Thursday, April 28, 2016

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #37

GENRE: MG - Fantasy

In SAFFRON, twelve-year-old Saffron battles master chefs in a magical culinary tournament, to protect her father’s honor, save their restaurant and win her ultimate dream—the Diamond Blade.

Saffron filleted a scorcher fish faster than a flapper cutting a rug.

Valiant, her chef's knife, sliced through the red scales with no problem.

The fillets ought to keep the staff happy. A hungry crew was a sluggish crew, and speed was key to dinner rush.

After plucking out the pin bones, Saffron laid the fillets in hot cast iron pans. The fish sizzled, salty and fresh as the sea. On the back burners, she cooked rainbow carrots in sugar and butter, so sweet and nutty.

"Time to add my special touch," she said to Valiant. "What'll the crew go peaches over?" Tuning out the kitchen noise and the ragtime song playing on the nearby phonograph, Saffron closed her eyes and pictured herself in the Diamond Blade Tournament.

The excitement of the contest surged through Saffron as she imagined rousing cheers and blazing flambés. The familiar warmth in her chest and hands began to spread to Valiant, and Saffron couldn't help but smack her lips, tasting the fireworks in her magic.

A gruff voice interrupted her spell. "Lass, mission report."

Saffron blinked away her focus to the sight of Grinder's zucchini-crooked nose. A former Royal Battalion sergeant, Grinder was the perfect sous chef, the restaurant's second in command.

Saffron snapped to attention. "Scorcher. Rainbow carrots. For the family meal, sir."

Although not as action packed as working on the line, cooking dinner for the staff was a trillion times better than dishwashing duty.

Great chefs don't do the dirties.


  1. The light, playful touch is engaging. On the first read-through, I didn't realize Saffron was talking to her knife, but it's perfectly clear now that I slowed down a little to read properly. The "flapper cutting a rug" made me pause and consider voice. It's such a lively, rich phrase. If the story's set in the flapper era, then a 12 yo of this era could say this plausibly. In another era, it seems more like something an older person would say. Something to play with: would the reader follow along more quickly if the age and the era was established one at a time? Once I got to ragtime, it was clear that we were in the flapper era, so I mentally re-adjusted the age of the narrator. I loved the vegetables and the atmosphere of the chef's kitchen! Zucchini are generally straighter than most squash. Maybe a gourd? Or a crook-neck? I was a little confused by "Scorcher" since the sous-chef's name was Grinder. Maybe I misunderstood. Oh, now I see that the fish is scorcher. Because it's capitalized, I misread it as a name. A tiny bit "looser" writing would help me stay in the story world better. It's an excerpt with razzle-dazzle and I like the concept. Sounds like fun reading!

  2. Your concept is great: competitive cooking shows are popular but there aren't many books featuring characters in them. I strongly suspect there's an audience for this.

    Like a Laurel said, "flapper cutting a rug" might not be an ideal term to use in the opening. To go further though, in my view at least, even if the phrase is period specific, kids will likely be puzzled by it, which will likely lower their engagement with the story. I'd saved the phrase for later, preferably after a flapper is actually shown in the story. This also kind of applies to "ragtime." Few kids will know the meaning, so it would be helpful to show some feature of ragtime before or soon after using the word.

    Beyond that minor point, I liked your writing a lot. Best of luck querying this.

  3. I think magic in a cooking contest is brilliant. I don't know if your target audience will know what a flapper is or even what cutting a rug is. Overall a strong entry.

  4. I love the concept-- a magical cooking show? I'd totally read that and so would my MG-aged cooking-show obsessed kids!

    That said, the voice isn't feeling super MG to me and that's what we're supposed to be commenting on. It would make sense that a 12yo really interested in cooking would have an adult-level vocabulary about cooking--and I think you've included some nice details as she cooks the meal. The fact that she's named her knife is also very age-appropriate and reminds me of knights naming their swords, which is a nice touch since there will be high stakes for her culinary battle.

    But like the others have mentioned, the music details felt really adult to me and lengthy clauses like "Saffron blinked away her focus to the sight of " seem like they're too complex/convoluted for strong MG voice.

    It's also not clear to me what makes her think of the tournament while she's cooking. That feels like an abrupt transition to me. And I don't know what's going on in terms of the references to "her spell." I think you could slow this scene down and give us more details about why the tournament is on her mind, how her culinary magic works, and what's at stake to really draw the reader in.

    But this sounds like a great story and I wish you the best of luck with it!

    --Julie (#40)

  5. This is different that a lot of MG concepts that I've seen which could definitely help you stand out. I think the voice is good for the age range. The scene doesn't hold a lot of tension or anything big to really pull you in, but the character is definitely unique and I feel like I have a good sense of her going into the story. This is more a subjective note from me, but I don't feel like i have that extra push to propel me to keep reading as I'm not really into cooking. But others might feel differently.

    good luck with this as you move forward in the writing process.
    Jamie - entry #35