3rd SR Crapometer #49

Miss Snark, Literary Agent
Mayor Mike's Metropolis
Bahamas (don't I wish!)

Dear Miss Snark:

Amy Wilson loves her new baby sister, Berry. She loves her family, her Father and Mother, sister Kirsten and brothers James and Samuel. But life as a pioneer family is not easy. Especially when the new member is handicapped by Down's syndrome. My story is about a close-knit pioneer family that must learn to deal with the challenges of a Down's syndrome child while also struggling to make it day-by-day in a time when there were no modern conveniences or help with their new child's handicap. It is told from the perspective of Amy, the older sister. Amy may not understand why her new baby sister is the way she is, or how she can make the best of this situation in her family's circumstances, but Amy knows that she loves Berry unconditionally, and that Berry loves her back the same way.

I am a twelve year old girl. The inspiration for "Berry's Patch" comes from my own world. I live in the country, and although I do not have a brother or sister that is handicapped like Berry, I do have a close family member with this disability. I am touched by that person's ability to love unconditionally, no matter what the circumstances, and I wanted to write a story exploring that ability.

I have enclosed the beginning of the story. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Katie M.

Miss Snark does not have a license to deal with impressionable youth who may be led astray watch her swill gin, dress poodles and smoke Turkish cigarettes in waterfront dives so any query from the younger is set is immediately rejected.

Also, pioneer families did not use the term Down's Syndrome although the Down for whom it is named did first describe it in 1866.

(Dear Ms. Snark, I am Katie's father, and although I did help her with this query letter, the story is all hers) yea, she got my name right, you didn't, give that girl a raise in her allowance.


I can still remember the days when my brothers and sisters and I were young; when we used to take off our clothes and jump into the creek. Then, Mama would take us in and we’d take turns soaking in the barrel filled with hot, steamy water. We’d dry off and feel refreshed and nice. My older brothers, James and Samuel, and I would get dressed and go into the wheat field with three huge buckets and pick almost all the wild blackberries that grew behind the tall grass. The buckets would be filled, and then we’d rush inside and my sister Kirsten and I would help Mama make some of her delicious blackberry cobbler. When it was finally done, Mama would cut it into sections and give us children a slice on her best plates. We’d sip hot milk with it by the fire. Kirsten didn’t like the bread with it, so she’d just pick out the blackberries and eat them. She’d hand the bread to me, and I would wolf it down quickly and wash it down with the last bit of my mil k.

Nowadays, since we're older, I, Amy Wilson, and the rest of us help Mama and Papa. James, who’s fourteen, and Samuel, who’s twelve, go off with Papa hunting for bear, deer, and wild boar for us to eat and save for winter, which is coming soon. Kirsten and I stay home and clean and care for Mama, because Mama’s fixing to have herself another baby any day now. Her stomach’s so big now. Kirsten and I say she’s as big as a cow in private.

My sister Kirsten is eight, and I’m eleven. She can’t help as much as I can yet, but she goes out and feeds Jack and Bessy, our two cows, and helps me clean the house. Mostly, she’s stays by Mama’s bedside and keeps her company.

I'm not making any comments on the work of a kid other than to say I laud your efforts and encourage you to keep it up. Read a lot. I loved Caddie Woodlawn and Across Five Aprils. Of course Gone With the Wind was my favorite novel for years. Forget the movie, read the book.


December Quinn said...

The voice here is nicely consistent, and I think the author painted a good picture.

I second Miss S's suggestion you read GWTW. Then read it again.

Anonymous said...

I, however, am not above commenting on the work of 12-year-olds.

I wade through the slush of a well-known lit journal and this is better than about half of the submissions I receive. First and foremost, it has a distinctive voice. Second, it shows setting without telling.

I understand Miss Snark -- and many other agents and editors -- want each story to start with a bang, a strong hook with a pace that sizzles. But there are other agents and editors who do like a slow build. Something you need to know now, dear author, is publishing is entirely subjective. I would read more.

Keep going, sweetie. You have a future.

Virginia Miss said...

Dear author, this is better than many other submissions to this crapometer. I wish I'd started writing when I was your age.

I have a suggestion for you. If you want your work to be published commercially, start your story with a scene in which something exciting (and pertinent) happens.

Good luck!

srchamberlain said...

I find it interesting that the work of a child was more readable than much of the other submissions fed through the Crapometer yesterday and today.

It doesn't really give this excluded Snarkling much comfort to realize that this submission won't even be critiqued because it's by a child, but still. I'm torn because I wanted mine critiqued, but actually sort of enjoyed this one.

Sarah said...

Great writing Katie, it shines out amongst what so far is almost total crap. As Miss Snark says, read, read and read more. Always be reading a book. You've got a lovely writing voice and it's wonderful that at your age you're being so brave in entering your work to the crapometer.

All things considered, best entry I've read so far.

Jill Mansell said...

I think this is great. When I was your age I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and yours has the same feel. Excellent work, Katie. You'll be a writer to be reckoned with, one day!

Maria said...

Dear Katie,

Submit your query without telling the agent your age. :>) Then if the agent is interested dad will have to be involved in contracts.

HOWEVER, remember that agents who do not know your age will not be aware of your possible tender feelings. Mind you, all of us writers have very tender feelings, but adults have no problem blasting other adults. So you may be blasted, ignored, insulted, rejected (for sure this will happen at times) or asked for more work.

You may or may not even deserve to be blasted, ignored, insulted or rejected, but that is the way of the writing world.

Learn now not to take it personally. Your age is an asset and a curse. But that is pretty much the way it will be your whole life anyway.

As we all must, no matter our age: Read things you love. Read things you hate. Then figure out why you loved what you did and always strive to put what you loved in your own writing.

You go girl!

desert snarkling said...

You do have a lovely voice and I hope you keep at it! Write, rewrite, read, reread!

And here's a sneaky bit of advice: when you do start submitting to publishers for real, don't tell them you're a kid. Let them judge the work on its own merits, and respond as they would respond to any adult. This might mean the letters you get back are a little bit harsher sometimes (then again, maybe not), but you also might learn things that'll help you become a better writer.

And it isn't too soon to start a critique group, either, if you have some friends who also like to write. Then, you can look at each others' work, and begin giving each other advice on how to make it better.

Your writing is already lots better than much of what Miss Snark has been critiquing this weekend. This is a terrific start.

Anonymous said...

There's a great program available right now that pairs mentors with young aspiring writers. It's the Little Owl Mentoring Program.

overdog said...

Good work, better than that of many adult writers. Find the best teachers and soon it won't be good work--it'll be great.

Sherry Decker said...

I'm impressed, not bad writing for a kid! Better than some adults in earlier crapometer attempts. Keep writing! Never give up. You'll make it.

acd said...

Author: I've got a younger brother with Down's Syndrome. If you want a critique or advice, or just want to ask a question, you can email me at 150words at gmail dot com.

Bonnie Shimko said...

Hi Katie,

You have a clear, strong voice. That's the talent part of writing -- a gift you were born with that can't be learned. Keep reading. Keep writing. We'll all be buying your books someday soon. I'm old and shopworn, but I love books narrated by children, and your voice makes me want to read more.

Best wishes,
Bonnie Shimko

BuffySquirrel said...

If I was these kids' momma, I wouldn't bother bathing them before they went blackberry-picking. Really. Have you seen a kid who's been picking blackberries? Lovely purple stains round the mouth, on the hands, on the clothes...

River Falls said...

Keep writing, Katie.

Don't let anyone talk you out of it.

Gerb said...

Brava, Katie!

It takes guts to post your work in a forum such as this. Good for you. Even better, you have talent! Keep reading. Keep writing. I have a feeling we'll see your stories in print someday.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to be the ogre and actually critique the writing.

The voice is very sweet, but the writing is simplistic. Author, you've got talent, but your work is not currently publishable. Keep writing; all writers generally need a few years of practice before their work is good enough to be published, and I think the same is true for you.

Everyone here is giving great advice - read lots of books, keep writing stories, and here's something extra: spend a lot of time learning how to write well. You can find books on this at the library, and they're worth the investment of time. You're very good for your age, but a serious writer should always strive to keep improving. Luckily, practice and reading good books is usually all that's needed to keep getting better.

Is Kirsten the sort of name that pioneers would give their children? I could be wrong, but that sounds like a very modern name to me. I'm not sure about Berry either, although it's a very nice name.

The story is about Amy and Berry, so you might consider starting the story at the moment when Amy realises that Berry isn't like other children, and how she responds to that. Setting the scene by talking about berry-picking is important, but it should come after the reader has been introduced to whatever is going to be the main plot of the story.

Like everyone else, I thought this was better-written than some of the other crapometer entries. Excellent work! Good luck, and keep working hard at your writing.

Anonymous said...

I suggest you do some more research on Down's. DS comes with severe heart defects, so it's not likely that a child in those days would live long.

Even now they only survive for more than a couple of years with the help of medication or surgery.

pacatrue said...

I thought the voice here was really good as well. I wish I could so readily invoke such a sense of place. I disagree with other commenters that you need to drop all of this beginning and find a beginning with a huge dramatic bang. However, something you can try to increase in the opening is a sense of direction or motion.

As I was reading, I was thinking how nice each sentence was, despite a few flaws easily removed, but I got to the end without having moved in the story very much. I know this is vague, but try to find a way to make the scene move towards something with more force. I am guessing the big event to come is the birth of the new child. If so, try describing all of the amazing things that the family must do to get ready; mention what mama can't do right now with her big belly; mention any fears or dreams that the main character has (I had nightmares for a week straight once when I was 6 and my mother was 7-8 months pregnant). This way you are both giving us a gorgeous setting and at the same time moving the story in a clear direction.

Good luck and keep it up!

Anonymous said...


Katie, first of all, happens to be my name, too! And secondly, though it is true that most Downsyndrome children require surgery or other medical help in order to live very long, there are rare times when this is not the case. My mom's best friend has a daughter who is one of those cases. My advice to you would be that you make sure to mention in your story how dismal the odds are of the Downsydrome child's survival. That will give you credibilty as an author, plus create more story tension as the readers wonder whether or not she'll survive.

It's amazing that you're already researching agents and publishing at such a young age. I wish I'd started that when I was twelve. Best wishes!

Writerious said...

Anonymous: Kirsten is a Swedish name, and would have been used in Swedish families that settled in the northern states. However, they were largely settling in the open prairies, where blackberries would have been scarce.

As buffysquirrel noted, there'd be no reason to bathe kids before they went blackberry picking. Bathing in hot water was a luxury in pioneer days. If it was swimmin' hole weather, that'd do for a bath. In the winter, it wasn't unusual to sew the family into their long underwear and leave it on all winter long. Yeah, I say "ew," too, but that's how it was.

The voice is good, but I think the scene has a bit too much of, "Aren't we a happy, wonderful family?" to it. Homesteading was HARD work, and kids began working almost as soon as they could toddle around. You might find it helpful to read published diaries of pioneer women to get a feel for what life was like.

Where is this family living? You've described them as pioneers, but in where exactly? Knowing the environment they're living in is important, because most of their daily activities will be done outdoors, and you'll want to get the descriptions of their environment correct.

Here is an article you may find helpful: Young Writers

writtenwyrdd said...

I was writing at your age, Author, and you write a lot better than I did at that age. This does hold up well with the other entries.

I would read more of this. To get a feel for the type of book you are writing, look up books on pioneer families. Laura Ingalls Wilder comes to mind. Read non-fiction books, too.

Kara Lennox said...

Everyone loves to give advice, and everyone thinks they can improve something they read by an aspiring writer. As you read the comments, remember that you aren't obliged to take anyone's advice. Consider it, and if you think--oh, yeah, that WOULD make it better--take the advice. And if it's STUPID advice (in your opinion) just ignore it. Ultimately you are the writer and you get to decide.

There's nothing worse than a book written by committee. You have a fantastic voice (already! I'm jealous!) and a bright future ahead of you.



JRBrown said...

This is amazing for a 12 year old. Keep working at it, Katie; you're already better than a lot of the adults out there, and I've see published books that are less engaging.

Jillian said...

Dear Young Writer,

I'm so proud of you for having the courage to put your writing out there!

I have a 12-year-old daughter who has just completed a 400-page fantasy novel. I'm terribly proud of her! But I know that she has a lot of work ahead of her, and she knows it, too.

Keep writing, keep reading GOOD BOOKS. Keep believing that you can do this...that your gift will develop and grow and that you will succeed!

I began writing when I was 6, but you are far ahead of where I was at 12.

Congratulations on your hard work, and KEEP GOING, SWEETHEART!!!

Natalia said...

Kid, if only I was as organized and determined as you are when I was your age!

Don't get discouraged.

Try your hand at a few short stories over the next few years, and then go back, re-edit your work, and sell it.

Manic Mom said...

For Katie--I think it's incredible that you're a 12-year-old writer. Keep working on it; you've got years and years ahead of you, and if you've already written a book and been brave enough to put your query out there, especially to the very wonderful, yet very to-the-point Miss Snark, then your skin is already thickening and you'll get there. And someday, when you're 30 or so, and you've got six bestsellers out there, you will probably remember your crapometer submission and be proud of your efforts, talent and persistent.

Keep on writing!

Miss Audrey said...


I enjoyed your story and would have liked to read more. I wish you all the best.

I have worked with special needs children and maybe you could leave off the title of 'Downs Syndrome' and just say that the baby was 'special'. When you later describe the child then it will be apparent what the condition is as DS has its own unique set of characteristics. Your story premise is endearing and I loved the perspective of the child in first person.

Miss Audrey

K.Irene said...

I'm going out on a limb here...you're homeschooled? You write like a home schooled child, even if you aren't. Your writing is grammatically correct and incredibly good and sweet. This is very good. But, Louisa May Allcot wouldn't sell today. She's too sweet and good.

Take to heart the information about making this scene more real. (hot baths are a luxury; berry picking is a treat away from the hard work of hoeing potatoes; NO mother on the planet would serve a snack to children on her best plates.) Read some biographies of pioneers to get a better picture of what it was really like. The little house books are well and good, but they are fiction.

Try giving us action, so we can see the characters reacting and let us discover their personalities. I don't want to be told about this family. I want to make them my friends too.

I think it was Thorton Wilder who said, "the first 100,000 words are practice."

Keep practicing. You might want to consider a writing group. Most English teachers in schools aren't going to be able to be a ton of help. (pity)

Highschool Writer said...

I have to say, that wasn't horrible especially for someone your age (I'd advise not to share it on things like this, people sweeten-up their comments and you won't ever know if they really meant it was good, or are being nice to a kid like you.) Definitely do some actual research on Down's Syndrom, its discovery, and what happened to people who had it in the time of your book.
Let your writing do the talking instead and if it's the writing of a 12 year old, so be it and the agent will notice. But if you don't plant that idea in his/her head from the start, he/she will be much more likely to give it a shot. It's nice to see some innocence in your writing. I hope you don't lose it when you get some experience (and researd what you write.)

Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot of the commenters here. Great writing regardless of your age. No need for me to reiterate the particulars of what everyone is saying, but excellent job.

And to K.irene: While the Little House on the Prairie books might be sold as fiction, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote them about her real life. I think the series probably qualifies as a memoir of sorts. Maybe she used her creative license to keep her stories interesting, but maybe every little detail she wrote about is true. These books truly illustrate the work, hardships, disappointments, and general situation of the pioneer families. So as a resource for someone trying to write about that time period, they are accurate and invaluable and just as worthy as any other diaries from that time - probably the more so for this writer because they are also written in the voice of a young girl.