Monday, March 7, 2011

Catch Me If You Can Blogfest

I just learned about this cool blog fest--today. It starts today, and I'm entering today, so it's not too late for any of you other writers who are up to it. It's called Catch Me If You Can Blogfest, hosted by KayKay's Corner blog.
As stated on her blog, "We've all heard it a millon times: If your book doesn't catch the agent/publisher's eye quickly, they'll probably reject it. So, I'm sure at one time or another we've asked ourselves, 'Does my WIP catch people's attention right away?'" Her contest will give us writers a chance to bounce our first 550 words off each other as part of her fun blog fest.
Here's my first 550 or so words of my newest novel, a middle grade science fiction with the working title of Tree Boy:

If Pete didn’t win, he would die.

Okay, he wouldn’t really die. But it was his best hope for pulling his stinky-shoe life out of the toilet. If everyone at Sulfur Springs Middle School could recognize his genius, they would finally appreciate Peter Oaks. Even his dad would.

“Exactly what are we supposed to be looking for again?” Cassie pulled a twig from her hair with obvious revulsion and threw it on the ground.

“Anything that you might consider to be a pine cone.” Pete pulled open a brown grocery bag and shoved it in front of his sister’s face. “As long as it looks different from these.” He couldn’t understand his sister’s dingy brain. “I told you that a million times.”

“Sorry, your highness, master of geeks.” She exaggerated a bow, her hand sweeping an arc in the air in front of her face.

“I am not a geek.”

“Okay, then you’re a nerd.” Cassie straightened her back.

Pete kept his eyes busy scanning each side of the mountain trail for new species. “I can live with ‘nerd.’”

“That’s good, ‘cause no normal brother would drag their big sister out into a flippin’ forest in the middle of April to help them with a stupid sixth grade science project. Can’t you just build a volcano out of Play-doh, or something?”

“You know my favorite field of science is botany.” Why couldn’t his sister remember that? “And a volcano would never make it to the state competition. Duh!”

“I guess I still don’t get it. Isn’t a pine cone a pine cone?” Cassie held onto a corner of the paper bag and peered inside. She jerked her fingers away and then held them up like she was a hand model. “Look what this stupid forest is doing to my nails. They’re filthy. I’ll need a manicure when I get home.”

“Never mind. You’re no help.” Pete pulled the bag away and rolled down the top so he could hold on better. He resumed scanning the forest. “I tried to explain it as simple as I could. I mean, would it help if I told you I’m looking for the seeds of all the indigenous species of conifers that populate the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains?”

“There you go again.” Cassie stomped off the trail and headed toward a giant Ponderosa Pine. “Talking like a geek. Oh, excuse me, a nerd. I’m smart too, you know. I’ll have you know I’m the only one in Mrs. Smedley’s seventh grade creative writing class that’s getting an A.” She stretched up on her tip toes and pulled a cone from the lower branches of the tree. “If Mom is going to make me come with you, then I’m going be of some use.”

“I’ve already got a specimen from that variety of tree.”

“What about that one?” Cassie pointed to a gnarled pine tree. It appeared to grow almost sideways from an outcropping of rock about a hundred yards up the mountainside. She took off at a near sprint.

Pete stopped. He squinted his eyes through his glasses to get a better look at the tree. Maybe she was worth bringing along. “Good eye, Cass.” Pete climbed after her. “I don’t have that one. In fact I didn’t even know those grew around here. Let me get a closer look. Is it? No, can’t be!”


  1. I'm a bug nerd, so I love your budding botanist.
    Great MG voice. Great set-up.
    LOVE this premise. Tree Boy, last name Oaks. I dig it! I am all about smart kids who like science/nature.

  2. I like a well written nerd, and the character comes through well. I'm not quite so sure about the single line paragraph at the start, simply because that has been overused to such an extent elsewhere that it has lost a lot of impact.

  3. I liked it, but it didn't feel like the beginning of a story: it felt like the middle. It didn't draw me in. I didn't feel "caught."

  4. Nerds as protags are seriously under represented and so far I like Pete, even if his sister is a typical self-centered pain in the butt.

    I like the way everything ties in together: he's a botanist & his name is Oaks, he thinks his life stinks, and goes to school at a place named Sulfur Springs.

    Good work!

  5. Unfortunately, I agree with Teralynn. You didn't "catch" me.

    The first line is interesting--though a little too clipped and brief for my taste. If the real conflict stakes had been him possibly dying, it would've kept my interest. But then in the very next sentence, you say that's not the reality of the situation, which is the main thing that drew me in with the first line.

    Also, the next paragraph is all telling, no showing. You lost me after that point, because though Pete's narrative voice is cute, there was no tension or immediacy making me want to read on.

    Though the voice is cute, and good for middle grade. Hope my critique is useful.

    Nocturnal Readings

  6. Stopping by from CMIUC. Although I like the story idea. I read it to my grandson and he lost interest. I think you do need more action and a great opening line. Why would Peter die?

  7. The first line doesn't really fit with the rest of the piece to me. It didn't catch me. Agents and Editors I've talk to have warned me not to put a first sentence that seems to go for shock value, then go against it in the very next line. So watch out for that.

    I loved Pete. He is a nerd after my own heart, and his sister has great snarky voice. I would keep reading to see where this leads.

  8. So, the character works in all ways but it isn't "catching" the reader. It's possible you're starting the story in the wrong place. Open in the middle of action in the story so that young reader - Debra's grandson - is unable to lose interest. What can you do to your MC in this first scene to up the ante?

  9. I love the sister. Miss Priss to a 'T.' :)

    This is cute, but where's the tension? The last line is it. Dawnall nailed it in her comment. Is this where the story really begins? There should be an event, some mini-explosion that bites into the reader. I struggle with this myself (a lot).

    As a fellow nerd, I'd keep reading to figure out this pine cone mystery. :)


  10. This sounds like a fun middle grade piece. I like that's its narrated by a Master Geek. :-)

    I love trees too, though I'm not really into MG books. Other than that, I liked this excerpt.

    Thanks for sharing, Natasha Hanova

  11. I like this and would like to know what they have found.
    Thanks for sharing.

  12. I disagree with some of the commenters--I was caught right away by this. I was pulled in my Pete--found him interesting. I like the way that he looks at himself differently than his sister does, and you did that very well with her use of the terms geek and nerd.

    The excerpt felt effortless. The writing flowed easily, the dialogue felt natural, and it didn't feel like you were forcing me into the story.

    I suggest looking at each character's individual dialogue. Both sister and brother have very similar ways of speaking, with the same diction, sentence structure, syntax, etc. Perhaps this is because they are siblings, but some variation would be nice.

    I would certainly read on!

  13. Very nice. Gotta love a tree loving nerd, umm, I mean smart kid.

    Sounds very much like a middle grade book, so you're doing great. Maybe tighten it up a little bit and get us the action a little quicker, but otherwise I really enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing :)

  14. I have to agree with Heidi. I really liked this excerpt. Pete seems like a fun character that I could really root for through the story. I can get passed a slow beginning if the characters draw me in, which is exactly what Pete did.

    But this is MG and I'm not sure a lot of younger readers feel the same way. You may want to kick up the tension just a notch or so. Or maybe sprinkle in more of that humor we see in the back-and-fourth between Pete and his sister to keep their attention until everything kicks off.

    I'd keep reading either way. Pete seems like a great character and I love a nerdy MC. Great work!

    Thanks for sharing :)