Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October Secret Agent #8

TITLE: Listening In The Snow
GENRE: Middle Grade Fiction

For as long as Nathan Hayes could remember, no one went inside the Specter house. According to town legend, its family had simply walked away.

Most folks blamed the ghosts for its sudden abandonment but no one ever agreed on which one. There were more Specter house ghost stories than citizens in Westville, Vermont.

Lots of kids saw its potential for a clubhouse. But none of them ever got inside. The place remained sealed, tight as a secret.

On a frosted afternoon, on the last day of November, Nate decided to change that.

He rode his bike to the bottom of its dirt driveway, let out a low whistle and waited. Dead leaves rustled and chickadees chattered, but there was no return whistle from Andy. Nate jammed frostbit fingers into his pockets and peered through the woods toward the house and its barn. In summer, the whole place disappeared inside a foliage fortress. It was easy to forget then. But as the days shortened and its verdant armor peeled away, it showed itself, again, tired and lonely and mysterious as ever.

Nate took a deep breath and held it. He had never been here, alone.

Still no return whistle. Nate bit his lip and leaned his bike against a tree. He glanced back in time to see the bike slip into tall weeds that swallowed it in one quick bite. He shook off a shudder, flipped his collar against the dropping temperature and headed toward the house.


  1. Great sense of place in this piece! I could totally see the bike being swallowed up, and I could feel the chill of the air. You've done a fantastic job painting a picture of this scene in the reader's mind! Even though the opening is reminiscent of many other ghost stories involving creepy mansions, it's vivid enough that I feel drawn in and would keep reading. Nice work!

  2. I love your voice. You had me at "Most folks blamed the ghosts for its sudden abandonment but no one ever agreed on which one." I also love your imagery--the foliage fortress, etc. I'd definitely read on.

  3. While the opening paragraphs are okay, with some tightening, they could be excellent. Scary abandoned houses with stories of ghosts is pretty much par for the course in middle grade, so you've got to do something that will make it stand out.

    The phrase that jumps out at me in that first paragraph is "Its family had simply walked away." Take that and build around it. In some ways, it's the simplicity of that statement that makes it so creepy.

    The other elements in the opening—no one went in the house; it was haunted; people said it was ghosts that drove them away; that it remained sealed—those are standard fare when it comes to spooky stories for kids. Don't focus on that. It's a whole lot of telling.

    So while I like the voice, the opening can definitely be strengthened.

  4. Very visual writing. I could see and feel the place. I'd like to get more of a sense of your character and why now--with no backup or witnesses--would be the time to investigate.

  5. Great scene setting, even though the haunted house is a little cliche. I'd read more.

  6. Lots of "telling" that will make an agent hit the snooze button. What else happened with that house that relates to your plot? I wouldn't even label it as a "haunted house" - let the reader - even middle-graders - figure that out within the first chapter.

  7. You do have a nice voice, but this could use some excitement.

  8. The first few sentences were too vague for me. As the Secret Agent said, haunted houses are a staple of MG, and so it seemed very cliched to me. In what way does this alleged haunted house stand out from the others? What's the exact story behind it? Make it more specific.

    I like the 2nd half better, but I was confused about whether he was looking for his friend Andy in the hope that he might be around, or whether the two of them had actually gone there together and then Andy had vanished. If it's the latter, it's more exciting to me, so it's important to clarify that. Good luck!