Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July Secret Agent #11

TITLE: The Trouble at Snowbound
GENRE: Middle Grade Mystery

“Ohmygosh, LOOK!” Chip’s suitcase thudded to the floor and he dashed across the lobby of Snowbound Ski Lodge, skidding to a stop in front of an enormous stone fireplace. Looking up at the mantle, he could hardly believe his eyes. “It’s Shawn Flight’s trophy! The actual trophy he won at the Snowboarding X World Championship!”

“He’s the most famous snowboarder in the world,” announced Bev Birdbath flapping her way to the front of the group. As president of the Pigeonville Ski Club, she acted like she knew all about skiing and snowboarding. As a matter of fact, Bev thought she knew a lot about everything and was always showing off. “He has eleven gold medals.”

“My dad said Travis Ice should have won the X World Championship,” chirped Larry Wingley. “When Travis lost, he was mad as a peacock.”

Bev put her wings on her hips, giving everyone her I-Know-Everything look. “Shawn won fair and square.”

“That’s not what Travis said,” added Chip, who loved a good mystery. “In a sports interview he swore revenge. He told Shawn he was coming for the cup! Shawn’s been afraid to let it out of his sight ever since.”

“That’s totally ridiculous!” insisted Bev. “Besides, Travis Ice wouldn’t dare steal the trophy this weekend, not with your uncle, Inspector Tipp, around!”

At the back of the group, Henrietta Tailfeather hopped up and down, trying to see over the crowd. “What’s everyone looking at?” Even in her high-heeled snow boots, she was still too short to see.


  1. I think this story may be starting in the wrong place.

    When too many characters are introduced so quickly it's hard to for the reader. Also, I don't care for characters when they announce, chirp, add, or insist. I prefer just plan said and let the words show how it's presented.

    Are peacocks generally known for being mad? I thought they were proud?

    Anyway, I think Kids will love a story about snowboarding! It's a great topic, so I just think you need to pick another opening with the MC. Show us the event that kicks everything off. I need to know who I'm rooting for and why and get a sense of conflict.

  2. You've created a nice set up for the trophy to disappear, and for us to assume Travis has taken it, and then these kids will solve the mystery.

    But to me, it feels old-fashioned and reads like something from the '50's or '60's. If that's what you're going for, it works. If not, you may have to rethink your style.

    I also wondered about all the bird references. Is there a reason they all have bird-related names? Are they actually birds? Maybe kids with wings? You say 'Bev put her wings on her hips,' which could be taken literally or metaphorically. Since this is labeled as a plain mystery, it would seem they are real kids, but then how likely would it be that all their last names would be bird-related?

    The mystery itself could work, but I guess I just don't know how to take the rest of what you've given us.

  3. As the above comment mentioned, I think it's very well done how in this short section you set up for the trophy to be stolen and for Travis to be the main suspect.

    I am confused about the bird references, though. I didn't really notice until Bev "put her wings on her hips". That lead me to believe that the kids might actually BE birds, so I had to re-read the whole thing again. However, at the end of the section there is a mention of "high-heeled snow boots", so they couldn't be purely birds.
    The attempt to weave the reader into the reality without blatantly saying "This is set in a world with bird-human hybrids" is on the right track, but since it's so unusual, it just leaves the reader confused and takes them out of the story you are trying to tell.
    Perhaps you could start the story at a different place that allowed you to more fully explain the setting.

    I also agree that too many characters are introduced. It leaves the reader feeling overwhelmed, especially since I am already struggling to figure out if they are kids or birds.

    I like the idea of a MG mystery set at a ski lodge! It takes the story away from the typical school setting and creates a nice backdrop for a the story to unfold.

  4. This is cute. At the beginning I think you need to make it clear that they are pigeons. It took me a while and I'm not sure kids will pick up on it any quicker. The line about flapping to the front of the group is odd because we don't see that there is a group at the start. You do well at developing the characters, but I think you need to start with more tension, something more compelling than them checking out a cool trophy. Maybe you could amp up the interaction between Chip and the know-it-all. Maybe he knows something that she doesn't for a change. Just a thought. Cute premise!

  5. Dialogue is well done. It's a stretch for me to believe MG readers will go for a story about snowbound talking birds. How do they ski? How do they put on ski boots? Maybe this concept would work for a picture book or chapter book.

  6. I think this reads more like a chapter book for younger readers than middle-grade, and, like other commenters, was confused about whether they are actually talking, skiing birds, or kids with bird names and mannerisms. But I agree it's a cute premise for a mystery for young readers.

    Even for young readers I think Bev's "the most famous snowboarder" line is too much like exposition passing as dialogue. It's obvious the other kid-birds know who Shawn Flight is and the reader will see it through the rest of the scene.

    I also agree there are too many characters to keep straight all at once.

  7. I agree with the other comments but if this is a chapter book you are limited on the number of words so you have to introduce characters quickly. Still it seems a little contrived to say, "...not with your uncle, Inspector Tripp..."
    Maybe you could ground your readers a little by explaining who they are and why they are at the ski lodge.
    Good choice of topic. Younger readers do like mysteries and snowboarding.

  8. I liked this, the voice is terrific. The first paragraph is wonderful. I felt Chips excitement.

    It threw me when Bev put her wing on her hip. It was then I realized the characters are birds.

    o Consider cutting 'As a matter of fact' from the sentence where Bev knows everything. It calls too much attention to itself and pulled me out of the action.

    o I wasn't fond of a girl wearing high-heeled snow boots. That seemed one tottering step over the line of credibility.

  9. The whole beginning read like a "You know Bob" scene where information is delivered in one big bulk so the reader understands. Could it be possible that you're trying to pack too much into the first page? I think it's extraordinary enough that they are not real kids but pigeons (something I did not understand until I read the other comments). If you add the discovery of the trophy to actually describing a kid or two, that should be enough to draw the reader in to read more pages. You can add information about the Inspector, the jealous 2nd place winner etc. throughout the rest of the first chapter.

    That said, your prose reads fresh and never gets in the way of what you want to say, and that's something good. There's nothing confusing about this beginning.

  10. Birds on skis, eh? Loved the visuals this left me with. An illustrator would have a great time with your manuscript. and there's plenty of scope for gross humour if you describe their meals (slug thickshakes, fried worms etc).

    My understanding is that agents see talking animal stories as a sign of a raw beginner, but who knows, yours could be the exception.

    Overall, the narrative could benefit from tightening. As the ohter commentors said, too many characters, info dumps and a trophy begging to be stolen.

  11. I like the idea of a ski lodge MG mystery--very cute. I didn't realize the kids were birds until midway through this, though. You should spend more time on this reveal and make it explicit, as it's a big one. You also introduce several characters here, and it's hard to keep track of everyone. I would recommend focusing on your key players and setting up the mystery. Let us meet the rest of your characters as the story unfolds.

    This also reads quite young to me -- possibly even younger than MG? You may need to age it up a bit and adjust some of the language accordingly.