Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March Secret Agent #5

GENRE: MG historical fiction

Patsy slunk into the kitchen and plopped onto a chair at the table. Sun motes danced in the heavy air. Window screens could keep out the flies but not the sweltering August heat. Patsy drummed her fingers on the yellow, plastic tablecloth.

Mother looked up from her task of snapping beans for tonight’s supper. “If you’re joining me, you can help string these beans,” she said. Mother mopped perspiration from her forehead with the kitchen towel in her lap. “Could it be more humid?” she asked.

Patsy sighed and crossed her long legs. One foot tapped while the other jiggled. Then she reached for the nearby can of Charles Chips on the counter, snapped it open, and pulled out a handful of chips. “Geez, Louise. Where is Olivia?” she whined. “She knows I’ve been waiting here all morning for her to fill me in about her trip and her dad’s decision. For a best friend, she sure is slow.”

Crunch. Patsy stuffed the mound of chips into her mouth.

“It’s not going to do you any good to stew over this.” Mother spread out the already-read Charlotte Observer between her and Patsy and piled beans onto it. “Help me and get your mind off Olivia.”

“What did Mrs. Nelson say to you on the phone last night? You were crying after. I saw.” Patsy searched her mother’s face for a clue. The theme song to Howdy Doody traveled down the hall from the den. “I swear, looks like Angela would get tired of that show.”


  1. Thank you for sharing this. I am not sure that I am following. The only thing I got out of this is the setting. I see the heat and the Charlotte Observer. So I know that it is in the south. I am so sorry. But I will read again, later.

  2. You do a good job with your descriptions of the heat and humidity!
    I think you might need a little more conflict in this beginning. There's just a hint about her friend's trip and Mother crying. Is Mrs. Nelson Olivia's mother, or is this a separate conflict? That could be more clear.
    The reference to Howdy Doody is good for placing the novel's time period, but it seems out of place where it is. It pulls me out of my curiosity as to why Mother was crying.
    A little thing...If you want to use "crunch," it should come after she stuffs the chips into her mouth. :-)
    Good luck with this!

  3. I love historical fiction in kidlit :) I'm guessing this is 1950s given the Howdy Doody reference, which is an era I enjoy reading.

    I've only read a handful of middle grade books as an adult, but what I have read usually has very strong voice, almost like you are right there with the narrator, engaged in their thoughts and what they see. I think what's missing here is voice. This reads almost like a screenplay with lists of actions rather than a closer point of view. I would suggest tweaking some of the physical movement actions to show more of what Patsy is thinking--what would she rather be doing than sitting in the kitchen? Is she impatient? Excited? Bored?

  4. There's a lot of movement/action going on in this, but it is just scratching the surface of what's going on. The first important thing we hear is the Mother was crying about something but that comes at the very end. So, I think the voice needs a bit more life as well as the MC, Patsy, to make it more engaging, give us a little more insight on Patsy's current state of mind in this section.
    Best wishes!

  5. It's a very good start, but perhaps it could be a bit tighter.

    E.g. Do you need 'of chips' when we already know it's a can of Charles Chips?

    Also, Patsy's whine is very long. It's really backstory disguised as dialog.

    I might delete Mom's humid comment too -- unless knowing it's humid as well as hot is important early on.

    Is there a word missing from the last line? The past tense of 'would' throws me.

  6. Like the southern setting and the story has great potential.

    I don't get a sense of what this is about. Patsy was upset about something, but maybe start with that and make her conflict clearer?

    Some of the verbs like slunk and plopped don't seem to fit together. Maybe revise?

    Would the Patsy say Mother looked up? Momma or Mom maybe?

  7. It seems as though you're talking around the problem, trying to hide what it is as a way to create suspense, but all that does is make me want to move on to something else.

    If you get the problem on the first page, I have something concrete to hold my interest and wonder about.

  8. I like this. It sets a mood. Sweltering, humid August in the south. It is immediately clear that this is a historical--the windows are open instead of being closed so the air conditioner can be running, the mother is stringing beans, and the daughter says Geez, Louise. Very nicely done.

    I think it can be tightened and I think you are confusing the issue with two problems in the first page. If Mother was crying the night before, let Patsy come into the room thinking about that. Or, if she wasn't thinking about it much, then let something trigger the memory. Right now it comes out of the blue. You need a transition from Olivia to Mother crying. What make Patsy change from one problem to the other in her mind?

    Would I read on...maybe not. Can you make what Olivia has to tell more intriguing? Right now I don't care that Patsy wants to hear about Olivia's trip or her dads decision. There is not info there to make me curious. How is this trip of Olivia's or her dad's decision going to negatively impact Patsy?