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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impressions: THE PET CONNECTION

First Impressions: THE PET CONNECTION


RebeccaOur next submission for October First Impressions is a humorous contemporary MG by Rebecca Anderson. Her working title (and she says she’s open to other suggestions) is THE PET CONNECTION:


Badger Jacobs didn’t think he was an especially lucky person. So he wasn’t listening to the intercom as Principal Tessie called off the students who would participate in the Pet Connection game show. Instead Badger was picking at a hangnail on his left pointer finger.
        All around a chorus of voices quietly chanted, “Please, oh please, oh please, oh please …” Out of the corner of his eye, Badger saw Lisa Ling with her eyes closed and hands folded in silent prayer.  From behind him, he heard Lance Swag brag, “I know she’s going to call my name.  My mom is head of the PTA.”  Badger rolled his eyes. Lance always got what he wanted including the best shoes, all the video game systems and a gold iPhone.
        The voice over the intercom continued, “The second fifth grade student will be Omar Ahmed.” There was a collective groan in the room and Badger felt Lance kick the back of his chair. Badger thought it must be rough for Lance to experience disappointment for the first time.
        Their teacher, Miss Rockford, held a finger up to her lips and motioned that everyone should continue listening. Badger went back to tugging on the hangnail. He didn’t need to hear the names of the 6th graders who would participate.  Maybe next year he’d finally get chosen.  Maybe next year he’d finally hear his name called out.
        “… and that student is Bryan Jacobs.” At the sound of his name, Badger’s whole body jerked in surprise.  Unfortunately, that included the fingers that had been toying with the hangnail and he yanked off a hunk of skin, leaving a quarter-inch gash.  At the same time, every head in his class turned to look at him.  He saw Lisa’s eyes stray towards his bleeding finger and Badger covered it with his opposite thumb.  What was going on?  Why had Principal Tessie had called his name?  Weren’t there were only two fifth grade contestants.  She had already called both of them, right?
        Badger held his thumb on his bleeding finger as Principal Tessie finished talking over the intercom.  “I’m so excited to see how the lucky contestants combine the wisdom of words, the power of pets and a little bit of magic. Teachers, please send the contestants down to my office.  I’ll have them back to you before next period.”


I like that Badger wasn’t paying enough attention to catch the beginning of the sentence with his name in it … and especially that it was announced in a manner which made it stand out from the other names:  “… and that student is Bryan Jacobs.”  I want to keep reading to find out what that student is supposed to do, since it doesn’t sound like he was picked to be one of the contestants.

I’m also interested in what this Pet Connection game show is! Game shows at school? Is that Common Core? (*claps hand over mouth* This is not the time to start ranting about why I left the teaching profession …)

Something missing for me, though, was Badger’s voice.  The narrative is written in close third person POV and therefore comes to us closely tied to Badger’s experiences and observations. The personality of fifth grader Badger Jacobs should shine through even when he isn’t speaking.

This is something I had to work on – and received a lot of guidance from my editors on – when writing close third person with Jax, the MC in The Eighth Day. My editor pointed out any place where the sentence structure or vocabulary struck the wrong note.  (I remember her highlighting the phrase Jax fretted and commenting, “Old ladies fret. Not seventh grade boys!”)

I think what I’d like to see on this page is a more humorous tone throughout and a closer connection to Badger’s observations. Filter the whole scene through Badger’s glum assessment of his chances, his feeling of satisfaction when Lance (for once) doesn’t get what he wants, and his surprise and confusion over hearing his name.  This might involve more internal dialogue from Badger or a more casual approach to the narration—not slang, per se, but a style of narration that hints at Badger’s personality. Readers, what do you think?

Rebecca, thank you for sharing your page with us! You can find Marcy’s comments at Mainewords and get to know Rebecca through her Twitter account, @YaboGirl.

12 Responses to First Impressions: THE PET CONNECTION

  1. That struck me over at Marcy’s, but until you said it, I didn’t realize what was missing – voice. And the narrator sounds older. If he’s an eleven year old boy and this is a middle grade book, shouldn’t it have a younger voice?

    • Rebecca Anderson says:

      Thanks so much for this comment. Can’t I just make the argument that Badger is the most sophisticated 11-year old ever? J/k.

      Really though, Badger felt older to me when I was writing him and part of my challenge was that the essence of the Pet Connection show (using 5 specific adjectives to describe a single animal through a turned-based game with lots of other craziness thrown in) may be beyond the true capabilities of the average 11-year-old but I don’t think it’s a subject that older kids would be as interested in.

      Regardless though, I get the point about voice and I’ll definitely work on that. I always like to ask … do you have any great book recommendations?

  2. I love the nail picking and the “…and that student is…” I’m wondering how he got pulled into this whole thing. I also missed a little more personality (voice) to get a feel for the main character. And after just going through edits myself, I’ll have to agree with Alex that it might be too old sounding. I got a couple hand-slappings for that one 😉 And although this might just be me, I felt a little over-whelmed with so many characters being introduced so fast. That might lay on my lack of coffee this morning though.
    Wish there was more to read!

    • Rebecca Anderson says:

      Thanks for the comment as to tone and also as to all the characters being mentioned up front. I looked at it again and I can see what you mean. I do think most of them need to stay except for Lisa but it seems removing her would help. I love all this feedback. It’s so awesome!

  3. Julia Tomiak says:

    I love the opening line. Clearly, Badger is about to get lucky, but with what? I liked Dianne’s comments about voice. Take this sentence: Badger thought it must be rough for Lance to experience disappointment for the first time. Maybe you could pull some words from Badger’s head, like “Stinks not to get everything you want, huh Lance?”
    Great job and good luck with the project.

    • Rebecca Anderson says:

      You know I was just thinking the same thing. For some reason, I put Badger’s thoughts as nebulous elements in the uber-narrative (coining the term right now because I don’t have a better word to use) instead of actually assigning them to him as individual thoughts. I bet that could make things much punchier. Thanks!

  4. Tiana Smith says:

    The first thing that stood out to me was that the writing was very polished, so, yay! The second thing, was yes, the voice. Filter it through his thoughts rather than just setting the scene and I think that would help greatly.

  5. Rebecca Anderson says:

    Diane – thanks SO MUCH for sharing your first impressions of the Pet Connection and featuring my first page on your blog. I’m glad that it got you interested in what the Pet Connection show is and what Badger’s role will be! So, that’s one mission accomplished!

    Your comment about tone is very appreciated. I’m sure 20 years of writing professionally in a corporate environment has resulted in a tendency for a narrative that seems a little impersonal. It’s probably why I love dialogue. I don’t feel the need to worry about things being neat and tidy!!! I just let the kids (and by that I mean characters) talk their crazy talk. So, based on your first read and the comments so far, I’m seeing that the challenge is taking that personality and putting it in the narrative!

    I also appreciate you sharing your experience working on The Eighth Day and how your editor said that 7th grade boys don’t fret. That’s a good point and funny. Though when I was in the 7th grade, I probably did fret.

    Thanks again!

  6. You might want to change some distancing phrasing: “Out of the corner of his eye, Badger saw Lisa Ling with her eyes closed and hands folded in silent prayer” Get rid of the filters and make it more immediate. Badger is seeing this, so you don’t have to tell us that.

    Suggest: Lisa Ling sat with her eyes closed and hands folded in silent prayer.

    Here’s the same issue: “From behind him, he heard Lance Swag brag, “I know she’s going to call my name.”

    Suggest: Behind Badger Lance Swag bragged,. . . . Also suggest either another verb or a different last name. Sway/brag rhyme

    I think I’d like Badger if you’d let me close to him.

  7. Great comments, Dianne. I agree that close third person POV still has to have the MC’s voice in the narration. I think that will really make this story hook the reader.

  8. Lexa Cain says:

    Rebecca – I loved the excerpt (rare for me) and found it very entertaining. I didn’t catch the voice wobbles Dianne did, but I’m not an MG writer. Follow Dianne’s advice and your very good first page will be super!