Monday, August 19, 2013

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Catalano Rev 2

Name: Pete Catalano
Genre: Middle Grade Magical Realism

My head snapped back.

Shoved from behind as I struggled to carry the over-sized box I salvaged from the computer lab’s Annual Spring Cleaning, I fell to my knees.

I watched helplessly as the spare parts flew through the air. In the second it took to hit the ground, all the painstaking work I had done sorting the smaller parts into glass jars was lost. They burst into thousands of 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.

“Hey Price. Where’s my laptop?” a voice demanded.

“It’ll be done tomorrow,” I groaned. “I promised you it would be ready on Wednesday.”

“Today’s not Wednesday?” the voice asked.

“Nope,” I said, making sure nothing but the jars were broken, “it’s still Tuesday. Just like it was earlier at school when you demanded it then.”

“Well.” He looked confused. As if he were searching for something else to say other than the usual grunt my clients usually give me. “I’ll be back.”

“Looking forward to it.” I smiled and half-waved as he stomped away. “Oh yeah,” I thought, gathering up my things. “Another satisfied customer.”

I found my niche and semi-guaranteed my safety through my ability to fix anything with a motherboard. Unless you have a miracle or a magic wand, those two things are an essential combination to survive any given day in middle school.

Getting 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 five and at that age where everything he did was in an effort to destroy me and everything I loved.

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 caring what his answer was, but just chattering as I looked for something to eat . . . and something to do.

“I was playing all day long,” Max chattered away, his eyes never once looking in my direction as he wrestled with Odin across the floor of the kitchen.

“Yeah, that’s great,” I said.

“Playing all day long, Max finished his sentence, “in your room.”

“Mom!” I slammed the refrigerator shut and ran up the stairs two steps at a time, stopping just short of my doorway. The light was on and the door was cracked open. I moved cautiously, knowing that I was about to step into a disaster that would produce a violent reaction, and Max wasn’t quite within my reach. I needed to give him some time to catch up.

Hearing his footsteps and the distinct sound of Odin’s jingling collar coming down the hall behind me, I gave my door a slight push, and waited breathlessly as it glided open.

At first glance things seemed fairly undisturbed, but again, this was just a quick, skimming-the-surface look, checking to see if there were any walls cracked, ceiling tiles pulled down, or any structural damage that was easily seen or dangerously unsafe.

Realizing that the damage or rather “play,” as Max called it, would be limited to something less obvious, but possibly far more terrifying, I started to look at my individual, collectible items. These were the ones that, if looked at, touched, or even breathed on, carried the standard penalty of death according to the little, pesky brother code.

There are three things I value more than anything in this world; my video game collection, my comic book collection, and my cell phone, not necessarily in that order.

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. There are two comics, in particular, Superman #14 and Spiderman #8, that are graded. Thankfully they are protected by two sheets of hard plastic and out of the hands of busy little brothers.

I looked over at Max, who had finally caught up, 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?” Max shrugged as I waited for an answer, and then rolled his eyes. As I watched it turned into a shoulder shrugging, eye-rolling festival timed to the music that was playing in his head.

Max made Odin lie on the floor and then jumped back and forth over him, not paying any attention to what I was asking him. He was 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 now sitting on the floor staring up at me. “Ooooh, now isn’t that sweet,” she said. “See Luke, I told you. He just adores you.”

“He doesn’t adore me,” I protested and accidently allowed a short, brief whine to escape out of sheer frustration. It was a sound coming from me that was very familiar from my own Max-like days, but something I hoped would never escape from my throat again.

As the embarrassment disappeared I started to explain. “Max said he was playing in my room and I thought if I could find whatever he did, whatever he touched, whatever he even looked at for too long, I would be able to fix it or even reverse it. But he’s not talking. He’s just sitting there mocking me, Mom, 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.” In my mind I could imagine strapping Max and Odin into a chair and shining a bright white light on them until they talked. Cutting off food, water, and potty breaks until . . .

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

Max stood up, Odin nearly in his back pocket, and walked to my closet. He opened the door, and reached into the farthest corner away from the doors. He returned just as quickly, and as he opened his hands, he showed me several small pieces of metal, a few screws . . . and a cell phone battery.

“Oh, Max,” my mother said disapprovingly.

“I might as well be dead,” I cried, looking at the several random pieces that lay in his hands. Usually if there is a problem with my phone, I would just pull it apart, fix it, and then put it all back together again. But with this . . .

“My social life, however limited it may have been, is now over,” I said, the whine returning quickly. “I must have had a thousand names in that contact list . . . ”

“Luke . . . ” my mother said.

“I must have had a hundred names in that contact list.”

“Luke . . . ”

“I had a good ten names in that contact list, and now I have to tell every one of them why I need that information . . . again,” I took a deep breath before I continued. “I have to get a new phone.”

My mother looked at Max, who smiled sweetly and then stuck his tongue out at me before taking Odin and leaving my room for their next great adventure.

“I’m so sorry, Luke,” my mom said. “Sometimes he gets out of my sight and . . . ”

“And then we have to clean up and forgive.” I smiled at her. “It’s okay, Mom. It’s what happens when Satan’s spawn comes for what was supposed to be a short visit and then decides to stay, tormenting me for something horrible I am sure I must have done in a previous life. At least we have Odin watching after him now. There may not be less for him to get into, but at least we can see or hear Odin when he’s getting into it with him. Not the brightest, certainly the clumsiest, but also the most lovable.”

“You’re talking about Odin now, aren’t you?” Mom said, laughing. “I’ll talk to your father about your phone. We had been thinking about getting you something a little smarter and a lot more up-to-date.”

“Much like I was hoping for with Max,” I said, smiling.


  1. I really enjoy this story. Your humor and character development are nicely done. This revision is an even better read than the last.

    The opener is a tad abrupt. "My head snapped back." Whoah. We need an instant of calm before the BAM!

    Per that BAM moment:

    Maybe "A shove" would read more abrupt than "shoved", which sounds more like a re-telling and therefore less immediate. Then you wouldn't need the "My head snapped back" to create the big moment.

    "A shove from behind brought me to my knees. I watched helplessly as spare computer parts flew from the box I'd been carrying…." e.g.

    "My clients": Perfect! I love that he has clients at this age.

    Great improvement to the buildup to the door opening in the room and anticipating the damage wrought by Max.

    This is hilarious:

    "Max made Odin lie on the floor and then jumped back and forth over him"

    I actually laughed out loud! Details like this are what really bring your work up to the next level.

    The last line is awesome! Only thing: i would expect his reaction to be more like, "REALLY?!?!" and super excited. I *love* the cleverness of the comparison of Max however, and think you could work that in. Maybe that's in his thoughts, while audibly he expresses his excitement?

    Your writing is so funny. This opener has the promise of a humorous, yet possibly touching story to come. Judy Blume meets Louis Sachar. I love the characters. Great job!

  2. This is nicely done. I can tell you put considerable time into it.

    I really enjoyed how you portray Max. I could picture him jumping over the dog and rolling his eyes, just like a particularly mischievous five-year-old.

    I also like how you've portrayed your MC. He's a sympathetic character, someone the reader will care about. We're right there with him when his spare parts break and when he's so worried about his comic books and games. Poor kid!

    I laughed and felt sorry for the poor kid when he talks about his social contacts, taking them from 1000 down to 10.

    Your ending is perfect. Nice twist with the comparison of the more up-to-date/smarter phone model to Max.

    Best of luck with it!

  3. I love this revision. You did a great job really fleshing Max out. He feels mischievous and fun and the perfect tormentor for his big brother. The details you give--him jumping over the dog, how he tells him he was playing in his room. I love it. Luke is funnier and it's easier to sympathize with him this time around.

    I like the opening better but think it could still read more smoothly. The first two sentences could be combined in one paragraph, but broken up into a few sentences. I think the stuff with the bully is closer but not quite there. I was thinking of Holes when I read this. It's one of my boys' favorites.

    Great revision. Good luck!

  4. Hi Pete,

    Your characters are really great. This paragraph really sets him beautifully:

    I found my niche and semi-guaranteed my safety through my ability to fix anything with a motherboard. Unless you have a miracle or a magic wand, those two things are an essential combination to survive any given day in middle school.

    My only quibble with it, is that I would love to know at the beginning of the paragraph that he's talking about middle school.

    I agree with others about the opening. Action before reaction. Let us feel the shove along with him, and let us hear the tormetors voice. WHich, presumably, he can identify right away.

    I think you could also cut a little bit of the dialogue about Max at the end, but overall, this is a great revision. Good job and best of luck!

  5. Great job! I love your MC. My only issue is still with the opening. I think you are trying too hard to make that opening sentence an action grab. It isn't necessary if the voice is as brilliant as the rest of this. :D Best of luck!

  6. I am not too familiar with MC, but I like the sharpness of this story. The kid is likable, and that's a good selling point.