Monday, August 5, 2013

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Catalano

Name: Pete Catalano
Genre: Middle Grade Magical Realism
Title: UNLIMITED WISHES


And then there was a resounding crash.

I lurched backwards, barely escaping the explosion of the huge, over-sized box of spare parts I salvaged from the computer lab’s Annual Spring Cleaning. Only after lifting it off the ground and carrying it for several blocks, did I realize I had greatly underestimated both its weight and my ability to carry it.

Staying on my knees, I watched helplessly as the box fell in slow motion. In the moment it took to hit the ground, all the painstaking work I had done sorting the smaller parts into glass jars was lost, as they burst into a thousand razor-sharp shards upon impact and scattered across the sidewalk. I froze, waiting for the tinkling sound of broken glass to stop before I dared move again.

My name is Luke Price, I’m thirteen years old, and I’m waiting, sometimes rather impatiently, to be . . . older. Having lived in the small town of Claxton, North Carolina for my entire life I’ve been both very comfortable, and exceptionally bored, but encouraged by the fact that I know it can’t last forever.

Too small for football, too slow for track, too smart for student council, not needy enough for chess club, I found my niche and guaranteed my safety through my ability to fix anything with a mother board.

With my chin up and my head down, I’m funny, a die-hard tech-head with a limitless imagination, and I’m hopeful. Unless you have a miracle or a magic wand, these three qualities are an essential combination to survive any given day in middle school.

As I got home with as many good parts as I was able to manage, I plopped down on a chair in the kitchen and spent a moment carefully pulling tiny shards of glass out of my clothes as my little brother, Max, came stumbling into the room. He was three, and even at that age, you could see the potential he had for his height to soar above mine, and that realization didn’t do anything to enhance the little amount of self-esteem I needed to muster every day just to get out of bed.

Odin, our one-hundred-and-forty pound sheepdog, followed Max closely. I was never quite sure if Odin was protecting Max from the terrors of the world or protecting the world from the terror we called Max.

“What have you been doing today?” I asked him, not really interested in the answer, but just chattering as I got up and looked for something to eat . . . and something to do.

“Playing . . . ” Max said slowly, his eyes never once looking in my direction as he wrestled with Odin across the floor of the kitchen, “ . . . in your room.”

“Mom,” I slammed the refrigerator shut and ran up the stairs to my room two steps at a time, stopping just short of the doorway. Much to my dismay, the light was on and the door was cracked open. I moved cautiously, knowing full well that if I was about to step into a disaster that would produce a violent reaction, Max wasn’t yet within my reach, so I needed to give him a little bit of time to catch up.

Hearing his footsteps and the distinct sound of Odin’s jingling collar coming down the hall behind me, I stepped up to my door, gave it a slight push, and waited breathlessly as it silently glided open on smooth, well-oiled hinges.

From first look, things seemed fairly undisturbed, but again, this was just a pre-emptive, skimming-the-surface observation, checking to see if there were any walls cracked, ceiling tiles pulled down, or any structural damage that was readily apparent or dangerously unsafe.

Realizing that the damage or rather “play,” as Max called it, had been contained to something less obvious, but possibly far more terrifying, I started to look at my individual, collectible items . . . the ones that, if looked at, touched, or even breathed on, carried the naturally-standard penalty of death.

There are three things I value more than anything in this world . . . my video game collection, my comic book collection, and my cell phone.

My video game collection took up space on several shelves on the wall just below the console. Since they were in order by type and frequency of use, they would be quick and easy to go through to make sure that none of them were damaged or even out of place. Watch Dogs, Grand Theft Auto V, Call of Duty: Ghosts, FIFA 14, NBA 2K14, it looked like all the important ones were there. After a few moments, I knew that particular part of my collection was safe, and I moved onto the next.

My comic book collection was far more extensive and kept in plastic sheets and arranged alphabetically . . . and by value. They would take a little longer to go through.

There are two comics, in particular, Superman #14 and Spiderman #8, that are graded. Thankfully they were valued on the basis of their age and condition and then encased between two sheets of hard plastic, and out of the hands of busy little brothers.

I looked over at Max, who had now managed to join me in the hunt, followed closely by Odin, of course, who in this particular case was certainly protecting Max from me.

“So do you want to tell me what you were playing with,” my fingers moved rapidly through my comic collection, “or do you just figure you and Odin can outrun me when I find out what you did?” I waited for an answer. “You planning on just jumping on his back and having him run for daylight?”

Max shrugged and sat on the floor next to Odin, either not sure what I was doing or taunting me in the subtlest way I have ever been taunted.

“Mom!” I yelled out one more time, hoping to put both this hunt and my anxiety to an abrupt end.

“What is all the ruckus in here?” Mom asked as she came into my room to find me going through my comic books and Max and Odin staring up at me. “Ooooh, now isn’t that sweet,” she said. “See, Luke, I told you that he just adores you.”

“He doesn’t adore me,” I protested and accidently allowed a short, brief whine to escape out of sheer frustration. I stopped what I was doing, as I was taken by surprise by that long, high-pitched cry. It was a sound emanating from me that was very familiar from my own Max-like days, but something that I hoped I would never manage to make again.

Once the initial embarrassment was gone, I went on with my explanation. “Max said he was playing in my room today, and I was trying to isolate the damage. I thought if I could find whatever he did, whatever he touched, whatever he even looked at for a bit too long, I would be able to correct the problem or even reverse it. But he’s not talking. He’s just sitting there mocking me, and he’s even pulled Odin into his little mind game as well.” She looked at both of them and then looked back at me. “I think we may need to get a little physical with him.”

“Max?” my mother asked . . . one time.

8 comments:

  1. This is a nice start!

    I particularly like: I’m waiting, sometimes rather impatiently, to be . . . older.

    I like how you're portrayed Max, in an endearing, little brother, following the big brother around way.

    Best of luck with it!

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  2. The opening line and following two paragraphs were a bit confusing. Starting with , "And then there was a resounding crash," made me feel like I'd missed something. I get that you want us to come in on the action of him dropping the box, but it was confusing. Also the word "explosion" threw me. I had to read it a few times to understand that it was the salvaged equipment spilling out and breaking.

    I really liked this line: "Only after lifting it off the ground and carrying it for several blocks, did I realize I had greatly underestimated both its weight and my ability to carry it."
    I feel like it gives us our first real clue about who Luke is.

    I didn't know why chess clubbers would be needy. Nerdy, yes. Needy?

    At 13-years-old I think Luke is a bit old for a middle grade story. You're in no man's land between middle grade and YA. Also, he seems very self-aware for 13. His speech and just the wording itself reads a bit old. I also suffer this problem and am working on it. Yay workshop!

    I love the paragraph about Odin and Max, particularly about who Odin is protecting.

    I think you both show and tell us things. Luke explains how much he loves his various collections, but you show us how much he loves them as he carefully inspects everything. I'd let his actions speak for him.

    For instance, you tell us he's not interested in Max's answer when he asks what he's been up to that day. You could show him searching through the fridge looking for something to eat and just giving Max an, "Uh huh, Hmm," to respond but then have Max's answer actually sink in and then he dashes to his bedroom.

    Hope that helps. Good luck.

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  3. I read this with great enthusiasm!

    I'd cut the first line altogether (beginning a sentence with the word 'and' doesn't sit well with me) and jump straight into the the following paragraph, which zoomed me into the action right away.

    There is fantastic action here right from the start…. and then it goes into tell-not-show, which kills the buzz a bit.
    How about skipping the next three paragraphs ("My name…" through "With my…") and weave those character building elements in elsewhere, through depiction. A memory of a time relevant to the attribute you ascribe to the character could serve you better than just telling us that he is a "die-hard tech head". For example: "It was not one of my finer moments. I felt the way I had when I tried and failed miserably in my quest to play football, track, run for student council…"

    Great scene at home with the brother and the mom. Your dialogue is believable and full of great personality. These are very likable characters. Well done!

    I think you are suggesting that impish Max has made some mischief in Luke's room that we are yet to uncover, and therefore setting the stage that this is a story where Luke must prevail against two enemies: his awkwardness and his younger brother.

    I'm sure Luke is not going to react well to what his brother has done. You've painted a great portrait of your protagonist so far. I'd love some physical description as well.

    Very excited to read on!

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  4. Hey, I love your visuals. Great use of descriptions here.
    I would lose the entire first sentence. Begin with him lurching backwards. As it reads now the crash comes first, then he sees the box falls? Might address that. Also, and this is a big pet peeve of mine but these paragraphs bug me:
    "My name is Luke Price, I’m thirteen years old, and I’m waiting, sometimes rather impatiently, to be . . . older. Having lived in the small town of Claxton, North Carolina for my entire life I’ve been both very comfortable, and exceptionally bored, but encouraged by the fact that I know it can’t last forever.

    Too small for football, too slow for track, too smart for student council, not needy enough for chess club, I found my niche and guaranteed my safety through my ability to fix anything with a mother board.

    With my chin up and my head down, I’m funny, a die-hard tech-head with a limitless imagination, and I’m hopeful. Unless you have a miracle or a magic wand, these three qualities are an essential combination to survive any given day in middle school."

    It is a lot of the MC talking directly to the reader and it's very distracting and a huge info dump. Don't tell us he's funny, show us he's funny. Show us he's small and slow and being picked on at school. Doing it this way is kind of a cop out and it robs the reader of getting to know the character. Basically, you are telling us how to see him instead of letting us see him, does that make sense?

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  5. Sherry thank you so much for the feedback. I have rewritten the first page and I think it reads the way it should now. Hopefully you'll see that in the second round.

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  6. Hi Pete,

    This is fun. I love your mc, and Max promises to be a lot of fun. I like the family dynamic and I was caught up in the mystery of what Max has done.

    A few things to consider for next time:

    1. Your mc feels much older than you say. To through your word choices and make sure they are appropriate. I get that he is smart, but trying to fit in is hard when you use words that sound more adult than kid :)

    2. Max feels too old. His actions seem more intentional than pure fun or mischief to me. Is that what you were going for? If so, I would buy that he is five, maybe?

    3. While I love the family dynamic and his determination to carve out a niche at school, I'm not seeing the connection--read conflict--between those two, which makes me wonder if you are starting in the right place. What is your story question? Where are you going to take us? We have to know that early on.

    4. Finally, while I love a lot of your narrative declarations, they are telling. Telling with great voice, yes, but still telling. Each one works individually, but when we get them all together, it's too much. We are getting such a complete dump on your mc that we don't know what to focus on, and there's not much left to discover, if we take him at face value. But remember, we still have no way to gauge his reliabilty as a narrator, so we can't buy in yet. Be selective and you will rock this!

    Looking forward to reading the rewrite!

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  7. Sherry already go to my big comment! LOL! I had copied the same info to show you. That's info dump. Sprinkle in the necessary stuff throughout and show us what you can. LOVE the line about the terror we call Max. That made me giggle out loud. :D

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  8. OH - sorry! And definitely take out that first line. Don't start the book with "And", but beyond that it doesn't work. I know that was mentioned above but I wanted to echo that too! Thanks!

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