Wednesday, September 12, 2012

CAGI Entry #65

Middle Grade Mystery
24,000 words


Bright and bold in both appearance and manner, 10-year-old Hispanic fashionista-entrepreneur Celia Narro reluctantly moves to a small lakeshore town upstate, worlds away from her best friend Indira and their glamorous life on New York City’s upper west side. Amid culture shock, Celia finds refuge in a secret room hidden behind her new bedroom closet that is both a legacy from the Underground Railroad and a key to a long-lost local treasure. Celia views this treasure as her one-way ticket straight back to New York City, but the search pulls her into a battle with jealous fellow 5th grader Jane Archer and Jane’s strange uncle Theo Rathbone, a member of a secret society who makes no attempt to hide his dislike for “illegal aliens”. 

With the help of 10-year-old junior archaeologist and part-time Renaissance knight Joe Eli, Celia nearly has the treasure in her grasp when Joe, her one new friend, disappears. To find him Celia must choose between the treasure and Joe by reaching out to her nemesis, Jane Archer. In this modern mystery Celia, a Fancy-Nancy-meets-Nancy-Drew heroine, puts her knowledge of fashion and fabrics to work as she unravels the secrets of communicating with a boy and making friends in a new place while discovering the different forms treasure can take.

This story is set in the form of a how-to book for beginning detectives with an ethnically diverse cast of characters, strong heroine and historic elements. The “instructional” passages at the beginning of each chapter not only explain the steps in developing basic detective skills, they also provide a dash of humor, additional clues, and red herrings (as the case may be).

This is my first children's manuscript. My first draft won first place in its category in the 2011 Pacific Northwest Literary Contest. I am a wife of one and mom of two, with a B.A. in journalism and a minor in graphic design fromMichigan State University. After spending over 20 years in the marketing profession, I am willing and able to support this book in any way you deem valuable.

First 250:

Yes you too can be a world-famous detective, even if you are still going to school full-time! Fame, fortune, adventure and mystery, they are all here just waiting for you to reach out and grab them by their glittery collars. When you’ve successfully completed these 10 easy steps you’ll be an agency classified Level MG1A, with a certificate to prove it. But first things first, before you can begin your training you have to find a mystery. Mysteries come in all shapes and sizes, just like people. They can be new little mysteries, like who your teacher will be next year, or they can be ancient mysteries that are all twisted and bent like an old apple tree. And, like people, you can find them anywhere – in the clouds, in your cereal bowl, or in an old musty letter. . .

Shepherd Lane
Pultneyville, New York
                                                                                                            March 1, 1939
My Dear Langley,
      It seems like only yesterday that you, a lad of 14 with Irish eyes, washed up near my doorstep with the last few bits of your ship. The war between the states was winding down and the unspoken war was winding up. If we had known it would continue on to this very day would we have just said the devil with it and sought a kinder shore? I flatter myself in thinking not.
      Regardless, our fighting days are over and it’s time for someone else to pick up our swords and fight on.


  1. This is a nice concept, smart and fun. The concept of structuring it as a how-to book for detectives is unique. I like how you open your first 250 with a "how-to" excerpt. However, it was a little confusing for me to go from that except to the 1939 letter, despite the transition in the last line of the letter. I tried to put my finger on why, and I think it is that I like to see a main character on the first page (Celia), and we're lacking that here, so I don't yet feel tied to the story.

    Your query could use some tweaking to give it that middle grade voice that an agent is going to want to connect with right away. The first paragraph has several long sentences in a row. Consider tigtening it up to make those sentences shorter and snappier. Those first sentences are crucial for gaining an agent's attention. I'm also not sure you need the last line of your bio paragraph. It goes without saying that a debut author will go above and beyond to market her book.

  2. What a cute idea!

    I agree with Susan. The placement of the letter is odd. Is the first part an advertisement of some sort? Like on the back of a magazine or cereal box?

    I think it might be a good idea to build more of your story and then introduce the letter (or clue).

    Good luck!

  3. I agree with others have said. This is a fun concept, but I think the letter would be stronger if it had more of a Middle Grade voice. The sentences are long and the word choice is very sophisticated. The kids all have occupations, which seems a little strange for 5th graders. I also agree that we should meet Celia on the first page.

    I'm not sure how the how-to part fits in with the story. Is Celia supposed to be reading a how-to book? It isn't apparent from the query or from the first page.

    I like that the book has a diverse cast of characters. It seems like I see more and more agents are looking for that these days.

    Good luck!

  4. Hi everyone,

    Thanks for the feedback! Yes, the letter is the first clue to the story. I was thinking of the initial paragraph as a ripped advert clipped to the letter. In retrospect I probably should have entered my first 150 off page one, and not used this prologue section. Thanks again!