Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Secret Agent #26

Genre: MG Fantasy

Monsters under the bed never scared Jake, but the ones doctors claimed lurked inside his head did. He scratched a phantom itch on his artificial foot, waiting for Miss Hardgrade’s verdict.

“Jake,” Hardgrade said, “you’ve been excused from the ‘How I spent my summer vacation’ assignment.”

“I need to tell what happened.”

She twirled a pencil between her fingers. “All you have is a title page.”

“It’s an oral presentation.”

“But this never really—”

“I know . . . doctors think my brain created an imaginary world to deal with the trauma of almost drowning. But I know I spent my summer with pirates.”

She glanced at his paper again. “Blackbeard’s Academy of Piracy and Culinary Arts.”

“What do they teach—food fighting?” Tommy Fathead shouted.

The class laughed. Fathead usually sucked at quick one-liners. His talent since grade school had been scraping the feet of chairs to mimic the toot of a butt tuba.

Hardgrade’s pencil snapped. “That’s enough.” The class transformed into statues minus the pigeon icing. “Jake, maybe you should wait until you can present something real?”

He stood and lifted his shirt. “Like this giant tattoo of Blackbeard’s flag on my chest?”

Everyone gasped at the white horned skeleton on a black background covering Jake's entire upper body. The dead devil held an hourglass in one hand while pointing a spear at a red heart dripping blood with the other.

“Doctors know I hate needles,” Jake said, “but they can’t explain how I have a tattoo, which required a million needles, when tourists found me washed up on a north end beach.”


  1. I love the title, and am intrigued to find out more about this place. I'm uncertain, however, whether these initial lines stand in the chronology of the story - is this a flash forward, and the actual story will be about events that happened last summer? If so, consider adding some narration that sets a tone for how Jake's world has changed (i.e., how he views his current class to the one he experienced in the summer). Jake's statement that "doctors think my brain created an imaginary world..." feels too convenient for actual dialogue (and more like a tool to fill the reader in one what's going on). I'd like to feel Jake's frustration (or whatever emotion he's feeling) over his misunderstanding class more directly. Nice work!

  2. I think this is terrific. So fun and creative and humorous. Loved the pigeon icing. In confessed to stopping to ponder the itch on the artificial foot. Then, after reading the whole thing, I went back and read that line again, assuming as a pirate, maybe he had a wooden leg. But then I read the whole thing again without that first line and it seemed smoother. It's a great line, but maybe it would be better placed elsewhere? I would definitely be interested in reading more of this.

  3. I'm laughing, love the snippy voice here. I do think the dialogue could be a little less informative. There's some conflict in it, but it feels like I know the whole story before I've even read it. While that could attract a young reader, it would be nice to have a little mystery.

  4. I love the premise. I stumbled on this phrase in the opening line, "but the ones doctors claimed lurked inside his head did." It's awkward, and I wondered why not just start with the phantom itch on his artificial foot? That alone will grab your reader's attention, and allow you to set up the "pirateness" of the MC right away (peg leg, tattoos, etc.) Some of the dialogue felt a bit like you're giving me, the reader, info, instead of strictly dialogue. Would the teacher ask him to present "something real," or write something on his paper, first? When he lifts his shirt, and says "Doctors know..." and refers to "when tourists found me washed up on a north end beach," that sounds very info-ish, as opposed to how a kid would say it. But overall a very funny scene, and one I can picture clearly.

  5. This is such a wonderful title. MG titles with fanciful long titles like this get me every time. It's an adventure in itself guessing where it's going. Great character name with Fathead and butt tuba. All great stuff. However, the start of the scene with dialogue IMO is a no go. I prefer more scene setting, more letting me get to know him first before I see the interaction of the world and character's getting to know him. Thanks for the read and good luck!

  6. This has the promise of a cute MG story. Just me wanting to know why he is missing a leg is enough for me to want to read on, especially if it is a pirate's peg leg. I did wonder why the teacher is excusing him from the assignment. I assume it's because she's overheard what he went through over the summer but this line had me confused. And her stating the whole assignment name is over-the-top author intrusion. Just shorten it. Good intrigue here.

  7. I love the humor (several LOL moments), the voice, and the age-appropriate vocab in this piece. What a great read for MG, especially the boys.
    A couple things I wondered about: Would the teacher be having this conversation in front of the whole class? Should it be more of a private conversation?
    And, have you tried this ms in first person? I think it would read more smoothly and have an even stronger voice in first person.
    First line could be streamlined...Jake/me, only the ones doctors claimed lurked inside his/my head.
    Great concept. Would definitely keep reading!

  8. For me, this walks right on the edge of intriguingly weird and too much weird! The dialogue works well, but there is so much going on in this scene that I’m not sure what I’m supposed to focus on. For example, the opening line doesn’t really seem to connect with the scene that follows: he seems determined (also a smart-alec), but not scared.

    He’s funny for sure but I’m not quite connecting with him yet. And some of the figurative language (“pigeon icing”) is confusing and could be tightened up.

    Whatever’s going on, piracy and culinary school seem like a really winning combination, though. I’d read on.

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