Friday, December 2, 2011

#52 MG: Shakespeare On the Lam

TITLE: Shakespeare On the Lam

Using a magic orb, 12-year-old Jared Hearne accidentally swaps his older sister, Athena, for Shakespeare. Now Jared’s got only a small window of time in which to rescue Athena and return the modern-loving Bard to the sixteenth century before the orb ensures they’re stuck in the wrong place forever.

A ghost lurked in his house; Jared Hearne was sure of it. A ghost who prowled the corridors, muttered in strange voices, cackled. Sometimes, the ghost flitted around the dinner table. Sometimes, it sneaked into the family room when Jared was watching TV, coming so close he could feel its eyes fastening on the back of his neck as it readied itself to pounce.

Nobody else seemed to notice, that was the weirdest thing. Mom, Dad, his sister Athena—all of them slurped their soup, or yawned on the couch, or yakked on their cell phones without even a furtive glance or a frightened tremor. While Jared could practically feel the thing poking him in the ribs. Like right now, at 5:30 on a dark, rainy Oregon morning. The ghost was once again on the move. The chills running down Jared’s spine proved it.

He shivered as a spatter of rain hit his bedroom window. Taking a deep breath, he switched on Dad’s camcorder. If he got this ghost on camera, he’d be famous. It would be on TV, all over the internet. Kids at school would gape when he walked past.

One final check of his equipment. The strap of his bicycle helmet pinched his chin. His swim goggles were vacuum-tight. Whoa, epic eyeball bulge. Excellent. No way would the ghost now be able to yank out his hair or claw out his eyes. He was ready for action.

Stealthily, he cracked open the door. The tray of flour he’d positioned in the corridor showed no sign of footprints. His skateboard, the object he’d chosen to catch the ghost’s interest—in case the ghost was another sixth-grade skater like him—hadn’t moved.


  1. I think there was a problem when I tried to post my comment a minute ago, but if there are 2 from me, sorry.

    I think the rhythm in paragraph two is a little jerky because of the phrases in towards the end of it.
    And at the very end if he thought maybe the skateboard moved a tiny bit, but wasn't sure, it would be more tantalizing. I mean, just for the Black Friday agents and all. Just some thoughts.
    Love the bike helmet!

  2. I don't read a lot of MG, but I would read this. The log line absolutely cracked me up and I can only imagine this 12 year-old trying to corral Shakespeare and send him back to where he belongs.

    I really liked the beginning as well. My only question was about the word "camcorder". Is that still used in this day of flips and cell phones?

  3. I absolutely LOVE the premise.

    I think it would be really cool if it was in first person. Of course, I love first person. It seems to make the voice come through. Your MC at times has great voice, but sometimes it sounds like the narrator is taking over. (His skateboard, the object he'd chosen "to catch the ghost's interest"... could be reworded in the voice of the kid. Like, I left my skateboard out in case the ghost wanted to go boarding...whatever) Anyhoo... just a thought.


    Good Luck!

  4. I like this. Great premise. Two things (and these are probably just personal writing-style preference. I don't read as much MG as YA): The line "Whoa, epic eyeball bulge. Excellent" seemed a tiny bit awkward to me. I think the "Excellent" especially seemed like it might have been a teensy MG boy voice overkill.

    Also, I'm not crazy about the title for MG. I'm not sure "on the lam" is a phrase that most MG's would know. Very old-fashioned. What about something like, "Swapping Shakespeare"?

  5. This was fun to read. I understood Jared's attitude and mindset right away, and I think this paranoid yet smart kid will be an awesome protagonist. I'd totally read on to see how he handles everything! Great job, and good luck!

  6. I love the premise of this. I like how Jared's voice, and I'd read on to see what happens. The bit about him being worried the ghost is another sixth-grade skater made me laugh. Great job.

    Good Luck! :)

  7. Fun fun fun. My only confusion is the part with the helmet. I want to fast forward to read all about your version of Shakespeare! Good luck. :)

  8. I agree with Karen on the title. I don't know what "On the Lam" means, so I'm not sure a middle-grader would. Cute concept, though, and I love your writing! One thing that was a hang up for me--you have them yakking on cell phones and then giving furtive glances in the same sentence. Yakking gives great voice, but furtive just seemed like an odd word choice for a six-grader. But then I don't read a whole lot of MG either, so it could just be me. But I love the precautions he's taken, the goggles, the skateboard, the flour. Love it.

  9. Loved it, log line and 250.

    The only thing that really threw me was the use of "corridor" for hallway.

  10. The log line had me laughing, and I just love Jared's get-up for catching the ghost on film, especially the goggles. My nitpicky word quibble is "gape" in the third paragraph. People can gape for reasons other than admiration.

    It's hilarious he thinks the ghost might be interested in his skateboard!

  11. Do love this concept...I'm not normally one for ghosts, but the log-line got my attention and reeled me in.

    I will have to second all of the comments above. Certainly take a look at word choice, because while you do have some great words, other words don't seem to fit.

    I also wonder what's at stake for this kid. Yes, there's a ghost in the house, but we don't really have any sense yet of whether this is a problem (it doesn't seem like it so far). And, we don't have any hint of his inner conflict.

    Has great potential and will look forward to see what kind of bids you get!

  12. Writer here. Thanks, guys for all these great comments. You are a bunch of eagle-eyed editors. I really appreciate the time you've taken to help me bump this up to the next level.

  13. I love the premise and your writing, so what I'm about to say next is only my own personal preference: I have a little brother who reads books like this (and I do, too, but not as much as YA), and I've realized that in third-person most middle-graders like narrative voices that are closer to the character's head. You have some paragraphs here that were zooming out, and then zooming back in on Jared, and you handled the transition exceedingly well. But, I just think that maybe you can stick more with what you did in that last paragraph: to the voice, funny, and in the mindset of a middle-grader.

    Great job and good luck! :D

  14. Great premise, and a great excerpt. Just a couple of nits.

    As was mentioned, there are sentences (and parts of sentences) that are pure info dump and don't fit the narrator's voice. "dark, rainy Oregon morning" did it for me - when I look out the window in the morning, I don't think of it as a clear New York morning.

    Also, Athena seems an odd choice for the sister's name, not so much in that it's not a standard name but that there are a lot of connotations that come with Athena (wisdom being the most obvious) that may or may not make sense in the larger context of your story.

    I'm not a big MG reader, but I would pick this up. Best of luck!

  15. This is good. I want to read more! Good voice, good detail and humor! I wondered about 'camcorder', too. From a teacher's perspective, 'furtive' and 'corridor' are good vocabulary words.
    I'm not sure of the connection between the logline & the MS. Love the line 'feel this thing poking him in the ribs'. In fact, I love that whole paragraph.

    Checking his equipment, postioning the flour & skateboard is realistic and funny.

  16. My reaction to the first line of your logline: Baahahahaha! Okay. You've hooked me (that poor girl!) And also, I'm sure, like, EVERY 12-year-old boy has fantasized about switching out his sister for someone awesome, so I'm positive this would hook your target audience.

    I LOVE the descriptions of the closeness of the ghost to Jared. I can seriously almost feel it creeping on me right now....*shiver*

    I LOL'ed at this: "Whoa, epic eyeball bulge. Excellent." (Though, do you worry about slang like "epic" as much as I do? I'm totally paranoid about using those words - maybe I'm too old to gague which will fall from popularity. :))

    This is very, very sweet and funny. I don't really read MG, BUT I could totally see myself snatching this up to enjoy with my boys in a few years. Translation - Agents, please sign this so that I can buy it!

    (Best of luck!)

  17. Your logline had me in stitches. I'd read the book based on that alone.

    The writing feels a little choppy though, and there are moments where I didn't feel we were in Jared's head. I mean, in the first line, you use his full name. Not many kids think of themselves by their full name, so it feels a little like the author intruding.

    But I love the idea of a ghost skateboarding.

  18. I was totally hooked by the logline here--and especially by the detail you throw in about the Bard loving modern life, which throws yet another wrench in things. (Although, technically, it should be "modernity-loving" rather than "modern-loving.") What a fun, fabulous idea for a plot.

    The first 250, for me, didn't quite match the tone of the logline. The logline is very clearly written and comical, whereas the sample seems to have some tone swings and the word choices are sometimes more complicated than necessary. I'm not saying that you have to dumb the language down for kids--not at all--but in some instances (like "corridor") I don't think you used the first word that would come to mind for a current-day 12-year-old boy.

    I think that the word-choice issue is especially important because I assume that when Shakespeare shows up, the differences in how he speaks and sees the world and how Jared does will be a key element of the story.

    I would absolutely read on to see how the plot gets going. I really love that, instead of Jared getting sucked into Shakespeare's world or one of his plays (which would be fun enough), instead he's going to bring the Bard to him. Best of luck with this!

  19. I don't read a lot of MG (anymore), but you've hooked me all the same. I love the opening! The flour, goggles, skateboard-- great! Good luck with this. =)

  20. Your premise absolutely slays me. I'm hooked right from there. I would agree with whoever said this might not be the best title for a MG....there are plenty of middle graders who know what on the lam means, but there are just as many who don't, I think.

    That said, the only other thing I would say is watch your voice. Sometimes it feels a bit more adult, while other times its totally age level appropriate. Just from this page, I would say that you seem to have a stronger MG voice the more focused you are on what Jared's doing...when he's actively plotting to catch the ghost on camera for instance, your voice is dead on. It's when you take a step back and look at the bigger picture like the ghost haunting the house in general that you start to feel a bit more distant and adult.

  21. You have a great opening here and I'm intrigued by the ghost and by Jared. There's that sense already of him being more observant than his family, of him not quite fitting and of him being a little eccentric. I like him a lot from this first page. Nicely done!

    What's tripping me up here is the punctuation and sentence lengths. Choppy sentences can be effective but I'd take another close look here and which information is the most important, and where to best use short sentences. For example, the "While Jared could practically feel the thing poking him in the ribs" would work better for me combined with the earlier sentence, so that the focus would be on the "Like right now." I almost didn't see it or feel the immediacy. Make sure the right sentences stand out!

    I'm not sure why he needs his bike helmet and swim goggles, or even the flour and skateboard. It's like the exciting tone of the first few paragraphs is a different story. The humor here was a little too thick. He seemed a bit more serious at first.

    Great opening and I'd definitely read a few more pages to see where it was going. You might be interested to read The Juliet Spell, which is another take on magically transporting Shakespeare to the modern age. Different premise and older audience, but it might be a good comp title to refer to!

  22. Congrats! This is such a great concept. And double bidding? So sneaky, Victoria!

  23. !!! I *JUST* realized something. I kept on thinking this looked so familiar... Paula's blog, of course!! Ah, well, congrats on the full! Here's hoping you got Shakespeare reading "Wimpy Kid" in there. ;)

    Agents=please sign this, sell it, so I can go snatch a bunch of copies, yeah??

  24. I'm taking the great leap and revealing who I am (since some of you know already, Julianna and Kristen!)

    I would like to thank you all for your comments, and for the honest and generous way you delivered them. You have all been very helpful. (And "corridor" has been replaced. One problem for me is that, although I've lived in the U.S. for nearly 22 years, I'm British and sometimes my verbal eccentricities elude both my wife and my critique group, who claim they are all "used to" my voice. You'll all be glad to know that I still say "tomaa-to" rather than "tomay-to.")

    I'm very grateful to you all, to Authoress, Amanda Sun, and the bidding agents. Now, to see how the journey goes from here...

  25. I love ghost stories, so I would definitely keep reading. And what a clever premise! I liked the bit of humor thrown in here and there. One thing, maybe you can show a bit more the MC's fear,etc. Great job and good luck!!!


    Logline: I’ll admit to some puzzlement about the pitch. It sounds like a fun romp for a writer, certainly, but I’m not sure I have the answer to the question of why young tweens would be interested in reading.

    Line notes: The second paragraph is full of incomplete sentences. It can be a stylistic choice to structure a narrative with these, but I found it distracting here.

    Overall: I like the way you’ve chosen details to reveal this character – the funny protective garments (eyeball bulge!), his assumption that a ghost would be as interested in his skateboard as he is, etc.
    And I can feel Jared’s discomfort, that feeling of being watched. But the ghostiness of this opening doesn’t seem quite in keeping of the pitch of your logline. How is it related to a time swap, and Shakespeare? I’d keep reading for this ghost hunt, looking for Shakespeare hints, but I’m not sure I get a clear sense for where this is going from the information presented.

    Best of success.