Sunday, February 18, 2018

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Walsh Rev 2

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


When her parents’ car gets stolen on their block, twelve-year-old Raquel knows that it’s up to her to find it. How else can she help her only brother, Billy, come home on the weekends from his special school for autism? Summer vacation has just begun, and Raquel sets out to search for the stolen car with the help of her friend, Maritza.

Raquel and Maritza have a lot in common: they’re the same age, their moms are from Cuba, and they love to sing. At home, they endure family problems that they barely talk about with one another, but they find joy in singing karaoke together. While each girl is used to dealing with tough situations, they are tested in new ways this summer as they search for the stolen car.

My manuscript can be compared to RULES by Cynthia Lord, which features a twelve-year-old girl who tries to help her autistic brother. In style, my manuscript is similar to LUCKY BROKEN GIRL by Ruth Behar. It can also be compared to RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE by Katie DiCamillo with its focus on the value of friendship when facing family difficulties.



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 the few words that slip out when she’s excited or nervous.  

I groan, clutching onto the metal pole. It’s been years since I’ve 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. It was there last night and now 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 beautiful dark curls practically touch her waist. 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. 

“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.

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

“Um-hum,” I agree, in between mouthfuls. I eat in bite-sized portions, too, breaking off the bread as we walk.

“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?”

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 in school know about my brother. I would talk about Billy more, except that most people have no idea about autism and it’s so hard to explain.

“We used to pick up Billy on Friday nights,” I say. “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 a teenage 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 what it’s like to be an only child during the week and a sister only on the weekends. It’s as if my world were split in two and I’m stuck in the middle, not quite fitting in with the other kids in my class, yet not in sync with my brother, either, even though I wish we were close. 

“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 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.”

I sigh, staring at the street. “That would be like a miracle.”

But what if our Chevy isn’t that far away, after all? What if the car thief hasn’t left Newark? Then, maybe we can still get our car back this week before Billy comes home. The only time my brother skips a weekend is when there’s a snowstorm or bad weather, but other than that, he comes home every Friday and we drive him back every Sunday like clockwork. It’s important for Billy to keep the same routine since change can be so confusing to him. I like sticking to the same schedule, too.

Who is this car thief who knows nothing about my parents, Billy, or me? He can’t get away with this! Our Chevy belongs with us and there has to be some way to get it back. I just have to figure out how.


  1. Hi Michelle!

    I like the comp titles you have in your pitch! You not only name them, but state specifically why they’re applicable.

    I think your first line is good, but I would get rid of the following question. Maybe think about changing:

    “How else can she help her only brother, Billy, come home on the weekends from his special school for autism?”

    To something like:

    “With her family struggling to get by, it’s the only way she can help her older brother, Billy, come home on the weekends from his special school for autism.”

    I feel your middle paragraph could be more focused while delivering more conflict and stakes. What obstacles do the girls run into? How do they plan on finding the car? What tests them, exactly? Do they take on the thief? Do they sneak into the car and get unintentionally kidnapped?


    “Raquel and Maritza have a lot in common: they’re the same age, their moms are from Cuba, and they love to sing. At home, they endure family problems that they barely talk about with one another, but they find joy in singing karaoke together.”

    This reads a bit strangely to me. It also seems like it could be worded to give the plot progression and character growth. Perhaps try something like:

    “Raquel and Maritza have a lot in common: they’re the same age, they love their Cuban culture, and they enjoy singing karaoke together. They even both endure family problems, kept secret from each other until they need to find comfort in their friendship as their search becomes perilous.”

    As for your pages, this revision really adds to your latest one. I still love it, especially when you add details like how Maritza’s family is better off than Raquel’s. That explains her innocent suggestion of just buying another car.

    I like the addition of the reasons why it’s detrimental the car has to come back in time for Billy. I’d just change the second last paragraph a little, edit it to make it tighter and shuffle a few things around, like:

    "But what if our Chevy isn’t that far away, after all? What if the car thief hasn’t left Newark? Then, maybe we can still get our car back before Billy comes home Friday. While he likes his social worker (maybe include a name), it’s important for him to keep the same routine since change can be so confusing to him. And he wouldn’t want to skip a weekend. We wouldn’t, either. The only time that happens is when there’s a snow or thunderstorm.”

    Or something like that.

    Wishing you the best, Michelle! Good luck querying!


  2. Hi Michelle!

    I think you have a great pitch here. :) The one thing I would suggest is to really drive home your stakes at the end of the pitch. For example, does searching for the car test Raquel’s and Maritza’s friendship? If so, give us just a tease as to how. Does searching for the car become dangerous at any point? Again, if so, give us that tease. Finally, I suggest ending your pitch with a good knock-em-off-their feet line, something like “If Raquel can’t track down the stolen car, she might lose more than her weekly visits from her brother—she might also cause more strain on her already struggling family and lose her friend forever.” That’s totally just an idea, not knowing your whole story, but it’ll tell us why we want to read. :) For the most part, though, I love your pitch!

    Your pages are seriously lovely. I love Raquel’s voice. I love how you’ve changed up the introduction to Billy—it flows seamlessly with the story. Well done! You also do a great job of laying out some of the conflict at the end, how it’s important to Billy (and Raquel) to keep a set schedule. How she wants to pick her brother up on Sunday. The money issue with the family. I also like how you’ve teased a little bit at some of the differences between Raquel and Maritza. How Maritza’s family has their own house, not an apartment. How Maritza dresses well and has nice hair. Great work!!

    Wishing you the best of luck!

  3. Hey Michelle,

    You've really brought out Raquel's voice in the pitch and I quite like it. However, in the second paragraph, I'd suggest adding more detail to the "family problems" - gives us all the stakes out front. Be specific in the details, especially with "tested in new ways" - that's almost cliche so its best to add specifics. What's the worst that can happen without the car? Add in the financial problems also. And what are the tough situations and how are they tested? How do they plan on finding out the thief? So far, its almost vague in answering those questions so its best to focus on highlighting all the stakes and issues. I like the comps you've added also!

    I like the new changes you've added and it helps with the overall flow of the story. One suggestion: change the phrasing for "hold myself still" maybe into "froze." The highlighting of the stakes at the end with the family financial state, Billy's schedule and the social worker's unavailability - all of it is nicely organized. Raquel's voice is also very evident throughout the pages and its amazing work!

  4. Hi Michelle,

    You have a great pitch so far. It feels appropriate for the audience and really drives home the friendship and family aspect of the novel. I do have to wonder -- why is it Raquel's responsibility (not her parents'?) to find a stolen car? Is there something the adults aren't doing that she finds unsatisfactory and must do it herself? I understand her drive and motivation just fine, and the rest of the pitch is great -- it's just an odd thing that the child feels that responsibility on them. Give another line or two of an explanation so the reader believes it as well. I expect some obstacles may happen with her family and with her friendship, but the pitch doesn't necessarily touch upon that. Will that happen? What are the stakes?

    The first 5 pages are great. You nail the MG voice very well, and I love the interaction between the two friends. The juxtaposition of their backgrounds is nice as well.

    From the writing I can see why Raquel would want to go on this mystery quest to find the car thief, but I'm still not understanding why she has this sense of obligation and responsibility to do it herself. I'd continue reading on to more pages to see if it's answered (why aren't police involved, what are her parents doing/not doing to find the car, is there a sense of acceptance of the car being stolen, etc?), but I must admit this would eat away at me if it's not addressed early on. There needs to be a sense of justifiable urgency instead of whimsy, and right now it feels more like a whimsical notion for a quest.


  5. Michelle,

    The pitch really helps me get a handle on your story. I have a much better idea where you're going after reading this. The comp titles are a nice touch! The things I'm missing are motivation & stakes. Why is finding the car important (I know this from the pages, but it's missing in the pitch) and what happens if they fail. If you can find a way of putting this in, it'll strengthen an already great pitch.

  6. Pitch:
    How else can she help her only brother, Billy, come home on the weekends from his special school for autism? Could be reworded: How else can she help her autistic brother, Billy, come home on the weekends from his special school?
    Just as Kelly suggested, make sure those stakes are clear in the pitch!
    Tested in new ways is vague... explain it!
    Maybe less backstory about the girls and more of what they will have to face?

    I love how you took the suggestions and made changes to make these 5 pages stronger. You've really cleaned it up from the first edition!

    The only part that catches my attention as being a little dragging is that second to last paragraph, I feel like there might be a little too much telling in it. Perhaps some of these details can get woven in later?

    Gosh, not much else! Good job!

    Best of luck!