Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#6 January Secret Agent

TITLE: White Lies and Friendship Ties
GENRE: Middle Grade Contemporary

Dirty clothes invaded Connor's bedroom. Tee shirts hung from his desk chair and gym socks covered the floor. One last pair of shorts peeked out from his dresser drawer. Yes, and we have a winner! He put them on, along with his Red Sox jersey and raced down the hall to his mom's bedroom. The floor boards creaked as he skidded to a stop at her door.

"Hey, Mom," he whispered. "Aren't you going to get up? I have to leave in twenty minutes."

Her eyes barely opened. "What? No. I'm so tired, Connor. I didn't sleep at all last night."

But, it's my first day of school.

She rolled over and Connor trudged back to his room. She always made French toast for him on his first day. His dad took embarrassing pictures of him in the front yard. Today was nothing like then. It wasn't even close. I guess starting eighth grade isn't a big deal anyway. So much had changed since his dad's funeral. The bathroom smelled like a port-a-potty and the old food in the refrigerator crawled away. It wasn't his mom's fault. She was sad. Someday she would clean and do the grocery
shopping like she used to. Soon she would get dressed into real clothes, not just her bathrobe. She'd notice that Connor was still around-that he didn't die when his dad did. Until then, he would fix everything. If he didn't, the foster care people would come, because that's what they did.


  1. My heart hurts for Connor, which means this is definitely effective. I have a few nitpicky changes (no comma after "But" in the fourth paragraph, and "get dressed into" should be "get dressed in"), but you've set up a very compelling problem and a protagonist I suspect I'll like a lot. I'd read on!

  2. I'm not sure that making the clothes the active character in the first sentence works. Sets up confusing imagery.

    I like the hopeful tone of the beginning that quickly turns dark.

    My comment on the rest is that it gives away too much. Allow us to feel that his father is dead by showing the house in disrepair, his mother's negligence, etc. We don't need to know exactly what's going on. In fact, sensing that something's wrong in Connor's home will make us read on to find out what it is. Allow the reader to experience Connor's story along with him. You never need to info-dump.

  3. Yes, I would read more. I like the clothing humor in the beginning. I agree with Elena that making the reader wonder why the house is a wreck would build suspense.I also thought Conner sounded a little younger that a 14-year-old.

    Good job!

  4. I like Connor and think you've done a great job building sympathy for him. I think the writing needs to be smoothed and you should start with a sentence in which your MC is taking action, not the clothes. I also was pulled out in the last paragraph. It states his plight very well, but then says he would "fix everything." Is this a new idea? What does he mean by everything? Obviously he hasn't fixed anything yet... so if he's just deciding this now, then show us that thought process. Also, it sounds like he had a pretty normal childhood until his dad died...why does he assume the foster care people are just going to show up? Does he have experience with that in the past? It felt incongruous with the stories of french toast and pictures on the first day of school.

  5. I like the voice here and the tone -- it fits what I expect MG fiction to sound like (though I haven't read a lot of it).

    I admit that the clothes invasion stopped me a bit. It can work, but I want their to be more invasion then: for example, use more active verbs instead of "hung" and "covered".

    I suggest cutting from "Today was nothing like..." until "a big deal anyway" and then starting a new paragraph with "But so much had changed..."

    The real hook for me here is in that last sentence. Is that a real fear here? That Connor is going to be taken away by Social Services? If so, I'd throw that bit of knowledge up to the top (and maybe that would give some weight to the (possibly dark) imagery of the clothes invading).

  6. The title is catchy. And due to the fun beginning, which I like a lot, I didn't expect a sad story. And it is. I feel for Connor. Sounds like a real problem that he faces.

    The line about starting eighth grade stops the flow of thought in the paragraph for me. It seems to me you are trying to say that the main difference is that Dad is dead, and not that he is in eighth grade.

    The writing flows well. Strong premise.

  7. I didn't particularly care for the beginning and the setting at first. I was like, "Getting dressed isn't important at all and the first day of school has been used so many times". I was also expecting something lighthearted from the first paragraph, but was definitely not prepared for what I was about to read!

    I understand why he had to dress and the first day of school as a contrast. I can sense the change in his attitude, from excited to disappointment.

    I liked the characterization in here. Since this is Middle Grade, this is how I expect a pre-teen to act and think about death and the consequences. I ended up feeling empathy toward Connor. I have a bad feeling the first day of school will be a bad one for him.

    But anyways, good job and good luck! :)

  8. Conner came off much younger than 14. I imagined a kid 8-10. And if he's 14, that's probably too old for MG which is usually 8-12. Perhaps consider lowering his age or making this YA.

    I liked the opening. It was light and lively and a great set-up for the dark to come. You might want to use a word other than 'invaded' though, since the clothes aren't invading. They're already there. And perhaps start with Conner searching for something to wear. The point is, start with Conner, not the clothes.

    Once Conner goes back to his room, my interest started to fade. Not because it got dark, but because it was all telling. Show him in the bathroom and let us see the mess/smell the stink. Show us the dirty dishes and rotten refrigerator as he goes to get some breakfast, and then have him think he should be having french toast. SHow us his sadness and disappointment. Don't tell us.

  9. I think, there maybe too much telling and the narrator dumps his situation on the readers. I'd liked to see the MC searching through his dirty clothes, using the nasty bathroom, and even taking it upon himself to do things that his mother used to do.

  10. Not hooked on this one. Opening with a kid getting dressed for school and dumping so much backstory on us from the start just doesn't make me want to read on.

    My guess is, the actual story might be very intersting but you chose the wrong opening. Is there another place you could start this that would still give us a hint of Connor's situation and character but draw us in more?

  11. Hey, Secret Agent here! This is a sad story premise and you do give us high stakes right off the bat, which is great. I’m wondering, though, why he doesn’t speak what he thinks to his mom. That would be a more showing-based scene than just going through a laundry list of Mom’s problems that also, conveniently, tells the reader the context of the story.

  12. I like how you gradually show that things have changed rather than just saying "Things changed after my dad died". Very nice.

    One thing is you probably don't need is "She was sad." Show us she's sad. You don't need to tell us.

    Very nice! Keep up the good work :)

  13. I like the writing, and I think you have a strong story premise. 'Invaded' was too strong a verb for me because it makes the clothes seem alive and distracted me from the imagery. I agree with the comments that showing the house in disrepair could be an effective way to slowly reveal Connor's situation.

    I'm curious as to why Connor is optimistic that his mom will behave differently today. I'd like to see him acknowledge that it might be a long shot before he's shot down.

    I also agree with others that the voice sounds a little young for eighth grade.