Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July Secret Agent #46

TITLE: Professor Payne's Intrepid Time Travelers

Two letters in one day... a little odd since he had just moved into the dingy one bedroom apartment the day before. He glanced at the larger envelope. The paper was thick and rich with texture. It was addressed to Dr. Payne Johnson. He looked at the return address embossed with raised letters: University of Southern California. He sliced open the envelope and was greeted with an invitation to join the excellent Trojan teaching tradition.

He paused for a moment and then picked up the other letter. The paper was thin and inexpensive. It was addressed to Professor Payne. Someone must feel familiar with me to address me in such a manner. The return address was stamped and inferior. The faded letters announced the sender as Whispering Pines Prep School for the Fine Arts.

No need to open it really, he thought. His experience with private education at the high school level had been a lesson in frugality. Salaries were low and benefits slim. I need money, and I need it quickly so I can resume my search for Cleo Patra. With those thoughts running through his head he tossed the letter into the trash and watched as it flipped in the air before settling among the newspaper already nestled there.

Bold print covered the flap and the words seared his brain as he remembered her screams:



  1. I like the title.

    Granted, I don't read much MG fiction. But I wonder if that age will connect with a character who's a professor, or with the comments such as "Someone must feel familiar with me to address me in such a manner." It's a bit curmudgeonly, which makes me thing Professor Payne is at least in his 60s. Same issue with Prof's concern over pay--MG kids don't have to worry about that sort of thing yet.

    I'd probably read a few more lines or paragraphs, but I'd have to see why this is MG pretty quickly.

  2. I agree with the previous post. I really like the writing and am intrigued by the concept thus far, but am wondering if this story is starting in the right place. Generally, with MG, the kids are the main characters and the action (and problem-solving) revolves around them, so it's a little unusual to get the Professor right from the go. I'm thinking of a Dead Poet's Society, which certainly features the professor in a major way, but which is told from the perspective of the new student. Obviously hard to tell with only the first 250, so please take with a grain of salt:)

  3. You've smoothly raised questions about both the past and the future which intrigue. I like the set-up but have to agree with the previous posts as to who is the reading audience.

    Also, I found the end of the excerpt confusing.

    Loved 'Whispering Pines Prep School...."

  4. I'm intrigued by the last two lines and would read more; however, if this guy is the main character, middle graders might not continue reading.

  5. I liked the title!

    I was confused by the narrator's voice also. It seems much older than MG and readers might not relate.

    I'm taking a stab here...Is it possible that the MC is a genius - a Doogie Howser who is a professor at a young age? That might be very interesting!

  6. Love the codgy, old bird MC, so MG, eh? I'm still reading...want to hear the final lines...

  7. I agree with the others on the MG voice, but all of this may be explained in the next paragraphs that we can't read yet.

    I also really like the title and I'm very intrigued with the "search for Celo Patra."

    Good luck!

  8. I'm intrigued with this beginning, and would definitely read more! However, this sounds a little older than mid-grade to me.

    Granted, I realize that its the first chapter and all that. But I feel like starting with a professor's voice first in a book that is supposed to be for barely-there teens might be a little much. Unless, of course, your main character IS the professor. (Kind of feels like it might be that way from the title) In any event, it read as older than MG to me! Perhaps that's just because I only had 250 words to work with! Its something to think about in any case.

    I would also consider taking out as many words as possible to avoid wordiness. That's always the rule of thumb I try to live by! How can I say this in as few words possible and still make it good?

    For example, I would definitely take out "With those thoughts running through his head" And just move straight into "He tossed the letter into the trash..." you don't really need the beginning section of line, because its already obvious to the reader (through the italics) that your character is thinking those things. Taking out unnecessary lines that like that will clean up your writing and really make it sparkle!

    Anyway, best of luck in your writing!!

  9. First off, I would suggest changing the word "dingy" to gloomy or drab, etc. I think of a "small boat" or "crazy" before I realized what you meant (after reading the entire sentence). Maybe I am dingy (haha).

    Do you mean "Cleopatra"? I've never seen it split into two words.

    After reading this entry twice, I felt it seemed 'old' for MG readers--if indeed Dr. Johnson is your MG.

  10. The language and references seem too old for MG. There are little nuances like addressing him as Professor Payne instead of Dr, Alexander Payne which would sail over the head of any kid of MG age. Also, Trojan tradition, sadly that would also be lost on them - I am sure many would think of a condom as much as USC. And then there is the mistake of Cleopatra being rendered as Cleo if it was PAris Hilton. I think it is not MG but that in no way detracts from the story...unfortunately I am not sure as a read yet what the story is. I would also caution against using such universally recognized phrases as The Final Frontier which, in pop culture, is of course eternaly associated with Star Trek and Space The Final Frontier. So, maybe some rethinking needs to happen here to make it sing.

  11. I posted a comment but it didn't seem to take - if a double post turns up, I apologize.

    I second (or third, or whatever) the comments on the adult character/tone.

    Reading it again, it feels like a prologue and not the first chapter. If so, all the advice I've seen says to ditch any prologue and jump straight into your first chapter, filling in the back story as you go.

    Random thought: MG readers are at the age where the Venus de Milo is funny 'cuz you can see her boobs (come to think of it, I know some adults who are like that, too). Choosing a university whose mascot has the name of a popular condom brand might be ill-advised (unless, of course, you're going for a giggle, in which case ignore this completely ;-)

  12. PS In addition to the other suggestions, you might consider changing to third person if the Professor isn't a child prodigy and/or the MC.

  13. The voice didn't read as MG for me. Too many big words. I was also a little put off by the 'tell'. Do you really need to just blatantly tell us he is searching for Cleo Patra on the very first page?

  14. Well right off the bat, I don't understand how this is MG specific. It appears as if the MC is much older. I am intrigued however, about "her screams"... there is a lot let to the imagination here.


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