3rd SR Crapometer #68

Dear Agent: (snarl)

What would a ten-year-old boy do if he spotted a bank robber on a train? The right thing would be to turn him in. However, he might have good reasons to do the wrong thing.

The Candy Butcher’s Secret is a work of historical fiction for children 8 to 10 years old, at 2,700 words. Butch is a “candy butcher” on a Union Pacific train headed to Denver, Colorado in 1895. He sells drinks, snacks and newspapers to the passengers, temporarily providing for his family of six. Notorious bank robber Kid Curry bribes him a hundred dollars to keep quiet, almost three months’ pay. (you have a fundamental problem with sentence structure here)

When Butch hears his friend, the traveling businessman Mr. Schwarz, say the people whose money was stolen will be as “poor as Job’s turkey,” his conscience gnaws at him. He turns in the bribe money and tells the conductor about Kid Curry, but the bank robber disappears. His victims will lose their money unless Butch puts the clues together and figures out where Kid Curry is hiding. Finding the bank robber will put Butch in danger, but it’s a risk he feels he must take. (why?)

I have three nonfiction history titles published with XYZ Publishing: ABC (2003), DEF (2004), and GHI i(2005). I am an author, historian, and transportation enthusiast with a great interest in early railroad history. From my extensive research in the period, this story includes the lore of the railroad candy butcher, the real life bank robber Kid Curry, and Frederick Schwarz, the founder of the F.A.O. Schwarz toy store.

I would be happy to send you the entire manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you. Please note, this is a simultaneous query. (they all are, you don't need to say so unless the agent you're querying says so specifically in the guidelines)

First page:

“Kid Curry robs bank! Read all about it!”

Butch made his way down the aisle of the crowded Union Pacific train on the afternoon of June 23, 1895. The young “candy butcher” hawked snacks and newspapers in the passenger coaches clickety-clacking east across California.

The regular in seat 5 flipped Butch a penny. “Newspaper, please. What’s this about a bank robber?”

Butch dropped the coin into his apron where it jangled with the others. “Kid Curry robbed a bank in San Francisco and stole thousands of dollars.” He tossed the man a paper from his sack.

“Says here there’s a big scar on his hand,” his customer noted. “And look at that huge ‘walrus’ moustache.”

The school marm in seat 6 leaned over and peered at Butch’s tray. “What else are you selling?”
“I’ve got right smart of notions. Peanut brittle, cigars, dime novels, playing cards—”

“Vogue magazine?” she asked.

He whipped one from his sack. “Latest issue.”

The impressed teacher gave him a nickel. “This candy butcher has everything!” She tipped him a penny. “When do we arrive in Denver?”

“7:55 tomorrow night,” Butch said. “Same every week.”

“Over here,” called a familiar voice from a nearby seat. “A newspaper I would like.”

Butch handed a paper to the grey-haired businessman. Mr. Schwarz traveled the country almost every week seeking treasures to sell in his Toy Bazaar in New York City. “How is your papa?” he asked in his thick, European accent. “I have not seen him on this train since his leg got broke.”

“Papa’s sick. He won’t be stopping the train anytime soon. The other brakemen really miss him, too.”

“Oy vey, such a predicament! And jus’ ten years old yet—a boychik no longer.” His eyes twinkled above his bushy beard.

I'm not interested in people who do the right thing. I'm interested in people who do the right thing for the wrong reason, or the wrong thing for the right reason, or the wrong thing for the wrong reason. When this lad gives back the money, all I think is "why the heck is some kid gonna care about people he doesn't know when his family is hungry". I read Across Five Aprils a couple months back and one of the things that really struck me was that almost every hour of every day those people were working hard so they could eat. Just putting food on the table was a full time job. You've set up this story to have the kid in just that positition. Conscience is one thing but hungry mouths have a way of making you do whatever you need to do to buy food.

Those people who are "poor as Job's turkey" are abstract. I'd find it much more compelling if they appeared in the story. Even then, I'd think he'd keep the money and try to solve the crime to salve his conscience.


Iago said...

2,700 words? That's got to be a mistake, surely?

Anonymous said...

What Miss Snark said about keeping the money.

His motive for trying to find Curry is his way of earning that money. If he gets the reward on the Kid's head he can always give back the hundred dollars. In the meantime his family eats.

And write out all your numbers.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of hard words in there. Are you gonna provide a glossary? I'm all for kids learning new words, but you have to give them a hand.

2,700 words? Magazine story?
8-10 year olds don't read picture books anymore.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering the same thing about word count. My 8yo son has read all the Harry Potters, and is now reading The Hobbit. Average 8-10 year olds are not reading 2700 word books. Think Lois Sacher.

katiesandwich said...

Across Five Aprils is an awesome book!

M. Takhallus. said...

Middle reader standard used to be about 140 pages. Now there's almost no upper limit, (that's good and bad) but I can't imagine anything much under 110 or 120.

Writerious said...

If this were told in first person, I'd not have a problem with the MC thinking of the woman as a "school marm," but told in the third person, I'd prefer the proper title of "teacher."

I'm a bit concerned about overdoing the accent of the Jewish (?) character. Is this a realistic character for this setting?

I'd also like to see a better way of introducing the term "candy butcher." Rather than put it in quotes (which are misused in this case), you might have a passenger call for him, using the term "candy butcher," and have the passenger investigate the contents of the MC's tray out loud ("You got any licorice? Bottle of sarsparilla? Sure would like a pack of playing cards."), and thus demonstrate just what the MC's occupation is.

Anonymous said...

The last temptation is the greatest treason / to do the right deed for the wrong reason. -- T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral

Rei said...

[quote]Butch made his way down the aisle of the crowded Union Pacific train on the afternoon of June 23, 1895. The young “candy butcher” hawked snacks and newspapers in the passenger coaches clickety-clacking east across California.[/quote]

Starting off with telling instead of showing? In the next paragraph, we learn he's selling things, and over the next few, we learn exactly what he's selling -- in addition to hearing him called a "candy butcher". Don't state things twice in a row. :)

Anonymous said...

this is the kind of stuff that my 3rd grade teacher would have read to us and thought we actually cared.

i never liked stuff like this as a child.