The Bird Boy Project: Discussion Forum 1 (and book giveaway!)

At last count, thirty families and individuals (and a few classes) have signed up to receive daily chapters of my latest in-progress novel.  (If you don’t know anything about this and would like to know more, see the Introductory post and the Signup post.)  Today you receive chapter 7, and that brings us a little over one-quarter through the story.  A good place to pause and reflect, and I’m very interested in your reflections.

By the time a reader is this far into a novel, all the major characters should be introduced, or at least hinted at.  The setting should be feel lived-in and the central conflict, challenge, or problem is taking shape.

So readers who have kept up have been introduced to Roy Ray Rappaport, his parents, his eccentric aunts, his immediate antagonist (the local bully), and his town.  From the first chapter, they have become familiar with his problem: a pair of full, feathered wings that don’t seem to work that well and are always getting in the way.  His early destructive tendencies begin to moderate when he acquires a flight coach and a firm disciplinary hand.  But the coach, Mr. G, has a backstory that he’s not willing to entirely share, and the more Roy Ray learns about flight, the more mysteries develop around Mr. G until . . . a significant development in chapter 7, which I shouldn’t say anything about here.

Years, ago, while working on an earlier version of this story, I asked a few public school classes to give their opinions.  The major verdict: Too slow.  I needed more excitement in the early chapters.  This makes sense—even though I’ve read plenty of MG novels that seemed slower at the beginning than mine!  But still.  There’s not a lot of slam-bang action in the first chapters because I thought a more development had to be done.  But what do you think?  Are you (and the kids) interested enough to keep reading?

I asked some specific questions in the emails accompanying each chapter, but you don’t have to answer any of them.  On the other hand, if you have specific questions of your own, go ahead and ask.  The comments officially close on Monday at midnight, after which I will randomly select the winner of our first giveaway: Marty Machowsky’s Wise Up: 10-Minute Family Devotionals in Proverbs, an excellent resource that formed the backbone of our 2017 Summer Reading Challenge.  (Family members may enter comments separately, but all comments from the same family will be considered as one entry.)

Reading Ahead for You

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Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.


  1. Betsy on September 8, 2017 at 7:19 am

    First of all, the Farquhar kids are very interested in Roy Ray! I’ll be back with more feedback from the kids later, but one quick thought based on my 10 and 11-year olds’ listening experience: the bird terms have required some explaining–minimal, but the “primaries” and “secondaries” threw them off at first. Perhaps a one-two word explanation the first time those types of terms occur? The alula description was great.

    The humor has been fantastic and eliciting all the right chuckles and grins. And the mention of quidditch had everyone perk up and start exclaiming :-).

  2. Sam on September 9, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    Ch 7.

    1. Mr. G’s avails – I’m lightly keeping track, but barely. A hint that one was more significant might have caught my attention, or given too much away.

    2. Stickybeak – sticking your beak where it isn’t welcome?

    3. The new character – her late introduction is enough to signal to me that she is “a way out” of a problem. Interesting, she seems to be also the potential of problems. I’m interested!

    4. The Twins – I suspect they will be against Mr. G, putting Roy Ray in tension to choose.

    Ch 6.

    1. Bill the Lizard – He reminds me of a 60s antagonist, Eric Von Zipper, a biker gang leader. He seems to keep showing up. He is certainly more than an ordinary bully, but I have a tough time accepting his dialog and inferring his reasoning and motivation. He also makes threats that, as far as I can tell, are very empty. Then again, how material can you make threats if the book is targeted for a younger audience? What power does Bill have that should worry me?

    Bill is interesting complex enough, in my view, that he needs a lot more development (maybe not in words-written, but in some events to cast him as something more popularly familiar?). I could see him in a spin-off book that looked into what made him tick.

    2. Ike – I lke the alien bit.

    3. Cigarette light – I missed it! I was reading quickly.

    4. Everybody has wings – I’m not entirely sure. Mr. G is not particularly philosophical beyond practical, actionable wisdom. I didn’t wrestle with this passage much as I assume it is setup for a reveal later.

    Ch 5.

    1. Avials, lots of ’em – In Ch 7 Mr. G mentions that it would be very bad for pictures of Roy Ray to get out given his progress. That clause about Roy’s progress caught my attention and I recalled how many avials there are claimed to be by Mr. G, and that is learning was very painful. This suggests are larger arch is in play. I would have liked those two ideas to be closer together in the book, but may be I’m supposed to think back.

    2. The radio is important. I assume it is receive-only, not transmit? I’ve wondered if Mr. G is really a bat and not a bird, but I think I’m off the mark in that. It would be neat if he was a bat and the radio received things that were above normal frequencies. Book 2, maybe?

    Ch 4.

    1. “Crick” – Yes, a few, but not many.

    2. Mr. G is certainly hiding something.

    Ch 3.

    1. The training montage is fine. Not too long, in my opinion.

    2. The secret – My thinking is colored by the Logan / Wolverine comic book character’s arch. Mr. G reminds me of Logan. He is blunt, a loner, private, etc. Why doesn’t he show his wings, even if to just demonstrate to Roy Ray how to best use his? Why not at least put him in his place like an old kung-fu master might?

    Ch 2.

    1. Most significant characters – The bullies, and perhaps the Aunt. She’s quirky, the story is quirky, maybe that’s a match?

    2. First sentence length – I like the book “On Writing Well.” I’m biased in that I like shorter sentences. I think they offer more punch. Perhaps let the separation be made by a section break instead of a period?

    3. Mooning is “fine” in that I think writers have to express real life. If that’s what Roy Ray would do, then that character must do it. I’ve heard not a few reformed voices say that the Christian writer has to have his art represent life, and as you say, this includes our fallen state. The Bible has plenty of scenes far more shocking.

    4. I would not adapt as well as Roy Ray does. I think his situation is accepted too quickly if this was an adult novel, but you have 1/2 or 1/4 of the pages to communicate the story in. I wouldn’t change anything. Maybe hint that it’s a rougher road than just the few incidents?

    5. Kidnapping – it is so out-of-the-blue that is has to be foreshadowing.

    Ch 1.

    1. The prologue reads like a movie trailer. I think it helps. I think it’s too glorious, though. I would prefer it be at dusk and things were left more uncertain.

    2. Second person works well. Again, like a movie trailer.

    3. I don’t recall all the characters introduced. I’m horrible with characters. Mom? Dad? Brother? Some doctors that may-or-may-not come back?

    4. Wing issues – I think the town is too accepting of the wings, especially when there is an old radiation source that might have caused them. Is Roy Ray uranium kid? When he sneezes, do they fly out and hit kids in school? Is he an easy target in dodge ball? Does he eat too much at pizza parties? What about bugs and worms? Are they interesting to him to eat? Do windy days knock him over or push his bike into the road? He should have an award for pull ups, and be accused of cheating.

    • Janie on September 11, 2017 at 7:14 am

      Excellent points, Sam–I like your speculations. Bill is one of those characters who just pop up and the author isn’t too sure where they come from. Every hero needs an adversary, but as you already surmised, more serious adversaries are on the way. Since it’s not a stand-alone book, characters who seem to get short shrift in this volume will have a chance to come into their own later.

      Love your ideas for further difficulties–don’t be surprised to see some of them appear in further revisions! And I’ll seriously consider your suggestion for shifting the time of day in the prologue. Dusk will make the phenomenon more mysterious and speculative.

  3. Andrea on September 10, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    We are enjoying the book together. There have been several spots where explanations were needed (ordnance and primaries/secondaries for example), but that increases our learning so no complaints from this Mom.
    According to my boys, the humor has been great. We have laughed a lot together over some of the events in the book (and I’m not sure I’ll be able to eat cottage cheese for a while!). They are both eager to get to the next chapters as soon as we can.
    Can I send an email with all our reactions/answers to the questions?

    • Janie on September 11, 2017 at 7:00 am

      Thanks, Andrea–and of course you can send an email.

  4. Leah Lee on September 10, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    I’ve been enjoying Roy Ray’s story and am very interested in finding out what happens to him as well as Mr. G’s secret. Bill is also an interesting character and I look forward to finding out more of his role in this. The humor is great. My kids aren’t old enough yet to enjoy the story but I can envision they would. I especially liked in chapter 6 when Roy Ray is told that he shouldn’t spurn his gifts rather if they don’t fit, you grow into them. This chapter brings up many potential discussion topics outside of the story itself. I will try to write out some of my thoughts to your specific questions in the chapters going forward.

  5. Wendy Broyles on September 11, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    We are loving the BB. I have a 12, 10, 7,, 5, and 3 year old. The older 4 are really enjoying the mere idea of having wings. This Mama used to dream she could run and then lift off, so I am all in with this fantasy!
    We all haven’t read all the chapters yet, but one question we had in the beginning was whether the changes to Roy’s body would continue beyond just wings and bones and feet. Maybe I just haven’t gotten there yet. Also, and maybe it’s just me, but “Roy Ray” is hard to say! ???? Reminds me of trying to say, “toy boat”, three times fast.
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful tale!
    Wendy in Montana ????

    • Janie on September 12, 2017 at 6:37 am

      Roy Ray is hard to say, as I’ve discovered while reading out loud to myself. And yet . . . it just seems to be his name. Might be advisable to change it–especially if I find a publisher who insists on it–but to me, he’ll always be Roy Ray.

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