Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October Secret Agent #3

TITLE: Gift of Sunshine
GENRE: Middle Grade

"How was your trip, Sunshine?" Dad said as he loaded my two, red suitcases in one arm and hugged me with the other. The train ride had taken all day long. I was very tired and hungry by the time my dad and stepmother picked me up at the train station. As long as I can remember, he always called me, "Sunshine." Then, he would sing some old song with the word, "Sunshine" in it. "You sure have grown since last year. Did you bring some jeans and sweaters?"

Before I could say anything, my new step-mother interrupted, "April, you sure have on a beautiful dress."

What did she care? She doesn't have any idea how special this dress is to me. Just who does she think she is anyway? Some old lady who took my dad away from my mom and me. Then, she had to move him out of state.

"I'm sorry, I forgot to introduce you. April, this is my wife, Shelby."

Shelby isn't anything like my own mom. I noticed right off that Shelby didn't even look at me while she talked. She wears dark sunglasses and her skin has lots of blisters. Serves her right for living so close to the sun. My mom is beautiful, even when she dresses in jeans and an old, yellow shirt. My stepmother has long, black hair.

It seemed forever before we arrived at my dad's house.


  1. I had trouble accepting that "Sunshine" has never met her step-mother until now. Her father seems to adore his daughter and I can't believe he didn't introduce her long before now. We might get a perfectly acceptable reason later, but for now it bothers me a little.

  2. No need for the comma in the first sentence after "two." I'll have to agree with Anna about the stepmother thing-- a father who loved his daughter that much would have definitely introduced them before they moved away.

    Also, you make long, black hair seem like a bad thing. Maybe stick that sentence in a different part of the paragraph.

  3. I agree with the first two comments - April not knowing her step mother doesn't seem plausible. If there's a reason for that maybe you should at least hint at it here so we know there's more behind it than it seems at first sight.

    Also, I found the switching between past and present tense distracting, particularly in the one-but-last paragraph.

    I like the strong voice of the MC in this passage.

  4. There were a few tense changes, ie: "as long as I can remember he always called me..." I think it should be "could remember" or "he's always." Nothing earth-shattering, but you might want check through and make sure it's a purposeful change and not a typo.

    I didn't have a problem with her never having met the step-mother, because I imagine the reason would be made clear. I did think the MC's tone/attitude made her come across as unlikeable. She probably has very good reasons for the attitude (such as having to meet the woman who replaced her mom). But I think at this early stage, you need to balance it with something that will make us sympathize/empathize with her.

  5. I adore the title. N' I love the TENSION you have created here between these characters. The POV of your main character is perfect, she has a bad attitude and she's cranky! Your prose seems just right for this audience, too. The paragraph describing the step-mom is superbly drawn!


  6. Perhaps place the stepmother in the scene by adding a line between the first and second sentences, because you're referring to her in the second sentence without having introduced her.

    You might also say 'why' her dress is so special to her. It will give some insight into her life.

    I didn't have a problem with her not already knowing the step-mom. Divorce and love both make people do strange things.

    And perhaps show them get in a car and drive for a bit (even if it's just one transition sentence) to show them actually going to Dad's house.

  7. I would move your physical description of step-mom to your second paragraph when she interrupts April. I want the earlier description so I can picture her immediately and not be corrected as I read on.

    I don't feel strongly compelled to continue reading but it could just be because I'm 35 and not into MG. It could be because you don't have your MC's goal clearly defined in this scene. Does she just want Shelby to hit the bricks? If so, say it.

    Good luck!

  8. I'm a little confused as to the timeline here--it says she's seen her father one year ago, but she's never met Shelby, which means they would have gotten married very recently. However, wouldn't a daughter be present at her own father's wedding anyway?

    The only other major thing was the tense issues, which some people have already discussed. You really can't have both past and present, so I would suggest picking past (because present tense irritates some readers).

    That's pretty much all the big stuff. This sounds interesting and I'd probably read it. I think you did a very good job capturing the emotions of your MC; that is EXACTLY how I feel a MG-age girl would react to a divorce where the father leaves to marry someone else. Good job.

    Grammar/punctuation/etc. stuff: In the first sentence, it should be "two red suitcases"; the comma is unnecessary. Additionally, you can't load a suitcase in an arm. You could change this to something like "he grabbed my two red suitcases with one hand and pulled me closer for a hug with the other" or something. (In any case, how is he going to carry two normal-sized suitcases with one arm?)

    In the same paragraph, there's another comma error: "As long as I could remember, he had always called me, 'Sunshine'" has an unneeded comma after "me". Same issue in the sentence that follows: there shouldn't be a comma after "word".

    You change between using "stepmother" in the first and fifth paragraph and "step-mother" in the second paragraph. I'm fairly sure that "stepmother" is more commonly used, but a quick Google search could clear this up. In any case, pick one and stick with it.

    The sentence "Some old lady who took my dad away from my mom and me" is a fragment, which isn't really a huge deal normally, but it threw me off in this instance. You could add "She's just" at the beginning of the sentence and it might read smoother.

    In fifth paragraph, there's some more comma stuff: "old, yellow shirt" and "long, black hair" would read better without the commas.

    In the same paragraph, the last sentence ("My stepmother has long, black hair") is out of place; I don't think you need it at this point because "long black hair" is a neutral attribute, and at that point your MC is only describing Shelby's negative attributes in contrast to her mother's.

  9. I don't have an issue with April meeting her stepmother here for the first time, and I like how she compares this woman to her mother. For clarification purposes though, you may want to have one [very] brief paragraph describing April's mother and another for the stepmother. I was a little confused about the blisters and wouldn't mind some elaboration on that, but perhaps that's coming later on.

    The opening paragraph could be cut, except for the first line.

    Overall, you've done a decent job of setting up the story. Good luck!

  10. I felt there was too much telling going on here. Telling can work in a narrative, but I didn’t think the effect quite worked here, especially since it was often tangential. The whole explanation of her nickname wasn’t necessary, and the juxtaposition of “My mom is beautiful…” and “My stepmother has long, black hair” seemed strange. I’m not entirely sure if long, black hair is supposed to be inherently ugly, or if you’re just showing how ridiculous April’s automatic hatred for her stepmother is. In any case, so far it’s a kid having trouble with the fact that she has a new stepmother. Which is understandable, but what else? What makes this particular story intriguing? I didn’t feel that answer here.