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by Karen Edwards
The first time Albert had a episode—the first I know of, anyway—he was about three-and-a-half years old. I must’ve been eight. It was spring, I remember, because we was out back after one of them April showers.
Before it happened, we was squatting on the grass watching a worm poke his head out of a hole, grabbing blades of grass and pulling ‘em back in. I never saw nothing like that before in my life. I didn’t even know worms had heads, let alone mouths. I guess they got both.
So me and Albert’s watching this crazy worm and Albert says, “Mikie, feed it.”
“Huh?” I say.
“Feed it some grass,” Albert says.
So I pull up a blade of grass and dangle one end right over that hole, kind of like I’m fishing. We’re squatting there, me holding that blade of grass and Albert just watching, real quiet-like. I didn’t think nothing of it then, but now I think it’s weird he was so quiet, watching a worm like that.
I’m holding a piece of grass real close to the hole, trying to hold it real steady, and I glance over at Albert because he’s so quiet and I see he ain’t squatting no more. He’s kind of kneeling and swaying a little bit and his eyes’re wide open but he don’t see what I see, I can tell that right off. It’s like he’s watching something far away.
I say, “Albert. Hey. You all right?”
Nothing. He’s just staring and swaying on his knees.
So I grab hold of his shoulders—they was bare because he wasn’t wearing a shirt—and I pull him close and say, “Albert, hey. Wake up.”
He don’t though, and that scares me so I start jerking his body back and forth, you know how people do that when they’re holding somebody’s shoulders like that? I jerk his body and I’m saying, “Albert, wake up you hear me? Wake up right now you effin weenie, c’mon.” Then I see the life come back in his eyes. Just that fast it’s like the kid comes out of a trance or something. He looks right at me and he says, “Timmy V.”
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
Before I address the text itself, I should mention that this sample is longer than one page. It’s important to follow submissions guidelines to the letter, not because the three extra lines of text will take long to read, but because editors want authors who can follow instructions. Before you submit a manuscript or partial manuscript to an editor or agent, make sure that you haven’t broken any of the submissions guidelines. Submitting is hard work, and you don’t want to lose out on a technicality.
Writing an entire story in dialect is challenging. You have to present both exposition and dialogue in the narrator’s voice without confusing the reader. I’ve seen some lively debates about novels written in dialect; some are adamantly against it because it’s distracting, while others enjoy narratives that remain true to the character’s voice. I’m of split mind on the issue. I think that it works generally well in this story, but I found “a episode” in the first sentence to be jarring. As I continued reading, I quickly understood that this was dialect, but it still reads as an error to me even now. Perhaps rework the first sentence to eliminate this reference so that the reader’s first reaction isn’t, “There’s an error on the first line.”
What I hope doesn’t get lost in the dialect is the fact that the writing is really good. It flows well, and it works in vivid details in a way that feels organic. Overall, this piece has a childlike feel—from the narrator’s surprised reaction to the worm’s head to the “effin’ weenie” insult. If the intended audience is the middle grades (perhaps ages 9 to 12), I think this book has hit its mark.
There’s also a fair measure of suspense here. The reader is left wondering what is causing Albert’s episodes and who “Timmy V.” might be. These unanswered questions will motivate the tentative reader to continue beyond the first page.
Overall, I think that the voice in this piece is distinctive—not just because of the dialect, but because of how observant Mikie seems to be. He notices minute details, and a narrator with an eye for the little things is bound to weave a vivid story. He stands out in a lineup of other narrators in young adult or children’s fiction.