glimpse of the iridescent silver streak that flickered past the port side of the tour boat.

    Nice slice of Irene’s life in your first paragraphs, but have you considered a tease in there about the mystical connection early on? Perhaps the tourists or even Jimmy could think the iridescent silver streak is a dolphin, but something about it makes Irene wonder. Good luck.

    I read on to find out what her connection to the sea is.

  5. Your characters are well developed for the first page, and the setting is clear and descriptive.

    The "I do" is repetitive. You tell us that when you say "these inlanders didn't observe dolphins daily like she did." And tbh, I feel like we get the gist through Jimmy's simple wink at her. The wink says, "Actually, we do." And references both before and after sort of spoil that humor (explaining the joke).

    I got confused by "That's twenty," followed closely by "Seventy-eight." I had to look at an older draft of this to realize that she means twenty tourist pegs that day.

    I have to say, having seen this beginning a few times, I wouldn't have imagined it as your logline indicates. I would have thought it was as straight contemporary, coming of age, summer story. You might give a little more hint of the mysterious on this page (I think you might have in a previous draft with the coral pendant?).

  6. The subject sounds fascinating and I really like the idea. However, I would have liked to see her power in action rather than her mocking the tourists and acting all superior. She sounds like a character I do not really want to know.

  7. The logline was more intriguing because I would definitely like to see her connection to the sea in the first 250 words. Maybe some action for that and I think that could draw us closer to the story. However, she isn't a character I want to keep reading about because she acts better than everyone else. Like why is she even on the tour boat, if she's acts that way?

  8. I liked everything about this. It's a charming introduction to the MC and her world, with a strong voice and well-drawn characters. I particularly liked how you used nautical terms to show Irene's familiarity with life on the water.

    I would like to know how Irene is connected to Jimmy and what her role on the tour boat is, but I assume those things will be explained soon. I'd keep reading.

  9. Love how you wrote "waves of eager onlookers". Nice attention to word choice. A few things I'd like clarified in this opening:

    How old is your main character?
    Is her name Irene? Who is talking when they say, "Emma, stop your whinging?"
    What does whinging mean?
    Who is Emma?

    Be careful to create a likeable main character. We want someone to root for, right from the start.

    Love your opening sentence! Very descriptive!

  10. I really like your characters, even though Irene does come off a little uppity sounding when correcting the tourist who called the dolphin a "fish". I was also confused by the line, "they’s deeper" and Irene mouthing "twenty" when in fact it was 78. Beyond that, you really did a good job of making the characters come alive. Good Luck!

  11. I think you do a good job putting us in scene. I can easily imagine the tour boat, but perhaps you could put in a few tiny details to add a little punch (like the salty smell of the water or the breeze blowing Irene's hair). I also have to admit that I had to go back and check the genre because Irene seemed more like a snarky YA teen stuck on a tour she doesn't want to be on than a MG character. You've got some good voice, she just seemed older than thirteen to me. Good luck!

  12. Overall, this is well written, good descriptions, and you introduce some obvious conflict.

    Her boredom with things spread to me. Especially when she congratulated herself on pinning so many people to their correct countries (which was a little confusing of itself, but it also came off as smarmy) and the 'I do' in response to seeing these things every day. (I would cut the 'I do'. It was superfluous as we already knew she observes these things everyday)

    I suppose in the first few pages I want to know about the protag's conflict (which I do), but I also want to care. I probably would care more as I turned the page and read on, but I think you can make me care earlier, to increase my chance of turning that page. Maybe see if you can sneak in a few redeeming qualities here so we can feel empathy for her? Get me thinking, "Hell, yeah! Get her off the boat!" As opposed to, "Well, why don't you just get off if you don't like it that much?" Protags don't have to be traditionally likeable for me to care--sometimes annoying, frustrating protags draw me in. If that's what you're aiming for, a few more select glimpses of her personality here could make her more palatable/tantalising to the reader.

  13. I read another version of this in a secret agent contest and liked it then, and I like it now. But I have to admit, I liked the other version better. I can't say why, but the other version felt more genuine. This one is kind of clinical. I felt more emotion and personality out of all the characters in the other version.

    I do agree about getting some kind of hint in here about her connection to the sea, even if she just thinks something like she always felt connected to the sea.

    I'd read more. The writing tells me you'll deliver.

  14. From your logline and your first 250 words, this is the impression that I get: Irene doesn't know about her connection to the ocean yet. She's interested in marine life at a scientific level (Delphinidae), but not at a more emotional, I'm-the-Lorax-I-speak-for-the-seas level. She's maybe a bit of a know-it-all, but mostly she's bored with her summer job and just not enthralled by watching the dolphins anymore.

    Does that sound right? I'm not a reader who needs everything to happen right away in a book - I'm perfectly fine with Irene starting out not being into the ocean and with no hints about her mystical ocean connection (it's the first page - what's the rush?) - but I think it is important to know how Irene comes across to readers and to make sure that that's the Irene you're trying to portray.

    Good luck!

  15. Your protag sounds like a bored teen who doesn't like the tourists much. It comes across quite well (mimicking the spiel from the captain, etc.) Some wonderful details on that front. I don't get a sense of any conflict on this page yet other than her sheer boredom, but I am of the school that doesn't require any hints of what's to come in the first 250. The one thing I would say is that her complete ennui was contagious. Why should I like this bored teen? Why should I care about this bored teen? To be honest, in the first 250, I don't. Maybe that's okay, but I'm not enthused to read more about her at the moment. Even a pinch of something promising to make me care about her would be helpful.

    I was a little confused with these two lines at first:

    "“Emma, stop your whinging and see the fish.”

    Fish? No, that’s a mammal. From the Delphinidae family to be specific."

    At first, I thought, wow, for a stupid tourist, Emma sure has some 411 on dolphins. Maybe even "Irene winced" or something like that before "Fish?" would clarify that it's protag's thoughts.

  16. The environmental angle you hint at in the pitch makes me think this is a book that would keep me engaged. So far, so good! The only thing my tourist-town background argues with is the black socks/sandals/sunburn as a British cue. It's just as likely Midwestern. :-)

  17. It's obvious from the first paragraph that this intelligent girl knows boat language - but maybe too much. We have "iridescent, port side, tour boat, elusive shape, and starboard" right off the bat and it feels a little forced. I'd let the language come out more slowly. Good luck!

  18. You are in third person, and then say "I do" which switches it to first person. These two sentences:
    Sandal-socks told his son, “Budge up, Johnny. Your sister fancies a look.”
    Irene mouthed to Jimmy: That’s twenty. Jimmy gave her a thumbs up.

    I don't like both of them having the dialogue tags at the beginning. I think it would help the pacing if you had one or both of them after the dialogue.

    Otherwise--really great voice, setting, and pace! I like it!