3rd SR Crapometer #99 plus 5

Dear Miss Snark,
Set in modern-day France, LA CACHETTE (The Hiding Place) is a 50,000-word, adventure story for children. err...what kind of children? first grade? eighth grade? adult children of Brie loving mothers?

Nicolas Parlier has a flair for seeing the logic of science in everything. That's probably why he is bait for bullies and his seventh-grade teachers find him exasperating. He would love to runaway (run away is two words. Runaway is a noun) from his problems, sail around the world and maybe, become a legendary adventurer. (yea, me too, let's go)

His dreams may soon come true. His parents have found the perfect sailboat in St. Malo. The port-city where corsairs once roamed is home to Alistair Machant. The ruthless politician is obsessed with a long-lost treasure hidden somewhere on the rugged coast.

Everyone knows getting in Machant's way means trouble. But Nicolas stumbles across a clue, then looks for others as he tries to unravel the mystery. Can his "irksome intelligence" lead him to the greatest treasure on Earth? Will he be able to outsmart Machant, a man who fights dirtier than the cruelest schoolyard bully?

There's no running away this time. With help from his best friend, Alfred, and quirky, kid sister, Nicolas is in a race to La Cachette.

Would you be interested in representing this story? Well I'm interested in reading it, let's start with that.

Thank you for considering this submission.

Warm regards,

this is a good query letter. It gives us a glimpse of plot,the hero, the villain AND the conflict.
It's spare enough to make it easy to follow, and descriptive enough to entice me.

Now, let's see if you can write.

La Cachette

The house was quiet except for a noise that did not seem quite right. Alistair Machant dropped his keys in the antique tray by the door and muttered to himself. Wiping imaginary dust off his tailored suit and smoothing a silver strand in his perfectly groomed hair, he took the stairs at a stately pace. THAT NOISE AGAIN. Maybe it was the skittish maid.

As he reached the top step Elsa came out of the room opposite the library. Her starched cap quivered and her wrinkled face paled when she saw him. The teacup and saucer tumbled from her hands onto the polished wood floor.

"You fool! Why work yourself into such a fright because I've come home early?" He started to say more, but the old woman grasped at her heart. Her eyes stretched wide. She was staring at something behind him. Machant turned in time to glimpse a man in the doorway of the library.

"Who the devil?" he yelled. Elsa was too busy gasping and sputtering to answer, so he turned on his heels and followed after the intruder. The thief, SURELY IT WAS A THIEF, ran towards the French doors on the far side of the room. The man tossed aside the silken curtains, gave a quick twist to the brass handles, then leaped over the terrace. Machant crossed the library in time to see the stranger sprinting for the woods.

"Elsa, who the devil was that?" he shouted, irritated that the scoundrel had bested him. "What is going on here? Elsa, come here this instant!"

The old woman did not appear.

Machant bristled. He was not used to being ignored so he stormed back into the hallway.

"Elsa, you had better start explaining...." Looking down at the parquet floor, Machant studied the maid's crumpled form. He decided she looked like a discarded tissue. "You've already made enough of a mess. Get up from there," he ordered in disgust.

She didn't move. So he gave her arm a nudge with the polished toe of his shoe. Nothing. He sneered at her for being so useless then stomped back into the library.

When Machant spied the ladder propped against a bookcase he realized with a snap of clarity what had caused the noise. At least one mystery was solved.

He climbed a few rungs. At first, nothing seemed out of place. Then he thought he could see an empty space on the highest shelf where the oldest books were kept. Carefully he made his way up to get a better look. Yes, he was certain there was one missing. Next to the gap were the journals of his long-dead relative, Napoleon's trusted officer, ADMIRAL Gerard Machant. The books were still in perfect order, but the last one was gone.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT THAT DUSTY THING? HOW RIDICULOUS. Machant pushed his finger against the tip of his considerable nose as he tried to remember if the diary had mentioned anything valuable. There were only scribbles about the old admiral's life after the navy: managing business affairs, tinkering with experiments, visiting friends, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. No, he didn't recall there being anything even vaguely interesting ...except for the final entry. Nearly tumbling from the ladder, Machant realized that could be it.

oh yes, yes yes. Did I mention yes?
I like this a lot even though it needs a bit more polishing up.
I'd read on. I'd ask for a partial.
I love love love the dead maid pushed aside with a sneer. It illustrates this guy's character without a single bit of description.


Anonymous said...


Bernita said...

Where's Nicholas?

writtenwyrdd said...

I see the potential Miss Snark saw, but I really didn't care for this. Sorry, Author, but I don't even think you are past the first draft stage with this piece. When you have tightened it up, I'd definitely read it, but for now, I am having trouble following the action. It doesn't make sense to me. I can't picture a real person acting like the boss or the maid. I definitely could with some editing, but, as written, this doesn't work. I kept getting pulled out of it by awkward construction, unnecessary words, and the odd behavior of the characters. Also, work on the stilted dialog.

Don't take this as a trashing, though, even if I come across as harsh. You really do have some great stuff here. You had me on your side, WANTING to like this. I particularly liked how your character looked at the dead maid and decided she looked like a discarded tissue. However, if you trim to "she looked like a disgarded tissue" it would have more impact.

UrsulaV said...

I actually disagree with the above--I think that "he decided she looked like a disregarded tissue" serves to tell us something about the character, whereas just "she looked..." rather makes the assumption that anyone looking at this dead body would think that, and would actually lessen the impact to my brain.

The block capitals were throwin' me, though.

overdog said...

I liked it, liked the voice. I thought the maid had fainted, though. Guess we're not clear on what's up with her...

Anonymous said...

You open with a snobby character: doesn't make me want to keep reading. I feelno sympathy for this character. He doesn't care. Neither do I.
Sorry if I come across as "mean" But for me you've got to make me like the character you open with, *then* switch to the bad guy later on.

Author said...

RE: The block caps -- got all those funny symbols when I used italics depite all the formatting advice from snarklings so I opted for the caps. Sorry if that threw you.

MaryKaye said...

The caps bother me a lot (too many years of reading that as meaning "poster is yelling at me) but in the author's defense, maybe s/he has substituted them for the italics in the real submission? In italics they wouldn't look so bad.

I don't believe in the villain, though. He is so over-the-top it's hard to see how he could really be an effective schemer.

JRBrown said...

I'm assuming the ALL CAPS is a substitute for italics. If not, you may want to rethink that...

I like it so far. The language has a faint foreign flavor, making me think the author is not a native English speaker, but it's set in France so that's OK.

And I have no problem leading with the villain; he's a fun villain.

Bella Stander said...

I was hooked from the get-go, but this passage seems like it's from later in the book, not the first page. If this is children's fiction (same age range as for HOLES, perhaps?) and the story centers on the young hero & his sister, you have to open with them and have us identify with them right off--just like in HOLES, Harry Potter, THE GOLDEN COMPASS; indeed every kids' book.

When does this take place? The maid in starched cap, and reference to the "long dead" Napoleonic officer make it seem like it's not now. If it is contemporary, maybe say the diaries were by Machant's "ancestor" or "great-great-great-grandfather."

I also found the capitals jarring.

Overall, this is great stuff. (I like how the bad guy's name is one letter off from French word for "evil.") Keep going!

Cudd said...

Using caps for emphasis threw me off too.

However, I think writtenwyrdd was way off in saying your characters weren't realistic enough. It's not standard human behavior, but assuming your character is just that evil, he seems perfectly reasonable. Same goes for the maid, if she's a shy, nervous thing that's forced to work for someone that sinister... I can see her clamming up and fainting in response to a problem when the boss comes home. At least, I'm guessing she just fainted. I could be wrong.

And I rather liked it. I even liked that it started with the bad guy, just because it's a little refreshing from the standard young hero novel. Heroes get kinda boring after a while, -_-

Sherry decker said...

Yup, I'd keep reading while trying to ignore the adverbs and the sense of rushing through some important detail. Good enough to keep reading. Believable characters.

Anonymous said...

I liked this one a lot. It's the first one I read all the way through. Good job!

Anonymous said...

I disagree. Even though the main character was unlikable; he sounded intriguing. Kind of like the man you love to hate. He kept me reading. And I liked how the maid reacted. This needs some cleaning up, but it was really good. Out of all the submissions I have read on this blog, this would be the book I would read, even if it is for kids.

McKoala said...

The bad guy is a bit extreme, but bearing in mind that it's a book for kids it may not be a problem, particularly if its for a younger age group - they like things black and white. But it does bother me that you start a kids book with a scene with adults. My son would want to know where his hero is. Silly, maybe, but that's the way his mind works.

xiqay said...

I liked it. It starts in an interesting place for kid-lit, not with a child but with adults (and the nemesis at that). Unusual, not sure that kids will like it. But I did.

I was bothered by the capitalized words. No need for them.

I had to read twice to get a sense of place. Because Machant goes upstairs and encounters the maid, then turns to the library and goes in. There are french doors off the library. And then the intruder is seen going over the terrace (the french doors opened onto a terrace) and then off into the woods. Obviously, they can't be on the second floor. Or the house backs onto a hill so the second floor can also be "ground floor" level. Or something-this part distracted me.

Generally, I liked this a lot as an opening. But it makes us sympathetic with Machant, who has just had his house broken into and been ripped off--even though he seems a cold bastard about the maid. A bit confusing on the signal to the reader about this character, imho.

Good luck with the story.

Virginia Miss said...

I would have kept reading.

Since the story drew me right in, I either didn't notice the unpolished bits, or they didn't bother me.

However, the all caps annoyed me, too.

I'm wondering if this was a prologue?

Writerious said...

Middle-grade novels usually start with the main character in action. Multiple POVs are hard to pull off -- possible, but you have to handle them carefully to keep the reader engaged.

snarkfodder said...

I knew I recognized this. You don't forget a title like La Cachette-asterisk. ;) Anybody interested in seeing the evolution of a query letter:


Good on you, Author, for taking Evil Editor's advice. This query was definitely better.

Alison S said...

I agree that the capitals are very jarring, and that you need to have a good reason not to start with the children characters. I notice, when revisiting my childhood favourites with my eight year old, who basically likes the same kind of books that I did, that her tolerance for slow or non-catchy beginnings is WAY lower than mine was. The only recent children's book I can think of off-hand that starts with adult action was "HP and the Goblet of Fire" (I think - the one that starts in the Riddle house) - and JKR had all her past reputation to enable her to do that. I think most modern children expect to be drawn into action that they can identify with straight away, and I'm not sure that the adult characters shown here do this.
But of course it's adults buying the book, not children...

Anonymous said...

The first Harry Potter book started with adult action too, and that one did okay.

Anonymous said...

To add to previous point, this is just one excerpt from the book, not necessarily how the book starts. Maybe it's the beginning of chapter 3.

Diana Peterfreund said...

The only recent children's book I can think of off-hand that starts with adult action was "HP and the Goblet of Fire" (I think - the one that starts in the Riddle house) - and JKR had all her past reputation to enable her to do that.

Sorceror's Stone started out with Harry's uncle being shocked by hte way the local wizards were behaving and then Dumbledore and McGonagal waiting while Hagrid dropped Harry off at the house. Pretty "adult" and no prior rep to speak of...

Dave Kuzminski said...

Even though the characters seem odd or foreign to you, don't count them out. I've seen many real live people who just would be almost entirely unbelievable as characters, but that's what makes them worth using which I do for almost all my characters. The trick is in keeping them in character so they remain interesting, at least to some of us.

I'm betting that many of the characters in these first pages are likewise based upon someone real the author encountered.

Natalia said...

I'm hooked. I want more. "Wiping imaginary dust" just sucked me right in, it's the sort of subtle detail that serves as great set-up for his treatment of the maid. A man obsessed with his own appearance and status. I'd love to see how that one plays out against Nicolas' passion.

I just hope that Nicolas is not some boring goody-goody.

Good job.

thraesja said...

I loved this.
The antagonist fastidious and vain. He's terrible to work for. He holds others in contempt, even his famous ancestor. Shown, not told.
Fabulous. I hope the hero is as well introduced.

99Pancakes said...

I am a 4th grade teacher and have read oodles of books meant for kids ages 8-11. Most esp., I LOVE to read the Newberry medal winners, as well as the Newberry honor books (so I've read great stuff, right?). This author has a great idea and an intriguing start. It's good that the antagonist is weird, or perceived as a strange character. Sheesh! Who wants typical? The ms needs a little work, but I see an awesome story coming out of this.