140 Character Pitch:
11yo Epson has an alien in his backpack. If he and his three classmates fail the alien’s deadly tests, the world ends. No pressure. #PitProm
Dear PitProm Royal Advisors,
Test anxiety is intense, especially when the fate of the world is at stake.
My middle grade science fiction novel, Intergalactic Backpack, pits a socially anxious sixth grader against a series of alien constructed death-tests. It’s a combination of the awkward developing friendships in The Sandlot and the epic nerd vs. alien battles of William Sleator’s Interstellar Pig. The book is complete at 47,000 words.
Eleven-year-old Epson Dean has never liked exams. Or stress. Or people.
But when an evil alien shows up in his backpack, Epson must confront his fears and pass three deadly challenges to prove humankind deserves to exist.
The diabolical tests force Epson and three of his classmates to face extreme heights, boy bands, pool parties, fast food restaurant mascots, and deadly alien creatures from all around the galaxy.
One F means meant the end of all humankind, but, no pressure, right?
I’m currently a middle and high school art/film teacher and the voices of my students are infused into this story. Previously, I spent ten years as a Special Education Teacher where I learned how hard it is to turn reluctant readers into repeat-readers. I want to be a part of that movement. I believe this novel has the characters, humor, and action that will get kids hooked. Intergalactic Backpack is my fourth middle grade novel.
Thank you for your time.
Sir Jared Agard
First Ten Pages:
Chapter One - When Epson Met Proctor
Something bad was gonna happen. It always did.
I laid on my bed in the fetal position, planning all the ways I would embarrass myself on my first day of sixth grade.
A button would pop off the dorky shirt my mom told me I had to wear. Or maybe someone would talk to me and my whole head would turn bright red like an overripe tomato. My underwear would pop out of the top of my pants. I’d laugh and a booger would come shooting out of my nose.
There was no escaping it. I was a disaster. My life was over, and I was only eleven.
“Epson. Can I come in?”
“Uh, yeah.” I sat up on my bed, adjusted my headphones, and plastered a smile on my face. Mom and Dad couldn’t see me freaking out. They were already worried enough. Last year they’d talked to a school counselor because I didn’t have any friends. The counselor had called it “social anxiety.” I called it survival. I kept to myself to avoid humiliation. Unfortunately, humiliation always found me, no matter how well I hid.
Mom cracked the door open and peeked in.
“All ready for tomorrow?”
I pointed to the stacks of supplies on the floor. “Almost. Did you find a backpack?”
I tried to see it but I couldn’t. She held it by the strap, just outside of my doorframe.
“I’ve got it right here.” She fake-smiled and walked into my room, still keeping the new pack hidden behind her. “I lucked out. There were only three backpacks left and this one was on clearance.”
Clearance. The word sent shivers down my spine. My mom was great. Maybe even a candidate for Mother of the Year, but she did have one solid weakness. She couldn’t resist a deal, even if it would mess her kids up for life.
“What’s wrong with it?” I tried to see around her.
She leaned to the right to block my view. “Oh, come on! Be open-minded. It’s not my fault you guys set your backpacks on fire when summer started.”
“That was Julius! That wasn’t my fault, either.” My older brother always did crazy stuff that ended up making my life worse.
“Well, you should’ve at least told me about needing new ones before yesterday.”
She had a point, but speaking up isn’t really my thing. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for the worst. She swung the backpack in my lap and headed for the door like a coward.
“No way, Mom!” My voice cracked.
She stopped and turned around, her eyes darting to the left and then the right. “Don’t be so dramatic, Epson. It’s a backpack. It’s for carrying books and binders. Who cares what’s on the front?”
I stared at the pack in horror, the nylon straps crinkling in my clenched fists.
Safari Sally stared back at me.
Sally, of course, looked overjoyed to be on the backpack of a boy whose head was doomed to the insides of toilets and trashcans. She held her magical butterfly net high above her white safari hat and proclaimed her tagline in massive pink letters:
Today is your greatest adventure!
Sure, Sally. If getting my butt kicked was the definition of adventure. I glared at my mom. This had to be a sick joke.
Mom backed closer to my door.
“Please, tell me this is for Teddy.”
“Of course not. Teddy wanted blue. This one’s black.” She nodded as if that settled the case. Her hand gripped my doorknob.
“I can’t take this to school.” I nudged it with one finger, like it was made of something toxic. It fell off my bed and flopped to the floor. The stress burning in my stomach raged into a forest fire.
“Oh, don’t look so glum. No one will even notice. They’ll be too distracted by your sparkly personality.”
Yeah, right. No Mother of the Year Award for her. She stepped into the hall.
“Pack it up. Make it yours. It just has to get you through sixth grade. Now, get some sleep. You need to get used to having a bed time again.” She closed the door behind her.
No need to be worried about embarrassing myself at school. My mom had literally slapped a target on my back. I reached down and picked the backpack up off the floor. Maybe I could steal a roll of Dad’s duct tape and transform Safari Sally into a gray silver blob.
“Epson Dean. Alone at last.”
I jumped. Where had that voice come from? My fingers traced the cord of my humungous headphones. There was no music playing. And even if there was, why would some random singer say my name?
“Epson Dean? I know you can hear me.” The voice sounded fancy like some rich British guy. The backpack in my lap inflated like a bag of microwave popcorn. I tossed it off me and bolted for the door.
“Oh, my. Far stupider than I had imagined.”
I wriggled the doorknob. It held fast, like it had been super-glued. I used both hands. No luck.
“Have a seat, Epson. Let’s talk.” The backpack stood up, its strap gesturing to me.
“MOM! MOOOOOOOOM!” I shouted, pounding my fists against my flimsy door. But the door was no longer flimsy. It felt like it was made of cement. My voice absorbed into it, no echo of sound from the hallway. I’d officially lost my mind.
“You wouldn’t want to break the rules before you even learned what they are.”
I glanced over my shoulder. The backpack waved its strap at me. Yeah, this was not happening.
“HELP! MOM! DAD! HELP!”
“Ah. Yelling for help. Good plan except it’s not. Would you like to know why?”
“Reason number one: If you tell anyone about me, you fail the test.”
“Reason number two: I can control light and sound waves. I’m absorbing yours right now.”
“HEEEEEEELLLLLLPPPPPP!” I continued my useless door pounding.
“Reason number three: Simply put, you look pathetic. Please stop before I lose all respect for you.”
My fists throbbed but still no sound came. It was like watching TV with the volume muted. I turned and faced the possessed backpack.
“What are you?” I asked, still panting from my attack on the door.
“I am your test administrator. A Norell-Floggersaff. My name is unpronounceable by your kind, so you can call me Proctor.”
“Proctor?” My whole body shook.
“That is what you call someone who gives a test, isn’t it? You would correct me if I was wrong, wouldn’t you? I’ve only been speaking English for a few hours.”
I took a step closer, curiosity overpowering my fear. “W–what are you?”
“Open the backpack and have a look.”
And then fear overpowered my curiosity. I backed away.
“Come on, Epson Dean. We have work to do. Let’s get to know one another and then I can properly introduce you to your tests.”
I crept forward, my eyes locked on the backpack. It had to be a trick. Or maybe a dream. I grabbed on to the zipper, holding it tightly in my sweaty hand.
And there he was: A glowing head made completely of light, floating in the darkness of my backpack. No body or neck or anything. Just a bald head. Blue sparks crackled around him as he opened his blank white eyes. His forehead wrinkled when he saw me, and a sly smirk stretched across his face.
“Whoa.” I leaned closer.
“Well,” said Proctor, “You’re rather plain, and a bit fat, but you’ll do.”
I barely heard him. “W–what are you?”
“You’ve already asked that. Three times. Not too bright, are you? Oh well. The choice has been made. No way around it.”
“It’s like you’re made out of light,” I whispered. He looked cool. Jagged forks of lightning licked the darkness around him like electric snake tongues.
“Very good. I am made out of light. Pure light. A Norell-Floggersaff, remember? It is my job to test your planet’s dominant species. And you, my lucky human, have been randomly selected to represent humankind.”
“You’re my test subject now.” He smiled at me like a game show host awarding a prize.
“Tests? What tests?” My mind raced. Out of all the people in the world I was the one who ended up with a Safari Sally backpack full of alien. I’d always thought I had the worst luck on the planet. Now I had proof.
“So, a quick overview of the rules: You can’t tell anyone else about me or the tests. You can’t throw me in the garbage or leave me on a bus or give me to someone else. Most importantly, you can’t die. There’s no dying allowed. Do you understand, Epson?”
My mind was blank. I couldn’t think. I just stood there with my mouth hanging open.
Proctor smiled at me again. “Don’t you want to know what happens if you fail?”
I couldn’t respond. My lips had stopped working. I made my head to nod.
Proctor glowed bright, spinning like he was on an axis. His head smoothed out and became round like a ball. Little continents and cloud accumulations appeared over the face of the globe. It was Earth.
Lightning struck in a bazillion places all at once, raking the surface of the planet. My jaw opened even wider. Proctor’s face reappeared on the planet as it spun to a halt.
“W-what…what was that?” I forced my quivering lips to move.
“That’s what happens if you fail the tests, kiddo.” The smile returned to his lips. “I wipe humans out of existence.”
Chapter Two - First Day
My stomach was in a knot, all twisted. Everyone was stressed. The kid on my left nibbled at his fingernail while bouncing his knee up and down like a jackhammer. The girl sitting in front of him ran her fingers through her hair, over and over, as if one strand out of place would mean the end of the world.
And then there was me, more freaked out than any of them, because if I screwed up on Proctor’s tests it would be the end of the world.
I jumped in my seat.
Oh no. Not here. Not now.
Proctor’s ramblings and the threat of the destruction of all human beings had kept me up most of the night, so I wasn’t in the best mood. Thankfully I didn’t have to worry about my classmates listening in on Proctor’s insults. He spoke by aiming sound waves right into my eardrum, so no one else could hear him. Just me.
“Maybe odor and intellect are related in humans, hmmm? Your tiny brain would need to expend more energy to conjure even the weakest thought, thus expelling copious amounts of burn-off in the form of sweat and pungent gases.”
It should’ve been easy to ignore him. I didn’t even understand half the words he said. His smug voice was so annoying, though, like a mosquito buzzing in my ear.
I shifted in my plastic chair, trying to listen to my teacher and just relax. But there was nothing relaxing about Mr. Mattock or his classroom. Sixth grade was nothing like elementary school. No warm-and-fuzzy stuff all over the walls, just four straight rows of desks, ten deep. It smelled like a hospital and felt like a prison. And Mr. Mattock was the warden.
“There will be no tomfoolery in my class,” he said as he marched down the first row, dropping a worksheet on each desk he passed. “And no monkey business!”
“The fumes are centralized in your armpits,” Proctor continued. “You slopped on gallons of that antiperspirant and it’s not working at all. Fun fact: You smell so bad because you’re issuing an apocrine sweat, easily categorized due to its location and foul odor.”
“That is a fun fact. Now shut it.” I muttered back through gritted teeth.
“I can calculate the moisture level in your armpits if you’d like.”
“Oh, who wouldn’t like that?”
He went silent, probably completely focused on collecting my sweat-data.
I scanned the room. Mr. Mattock pivoted and continued up the next row. With his back to me, the coast was clear. Other students were busy chatting or doodling so I snatched up my backpack. I was careful to hug it to my chest so no one would see the embarrassment printed on the front. Attempting to cover Safari Sally with duct tape didn’t feel like much of a priority after hearing about the tests.
I hoped beyond hope that he wouldn’t be inside, that all I’d see was books and a binder like the rest of the normal kids.
Ha. Yeah, right.
Proctor’s head floated in a black cloud just above my supplies. I waited for him to say something but his mouth was too busy chomping on the last orange crumbs of my Cheetos.
Great. He’d already eaten my entire lunch, and it was only first period.
Welcome to the final round of pitches!
Agents and Publishers,