I want to thank Janet for being willing to submit the first +500 words of her manuscript Family Treasure. This is a novel for third to sixth-grade readers. People in the industry call this "middle grade fiction."
It took a lot of courage for Janet to submit her manuscript, so please keep that in mind when offering your critiques. Be sure to open with something positive and close with something positive, sandwiching the negative. And Janet, this is a good time to develop the thick skin that all writers need. Even after publication, we'll still receive negative reviews. It's impossible to please everyone, so this is good preparation for that as well.
So, now we begin:
“I can’t believe this,” Jan whispered, as she held the yellowed paper in her hand. The hot stale air of the attic brought sweat beads on her forehead and her bangs dripped with perspiration. “I worry so about the chest Grandpa brought over from the home country. I fear if they spy the chest they may loot through it and destroy the contents. Have Dudley take it to safe keeping.” Jan finished reading the letter and then stared out into the musty attic. “I wonder if Mom knows about this.”
She looked over at her cousin Sarah. “You picked the best time to come and visit. I just discovered a secret and you can help me solve it!” Jan wiped her forehead with her arm and eased the letter back into the envelope. “Sarah, did you hear me?” She cast an impatient glance toward the corner of the attic.
“What?” asked Sarah. “What did you say?”
“Come on. Didn’t you hear a word I said?” Jan pulled Sarah from the old trunk where she was going through the contents.
“Wait. Let me put these old clothes back.” Sarah barely had time to toss the items back into the trunk as Jan pulled at her arm.
“You won’t believe this. Oh, shoot! I forgot the jelly jars. Could you get them?”
“Where are. . . ouch! I found them.” Sarah rubbed her toe as she picked up the jars and carried them out of the attic. She limped down the old oak stairway to her aunt’s kitchen below. She looked at Jan and saw the yellowed envelop clasped in her hand.
“Mom! Mom!” Jan yelled as Sarah put down the box of jars. “Where could she be?” Come on, help me find her.” They searched each room of the old house, but her mother was nowhere to be found. They ran outside and looked for the family dog, King, in his favorite spot under the porch.
“King! Where are you boy?”
“Jan, get out from under the porch. There could be snakes curled up under there just waitin’ to strike out at you.”
“Oh, Sarah, you’re a scaredy cat. Besides, they won’t hide under the porch; they know King will chase ‘em out.” Jan dusted off her shorts and looked around the yard. “They’re both missing.” She pressed her lips together and looked at Sarah. “This is a case for the Country Cousins.”
“Country Cousins! Jan you read too many Nancy Drew books. Besides, I live in the city.”
“Not this summer you don’t. You’re my Country Cousin until Labor Day, and we have mysteries to solve.”
“This might be fun,” said Sarah as they walked back into the kitchen.
“Where is Mom? I have to show her this letter,” said Jan. She sat down to catch her breath.
“What letter? Let me see.” Sarah leaned across the table and reached for the envelope.
Jan clenched it against her chest. “Are we partners? Are you a member of The Country Cousins Detective Agency?”
“Yes, yes. I’ll be your partner. Now let me see the letter. Where’d you find it? I didn’t see any old letters in the attic.”
“While you rummaged through the clothes in the trunk, I found this box of old books.” Jan raised her eyebrows and cocked her head in the air. “Look what fell out of one. This letter is dated April 1863. It’s addressed to My Dearest Anna and signed Your loving husband, Henry.”