Sunday, June 4, 2017

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Franz

Name: Jason Franz
Genre: Middle Grade; Adventure/Mystery
Title: Sixth Grade Secret Service

Chapter 1
Monday 2:25 PM
My name is Abraham Truman and my problem started over a hundred fifty years ago. During a showing of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre, my great, great, great…great…great…whatever, grandfather, Secret Service Agent Jessup Truman, left Abraham Lincoln’s balcony to go to the concession stand...
The rest, as my dad usually said, is in the history books.
Long story short, my parents don’t talk about Grandpa Jessup much.
Ninety-eight years later in Dealy Plaza, Texas, my triply great grandfather, Agent Clyde Truman, tripped over his shoelaces and stepped away from Kennedy’s motorcade. He was just about to pull Mr. Bunny Ears out of the hole when—again, history…
Clyde’s another branch of our family tree my parents would like to break off. 
After him, the secret service stopped trusting my ancestors with anything more challenging than changing the First Baby’s diapers. Until my dad.
He rewrote Truman family history when he rescued the president’s wife from the clutches of a rogue nation. Then my over-achieving, older brother just had to go and thwart that communist takeover of the White House…
Me—I can’t even get across the cafeteria without spilling my food tray. Which means, if Grandpas Jessup and Clyde are any indication, I’m one trip, rip, or loose grip away from my parents not even claiming me on their taxes.
But, like my best friend, Tibby Roosevelt, always said, “It’s not like there’s much chance to prove yourself in the sixth grade.”
That went double for a kid like me, until Tibby ran for class president.
The air was still in our crowded classroom. My eyes and ears were glued to a speaker hanging in the top right corner to the dry erase board. The JV jocks had been training extra hard for the weekend’s big game between our North Washington Allies and the South Washington X-Patriots, and I could smell that some of them had obviously not showered after practice.
It was almost two-thirty, which meant the final count of the votes would soon be announced. What happened in the next few moments—the outcome of this election—would change everything.
It would change the world.                  
Or at least the world as the sixth grade knew it.  
Tibby Roosevelt was sitting across from me. Her fluffy hair was the color of late batch maple syrup and was held back by a traditional Tswana headband. Over the summer, Tibby and her parents visited Botswana in South Africa. There, Tibby met her grandmother for the first time ever.
The headband was a handmade gift from her grandmother. A string of tan and red beads framed an inner band of purple beads which had been dyed with a native African flower. It was Tibby’s favorite accessory and she wore it every day, even if it didn’t exactly match the rest of her outfit.
Tibby’s eyes were fixated on the row of past sixth grade president’s pictures hanging above the chalkboard, specifically to the empty space at the end of them. Her space. She hadn’t blinked in over a minute. Finally, she came out of her trance. “You know, as my first act as President, I’m going to make you head of my security.”
Although Tibby was born in America, her mother had only immigrated to the United States just before Tibby was born, and she still had a thick South African accent. Subtle nuances had been passed down to Tibby and I loved listening to her talk, there was something so special about her voice. It was always kind, soothing and sincere, like she was eternally talking to a kitten or puppy.
My eyes bulged and I offered an unsure half smile. “That’s great, Tibby but I don’t think Class President of the sixth grade gets their own secret service. I mean what’s the worst that could happen, spitballs?”
“Are you kidding?” she said. “Have you forgotten who I—we—our whole class, is up against?”
I located the red hair that belonged to Chaz Nixon just as he kissed one of his biceps. He was the star of the JV football team, chauvinist pig…and sixth grade class president hopeful. He had this big ol’ forehead that made you ponder how closely related he was to the missing link. Admittedly, Chaz was the best football player North Washington had. As such, he felt entitled to certain favors, like forcing his teammates to scrub down the toilet for him with a tooth brush before (and after), he used it.
And that was just the way he wielded his MVP power. I couldn’t imagine what he would do with executive power over the whole class.
“No,” I said, “I haven’t forgotten.”
“And you know that if he loses and I become Class President, he becomes Vice President of the sixth grade?”
Well duh, I thought, but I just said, “Yeah.”
“Then you know that if I, for some reason, am unable to perform my duties as class president, he’ll take over.”
“Naturally.” Ms. Sunny, our political science teacher and student government organizer, bless her sickeningly-sweet heart, wrote that little gem of a stipulation into the rules. That way “everybody wins.”
Everybody except Tibby.
“But I thought you and him kinda got along.”
“Oh, we do—ish. We respect each other enough. Still—you know how he can be. If I won, there’s no telling what he’ll do to me if it means getting that spot.”
“Tibby,” I said. “If you’re that worried, why even go through with any of this? I mean what’s the big deal?”
Tibby tilted her head at me and raised her eyebrows. “Abe, My people, the Tswana, are known throughout Africa as guardians of justice. As the first Tswana-American president of the United States, I would be able to carry on that tradition on a much larger scale. One day, I hope to look back on this election as the start of it all.”
I stared at her, blinking in silence. “You know you take middle school waaaay too seriously, right?”
Tibby shook her head and let the air out of her lungs slowly. “You think I’m over reacting, don’t you?”
I did. “Of course not! It’s just—how can you really think I’m the best choice to protect you from THAT?” I said, throwing my hand in Chaz’s direction as he crushed an empty soda can with nothing but the table and his giant forehead. He did it, but it left behind a bright red ring on his brow. Yeah, like he needed to draw more attention to that billboard.
“Abe, your dad and brother are the Batman and Robin of the Secret Service these days.”
“Yeah, and meanwhile, I’ve been tripping over my own feet.”
Tibby crossed her arms. “You Trumans are all cut from the same cloth.”
“That’s what I’m most afraid of.”
“Oh Abe, not this again…”
“Well, apparently you’ve forgotten.”
“No.” Then she paused. “Except, why did Grandpa Jessup leave Lincoln, again?”
“Oh I don’t know. I think he went for a box of DOTS, or something. The point is that Lincoln trusted my family with his safety and look where it got him.” 
“Don’t you think you probably take after family from this century?”
“Not with this hairline,” I said, twirling a few strands of it between my fingers.”
Tibby cocked her head.
“Are you kidding?” I said, tilting my head so she could see. “Alla this. Right up here. This is definitely Grandpa Jessup’s hairline.”


  1. Jason, I LOVE the voice in your entry! It's fun, engaging, and promises a very entertaining read. You also made your characters likable. I immediately felt invested in both Abe and Tibby. I'm not, however, convinced you started your story in the right place. "My name is" beginnings are a bit cliche. And the background you give reads like a Prologue. I feel like... The air was still in our crowded a better starting place. Go straight to the action. The stories of Abe's ancestors can be easily moved to a later point, like right after Tabby asks Abe to be the head of security if she wins the class presidency. Another thing I wanted to mention is that sometimes your descriptions seem a bit too sophisticated to MG. I'm not sure "chauvinist pig," "the missing link," "alla this," and the detailed description of Tabby's headband and its symbolism are a part of an average 6th grade boy's lexicon. I think you have a great start to what seems like a very fun story. I wish you the best of luck with this and hope at least some of my comments are helpful.

  2. Hi Jason!

    I want to start by saying This story immediately grabbed my attention. I give history, and what's more I love America history so you hooked me off the bat!

    My only hang up was some of Abraham's internal voice seemed a bit too mature for a 6th grader. I felt his thoughts were more something I'd hear from an adult voice such as the "bless her" comment. Not that children of that age cannot be empathetic or make statements that are incredibly intelligent for their age, as a mother of an eight-year-old in very aware of this, but to me he reads a bit more mature than he really is.

    I love the plot. It's clever and interesting and left me wanting to read more. It's definitely a story I would enjoy reading with my son. Great job!


  3. Thanks so much to both of you for your thoughts. I have been hearing this about Abe's voice the more critiques I get back so I think it's time yo start digging deepEr and burying the phrases that could be thought of as beyond his years. Great comments, thank you both!

  4. There is some great humor in this! Now, a lot of it is over the top, but the voice is consistent, so I’m okay with it. However I do get a little bit of a disconnected feeling while reading this, and it is hard to put my finger on why, but I think it’s that there is too much detail and not enough direction. Between the ancestors’ stories, Tibby’s grandma, headband, and accent, and something about the hairline, I feel like I’m not really getting the payoff from the first line, which is “what is Abe’s problem?”

    Even if he is klutz in a family of Secret Service agents, what does that mean to him? Does he feel compelled to carry on the family tradition of becoming a Secret Service agent, whether he’s qualified or not? Trust me, I’m not trying to take this too seriously, but whatever the premise is, you haven’t quite made it clear where Abe stands on all of this, and I think that’s the key point that would help tie all the ludicrous humor together.

    Looking forward to reading more. Don’t get rid of the guy kissing his bicep no matter what anyone tells you!

  5. Hi Jason!

    I love the historical references. They are a lot of fun and the opening line of the chapter is really great. I'm immediately intrigued. With that being said, I do agree with Gea in that the chapter perhaps starts in the wrong place and that the historical references could come later. I'm not sure exactly how you can keep the opening line and pushing what follows later, but it is worth a try!

    When Tibby brings up her rival for class president, I think you need to raise the stakes. Abraham REALLY cannot want to be Tibby's secret service, but Tibby needs to be REALLY afraid, which in turn, makes Abraham REALLY want to help Tibby. If you finish off the chapter with Abraham's impending sense of doom, the conflict of the story is set up in a much punchier way.

    I also agree that Abraham reads too mature for his age. It might work to explain why Abraham is friend's with Tibby in a brief sentence. Also, reevaluating dialogue choices will be important here. Perhaps having them walk to class together, as opposed to sitting down, will add a bit more momentum. Good luck!

  6. Hi, so I want to thank everyone so far for you thoughts. I took some time to edit today and I think I've gotten pretty close on this round of edits. 2 things im really concerned with as we head into the next round here: does the family history feel authentic now that its placed within the dialog, and am I hitting Tibby's South African roots too hard to the point where you feel as though you are being beaten over the head with it? Sounds weird but I've been accused of it before.

    1. For the first chapter, I would say that you are hitting the South African parts a little too hard. Maybe you can sprinkle this fact throughout the book in a subtle manner. You may not even have to mention it right in the first 5 pages.

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  9. Hi Jason!

    I've been working mine as well and wanted to let you know I'm looking forward to reading your revisions. I'll definitely keep your questions in mind when I read it. Until then, happy writing!

  10. Hi Jason,

    You've got a really good grip on language and dialogue. You are a writer.

    I like the breezy, confident style of your writing. It flows nicely. I think there is too much exposition at the very front. It's all good info, but you'll need to find a way to weave it into the subsequent chapters. Your story starts with:

    The air was still in our crowded classroom. My eyes and ears were glued to a speaker hanging in the top right corner to the dry erase board.

    That is my main concern. The characters already feel real. I felt a little bit of the adult voice creeping in just a little: clutches of a rogue nation. It makes him sound a little older, wiser or mature than you might intend. I think he can still have a distinct voice, but choose your words carefully.

    I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes. Good job.

  11. Hi Mr. Smith.
    Thank you so much for your comments! Your encouragement made my day! I think you will be happy with my new opening...gone is the exposition, although now I worry a little if some of what was exposition is now just exposition masquerading as dialog. This has happened once or twice in other projects so hopefully history isn't repeating, but if it is we can fix it!

    Thanks again and im looking forward yo working with you further!

  12. Hi Jason,
    Thanks for submitting your pages!

    This is such a great concept! I really love the idea of Abe being the latest in a long line of secret service agents. I adore Tibby Roosevelt -- really funny! And you have a terrific voice here. So overall, I really, really like where this is going!

    I do have two suggestions, though:
    1) While adults will get a good chuckle out of the Ford's Theater and Dealy Plaza allusions, I worry that your audience won't get it. But it you went on to describe that these were scenes of two presidential assassinations, it's a little to dark a subject to make light of. Maybe there's a happy middle ground where you can make it a little more clear what the consequences of Abe's ancestors' actions were without resorting to specifics.

    2) I felt like there was a bot too much exposition going on in the first half of your pages. Right around the time you describe Abe staring at the speaker, I would have liked to see some dialogue between Tibby and Abe come in. I think you can weave some of the backstory/explanations into their conversation so you don't have as much uninterrupted exposition.

    But, again, this is a great start. Your voice and setup reminds me a lot of I AM FARTACUS by Mark Maciejewski. You should read that -- it's a great book and finds a great balance between humor and heart.

    Can't wait to see your revisions!

  13. Thank you soooo much! I will have to find a copy of Fartacus sounds up my alley. Great suggestions! I think I have solved the exposition factor (sounds like a big bang theory episode title, doesn't it?) the other I will have to work in these pages. It was mentioned to me before by someone last year and later in the pages u findbthat because of their debacles, the Truman's have had to do all the stuff no other agents wanted and that becomes the running gag--how abs family are glorified 1st baby diaper changers or 1st mutt walkers. But I will try to bring some of that consequence to these early pages as well. Thank you!