Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May Secret Agent #26

GENRE: MG Contemporary

When the second hand on the clock above the chalkboard slid across the twelve and the minute hand ticked onto the fourteen mark, I shot my hand up so fast my shoulder popped in its socket.

Mrs. Nashoalook stopped her rambling on photosynthesis. “Yes, Mary-Jane?”

It’s MJ, I thought, but last time I corrected her, she said, “Your record doesn’t show that nickname, so we’ll have to call you Mary-Jane.” Grams must have filled out my new school papers. Daddy would have put MJ.

“May I please use the commode?” I said with my hand still waving in the air to communicate urgency.

She blinked. “What is a commode? And why must you use it?”

Oh right. They didn’t call it that here in Alaska. “The toilet, ma’am. I gotta go real bad.”

A wave of giggles flowed through the classroom.

Mrs. Nashoalook darted her eyes back down at her sixth grade science textbook, but I saw a secret smile spread on her brown lips. “Fine, fine. Go.”

“Thank you!” I sprang out of my tush-numbing seat-desk combo and waited in the hall for the door to close behind me because I didn’t want Mrs. Nashoalook to see me turning left instead of right. The bathrooms were to the right, and to the left was the exit.

As soon as I stepped outside, my nose hairs froze, a feeling I would never get used to because it felt like I had a big booger wanting to be picked.


  1. I like the first paragraph.Waiting for the hand on the clock to reach a designated time raises questions.I also like 'popping the socket.' The writing flows easily and you get info in (e.g. Alaska) seamlessly.

    In the last sentence of the second to last paragraph I'd cut it down to 'Bathrooms right, exit left.' It just seems kind of punchier to me. Plus I know this is MG but the 'booger' reference gave me the 'blehs'. But maybe that's the point :) Good, good luck with this.

  2. I like this story--but you know that. I thought you set the tension well. Something is about to happen, one can tell. I liked how the MC was calculating--waiting for the door to close in anticipation of faking out her teacher. And--just to offer an alternative, I liked knowing the directions of the exit and the bathrooms. Put me right there.
    Good luck!

  3. This had great energy, and I want to know what MJ is up to.

    You did a great job weaving background information into the action. There were just a couple of things that didn't quite ring true for me. Why is the teacher so insistent on calling her "Mary Jane?" I would think if a new student asked to be called by a nickname, the teacher would go along with that, as long as its nothing offensive. I could buy the teacher forgetting, though. Also, even if "commode" is not the usual term in Alaska, wouldn't the teacher know what it means? I think you could make the same point just by having the students giggle.

    Those are quibbles, though. Overall, nice job.

  4. Ditto what Rebecca M said about commode, but otherwise, love this.

  5. I don't read much MG so I'm always hesitant to comment. I like that the setting is in Alaska, that seems like an interesting angle for the story. I do agree about the commode, that the teacher would know, but the kids could still snicker. Also, how does MJ feel being laughed at? One line about her face going red or some internal physical reaction might be nice to add. Good luck!

  6. Not to beat a dead horse but I also was thrown off by the commode comment. You middle grade voice is great.

  7. Flows well, and there's tension in waiting for the clock to hit a certain time, which makes one curious to find out *why*. A few minor grammar and punctuation issues, but this one's a reader.

  8. Good title! Just wondering why she had to wait till that minute on the clock to raise her hand. I had a different thought about the word “commode.” Maybe they don’t use it in Alaska, but they don’t use it around here either (southeast US). We don’t say toilet either. Just “I need to go to the bathroom.” You could go with Elizabeth’s suggestion for right and left in the hall, or delete that line altogether, since it’s obvious in the next paragraph that she didn’t go to the bathroom.

    I like the description “tush-numbing.” I’d think booger-talk would appeal to younger kids, but many 6th grade girls would like to think themselves more “sophisticated.” This girl has shown she’s not bashful though, asking to go to the bathroom in front of the class, so maybe it’s just part of her personality.

  9. The voice here is good, but it feels like you're making up conflict where there doesn't need to be. The reason for MJ being called "Mary-Jane" feels arbitrary, and the commode moment feels a bit forced.

    Perhaps if MJ is trying to be super-mature and euphemistic, her teacher can legitimately misunderstand her. Example: she asks to use "the facilities," or "powder her nose," or some other more obscure-yet-polite term for going to the bathroom.

    Don't worry about establishing your character's oddity so firmly in the first 250 words--you've got plenty of time in your first couple chapters to do so!