Wednesday, July 28, 2010

First 750 #10

GENRE: MG Contemporary

I walked into math class and scoped out the sub. Easy prey.

What little life Mr. Thompson had was about to get a whole lot worse.

Our math teacher had finally had her kid and was home changing diapers for a month. We were on our second sub of the week, and Foster F. Finkman made it his job to upset subs.

I was his partner in crime.

Mr. Thompson was the victim of a bad brown toupee. It looked like Grunt, my guinea pig. This teacher wannabe was somewhere between thirty and fifty, had braces and smelled like there was roadkill in his grill. I'd had him as a sub since kindergarten and he hadn't changed a bit. Except for the braces.

Toupee Thompson knew all of us at Harly Middle School by name. It isn't a big school, since Harly isn't a big town. Okies say you can stand at one end of it and spit to the other. So when he noticed Finkman was new, the sub flashed a silvery smile and squeaked, "What's your name, young man?"

Finkman stood and squeaked back, "Foster Florentine Finkman, sir. And I hope you don't mind my asking, but has your hairpiece had its rabies shot?"

The class cracked up. Thompson turned pink and had this foamy spit at the corners of his mouth. "Finkman? What kind of stupid made up name is that? Is that the best you could do?"

Triple F had only lived in Harly a couple of months, but there's one thing everybody knew about him-you didn't make fun of his name. Someone had called him Farter Stinkman once, and had got a black eye. He was taller than the rest of us, and tough as jerky. With a name like that, I guess he had to be.

The room went quiet. Finkman stared at the sub, then smiled.

"Take out your books and turn to page fourteen." Thompson went to the board and wrote the assignment. His hand shook. "Do these problems."

Finkman turned and winked at me. My stomach tightened. Yesterday Coach Ames had subbed. To welcome him we'd tied pull poppers to the desk drawers and poured itching powder down his shirt. Any other sub would've snapped, but "Attaboy" Ames was a retired Harly High football Coach. He was pretty crusty. Ames cussed for a minute and then laughed it off. We didn't even end up in detention.

De-ten was one place I couldn't wind up again. Mom was a stress muffin already, and she'd had a complete conniption when I got detained for programming Haylee Kincaid's cell during science last week. Mom was scared I'd wreck my chances of getting into a decent college, even though I was only in the eighth grade. Haylee'd called me that night to thank me, and had been nice to me ever since, so it'd been worth it. She was a cheerleader with long, black curly hair. One hot habanero.

Finkman's folks, on the other hand, didn't seem to care about him getting into trouble. We had a deal: I set up the subs and he took the heat. It was a fine line between having fun and getting in trouble.

But this was risky. Thompson knew Mom, and he'd rat on me in a heartbeat. Besides, basketball started next week, and I couldn't be late for practices. I had to be careful.

After a few minutes, I raised my hand. "Mr. Thompson, can I ask you a question?"

Thompson headed toward me. He had no reason to expect trouble, since I'd never given him any before.

"How's your mom, Charles?" Thompson whispered as he leaned over my desk. I didn't like the look in his eyes. "I heard about the divorce. Sorry."

That was it. If there's one thing that makes me mad, it's guys stalking Mom.

"She's fine," I growled. "And it's Chuck, not Charles. I need help with number six." He bent way over to look at my book and I mouthed to Finkman, "Get him!"

It happened in a flash: Finkman snatched the toupee, then hopped on the teacher's desk. He slapped Thompson's rug on his head and started busting moves.

Everyone went ballistic. Thompson straightened up, felt his bald scalp, then shook, squeaked and spit.

Finkman shook, squeaked and spit. The decibel level rose like a rock concert.

Thompson charged down the aisle and lunged at Finkman, who ran around the room, waving the toupee.


  1. First off, your title cracked me up :) I think you've done a good job setting up the scene here, with a good intro to the characters. I do wonder if we really need to know the back-story of their shenanigans from the day before? Also, the word "scope" in the first sentence caught me by surprise and made me read it again--I usually associate the word with scoping out women or something (could be just me, but I thought I'd mention it). Otherwise, I thought this was pretty funny :)

  2. Finally - I get to read more than the first 250 words! :)

    I really like the characters and the story premise. I have no complaints about the actual writing. Kids pulling pranks and getting in trouble is fun. And I love the title! Just the title makes me want to read it.

    My only constructive criticism is that I feel your mc does a lot of telling through out the action. And a lot of that telling is chunks of backstory. What his mom is like. What Finkman's mom is like. I don't mind the telling opening - a lot of mg opens that way. It just seems like after every piece of dialogue there is more telling/backstory. And a lot of that I'm wondering if you could show over the course of the first few chapters. I'd like to delve into the character and the action sooner and experience them for myself.

    This story has great potential! Great job!

  3. Hey,

    First, I would like to save that I really enjoyed this. Your writing is full of voice and professional-quality. I forgot that I was reading an unpublished excerpt. Take that as high praise!

    However, the one thing I didn't get here was the hook. What's the plot of the book going to be? Kids pulling pranks? Haven't we seen this before? Give us at least one glimpse of why we should care (I need to take my own advice here). I want to see why the story is different.

  4. I really enjoyed this. Your title and first sentence, in particular, made me smile.

    My few comments are really just quibbles. It seems contradictory that Chuck first identifies Mr. Thompson as easy prey, then later says that tormenting him will be risky. I also wonder if you have too many one-sentence paragraphs right up front--if they might be losing their punch through repetition. Maybe roll the line about Mr. Thompson's life getting worse into the next paragraph?

  5. While parts of this were funny, the majority of it is all telling, and a lot of the telling is infodumping.

    Finkman shoots a zinger at the sub. The sub shoots one back. Tension rises and I'm wondering, "Ooh. What's gonna happen now?" But the next paragraph stops the story so I can learn about Finkman's past behavior. I want to see his current behavior. And it goes on and on in this way, which was a big turn off for me.

    Perhaps tell the story without the constant stopping for explanations? We can learn all this info later, as the story progresses. Tell us about all these other people when we meet them. For now, stick to the events at hand. They're funny and lively and much more interesting than all the explanations.

    Good luck!

  6. Okay, I loved this. I was disappointed when I got to the end of the submission and couldn't read any more! I can see the action happening in the classroom and love the MC's distinct voice. I'm just getting to know these characters, but I already feel like I'm connecting with them. Very nicely done.

    The only crit I can offer is that there may be too much backstory right off the bat. When you went into detail regarding detention I almost spaced out because I was ready for the kids to pull a prank on the poor sub already. Maybe just move the paragraph somewhere else?

    All in all, great job!

  7. I agree with previous comments. I tripped over the first few lines. The premise, however, is great. Just tighten up the writing a bit.

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  9. I really enjoyed this. The voice is great. I, too, noticed a bit of telling and info-dumping.

    Watch out for repetitive words. You used the word shook three times.

    Interesting premise. Nice voice. I would read on to see how Mr. Toupee handles Triple F. Good luck with this!

  10. I agree about the backstory. It might be worked in later to keep the momentum going.

    The only other comments I have are nits. It seems to me that he doesn't need to mouth "Get him." Finkman knows what he's doing. Trust your readers to follow too. And when the sub split, I understood it to mean he ran out the door, so I got a little confused.

  11. I remember this from the earlier 250-word contest. I think this has some potential. I found myself reading the whole thing, which I'm unable to do in a lot of these contests. I guess my main question would be where does the story go and how does the plot work, but I think you have a strong grasp on the proper writing style, which seems to equal fun, quick reading.

  12. Nicely done. Your protag's highly entertaining voice overshadows the truly minor imperfections along the way.