Monday, October 7, 2013

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Catalano

Name: Pete Catalano
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary Humor

After being placed in the Witness Protection Program and moving our family seven hundred and thirty two miles from Brooklyn, my dad finally pulled off the highway in a very small town in North Carolina. Looking out the window at the neatly trimmed lawns, and well-kept houses, I realized there wasn't a satellite dish in sight.

I can see it now, I thought as we swung around another corner. Deech Rosselli, age twelve found bored to death after leaving Brooklyn. Rosselli passed while sitting on the couch, staring at the TV, remote in hand, waiting for his new podunk little town to get DirecTV.

“HOLD ON,” Dad yelled as our Jeep came to a screeching halt after nearly crashing into the moving truck parked in front of our new house. He'd been chauffeured around for so many years now that having to remember how to drive was nearly giving him a heart attack and making me a nervous wreck.

“Dad,” Angie, my sixteen-year-old sister shrieked, jamming her onto the back of my dad’s seat to brace for impact. As usual she had been playing on her iPhone, oblivious to the world, and had no idea what was about to happen.

“What is putting your feet up going to do, knucklehead?” I asked her. “You’re still getting crunched if dad hits the back of that truck. Only thing you can do at that point is hope that the hospital has Wi-Fi.”

“The only thing I can hope is the same thing I’ve been hoping for thirteen years,” she hissed after she put her feet back down on the floor. “But you’re still here.”

“Wendell, are you all right?” my mom said harshly, a smile on her face, but her teeth clenched tight.

“Hey, mom,” I called over the backseat. "You said they took away his gun and his passport. Maybe they got his ability to decide between the gas pedal and the brake too.”

“I’m fine.” My dad raised his hands up in the air to silence her and end the discussion. “And you son, need to remember how you speak to Big Rosie . . .”

“Wendell,” my mother corrected him for probably the fortieth time on this trip alone, “your name is Wendell now. And not even ‘Big’ Wendell.”

“What kind of name is Wendell anyway?” my dad asked. “Do you have any idea how many Wendells I’ve beaten up in my life?”

“It’s a perfectly normal name for a perfectly normal family,” a man in a dark suit stepped up to the driver’s window. “Rosie Rosselli is traceable, Wendell is not. Like it or not it’s going to be your name for as long as you and your family stay in this little hamlet of ours." Suit looked in at me and Angie. "Hey, is everybody all right in there? That was a pretty short stop there, big man.”

As the man in the dark suit and my dad talked, I got out of the car and looked around.

The house was nice, kinda small, with a white picket fence wrapped around it. I’ve seen places like this on TV before, but never imagined myself having to live in one. It was a long way from New York City, and I just knew it was going take a lot of getting used to.

Looking down the street, rows of houses just like ours lined the sidewalk. The only thing making them any different was their color and the cars parked in the driveway. I noticed a work van parked a couple of houses down that had two men in it. They didn’t seem to be doing much of anything, so I figured right away that they . . .

“You all right?” the man in the dark suit asked as he stepped up behind me.

“Yeah, I’m good,” I nodded. Then I motioned toward the van. “Are they for us?”

“No,” the man said. “Actually, yours will be along any minute now. Those are for the Millers, who have just moved in across the street. Bob, Judy, and Bartholomew. You should take a walk over and meet them some time. Bartholomew is about your age and they’ve only been here about a week so far. Just remember not to talk about anything from the past. You have no past beyond the last five minutes since we pulled up to the house.”

“Bartholomew?” I asked him. “Did you give him the name Bartholomew?”

“Sure did,” the man said.

“Why didn’t you just paint a target on his back instead?” I laughed at the thought of that name in school.

“I don’t know, Durwood,” he smiled. “Why don’t you tell me? Maybe I should put one on your back, as well.”

“Durwood?” I asked.

“Didn’t your parents tell you?” Suit asked. “I pick the name for everybody that steps into my town. After I went over your family’s new names with your parents and Angie, they were pretty happy with Durwood for you. Especially Angie.”

“Wait, wait, wait. Bartholomew is a wonderful name,” I backtracked as quickly as I could. “Durwood? Please don’t name me Durwood.”

He looked at me and smiled. “I’ll see if I can figure out something that won’t get you beat up so quickly. Now come on. We have to go back into the house and go over a few more things before I turn you loose.”

I followed him in and then went up the stairs to check out the rest of the house. There were four bedrooms up there. The one on the right side of the house was the master suite for Mom and Dad. There were two smaller rooms on the left side of the house that I knew Angie would be all over. But then as I walked up one more flight to the attic, I saw the room of my dreams open up before me.

It was gigantic! The ceiling soared up until all four sides met in the center and there was an old-timey window set into each of the sides. The walls all had windows, too, so no matter where I put my bed, I would be able to look out and see everything that was going on . . . and if any of the bad guys were coming.

I ran back down the two flights of stairs, and in the middle of the flight back down to the living room, I stopped and watched as all these guys carrying boxes marked “Walker” moved quickly throughout the house. I still can’t get used to the changes, but now that we’re here in Walnut Creek, I guess I have to.

“Is this one yours, little man?” this giant of a mover asked as he stood there holding a box marked “Tommy Walker” across the side.

“I guess,” I said, so glad I didn’t see the name “Durwood” anywhere on the box.

“Which room is yours?”

I turned to look at my Mom and Dad and then over at my sister Angie, who was still moping on the couch. “Top of the stairs and then go up one more flight,” I said, feeling pretty good about it. “Best room in the house.”

“Come on.” The suit called me off the stairs. “Family meeting.”

I came down the stairs and settled in onto the couch next to my mom, dad, and Angie. And waited.


  1. This is a great start. :) Great voice, great sense of the characters, and intriguing. It is a little confusing, since I have no idea what the whole suit guy is about, but that's really about it. I'm very confused on when and where he came in.

    Critique by: Kathleen S. Allen

    What I loved about this work, and why:

    I like the title and I was drawn in right away. I love stories about WitSec so this caught my eye. I like the voice of the main character.
    The descriptions of the small town are good. I’d make them even more humorous though since you labeled this as humorous. Make “Durwood” even more shocked about the move from a big city to small town.

    What caused me problems, and why:

    I don’t think the WitSec agent would tell him about the Millers being in WitSec too, the whole idea is to keep everyone identity secret.
    You need to describe the characters more. Let the readers know what each one looks like.

    The characters:
    “Durwood”-I love that the WitSec agent is pulling his leg about the name. Great voice. Seems like a 13yo boy.
    Angie-the teen sister. Make her more snarky.
    The Mom-describe her-let’s see her reaction as they pull up to the house, is she happy? Sad? Horrified?
    The Dad-I don’t think they’d let him drive if he was used to be driven around. WitSec would take them to their new house and give them a car. If you want to keep the almost hitting the moving van piece in, make it even funnier. Maybe he drives up on the lawn and flattens a box of their stuff. Something.
    WitSec Agent-usually there are two of them and make them even more “Men in Black.” It might be fun for the main character to keep hearing about the “rules of WitSec”, like no iPhones, no Twitter handles etc. Make them outrageous and funny.

    The action:

    The action seems fine. I like the main character finding his own room and being so excited.

    The dialogue:

    Feels realistic.

    The background:

    Again, make it more. We need to see the difference between Brooklyn and small town.

    The theme:

    I love the title, as I mentioned but I’m not sure where you are going with this. I’m assuming the main character will break the rules at some point and the mafia comes after them? Put more of the tension in these first pages. Why are they in WitSec in the first place?

    The technical details (spelling, grammar, scientific, historical, etc.):

    No problems.

    Final comments:

    As I said, I like the concept and the storyline. I think your opening sentence needs to be reworked. Maybe start the story when they are still in Brooklyn and have the dad tell the family they are moving to small town, USA. Something. Does the main character have a BFF he’s going to miss? I don’t get the sense of how much his life is going to change from these few pages.

    Hope this was helpful.

    1. Kathleen, thank you so much for the feedback. I've taken liberties with this town and most of the official "WITSEC" rules don't apply. It's a town full of Witness Protection families with all the kids going to the same middle school.

  3. I liked the first line/ paragraph.

    The dialogue/ voice felt fresh and appropriate.

    I didn't get a good sense of movement or where the story is going. I suppose, at some level there is an ever present threat that his past will catch up to him/ the family... but I didn't feel the tension. Add in an implied promise of what's going to happen.

    The tone feels light and humorous.

    It's a tad bit dialogue heavy. You could benefit from a little more narration/ introspection.

    Hope this helps

    Critique by: Chris Awe

    The setting is brilliant, the dialogue quick and funny.

    The characters are easy to relate to. As this is supposed to be a humorous story you might want to exaggerate the characters a bit more. (I do not know whether you had Mr. Soprano in mind, but he is the one I imagine to be the father. The only thing that sprang to my mind was that I would like to know more about his father.)

    "Looking out the window at the neatly trimmed lawns, and well-kept houses, I realized there wasn't a satellite dish in sight." This is my favourite sentence and I feel it would make a much better beginning. But I also agree with Christopher concerning the development of your story. I know five pages are not much but a tiny hint at what is about to happen will help to keep up the tension.

    All in all this is an interesting and enjoyable piece. You told the story and portrayed your characters well with your descriptive and in some places unusual dialogue. The story is original and should attract a wide range of readers.

  5. I think this a great start! The title got me right away--I think it is perfect for the tone of the book. The voice is also very strong. It's realistic, funny, likable and snappy.

    I like the first paragraph, but I think you could reword the first couple of sentences to make them have even more of an impact. Maybe start off with him noticing there are no satellite dishes, and commenting on the WPP having some real downsides. We don't necessarily need to know in the opening sentences that they are coming from Brooklyn or how far they traveled.

    I think you could also add a bit more tension to the pages. I am assuming the mafia finds the family? There was a line about him spotting the bad guys. This could possibly be an area to build tension. Something about how the main character knows it's only a matter of time, etc.

    Also, I wasn't clear on the character of Suit. He made a comment about "my town." Is he something like the mayor of a town of all WPP families?

    One small thing--the tense switches to present in the line, "I still can't get used..."

    I'm really looking forward to reading the next draft! Good luck!

  6. I love the premise. It has a lot of potential. Be careful of info dump. I don't think you have the best opening lines for example. Show us. You don't have to tell us Angie's exact age either, we'll get she's his big sis.
    I like the attic room. I like the gangster family set up. I feel like I want an even stronger voice from your protag though. The satellite stuff is great for example, but then he gets excited about the house. Does he have a positive or negative attitude? And how can you bring that out in his interactions with the others? Or his plans?