by Shelley Walden (@shelley_creates)

Editor: Bethany Hensel (@bethanyhensel13)
MG Mystery
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Query

I saw that you are seeking middle grade mysteries and thought you might be interested in my novel, EMMA GRANT AND THE CAPITOL CAT. This 41,000-word book is about the importance of speaking up, even if your voice is shaking. It has the mystery elements and tone of Kate Messner’s Chirp, and would appeal to fans of Ally Carter. The story is inspired by a Capitol Hill legend.

Emma Grant isn’t the typical politician’s daughter. Forget campaign speeches, she can’t even talk in front of her sixth-grade class without throwing up. But when she goes to the U.S. Capitol for Take Your Daughter to Work Day, her Congressman father vanishes, along with Jacques Crusteau, a crab on loan from the National Aquarium. The only clue is a set of paw prints that may – according to news reports – belong to a demon cat, a legendary creature rumored to haunt the Capitol. With the help of a frenemy, a boy from school who happens to be the nephew of her prime suspect, Emma tries to figure out who really took her dad: a creepy lobbyist, a kooky Congresswoman or someone with darker motives. To crack the case, she must sort facts from conspiracies and face her own fear of speaking up.

I drafted this book while living in Washington D.C., where I worked for a nonprofit that helps whistleblowers. I have a B.A. in Journalism and International Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and my writing has appeared in Cricket, Spider and USA Today, among other publications. I am a member of SCBWI and an active KidLit critique group. I also write middle grade fiction for CommonLit, a nonprofit organization.

Thank you for your consideration.

First Five Pages

Chapter 1: The Girl Behind the Camera

Words are powerful. I learned that before I could ride a bike. And the most powerful people are the ones who know how to use them.

I’m not one of those people. I’m … the opposite. When I give a speech, I freeze, stutter and sweat. I can’t help but wonder what the class is thinking of me. Do they notice my shaking hands? My frizzy hair? My braces and the food stuck between my front teeth?

But my dad is one of those people. Right now we’re behind the cameras, safe in the shadows. He won’t stay here for long, though. He’d rather be in the spotlight.

Dad looks at me and grins, displaying his perfectly straight teeth.

“You sure you don’t want to join me, Em?” he asks. “Think how fun it would be to be on TV.”

“No way,” I say. I’d rather swim with sharks. Or eat kale for breakfast.

If only I hadn’t turned the heating pad up so high this morning. Then I’d be at home watching Netflix, instead of following Dad for Take Your Kids to Work Day. I could have avoided awkward situations like this and gotten out of giving a speech about our day together, which I have to do at school next week. But no, I picked the highest setting on the heating pad, so when my mom read the thermometer it said 107 degrees, hot enough for my organs to fry. Oops.

“Congressman Grant, we’re ready for you now,” a woman wearing a headset says. “Please follow me.”

“Good luck,” I say.

Dad gives me a thumbs up and then heads toward the studio floor and its hot, bright lights. He steps over electrical cables held in place with neon gaffer’s tape, like the kind we used when I was a stagehand in Annie.

My phone dings and I see a text from Izzy, my best friend. It’s a photo of her feeding a banana to some kind of lizard. They’re both sticking their tongues out. Classic Izzy.

Isn’t this guy sooo cute? His name’s Charlie and he’s a Grand Cayman Blue Iguana. I fed him breakfast and weighed him. How’s ur day going?”

Izzy’s so lucky that her mom is a veterinarian at the National Zoo. I’d much rather be there hugging pandas or eating almond cookies with Naz at her mom’s bakery. I’d even change places with Savannah, whose dad is a plumber. Sometimes I wish my dad had a job like that. He’d probably come home smelling of clogged toilets, but at least we’d live a normal life. Instead I have a father who never makes it to my games and who is more likely to appear on TV than in a family photo.

“Hey, turn that thing off,” a cameraman says, pointing at my phone. “We’re about to record.”

I blush and switch off my phone.

A make-up person reapplies bright red lipstick on the reporter and dusts blush on her flawless skin. Then she powders Dad’s nose and straightens the plaid handkerchief in his suit breast pocket. It’s the one I gave to him last year for Father’s Day. He calls it his lucky handkerchief and wears it on important days.

The studio goes quiet and the cameraman counts down. When he reaches a silent “1,” the ON AIR sign above the studio door flashes on, glowing a bright red. My stomach flip-flops, even though I’m not the one on TV.

The reporter launches right in. “I’m here with U.S. Congressman Mark Grant from Maryland,” she says. “Thank you for joining us.”

“My pleasure,” he says. His eyes twinkle and I can tell the cameras are eating it up. He’s already won the audience over and he’s hardly said a word.

“Your gun safety bill is going to be introduced in the House of Representatives this afternoon,” the reporter says. “It has received criticism from both sides of the aisle – one side says it does too much and the other, too little. What would you say to your critics?”

Wow, she went straight to the tough questions. I bite my thumbnail, worried about Dad’s response.

“I would say it’s impossible to please everyone,” Dad says. “But I’ve worked with my colleagues to create a bill that I’m proud of. This bill will help protect the American people and I’m excited for it to pass the House today.”

“Lately a lot of bills that were expected to pass didn’t or were pulled at the last minute,” the reporter says. “I recently interviewed a representative who decided not to introduce a bill after he saw a demon cat in his office. He said it was a sign that God did not support the bill becoming a law. Are you afraid something like that will happen to you?”

A demon cat? What is she talking about? Is there actually a demon cat in the U.S. Capitol building?

Dad laughs. “That’s just an old ghost story,” he says. “I’m not sure why my colleague pulled that bill but I assure you it had nothing to do with a demon cat.”

“So you’re not afraid of the demon cat?” the reporter asks.

“Well, I choose not to live my life in fear. So, no, I’m not afraid. I’m confident this bill will pass.”

Dad’s answer is great. But I can’t stop thinking about the demon cat. It sounds like it’s straight out of the Gilly Jones: Ghost PI books. Gilly talks to dead people and solves mysteries by noticing things others don’t. She’d love this demon cat stuff.

“Listen, we can talk about conspiracy theories all day,” Dad continues. “But I’d prefer to talk about this bill and the difference it’s going to make for Americans, especially our children. More than 170 schools in the U.S. have experienced a shooting. Think about that for a second. That’s more than three per state. My bill is going to do something about it.”

The reporter nods and then turns back toward the camera. “Well, that’s all the time we have,” she says. “Thank you for being with us today.”

The ON AIR sign turns off and I take a deep breath. It’s over.

Dad thanks the reporter and then heads over to me.

“Good job,” I say.

“Thanks,” he says, tousling my hair. “I’m glad you were here to cheer me on. I bet no one else got to do this with their parents.”

Lucky them. My palms are dripping sweat and I wasn’t even on camera.

As Dad gathers his briefcase, I look up at the ON AIR sign, which was glowing just moments before. For some reason it reminds me of the reporter’s cat question.

“Dad, what was she saying about a demon cat?” I ask.

“Oh it’s just some ghost story. You know how old buildings are, all of them have ghost stories.”

“About a cat?”

“Yeah, well there used to be a lot of cats in the Capitol, to catch all the rats.”

Rats? Yuck.

“And one day, like a hundred years ago, a night security guard claimed he saw a glowing cat that was the size of an elephant. And the legend of the demon cat was born. But it’s not real, Emma. Ghost stories never are.”

“But the reporter said someone saw it.”

“That’s just something a Congressman said to hide the real reasons he pulled his bill. Some politicians put their interests ahead of the truth. Which is a shame, but it’s the way a lot of people are.”

Maybe he’s right, though it seems like a weird thing to lie about.

“So, you ready to head to the Capitol?” Dad asks. “I can’t believe it’s been two years since your last visit.”

I hesitate. The interview wasn’t the only reason I tried to play hooky. I really don’t want to go back to the Capitol, not after what happened last time. Dad claims the horrible thing that happened then wasn’t normal, that I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He promised it wouldn’t happen again. But he can’t promise that – no one can.

I reach into my dress pocket, searching for the purple bandana I hid there this morning, just in case. My fingers grasp it and I rub it between my fingers, like a worry stone.

I take a deep breath, trying to relax. Maybe this time will be different.

“Okay,” I say. “Let’s go.”

But I don’t release the bandana. Instead, I clutch it harder, wishing it was an invisibility cloak I could hide under. Then I’d be safe from all the angry people in this world.


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