Wednesday, September 5, 2012

September Secret Agent #9

TITLE: Footprints 'Round the Sycamore
GENRE: Middle Grade Historical Fiction

Two steps--two slow, uncertain steps--across the flatboat's deck was all it took for Melodie Caden to know she was not alone. Thump. A sharp noise out of the shadows told her so and the scare of it, not cold air off the river, sent shivers down her spine. She shuddered and clutched the potato sack Papa assigned her close to her chest.

Dense fog blanketed the rough, squatty vessel she had boarded. The craft's cargo--stowed kegs, barrels and crates--blurred into dark lumps and bumps and formed any number of hiding places. What had made that sound?

The damp morning air grew as still as frozen long johns on the line. Only the gentle current of the river moved, licking and lapping against the old wooden tub. She counted seconds. When the silence grew long and no culprit emerged, she exhaled and slid a tentative foot forward again.

Skitter-scratch. Another noise sounded.

Her heart swelled to bursting, and she immediately pulled her foot back. It wasn't a mouse, was it? Please, don't let it be a mouse! Common as they were around grain bins and wood piles, mice never failed to startle her when she came upon them. They twittered. They chittered. They squeaked. And the worst part? They could gnaw through anything and squeeze through the thinnest crack. Of course if Papa were here, he'd tell her not to worry over anything so small. Still, she imagined a mouse ran over her foot all the same. She jumped...


  1. I think getting back to her searching for what made the sound, rather than going on about mice, is a good idea for the last paragraph. It is a tantalizing opening scene otherwise--fog, on a boat, etc. Like it!

  2. Nice voice here. I especially like the long johns line. I had to read a couple of sentences more than once to absorb the meaning, and I was a little let down to think that mice were what she was afraid of. But, I have the same fear, so i can relate. :) I'd read more.

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  4. I liked this, though the line "A sharp noise out of the shadows told her so and the scare of it, not cold air off the river, sent shivers down her spine." derailed things a bit for me. Had to read it a couple of times before I got it, and that might be even tougher for a MG audience to parse.

    Good voice and period details. I want to know why she's there with a sack etc. Why her father put her up to it etc. So I'd read on.

  5. The descriptions and setting are wonderful. I'd definitely read on.

    I'd suggest to rewrite the 3rd line for better flow. "The scare of it" doesn't quite sound right.

    Good luck!

  6. I agree with the others. I'm curious to know why she's there and what her dad's set her up to do, so I would read on. I do notice some things you could drop. You use the italicized "sounds" and then tell us about them, too. You do a decent job showing, so drop the telling. Good luck!

  7. Effective scene - the fog, the unseen 'thump', etc. That said, the fact that it is a little mouse she is terrifed of undercuts the tension and makes you slap your forehead and want to tell her 'come on!' instead of feeling her dread at what COULD be there! I would focus on building the fear and forget the mice. Also, there are in a very short space of time, numerous words used to describe the craft she was on - I would pick one and stick to it. But, before the mice, you do a good job of building tension!

  8. I like this. I especiallyu like the long johns line.

    I don't mind the part about the mice as long as the next section gets us back to even scarier possibilities for the source of the noise.

  9. I love the voice in this opening and learning about her fears up front. Did she have to do this all the time? I'd also like to get right back into the story. It's a battle to set the stage and still meet everyone's expectations in the first 250 words. Good job!

  10. I particularly agree with Daniel's comment, above, regarding the first paragraph versus the fear of mice. That said, the first paragraph was a particularly well done suspenseful moment, and drew me right in.