Saturday, December 4, 2010

#40 MG Historical: To The Bones (BAKER'S DOZEN AGENT AUCTION)

TITLE: To The Bones
GENRE: Middle-Grade Historical

When an angry 13 year old Harper Puckett sets out to prove he can make it on his own, he gets caught up in the Dinosaur Bone Wars of 1881 as a spy, and then a double spy. His situation becomes more dangerous than he ever imagined, and if his cheating ways are discovered, he risks losing his family, himself, and the only life he's ever known.

My grandpa used to always say, "Harper, sometimes you have to jump off the train before it even gets to the station." Here at Como Bluff that meant beating the sun, and the weather, with a fully loaded pack train. I knew he'd be proud to see me now, working the rounds all on my own.

We hiked the rocky path along the bottom of the tall, multicolored bluff, with me whistling and the mules plodding to the beat. "I think Ma's gonna like our new plan," I said to Boomerang. He snorted.

I turned my head to make out the sounds coming at us. The rhythmic clank of pick on stone settled in my ears like a miniature hailstorm in the sun. That would be Mr. Reed. I quickened my pace just a bit, the mules coming right along with me.

This was the strangest mining operation I'd ever seen, digging up monster bones, but Grandpa had taught me not to judge. He said to respect any hard working man, so that's what I did. If they really were mining old monsters, how did those bones get themselves embedded in solid rock in the first place? Didn't make much sense to me, but it didn't really matter. Even this type of mining camp needed supplies. "Good morning, Mr. Reed," I hollered as we rounded the rock jutted bend. He spun toward me, pick in hand. His eyes blazed for a moment, brighter than the morning, his bushy brown moustache a straight line.


  1. I like this. I like the voice of your mc. Sounds natural and I get a glimpse of the type of kid he is. Great job.

  2. Logline - Perhaps explain what the Bone Wars were. Nothing long and drawn out - maybe - when he gets caught up in a dispute over dinosaur bones in 1881 - only because The Dinosaur Bone Wars doesn't mean anything to someone who never heard of that (me. I googled it.) Do you want an editor/agent to stop reading so they can google it?

    First parg was a bit confusing. Beating the sun and weather at what? ANd working what rounds?

    I wondered who 'we' were. I'm assuming the mules because no other name was mentioned.

    I'd read more because it's interesting and well written, but he doesn't come off as angry, as stated in the log line.

  3. I also had to google the Dinosaur Bones war - you need to explain it - but when I! What a great backdrop for a story. I'd even be a bit careful of posting your idea online, for fear of sparking a load more novels with the same setting.
    I wasn't so keen on your extract. It was kind of predictable, and not dramatic enough to get my attention. 'My grandpa used to always say,' is a big cliche for a first sentence, and shouldn't it be 'My grandpa always used to say..'. I'd have a bit of a rethink...but great idea, keep going!

  4. I also like the voice here. What's disconcerting for me is that I feel like we're too much inside the character's head. I have no idea who he's speaking to. For example, is Boomerang a mule or a person?

    The stream of consciousness in the last paragraph is a little overwhelming, I'd rather get his impression of the digsite. Is it small or large?

    This is a great idea. I hope you get some interest.

  5. The logline could be tighter, it was a little confusing. If Harper is making it on his own, doesn't that mean he's already left his family?

    I'm assuming Boomerang is a mule?

    I like the voice in the last paragraph, but I didn't feel much tension. At 13, how many mining operations had he seen? I think your last line is hinting that there is something 'off' with Mr. Reed, but to increase the tension, I'd suggest making him a little more menacing.

    Overall, it's an interesting story. Good luck.

  6. Even though I didn't know exactly what the Dinosaur Bone Wars were, you gave enough information for me to figure it out in context of a logline. I love the idea, fun and interesting.

    The voice is great and I would read on to see what happens next.

    I did have a problem with the first paragraph and the use of two meanings of 'train'. It took me out of the story for a moment to figure out that the 'pack train' wasn't a steam train. I'm assuming this is a pack train of mules. I suggest you clarify the second train so the reader doesn't hesitate.

  7. Totally solid logline!!!

    It's probably just me, but I don't know what a "pack train" is.

    Otherwise, this is good but the flow back and forth from narration to dialogue is a little clunky. It might help if you started new paragraphs when you switch.

  8. My only complaint about the logline is that the conflict was a little obtuse...I would consider detailing what the danger is precisely, just so it can have a sharper bite than a dull "he'll lose everything"

    Great writing, I also didn't understand "pack train" but the story explains it. "We" in the next par. threw me off as well, and even tho the pronoun is explained later it still felt uncomfortable.

  9. I agree with the others that there's great voice in this, but that the first paragraph left me confused. Even once I figured out the "pack train," I never quite got the connection between the first sentence (grandpa's saying) and the second (what that saying meant to them).

    Once I got past that first paragraph, the rest flowed pretty well.

  10. Great. I'd read more. The voice is fun and the logline clear. I think kids will love it.

  11. Like others, I loved the concept but was a little confused by the first paragraph.

    I wonder if the fourth paragraph might be a better start. "This was the strangest mining operation I'd ever seen, digging up monster bones, but Grandpa had taught me not to judge" could be a killer first sentence.

    In the log line, maybe "double agent" would read better than "double spy."

  12. Logline:
    Are the Bone Wars a real thing? Is it really a war?

    Line comments:
    -I'm a little confused about the "fully loaded pack train" line.
    -Who is the "we" in the second paragraph. Grandpa? The first line made it seem like a common saying of the past, not something present.
    -Boomerang is...a donkey? Not clear.
    -Is Mr Reed with the narrator or just happened to be there?

    Interesting premise, but the writing's not clear enough.

  13. I'm right there with everyone else. I love the idea of the Bone Wars and I know the kids will love it too, so that's great. Unique and intriguing.

    I thought the idea to start with the 4th paragraph was great. Leap right into mining of monster bones and everyone will be hooked right away. There's time enough to describe the pack train and all later.

    I did know what a pack train is, but I didn't get the connection to what Grandpa had said about jumping off the train. Had to read that several times and still didnt' get it. I definitely think you need to describe what a pack train is since kids will likely be unfamiliar with that.

    Think I'll google the Bone wars too!

  14. I like the feel of your MC that we get right off, and the tone of the ms is set from the beginning. I also am in the dark on what the Dinosaur Bone Wars is, but I'm sold on the concept as it sounds original.

    I was a little tripped up on the logline when you said a spy, and a double spy - I think you mean that he switched sides (or pretended to?). In any case, I've heard the term "double agent" so it's not a big deal, just something I tripped over a bit.

  15. I'd like to see the first 5 pages. Intriguing premise!

    Ammi-Joan Paquette

  16. The logline confused me on a few points. First, I don't know what the Dinosaur Bone Wars were. So maybe you could describe the event rather than give it a title. Where you said, "His situation becomes more dangerous than he ever imagined..." that doesn't really tell me much, and I wondered if he imagined any danger at all in the beginning. Then you said if his cheating ways were discovered he risked losing his family, etc., but I got the impression from the opening line that he'd left his family anyway.

    I thought the voice of the excerpt was quite good, though. But I didn't feel the setting was established in the beginning, so I felt lost. I don't know what "the rounds" meant. So I think you need to bring some of the detail from the second paragraph into the first. (Also, in the second sentence, you've got commas around "and the weather," where you don't need them. ...that meant beating the sun and the weather with a fully loaded pack train.)

    You mentioned a new plan in the third paragraph, but I don't know what that is, so it distracted me.

    The fourth paragraph needs some work, IMO. You've got the boy turning his head before the reader knows there's any other sound. It would read clearer if you kept the sequence chronological... sound first, then the boy's reaction.

    I think you can delete both instances of the word "really." This is a "weasel word." It sneaks into our writing when most often it isn't needed.

    "Rock jutted bend" stopped me. It felt awkward.

    Feels like there's a word missing in the final phrase.

    Overall, I thought this was good! I'd be interested in reading further. It needs some tightening up, but the voice is excellent. You might think about including some setting details, working them into the action... like the mules' hooves kicking rocks along the path, and the character breathing in dust or feeling the heat.

    Hope this helps!

  17. I like this kid's voice, but I'm going to nitpick your second paragraph a bit.

    The "we" needs adjustment. Your intro set-up the kid and Grandpa, though Grandpa's not actually in the scene. When he says "we", it follows that he means himself and his grandpa, not himself and someone yet to be introduced. Especially since you said he was "on [his] own".


  19. Historical fiction can be a challenge to market, but you've got an original time period/subject here, so that's a leg up for you. I've only ever seen this in one other work of fiction, a Time Spies chapter book where the kids helped a professor in the middle of the Dinosaur Bone Wars.

    The voice is nice, and I like the way we're seeing a little window into the main character's world. There are a few clunky parts, but those can be fixed (e.g., "rhythmic clank of pick on stone settled in my ears like a miniature hailstorm in the sun"). Love the description of the dinosaur dig from his POV as the strangest mining operation he'd ever seen. Nicely evocative of his perspective.

    I'm hooked.

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