Saturday, February 3, 2018

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Walsh

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


I’m not supposed to be here now, waiting for the bus on Ferry Street with Mama. I’m supposed to be with Maritza. It was supposed to be a perfectly normal first day of summer.

But the car thief came and ruined everything.

Of all the cars on our block, why did he have to take ours?

I can’t believe it’s gone, just like that.

Now what are we going to do? We need the car on Sunday for my brother.

“This is it,” Mama says, as the number 25 bus approaches.

We wait for the passengers to get off the bus before boarding. Mama hands our fare to the driver and we take the empty row of two seats up front.

Mama leans into my ear and explains the plan to me again. “You’ll get off the bus first on Wilson Avenue, and I’ll stay on the bus to get to work. Belkis should be there waiting for you on the corner. But in case she’s not, just go down Wilson Avenue and….”

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

Belkis Velasquez is my mom’s best friend who used to be my babysitter. I don’t need her to babysit me anymore, but I still go to her house to hang out with her daughter, Maritza, whose 12 years old like me. 

The bus stops at every corner, letting passengers on and off. Outside the window, I see people coming in and out of the bakeries and shops. I had forgotten how bumpy the bus ride is, with all the stop and go. I miss our car already.

My brother never did well on the bus. He’s older than me by two years, but I’ve always felt like the older sibling. Billy would cause a lot of commotion with the way he’d shake his arms in the air and make sudden loud noises that frightened the passengers around us. Whenever the bus would stop, he’d jump out of his seat ready to go. Mama would have to hold him down, saying, “Not yet, Billy. Not yet.” 

Now Billy’s used to the car, just like I’m used to the car. Whenever we drive on Sundays, we put the radio on for the long ride on the New Jersey Turnpike.

During the week, Billy goes to a special school for autism that’s almost two hours away. Every Friday, a social worker drives Billy back home to us in Newark, and every Sunday, we drive Billy back to the group home that’s near his school. The group home is where he lives with other teenagers and caregivers who watch over them.

Mama lets out a big sigh. She squeezes my hand on my lap.

I bet she’s thinking what I’m thinking: how could the car thief do such a terrible thing to us?

It’s not like we have a fancy car. It’s a basic, two-door Chevy that’s no longer white anymore, but dirty-white from the years we’ve had it. We got the car when Billy first moved away.

I think about what Mama said earlier—first things first. She says that a lot. Whenever there’s a problem, she says to break it down, and take care of the first thing that needs to be taken care of first.

Like Mama calling the police this morning when she discovered our car disappeared.

And now, riding on the bus, so that Mama can get to work.

Whoever this car thief is, we can’t let him get away. Somehow, some way, we have to get our car back.

“Come on, Raquel,” she says. “This is your stop.”

We both get up and hold on to the metal pole, bracing ourselves for the forward lurching of the bus as it comes to a halt.

Through the windows, I look outside for Belkis’ familiar face. But as the doors swing open, I see Maritza waving at me with her big smile.

At that moment, I forget everything and smile back.

Mama pecks me on the cheek. “I’ll call you from work.”

I hurry off the bus and wave at my mom, before the bus pulls away.


“Oh my God, Raquel! 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. I wish we could go to the same school, but we’re a few blocks away from being in the same district.

Maritza’s brown eyes are bright and her long, dark, curly hair glistens under the sun. She’s wearing white shorts and a yellow top, with 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. I treat Maritza with the money in my pocket and we eat as we walk to her house.

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

“Hmmm, hmmm!” 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.”

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

I stop chewing for a moment and hold myself still. I usually don’t like to talk about my brother. Most people don’t know much about autism and whenever I talk about it, they don’t understand.

Only my closest friends know about Billy. Natalie and Estrella from my sixth grade class know, and of course, Maritza. Between the three of them, Maritza is the one who asks about my brother the most.

 “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.

“The social worker is off on the weekends,” 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. Money has always been tight for us, especially now that my dad’s not working again.

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

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

A car turns at the corner of Maritza’s street. 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.


  1. I read through and just made some notes as to what stuck out to me!
    I like the first sentence, but I don’t like using supposed three times in three sentences. Something after that first sentence needs to help hook!
    With the dialogue all throughout, I’d love to see some feeling injected into it. How are they saying things? Is there irritation lacing the voice? Sorrow in her mother’s eyes? Anger? Did her stomach gently rumble?
    When you first introduce the brother, I would introduce his autism then as well. Something like: (He’s older than me by two years, but due to his disability, I’ve always felt like the older sibling.)
    I was confused by the part when she gets off the bus and looks for Belkis’s familiar faces but sees her friend instead... by that time, I couldn’t remember is that was her friends mom or if that was her friends last name. Probably best to leave Belkis’s name out entirely and just do Mrs. Velasquez or Maritza’s mom, unless she’s a main character.
    I think there’s a little too much between the beginning and where she sees the car in Chapter two. I’m guessing this is where the action begins and we should probably get to that part quicker to hook your audience.

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  3. Hi Michelle! First off, I love your voice. I didn’t realize I was reading MG (sorry, for some reason I was thinking it was YA) and then I was like, “Wait, this reads more like MG…” and duh, it is MG! Which is excellent. You’ve definitely nailed the MG voice! :)

    I love how you introduced Billy and his autism and wrap the importance of the car around getting Billy back to school on Sundays. It definitely reads like Raquel is a protective older sister (despite being younger).

    Suggestion: Raquel is only in the sixth grade and I’m assuming the school she goes to has a lot of classmates in the same socio-economic group. So, not sure she would realize money is tight: “I feel my cheeks flush. Money has always been tight for us, especially now that my dad’s not working again.” – instead, maybe Raquel internally knows that they don’t have enough money for a new car, so she can have a thought more akin to “I’m not sure my parents can afford a new car, especially now that my dad’s not working again.”

    Also, she refers to her mom as “Mama.” Does she not refer to her dad similarly? (“my dad’s not working…”) Or is there more of a disconnect between her and her dad and that’s why you have “my dad” instead of, say, “Dad”? Just curious if it was intentional or not. :)

    Also the ending… IS IT THEIR CAR?! :)

  4. Hi there, Michelle!

    I’m a sucker for a story that involves families overcoming struggles and think it’s important to show them through the eyes of a child. I like the MG angle here. Kids always wish they can do more, and this story (I hope!) will offer some potential sleuthing!

    I do like the opening, but I would maybe move it around to give it more impact like:

    “The thief came and ruined everything.
    Of all the cars on our block, why did he have to take ours?

    I can’t believe it’s gone, just like that.

    Now what are we going to do? We need the car on Sunday for my brother.

    “This is it,” Mama says, as the number 25 bus approaches.

    I’m not supposed to be here now, waiting for the bus on Ferry Street with Mama. I’m supposed to be with Maritza. It was supposed to be a perfectly normal first day of summer. We wait for the passengers to get off the bus before boarding. Mama hands our fare to the driver and we take the empty row of two seats up front.”

    Just a suggestion because the lines with the thief caught my eye immediately.

    I like Raquel and Billy’s relationship. She feels older, and at the same time, only shares his existence with a few friends. I think that’s an interesting angle, and I am excited to see how their relationship evolves, especially during these hardships.

    Great cliffhanger at the end of Chapter 2!


  5. Hey Michelle,

    I love the first line because it really sets the tone for the story. But I'd suggest changing out 'It was supposed to be a perfectly normal first day of summer.' since its cliche. The next couple of lines can be put together in one paragraph.

    Those three paragraphs with Billy seem almost like an info-dump. Try to find a better way to show it to readers. In the first chapter, a lot of the sentences can be paired together into paragraphs for a better flow when reading.

    In the second chapter, try to limit the use of exclamation marks. When describing Maritza, you can also add in Raquel's age. I think in between the conversation about Billy, you can add those details about him being autistic instead of dumping it in the first chapter.

    I like the way it ended because it leaves the readers curious. Does he follow the car and lose track of where he is? Overall, the story seems really interesting. I'd love to see more insight into Raquel.


  6. Hi Michelle,

    Thanks so much for sharing your pages!

    I really like your voice! It feels right on for MG. I love the idea your main character's brother is autistic. And I think it's great that you're going to be dealing with the daily struggles your MC's family face.

    I do think there's a bit too much info-dumping going on here, though. Lots of backstory that we probably don't need thrown at us all at once. Pacing the reveal of critical information can let you get on to more character development and plot earlier. Plus, it lets the reader piece together what's happening for themselves rather than be told everything upfront. I think feeling you need to get all that info out so quickly has made you put your characters into a pretty static situation in the first chapter -- they're just riding the bus. Not the most gripping way to start a book!

    Instead, what would happen if you opened with Raquel stepping off the bus into a puddle (or something) and have her lament the loss of the car at that point? Then some of the backstory about her brother can come out in dialogue with Maritza. I think this might hook your MG readers a bit more firmly and can get us into the meat of the plot more quickly. In fact, you could probably have Raquel see the car at the end of chapter one, which would let you end the very first chapter on a cliffhanger and encourage readers to continue on right away.

    I look forward to seeing your next round!

    All best,

  7. Michelle,

    I love that you have an autistic character. I hope he'll play a big role in the book. So many kids have a sibling on the spectrum that this could really help.

    I also like the relationships here. Nicely done!

    Beware of echoes (repeated words) You've got one right in the first paragraph with 3 instances of "supposed" and I noticed more throughout.

    Single sentence paragraphs are great for emphasis. But like many elements of writing, they're the spice not the meat. Use them sparingly or they lose their impact.

    I'd like to get into the plot more quickly. You have a lot that could be shifted farther into the book to get us to the plot faster.

    Having the brother in a residential school threw me a bit. Is this a contemporary story? Maybe that's more common in the US, but just be aware that it might strike some readers as unusual and may require a bit of explanation at some point.

  8. Thank you, everyone, for your comments! This is valuable feedback and I appreciate it!