Wednesday, March 18, 2009

35 Secret Agent

GENRE: MG Adventure-Historical


I tried to warm her, but by daybreak, Mam was still and cold. I let my little brother think she was sleeping until I figured out what to do. English soldiers looked for orphans to sell and I couldn’t let them find us.

When night swallowed every ray of daylight, I told Mikey about Mam. I let him cry and then told him my plan. “Put on your coat and cap. We’re going to find our way to Aunt Bridget’s in the next village. It’s dark enough now so the soldiers won’t see us.”

“I don’t want to go, Ceara.” He poked his spoon into the mashed turnips I’d cooked. “Why can’t we stay here? You know how to take care of me.”

He was so dumb, but he was only eight. I couldn’t be angry. “Do you want to work in the colonies for years and years? That’s where we’ll go if they catch us.”

“Like Danny’s big sisters? And Uncle Paddy?”

“Yes. Now, hurry. We have a long way to walk before morning.”

“You won’t let them get us, will you?”

“By the time anyone finds out we’re orphans, we’ll be safe with Aunt Bridget —if we stay out of sight and hurry."

I stepped through the door into a drizzly fog, but the stone fence beside the path showed the way. A wolf howled and I shivered. They attacked people. Watch over us, Mam. Help me take care of Mikey like you asked me to.


  1. There are a couple of places where I thought this was overwritten (when night swallowed every ray..), but I am definitely hooked. I'm a sucker for saving a little kid, and you've given us a terrific setting.
    Good luck!!!

  2. I felt connected to the characters by the end of this short intro and wanted to read more about their adventure. Nice feel for setting and place. I'd read on...

  3. Excellent set up. I would keep reading. I think you are off to a very good start.

  4. Totally hooked. This is the line that got me: "He was so dumb, but he was only eight." Awww, Mikey!

    I agree about the line: "When night swallowed every ray of daylight." You could just say, "When night came."

    My only quibble is that the narrator waits until dark to go to Aunt Bridget's, so the soldiers won't see her and Mikey in the dark. But, the way it's written, she waits until night to tell Mikey, so it sort of sounds like it takes her all day to think up her plan of going to her Aunt's.

    But, that's really minor. This is excellent!

  5. I started reading this just for the title -- not too often people spell "Sara" right ;) But then the setting hooked me even more, and the lovingness of the MC. I don't usually read MG, but this is way hook-y!

  6. Definitely hooked. You're showing us the stakes immediately -- I love the first line especially because it shows this is an old-before-her-time child. She takes the death of her mother as something that must be dealt with, rather than a tragedy to cry about.

    The one thing that seemed out of place to me was "He was so dumb." From what I can tell, "dumb" used to mean only "lacking the power of speech." It came to mean "stupid" as well after Germans immigrated to the U.S. (Which is not to suggest that Germans are stupid. Just that in German, "dumm" is "idiot.") What about "foolish"?

  7. One thing that distracted me a little bit was the modern type dialogue. I wouldn't go overboard and make the kids sound like lepracauns, but maybe touch up on word choices in spots to remind us time and again.

    I would read on otherwise. I loves histfic. :)

  8. I echo all that's been said already. Very hook-y and I'm rooting for them both already. I do wish there was a bit more, I don't know, texture? Proper nouns. Details that gave me a sense of who these children are and where they are and even a bit of what their life was like before these events. So I guess what I'm saying is that maybe it's too much, too soon? It might be just me, but I like to be eased in a bit more. Get to know people before I'm thrown into the heart of their troubles.

  9. I was definitely hooked and I imagined my son reading it and decided he'd be hooked too. The only thing that threw me was the use of the word "dumb." I guess because your story takes place so long ago, I expected the style of the piece to be more historic.

  10. I LOVED the first line. It told me everything I needed to know about the characters and the story.

    I didn't notice the 'modern' dialogue so much, but would agree with the comments about keeping it within the time and place.

    I was definitely hooked though. I was invested in the characters from that first line.

  11. I really liked the story needs some tightening. Good work.

  12. Very good! I am hooked.

    I thought it was a little abrupt when we go from letting the boy cry to him suddenly eating mashed turnips. And again, when we went from the MC talking to Mikey, who is eating, to the MC going outside. Did she get the boy ready? Dressed for the journey, etc.?

    Otherwise, very good.

  13. Awesome first line.

    Did the little brother really think Mam was sleeping all day? Did his sister have to distract him in some way?

    I think I'd like a hint of their surroundings - shabby, I presume, but I could be wrong.

    Awesome last line!

  14. Got me in - as it would anyone who has ever worried about kids welfare. I'm wondering how old the girl is. Mum died overnight, maybe she should have headed off immediately (before dawn) Overall, a good read.
    Good luck with it

  15. I like the set up, but some things didn't follow through for me. First, the beginning lines were all backstory and Telling. Obviously the mother's death is the turning point in the story, but you just brush right over it. I think including that scene would really draw us into this world. Secondly, for taking place in the 1650s, your characters don't speak like how the times would have shaped language (ex: "He was so dumb"). Some tweaking, and I think this would be a really interesting read. Good luck!

  16. I loved this and would read on. In the first paragraph I noticed that the main character obviously expected her mother to die. So you might want to add that she had been ill for quite a while. That also takes care of the problem why Mikey doesn't wonder when his mother doesn't wake.

    I disagree with some comments. Since this is an MG historical novel and not one for adults the dialog shouldn't deviate to much from todays talk (it shouldn't be modern but it can use all the words we use today). Of course you can "sprinkle" in a few old-fashioned words to emphasize that it's been a while but the dialog should be immediately understandable to the reader.

    If I were an agent I'd ask for more.

  17. I thought there needed to be a little more telling in the front--not too much, I liked the starkness of the beginning: Mam's simply dead, and we don't need to know more. However, there should be a little more sisterly tenderness, or purposeful lack of tenderness--perhaps he tries to hug her, but she won't. Either way it says volumes about her.

    I had a big problem with "dumb" and other modernisms. I think that in historical fiction, if you are not going to attempt dialect (and 99% of the time people who do attempt it fail), you should probably not use modern colloquial language. Flatten it out and be universal.

    Also, Mikey would know the name of "the next village"--that's an author talking, not a character.

    I'd keep reading, but I'd need to see some improvement in the writing.


  18. I get that the MC is emotionally detached from the mom's death and trying to focus on the next step. But because the character doesn't care, neither to I. And telling us that she let Mikey cry still doesn't attach any emotion to it.

    I think there's a way to keep the detachment and still let your reader feel the emotions of the moment, but right now it's almost like that part is glossed over, and you're losing a big opportunity to draw me in from the start.

    I also felt the like the dialogue was informational rather than real. It also did nothing to further my sense of character.

    This is kind of a petty thing... but the title of the book doesn't give me any sense of what the book is about, and almost seems the the title for a picture book or something.

  19. I thought the first paragraph was great, but it dropped off from there. I have some problems with the dialogue and some plot issues. If Mam were dying, wouldn't they already be with Aunt Bridget (Mam too, before her death)? Or wouldn't Aunt Bridget check in on them now and again?
    Also, very little emotion here, even though they just lost their mother.

    Good start, hooked on the first paragraph, not hooked after it.

  20. I agree about some of the "modern" language. But the character's plight is evident and dire and that makes for a good start. Also clear sense of setting, could feel that "drizzly fog."

  21. I thank you all for your very helpful comments and suggestions. The minute I wrote "dumb" at the last minute before sending, I knew it glowed neon orange. Foolish is much better. Thank you, Jamie.

    These people would have spoken much like Shakespeare, but with an Irish accent, so I've used numerous 'large' words to cover the contemporary sound. Dumb was plain stupid and I'd have changed it.

    Secret Agent, I have to tell you how honored and thankful I am for your helpful comments. This has been a special event for me.