Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July Secret Agent #50

TITLE: Summer of Bugles and Bad TV
GENRE: Middle Grade Fiction

I promised my parents I wouldn’t eat too much junk food this summer, but it’s a wonder I can eat at all after yesterday’s twisty, ear-popping nightmare of a drive through the mountains. Luckily, Eggos and Mrs. Butterworth have a stomach-settling effect on me. I take a big, syrupy bite and leaf through the TV guide to plan my viewing for the day. I also promised I wouldn’t become a zombie, but I’m going to be stuck in Mineralville, WVa for two and a half months and Grandma Bren has 250 satellite channels.

“Well, Chloe,” Grandma Bren says, sitting at the table with a cup of coffee. “I have a nice surprise! Twyla Cray’s having a pool party this afternoon.”

“Hmm,” I answer, my mouth full of waffle.

“Won’t it be a fun way to start your summer? With girls your age?”

“Girls my age? You mean… I’m going to this pool party?”

I can’t even believe Twyla invited me. Her dad was the minister when Grandaddy Bill died and that was three years ago. We sat in the kid’s room at the funeral home and built a Legos pyramid. She told me a boy in her school died from getting bitten by a poisonous snake in the ball pit at McDonald’s and I said I didn’t believe her. Then her mother came in and Twyla said I’d called her a liar and they both gave me dirty looks and left and that was the last time I saw any of the Crays.


  1. I like this, but it sounds older than MG to me. Especially your first sentence. I'm not sure how old your MC is supposed to be, but I think if you either made it sound younger (or aged her up into YA) I would read on.

    Good luck.

  2. The descriptions and the voice of this gives the piece a more lower YA vibe. I like the title and am interested because this seems like it's set in the eighties---the TV guide, eggos, bugles, and Mrs. Butterworth...of course if it's not 80s or early 90s, I would change the TV guide line from leaf through to scroll through--since kids today use the guide on TV rather than the paper TV guide.
    Good luck it sounds fun and I'm interested to see what happens at the pool party.

  3. WVa is not the proper abreviation. Just WV. This is a big pet peeve for those of us who live in VA and WV.

    Also, I liked the the Butterworth reference but I felt like the food was described in a much clearer way than the people.

  4. The title is great for a MG contemporary, but I think the voice sounds a little older than MG. However, some kids these days are that way, so I think it might work.

    The first sentence is extremely long and kind of clunky. Also, there might be a bit too much description for the food. It's very vivid but I think it could be trimmed while maintaining its vividity.

    And the WVa is painful to look at. If you can't just leave it at WV, then spell it out.

    Good luck & thanks for sharing!

  5. I like the set up for future conflict/surprise with Twyla in the last paragraph. The first sentence is long and weak as a hook. Maybe "I can't even believe Twyla invited me" would work better. Good dialogue. It felt MG to me. I'd like to know the protag is a girl in the first graph. You could squeeze in "girls my age" and we'd know.

  6. I like this, but the last sentence is missing commas. You might add a comma after liar. Also, "that was the last time I saw any of the Crays" should be a separate sentence.

  7. I really like the setting. I'm getting a very late 80s vibe out of this. But I feel like I'm pulled out of the story by a lot of telling. Maybe shorten the first paragraph to give us the promise of not eating junk, and the drive.

    Then you can show us a big stack of eggos and the girl zoning out in front of the tv. Then she can idly remember the second promise.

    I think this could be really great, if you focused in on her voice, and showed us more, instead of having her tell us everything.

  8. I don't think the first paragraph adds anything. Perhaps start with the line "I can't believe Twyla invited me." Or maybe with a shortened version of the dialogue exchange with her grandma.

    I like the description of Twyla and the previous conflict at the church.

  9. It's interesting how we can see so many things differently :-)

    Although it would be nice to know early on that we have a female MC we're working with, you do a great job of sharing it with the reading without doing a "body run-down". I really like your method of doing that.

    I get the feeling the MC may be around 11/12 years of age from the speech used in the first paragraph. I also get the feeling the MC isn't one for being around girls her age since her Grandmother made a point of mentioning it.

    The WVa abbreviation has been mentioned so I'll move on to the last paragraph.

    A few of the sentences read a bit long, particularly the bit boy part. It could be broken down to make "I didn't believe her" a separate sentence that can make it read a bit stronger as well.

  10. It's good, I liked it. There is a part with two ands in a row, and I personally would change that. You could say something like
    "Mineralville,WVa for two and a half months. Plus, Grandma Bren has 250 satellite channels. Just to add some variety to the sentence. Makes it more enjoyable for the reader. Nice staging, you can tell Twyla probably has something up her sleeve.

  11. There is some nice description in this, but I am afraid the first sentence read as too unwieldy for me. Also, like others, the voice seemed older than MG to me.

  12. There's a nice voice in this, but not enough happening to grab my attention. The first and last paragraphs are almost all backstory. It's cute backstory, but I'd rather see the MC doing something than reminiscing about an three-year-old argument.

    I can't really tell how Chloe feels about spending the summer with Grandma. She says she's "stuck" in Mineralville, but then she seems excited about all the satellite channels. It might help to show a bit more of her interaction with Grandma before you get into her history with the Crays.

  13. My favorite thing about this is the relatable main character. I read conflict into the syrupy waffles and an imminent pool party with a frenemy!

    The first paragraph hits me with too much information. I'd rather be dropped immediately into the current action. Character interaction is what draws me in. I could stand a food-and-TV opening sentence immediately followed by Grandma's proposal. I don't care so much where Grandma lives or how many channels she has. I am, however, picking up on an idea that Grandma and the parents might be conspiring to force the MC into an active summer.

    Present tense is really hard to write. I stumbled a little over the shifts. The sentence that really snagged me, though, was at the end: "and that was the last time I saw any of the Crays." The past tense carries finality. If you broke up the long sentence and used "That was the last time I had seen any of the Crays," I would get the sense of "until whatever new disaster was about to hit."

    I hope that's helpful and makes sense! Good luck with the story. I would read more.

  14. I wonder if you've started in the right place? This is all set up, and while bits of it are interesting, nothing happens. Perhaps consider starting as she walks up to the Crays' house for the pool party?

  15. I loved all the references that helped me place this in the 80s...Legos, butterworths, bugles etc. I had to reread the first sentence a few times...I couldn't figure out if we were still in a car or at a breakfast table...but you can rework it to clarify. I am interested in knowing what is going to happen at the pool party given your description of the conflict with the Crays...makes me want to read more

  16. This sounds like all back story. Most of the narrative sentences are too long, with multiple clauses. If the action starts at the party, consider starting the story there too. All the rest of this can be moved further along.

    The first sentence is long and unwieldy. I prefer the one "I can't even believe..." as an opener.

  17. Love the descriptive details here, especially those about the food. It would be great to get a stronger sense of Chloe, since she doesn’t feel front and center yet. Maybe the story opens with her at Twyla’s dreaded pool party, and then she takes us through the backstory of her summer and her grandma? That might give us a better sense of how at odds she is with Mineralville and the kids there, rather than having the conflict laid out in the opening paragraphs.

    The voice of your main character feels slightly sophisticated for middle grade – I would be interested to see how things unfold with this in mind. I would read on if this came in to me.

  18. Thank you for the helpful comments, everyone! I have some good ideas for tweaking the opening.

    (I grew up in West Virginia too and we always preferred the WVa abbreviation! Think I'll spell it out just to be safe :)

  19. Lovely beginning although I agree that it sounds older than MG. I'd read more.