Sunday, February 11, 2018

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Walsh Rev 1

Name: Michelle C. Walsh
Genre: Middle Grade - Realistic Fiction


The bus lurches forward as I get up from my seat. I stumble to the front, nearly slamming into the other standing passenger.

Cuidado!” Mama says behind me, warning me to be careful. She hardly talks to me in Spanish except for a few words that come out, mostly when she’s excited or nervous.  

“Yeah, I know.” I groan, clutching onto the metal pole.

It’s been years since I’ve last taken the bus and I had forgotten how bumpy it is. Already, I miss our car. When Mama told me that it was stolen this morning, I didn’t believe her. I ran to the window and stared at the empty space on the corner, where our car should have been. Just like that, it was gone. Mama called the police and they came right away, but they didn’t make any promises. Of all the cars on our block, why did the car thief have to take ours?

“Now, remember the plan,” Mama says, stepping closer to me. “Belkis should be outside waiting for you, but in case she’s not there….”

“Yes, Mama, I know how to get to Belkis’ house from Wilson Avenue,” I remind her.

She smiles at me with her lips pressed together, but she can’t hide the worry in her eyes. “I know you do, mi’jita.”

Belkis Velasquez is my mom’s best friend. I go to her house in the summer so that I can hang out with her daughter, Maritza, who’s 12 years old like me.

The bus driver pumps on the breaks and I brace myself as we come to another stop. This time it’s mine. Mama pecks me on the cheek. “I’ll call you from work.”

I look outside the window for Belkis’ familiar face, but as the doors swing open, I see Maritza waving at me with her big smile. I smile back and hurry off the bus. On the curb, I turn around to wave at my mom, just as the bus pulls away.

“Oh my God, Raquel!” Maritza says. “I’m so sorry about your car! I couldn’t believe it when my mom told me.”

Maritza looks prettier than the last time I had seen her, some months ago. Her brown eyes are bright and her dark hair practically touches her waist in beautiful, spiral ringlets. Unlike my hair that’s pulled back in a ponytail because it’s so straight I can’t do anything else with it. Maritza knows how to dress well, too, with her white shorts, yellow top, and big yellow hoop earrings to match. I wish we could go to the same school, but we’re a few blocks away from being in the same district.

“You must feel so terrible,” she says. “What do you wanna do?”

“Actually, right now, I’m really hungry. Can we stop at the bakery?”

“Oh, yeah, sure. I didn’t have breakfast, either.”

We walk down Wilson Avenue to the Portuguese bakery. Maritza’s neighborhood looks a lot like mine, with two and three-floor family houses built closely together. But instead of living in an apartment like me, Maritza’s family has their own house—a red-bricked two-story home with a backyard and basement that makes it three floors.  

Inside the bakery, we each order a buttered Portuguese roll to go so that we can eat along the way to Maritza’s house.

“Mmm, this is delicious!” Maritza says, breaking off a piece of her bread, while keeping the rest inside the brown paper bag.

“Hmm, hmm!” I agree, in between mouthfuls. I eat in bite-sized portions, too, breaking off the bread as I go.

“So what’s your mom gonna do without the car?” Maritza asks.

“For now, she’s going to take the bus to work.”

“And what about Billy? Don’t you pick him up on Fridays?” Maritza asks.

I stop chewing for a moment and hold myself still. Billy’s been on my mind this morning, but I hardly ever talk about my brother. He’s older than me by two years and goes away to a special school for autism. Besides Maritza, only my two closest friends from my sixth grade class, Natalie and Estrella, know that I have an autistic brother who only comes home on the weekends.

“We used to pick up Billy on Friday nights,” I tell Maritza. “But my mom arranged for a social worker to bring him home on Friday after school, to help split the driving. So it’s really on Sundays when we need the car.”

“What if you get the social worker to drive Billy on Sundays, too?”

I know Maritza is trying to help, but she doesn’t understand. None of my friends know what it’s like to have an older brother who can’t talk, who goes to a special school that’s two hours away because there’s no other program for him nearby. They don’t know how it feels like to be an only child during the week and a sister only on the weekends.  

“The social worker can’t drive Billy on Sundays because that’s her day off,” I explain. “She’s actually doing us a favor by driving him on Fridays.”

“Oh. I don’t suppose….” Maritza begins.

“What?” I ask.

“Well, do you think your parents can buy another car?”

I feel my cheeks flush. I don’t think my parents can afford another car right now, especially since my dad’s not working again.

“Never mind,” Maritza says softly, as if reading my thoughts.

We sit on the front steps of her porch to finish our rolls.

A car turns at the corner coming our way. From the front, it looks exactly like my parents’ white Chevrolet.

My heart races as I stand up to get a better look.

“What is it?” Maritza asks, but I don’t answer. My eyes are all over the car.

First, I look for the dent on the passenger’s door, but I don’t see it. Then, I check the license plate in the back, just to be sure.

The beginning of our Chevy’s license plate is easy for me to remember because it starts with the letters of my initials, RC, for Raquel Cameron. It was a coincidence that Mama pointed out to me when we first got the car. But as this Chevy drives away, there’s no ‘R’ or ‘C’ anywhere on the license plate.

“What happened? Was that your car?” Maritza asks.

“No, I thought it was. But it’s not.” I sit back down, disappointed. 

“Too bad. That would have been somethin’! Imagine that—finding your car right here on my block.”

“Yeah, imagine that,” I say, staring at the street.

If only my parents’ car would come around the corner and park in front of the Velasquez house. The chances of that happening are like a miracle. But what if our Chevy isn’t that far away, after all? What if the car thief hasn’t left Newark? If that’s the case, then there’s gotta be a way to get our car back, maybe even this week before Billy comes home. I just have to figure out how.


  1. Hi Michelle,

    This is such a different, dynamic start to your story! I love it!

    We get a better sense of the characters and things move along quicker. I enjoy Raquel and Maritza walking together through the community and their exchange delivers exposition well. I even like that slight fake-out with the car not actually being theirs. I feel their struggle was communicated well and I do hope the family manages to find their car.

    The only thing I could add is maybe adding more reason as to why Billy specifically needs the car. I think you had in your other story how uncomfortable the bus made him? How it upset him on transit and how that impacted the whole family, too? I imagine it would be hard to take the bus and then find his way back to the school, too, and not sure even if social workers would allow that. Perhaps adding that detail would make the situation feel dire? Just because everyone is seemingly getting by just fine without the car at present, technically. It’s the concern for Billy that really brings home the urgency.

    Just a suggestion! So far loving the changes!


  2. Hi Michelle!

    I LOVE how you’ve introduced Billy in this version! It’s much more natural AND we learn a lot more not just about Billy, but also Raquel’s feelings about Billy and the situation. Excellent work!

    I also love how you’ve distinguished Raquel’s and Maritza’s voices. Really good job nailing that voice!

    While I do like how you’ve introduced Billy and the conflict of not being able to get Billy back to school on Sunday, I can’t help but want to know more. Is Raquel worried he’s going to get stuck at home and they won’t be able to get him back to school? If so, why? You don’t have to fully tell us this early in the story, but give us some insight into what she’s feeling. I think if you do that, you’ll have a REALLY strong opening. :)

  3. Love the new start! Much better!

    I agree, drop a hint of why Billy need's the car so much, and why its such a big deal to not have it. Why taking the bus wont work.

    I feel like I'm cheating you, but I honestly don't have too many comments, you've made so many nice changes!

    Here's one, "She hardly talks to me in Spanish except for a few words that come out, mostly when she’s excited or nervous." might be better as "She hardly talks to me in Spanish except for the few words that slip out when she’s excited or nervous."

  4. Hi Michelle,

    I love the opening because you've already set up the scene and it pulls the reader right in. Plus, the explanation of the car robbery is short and brings out the character's voice, which is well-written.

    I would suggest that in the paragraph describing Maritza's description that you remove the last sentence since it doesn't pull the story forward in the first chapter. If its not relevant, I would suggest removing details about Maritza's life, leaving the minimum. So, for example, in the paragraph describing Maritza's house, you can describe the bakery and the scent of the food as you get close to the bakery. Evoke the senses with small descriptive details. Another detail would be to remove the 'Hmm, hmm' because you've stated it.

    Overall, your changes are quite good! And you've strengthened your MC's voice quite brilliantly!

  5. Hi Michelle,

    Great job with these revisions! The way you integrate the back story about Billy feels so much more natural now. And by starting later in the action, you can take us that much further in your first five pages. So now we know where the rest of the book is likely headed -- Raquel is going to track down her family's car. This could be a great mystery/action story in the vein of Nancy Drew or Harriet the Spy. That would be awesome, if that's where you're going.

    For the next round, I'd focus on dialing up Raquel as a character a bit. She feels a little flat to me. She's not bad, but maybe a little passive in the early pages. I'd love to see her have a bit more attitude -- maybe something that would plant the seed for the reader that she's the type that would say "forget the police! I'm going to go find that car myself!" (Obviously not those words!) Just a little something to add dimension to her character. As it stands now, she feels very reactive to me. Just responds to her mother and Maritza rather than being an active, strong character. Something to think about....

    But overall, I love where this is heading!!! Can't wait to see the next round!


  6. Michelle,

    Awesome changes to the beginning. The voice here is much stronger! My advice would be to continue working on that--give us a little more of her internal dialogue and it will help make her a more dynamic character. It doesn't need a lot. If you struggle, try writing as much as you want for introspection, and then go back and select the best lines, cutting the rest. I can see definite strides here. It just needs a little push to get it farther.

  7. Hi Everyone,

    Thank you so much for your comments! They're very helpful.