3rd SR Crapometer #22

Dear Miss Snark:

When plain-as-her-name Mary Jane Smith discovers a magical cloak, she thinks she’s finally found a way to be special. Donning the cloak gives her the title of Chosen One, but her stubbornly dormant powers threaten her new and powerful position. To learn her craft, she journeys to a witchcraft summer camp that is, unfortunately, full of those who seem more powerful, more intelligent and more beautiful than herself. Ultimately, her hard-learned lessons teach her that sometimes it takes more than just magic to be special.

Witchcraft Summer Camp is a 55,000 word middle grade novel I hope you will consider representing. Below is the first page for your perusal.

I’ve not had a work of fiction published, but my journalism degree began my freelance writing career, and I’ve had numerous articles published in newsletters and magazines. (this is a nice concise way to tell me you're a pro)

I look forward to your response, and I thank you for your time and consideration.


On the last day of seventh grade, Mary Jane Smith climbed a tree. She climbed this particular tree, an old Oak that sat in the middle of a miniature park, often. This was her place; her place to think about the horrible events of the day, her place to spy on the rest of the students as they made their separate ways home from Alfred Burger Middle School. But mostly, it was her place to hide.

Since it was the last day of school before the summer break, there weren’t many students she could spy upon. They had all been in such a hurry to leave the building that no one was lollygagging around. Most days Mary Jane could rely on the cute boy from her class, Mickey Hendrickson, to leave the school later than everyone else because to get out of the building he had to first fend off whatever hoard of girls had stayed behind to flirt with him. He never did fight them off with much energy, though; he just smiled and nodded and side-stepped slowly away from the throng. Then he would walk down the street and under the very limb that Mary Jane was perched on, while whistling a song that always seemed so sad. But today, he must have hurried away with everyone else, because there was no Mickey Hendrickson and his sad whistle.

Mary Jane trailed her finger through the M & M she’d carved into the tree and sighed. She would have to wait until the fall to see him again. Although, he never had and never would notice her, or miss her over the summer.

No one would.

And so it was time to rehash the day and count up the awful moments. But when she concentrated on the events, starting with being “accidentally” shouldered into her locker in the morning and then ending the day by finding her math book in shreds on the floor in front of her locker, she realized that her list wasn’t as long as it normally was. Oh well, it had been the last day and people had been distracted. And there had been a good moment too. When she had offered the torn-up book to Mr. Pinter the math teacher, he hadn’t gotten angry at her but instead got mad at the students in the class who snickered.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I realize it is the last day of the year and though I don’t know who did this, I know you all well enough to know who was just laughing, and I promise you, your parents will hear from me. So, happy summer and class dismissed.” Then he’d turned his back to the class and winked at Mary Jane. Once the classroom full of groaning students had emptied except for her, he’d said: “Time will take care of everything for you. Don’t let them bully you around. You are just as important as they are.” Then he packed up his old leather briefcase and left to see to his own summer plans.

So, even though her best-and-only friend, Alice Jeffrey, had already left for her vacation to Canada, Mary Jane didn’t have much to complain about. And since the school grounds were empty and no one was around, there didn’t seem to be any reason to continue hiding in the tree.

blah blah blah.
This is all backstory.
Get to camp, get the cloak, kiss a toad. Baby, we need some witchy wimmin to get things going here.


Dana Y. T. Lin said...

Isn't 55K words for a middle grade really long?

Anonymous said...

There's plenty of charm in the writing, but the story is meandering around. I see the potential here for some strong, simple and powerful story-telling, like J. K. Rowling at her best, but as Miss Snark says, get to the action. You've got evident talent, but the pace of the story is killing the excerpt's (very definite) appeal.

The query letter didn't wow me. I'm not sure why. Sorry I can't be more helpful than that, but good luck with it!

Anonymous said...

Just one oops that I noticed:

It's "horde of girls", not "hoard of girls".

Sam said...

I liked the writing but I kind of agree with Miss Snark - there should be some action or at least a hint of something big going on that makes me want to find out more.

Bernita said...

I would have loved this when I was twelve.

Anonymous said...

as far as "this is all backstory", would you suggest taking a more action oriented page from further in the manuscript?

I thought first page meant first page?

xenopulse said...

First page is what browsing readers (and editors/agents you submit to) see first. Grab them with action in the first page, or lose them. Looking at later pages is not useful in that regard.

JJ said...

Ditto the "get to the action" comments. That doesn't mean provide an "action" page from later in the MS along with the query; it means make something HAPPEN on page one before you tell us about the tree, Mickey, etc. (E.g. - she goes to her tree and it's been cut down. Or Mickey gets hit by a car in the second paragraph. Or whatever.) The writing is good! But the query (and perhaps the book) needs something else in it to make it stand out - there are a million "discovered secret talent, but feel inadequate" stories, and a billion witch school stories, and you need to figure out how to make yours different from all the others. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I was turned off the moment the words "Chosen One" showed up.

I'm so sick of 'chosen ones'. Why must she be chosen? Why can't she choose?

Inkwolf said...

When it said she was sitting to think about the horrible events of the day, I expected something seriously, seriously horrendous to have happened, and was disappointed to find it was just bullying.

Now, if you had told me that the school plumbing had backed up explosively while she was on the toilet, and that not only did she now smell, but the kids in her class persisted in blaming her for the disaster, I'd have been happy as a clam.

But I do like your writing, and if I had picked this one off the library shelf during my lunch hour, I'd have gone on reading it! But, yeah, get some maguc and/or action in there, quick.

Bella Stander said...

I agree w/ anon: "first page meant first page." For all we know, in the very next paragraph the girl could fall out of the tree or a witch could land on the branch next to her, or whatever. These are novel openings, not flash fiction.

All deference to the divine Miss S, but "The Wire" may not be the best model for every novel. I'm on page 15 of SWANN'S WAY and the narrator is still describing his bedroom at night.

Virginia Miss said...

I liked the query and the author's writing shows promise. I'll echo some other commentators -- author, look over your manuscript to see when the conflict/action kicks in. Begin there.

And if it's important to the story that Mickey has to fend off hordes (not hoards) of girls, show it in a scene, don't tell us.

Dana y t lin:
Although 55,000 is considered long for a middle grade according to conventional wisdom, many are much longer, especially fantasies (think of Cornelia Funke, Angie Sage, and of course Rowling).

Anonymous said...

I used to be that girl, just minus the Cloak Thing, and it ain't fun.

However, I DID get a padlock for my locker to fend off textbook shredding and other high crimes.

If she's the school pariah, give her some brains.

If she's the protag, I wanna see some action/conflict that shows us what she's made of; though it read okay, she's up a freakin' tree hiding. Not much of a flying start to an adventure tale, that.

Anonymous said...

Mary Potter and the Sorcerer's Cloak.

How is it different?

BuffySquirrel said...

just bullying?

Well, that left me speechless.

Inkwolf said...

BuffySquirrel said...
just bullying?

Well, that left me speechless.

We're talking about fiction, here. Pretty much every kid is bullied in fiction. It makes a good enough scene for getting reader sympathy if we're there while it's happening, but reading about someone thinking it over AFTER the fact is dull. I mean, obviously she has survived, she hasn't been locked in the school basement with the headless ghost, she isn't in the Principal's office with her mother being warned about possible expulsion, she isn't crying, or mourning the pet hamster that Biff the Brute swallowed whole, or bleeding all over the tree, or worried that her broken nose and swollen black eyes might harm her chances of getting the lead in the school play. No, she's watching for the cute guy with the sad whistle. She's fine.

A shredded school textbook that was turned in to a sympathetic teacher hours ago just isn't much of a eyebrow-raiser. (IN FICTION, anyway.) I mean, it wasn't even a personal item, and she didn't even get yelled at. If she's still thinking about it, she should be thinking about what she's going to do to the jerk who shredded it. :p

Now if it had started with the scene where she FOUND the shredded book and had to turn it in to the teacher, that would be entirely different.

McKoala said...

I liked this, although it is a slow start. I liked remarks like 'it was the last day and people had been distracted' - a neat way of showing her situation and her expectations.

good job said...

I liked the character right away. The author did a good job with that. Yes, moving the action up is needed but kudos where they are due.

Frainstorm said...

Author, here's a thought: even if you don't move action right to the first page (although it's a nice goal to set for yourself), at least give the hint of action to come. It can be small, just something to put a thought in the reader's head to make them want to read on.

The writing and query are both good, but the opening doesn't hook me. My thoughts anyway. Good luck.

Crystal said...

I loved it. Wouldn't have changed a thing. I completely forgot (having been reading through so many queries) that it had anything to do with anything magical. But the voice is fantastic, and I just loved it.

Anonymous said...

I like your writing - it seems to get out of the way to let things happen.

But I too thought things could happen faster. Perhaps you could open with the scene in the classroom, and only then have her in the tree? if her being-pushed-around-ness is going to be a theme, this is something that will convey that and get some sympathy for her. That way we already have a connection with her when we see her up the tree.

I'm not very far from the age group you're aiming for :)

author said...

Thanks Miss Snark and everyone else for the helpful comments. I appreciate the input and will get to work at making it better!