Sunday, January 20, 2019

1st 5 pages January Workshop - Bates Rev 2

Name: Lisa Lynn Bates
Genre: Middle Grade: Contemporary
Title: Man of the House

After a tragic accident, Freddie Santiago is left caring for his ill mother in a new town. He finds comfort in texting his deceased father’s old cell number—until he receives a reply from a mysterious person.


When I moved to Georgia, I did not expect to bury a corpse. And certainly not make friends with a girl named Daisy with a last name most appropriate, Guerra. Which stood for the Spanish word “war.” 

The day I met Daisy, I hadn’t been in the new home for more than four hours when I heard a knock on the door.

When I opened the door wide, I found some girl, holding a lopsided flan on a plate. She looked around my age--eleven.


“Hi,” I said, wondering what she wanted.

“Welcome,’ she said, and held out the plate. ‘I made this for you.’

I stared at it.

“Take it,” she said, smiling. “It’s not poison.”

I took the plate and said, “Thanks, I guess.”

“I’m Daisy Guerra. My parents want me to show your mom around the Home.”

She looked over my shoulders, into the dark kitchen. “She home?”

I blocked her view with his body. The last time I checked, my mother’s hair was matted in the back and her clothes were wrinkled. Not the image I wanted my mother’s new employer’s daughter to witness. 

Daisy stepped into the kitchen and walked around. Man, she’s nosy, I thought. “She’s busy unpacking.”

“Oh.” Daisy flipped her long brown hair over her tan shoulders. “What about you?”

I stared at the glittering crystal that hung from her tan earlobes. My mother never wore earrings.

“I’m busy too,” I said, slowly backing her out to the exit, maneuvering the flan as it slid over the plate like Jello. When Daisy reached the opening, I forced his body forward jerking her out to the landing. 

“Hey!” said Daisy, looking disappointed. 

I heard my mother mumble something. “Sorry, but I’ve got to go.” I shut the door, jabbed a corner of the flan with my finger and licked it. It tasted like vanilla caramel. Girl could cook. 

“I’m not leaving till one of you get the tour,” shouted Daisy through the closed door. 

I held my breath then let it out. My lips flapped. Could this girl get any more annoying?

“Fine,” I said, loud enough for her to hear me.

“Great. I’ll wait,” she replied. Sounding complacent.

I put the flan in the refrigerator and checked on my mother first. She had fallen back to sleep, sprawled over a pile of clothes on the bed. On the nightstand, she had left her medication bottle of pink pills open. I decided not to wake her. After the long drive from Rhode Island, carrying luggage in and out of the car, and unpacking her make-up kits, she needed the rest. Tomorrow she’d start her new job at the salon. I grabbed a sheet from a box and snapped a tent over her frail body, where, before the pills and before my father’s accident, there used to be curves and squishy skin.


The tour was short and uninteresting. Daisy showed me into a large room with rows of purple upholstered chairs. Wall to wall carpet the color of beets, my least favorite vegetable. A podium with white phony flowers. A kitchen with a long wooden table and ten chairs. And a dome shaped crystal chandelier that hovered over the main entrance like a giant beehive. It was not the usual salon my mother worked in.

“Now for the great finale,” she said, “Follow me.”

I followed Daisy to a locked door with an Employees Only sign on it. She grabbed a pair of gloves from a box next to the door and handed me a pair.

“Put these on,” she said. “No one’s allowed in here without gloves. You can take the small ones.”

“Whatever,” I said, taking them. The gloves were tight around my wrist and smelled like rubber balloons. 

Daisy flicked a light switch and walked in. “This is your mother’s workspace,” she said.

I didn’t follow Daisy all the way in to the sterile bright, white, room. I scanned it from the entrance. A large furnace hummed loudly in a corner. White tiling covered the walls, two long aluminum sinks, three white trays, white shelving, and a covered cot in the middle of the room.

“What’s under there?” I asked, pointing to the cot.

“Oh that?” Daisy said, “Don’t touch, or you’ll be sorry.” 

“Pff, why not?” She made it sound top-secret. “If my mother’s working here, I should inspect everything, first. Don’t you think?”

She raised her shoulders and stepped aside, “Suit yourself.”

I pulled back the plastic from the cot and jerked back. 

Daisy laughed. “Best part of my job,” she said.

I stared down at the freezer-dried, pale male corpse. I felt my breakfast, a bean burrito, liquify into acid and erupt in my esophagus like a volcano. I couldn’t move my feet. “Wh-what…?” 

“Meet your mom’s first client,” Daisy said, smirking. “Hope your mother is as good as she said on her resume.”

I shook my head, side to side. No-no-no. “Can’t be, can’t be,” I mumbled. I’m pretty sure my mother had no idea her clients were stiffs.


After that last scene, I wanted to run home and hide. But Daisy said my mother’s employer wanted to meet me. 

“I need to get home.”

“It’s only proper,” she said. “If you’re mother is not available, then you should come.”

Daisy had a way with words. Words that made me feel guilty. So I consented to meet the parents. My mother’s employers. Besides, as man of the house, it was my duty to ensure my mother’s safety. 

Daisy lived two houses away, also on Fayetteville Rd. Her house was painted a normal color, beige with black shutters. Unlike the pink cinder block house with lemon yellow shutters my mother rented, which looked like a giant guava.

Pink rose bushes lined up across the front of Daisy’s house. The glass panes trembled like hamsters as Salsa music blasted out the front door. 

I followed her to the back of the house. A large garden took up the backyard. There was a screened in porch where three men sat and played dominoes and drank beer. One of the men drummed his palms on the card table to the beat of the music. 

“Bendicion.” Daisy kissed the cheek of one of the men. 

“Que Dios te bendiga, hija,” 

The man she asked for a blessing wore a white embroidered guayabera. Dad used to wear them too during the hot summers, I thought. “You can tell a man from his shirt,” he’d say. I wondered what dad would have thought of the wrinkled, soiled, t-shirt I wore today.

“This is my dad,” said Daisy. “He’s your mom’s boss.”

I waved. 

Mr. Guerra nodded his head and kept playing.

Stepping into Daisy’s kitchen was like entering another dimension. The smell of fried onions and garlic saturated the air like oxygen. My eyes stung. 

Four women huddled over the stove and counter tops. Little kids ran in and out of the kitchen screaming.

“That’s my mom,” said Daisy.

Daisy pointed to a tan, thin woman with large—err—top, about my height, five inches, wearing an apron over white jeans and flowery tank top. My mother only dressed in black. 

“You arrived just in time,” shouted Mrs. Guerra over the music. “Sit here. Help peel these gandules.”

She placed a bowl of unpeeled pigeon peas between me and Daisy. I stared at the plate, wondering if I heard her right. 

“Go on,” said Mrs. Guerra. “Peel.”

I started peeling, staring at Daisy’s mother. Her eye lids were smeared in silver shadow and black liner. His mother never wore makeup. She just applied it to other ladies.

The other women were dressed in jeans and tight T-shirts, with their hair wrapped in a bun. 

“You’re mom going somewhere?” I asked Daisy.

“Nope. Why you ask?”

I shrugged, peeling a pea. 

Daisy raised an eyebrow. As if she read my mind, she said: “She always looks like that.”
Referring to her mom.


Mrs. Guerra’s long wavy blonde hair bounced as she stirred a pot of soup and danced to salsa. Mom would have made a comment about her dark roots showing. 

Mrs. Guerra looked over her shoulder at me. “Where’s your mom?” I asked, stirring.


“At this time?” 

The top of my head burned. “She’s just tired from all the moving is all,” I replied.

“I hope she’s ready for a hard day at work tomorrow.” 

I worried about my mother’s new work environment. My father used to say that stress made her “condition” worse. I didn’t want my mother to stress. After dad’s funeral, my mother saw a doctor who prescribed medication to help her stress. They seemed to help. Most of the time. Her pills were probably not strong enough for dealing with dead bodies.

One of the T-shirt wearing ladies in a bun asked, “So why did you move to Georgia?”

“Mom needed a change,” I said, keeping my head down, peeling. I wanted to avoid eye contact with the women, maybe it would end the conversation. It didn’t.

“Change? From what,” the lady continued. 

I felt like a suspect under interrogation. 

Another lifted her head from chopping, “What does your mother do?

“Do?” I asked.

“You know. Work?” asked yet another.

“Umm.” I looked at Daisy. She looked more interested in the conversation than peeling peas. “She’s a beautician,” I said, realizing Daisy had no intention of saving me.

“She’ll be working for us,” said Daisy’s mom. “Prepping our clients.”

The women burst out laughing. 

Sweat dribbled down my temples and I realized the inquisition could go on for hours. I was about to get up and leave when Daisy said, “Hey, want to see my room?”

Daisy’s room was organized. Her clothes were neatly folded on her bed, shoes lined up in her closet, and her bed was made. The opposite of my own room. She even lined up her jewelry boxes along her white dresser. Daisy opened a box and pulled out a chain. 

“My dad brought this one from Guatemala. She replaced the chain in its box. During slow season, he buys gold from other countries to sell. She opened another box. 

I made a face. I had no interest in looking at girl’s jewelry.

“These earrings are from Colombia. Maybe your mom can borrow them sometime? My mom uses my jewelry all the time.”

“Nah, she doesn’t wear earrings.”

“Why not?” asked Daisy.

“She just doesn’t,” I said. I didn’t want to tell her that my mother feared an alien would try to inject a chip into her earlobe if it had the chance. Which reminded me…“I have to check in,” I said. “Thanks for the tour.” I rushed out the door after saying a quick good bye before a second round of interrogations. 

Daisy ran behind me, “Wait up.”

I kept walking.

“Hey, maybe we’ll end up in the same homeroom,” she said trying to keep up. “We have an end of the year field trip.”

“Yeah, maybe,” I said, picking up the pace. 

Daisy stopped and shouted behind me, “I’ll walk you to school tomorrow.” 

I waved over my head and rushed into my house. 


  1. Hi, Lisa!

    Great job on revisions! The beginning is still great, and I wasn't confused at all. I Freddie and Daisy, and the little sights into how different their lives are.

    Personally, I would still love to see more Spanish, but the descriptios of what Daisy's house looks like are great, I could picture it clearly and it does give me the sense of cultural richess that comes from growing up in a latin american household.

    I also loved the hints at Freddie's story with his dad, though I believe there's room for more of it. At this point I want to know why I should care about Freddie. I think his mom being present in the first version and seeing him react to his mom's illness added to that, and I kind of miss it from this draft. But overall, I thought it was great! Congratulations!

  2. Hi!

    Pitch: OHHH, is this a ghost story? I love that twist of getting a reply from a number that shouldn’t be “working.” I’d love to know a bit more about the rest of Freddie’s life, something like, as he tries out for the baseball team, he texts his dad’s number for comfort until… But just slip something else in there to ground us in who he is and what is “normal” life is like.

    I like how you condensed the beginning so we get to Freddy and the tour faster, I felt like we didn’t get as much insight into Freddie’s head until *after* he tour when he was in the kitchen with Daisy, maybe give him some more internalization while he’s on the tour that gets us into his head a bit quicker.

    I love the scents, sounds, and sights of the kitchen—I could feel it and it was wonderful.

    Great revision!


  3. Hi Lisa,

    You do a great job grounding us in the setting with the Spanish words and smells in the kitchen. I also like the hints at what his mom would or wouldn't do/say here.

    I feel like I don't know much about Freddie in this version, and the Daisy intro feels less hooky to me than your previous intro with Freddie's mom since I feel like it gave us a view into his "ordinary world" before diving into the new place (giving us a reason to identify with him as he explores the new place.) I think Daisy still fits, but maybe a little later?

    Great job on the rewrites!

  4. Thank you Majo and Nessa,
    Yes, I will work on adding rich cultural experiences and why the reader should care about Freddie.

  5. Katie,
    After reading your comment, I realized the pitch does not give the reader enough to understand the inciting incident. I'll work on it some more.

    Thanks for all your comments, I will work on developing Freddies's character more, in the first chapter, to help the reader care about him. Great feedback.


  6. Your pitch gave me chills. Love it. I would keep reading to find out about who made the call. Your best sentence every was right after Freddie moves the sheet covering the corpse. I did like your last version better. Freddie's story unfolded with evidence about his mother. I also like the circumstances surrounding his father's disappearance. I'm glad that I already feel empathy for Freddie from the previous version, especially in regards to his mother's paranoia. This version is more about Daisy. The hint about aliens finding a way to invade through ear rings is good, but I want more. You have to tell me the story about Freddie's dad. Did he make the call? No seriously, I have to know. Thanks, Jeannie Lambert

    1. Jeannie,
      I will work on those points. I received fantastic feedback. Thank you!

  7. This is Erin posting for Amy:
    Greetings Lisa,

    You’ve made a lot of changes, and I feel less disoriented – the story is starting to feel more laid out in a way the reader can follow. Your pitch made me wonder if this will become a thriller or a ghost story?

    There are places, yet, where you tell us information that would be better coming organically as the story needs it – an example of this is Daisy’s name – hearing Guerra right away is great (and a lot of people already know the word root) but telling us what it stands for, at that moment, before we have any context or relationship built up with Daisy is a distraction. The reader’s experience will be so much richer if we come to see the warrior aspect of Daisy (and make the link with her name) later, when she’s exhibiting that characteristic.

    In some instances the story shifts pronouns between “I” and “he/him” – comb through your text for these – it seems to be solidly first person and the “he/him”s are leftover from a test of third?

    One thing I do with my work is read it out loud to see if I have extraneous language in there I don’t need. The ear is more faithful for flow than the eye. An example – you write:

    “After that last scene, I wanted to run home and hide. But Daisy said my mother’s employer wanted to meet me.”

    “After that last scene” doesn’t sound like the way an 11 year old narrator might speak and pulls this reader from the scene all together. I think reading your work out loud might help you hear how “I wanted to run home and hide, but Daisy said her dad wanted to meet me” is simpler and clear and flows more smoothly while communicating the same information. If you want to add a sentence showing Freddie’s self-talk – equating “her dad” with “Mom’s boss” in his head, go for it, but we already know that and “my mother’s employer” is pretty lofty diction for an 11 year old boy (even one with great responsibility).

    Also, keep close tabs on your images/mixed metaphors/similes – the text reads “The smell of fried onions and garlic saturated the air like oxygen. My eyes stung.” “Like oxygen” throws me here. Oxygen is something we all need and is a relief when we don’t have enough – therefore I read it as a welcome saturation – I was surprised (misled by the simile) to see his eyes stinging. This is easily remedied by simply dropping the “like oxygen” which adds nothing and serves to confuse.

    I am curious about/rooting for Freddie. I can’t yet tell if the mother really doesn’t know she’s accepted a job as a makeup artist in a funeral home or if this is going to be an unreliable narrator – a typical 11 year old who is sure he knows the score, but is interpreting things the way a child will, through the narrow lens of the information at hand (because in the interest of “protection” adults are forever leaving children out of things). Carry on!

  8. For the pitch:
    I love it. We don’t even have to have stakes, because it’s so compelling and we already know the danger that might be lurking there or the hope. It’s brilliant.
    For the pages:
    Some of the language feels a little stilted. Maybe use contractions and let it read a bit smoother. Instead of beginning as if this is backstory, perhaps it would be good just to see us meet Daisy and have him hear her last name and think about it meaning war. Anything that reads like backstory will slow the pacing.
    Overall, I think this is an interesting beginning. We’re certainly getting to know him and his situation, and I think you’ve got a lot of conflict brewing here. It also is very relatable and sympathetic. If you just work on using transitions, making sure the language is clear and smooth, and adding in some smells and sounds, I think it’ll be great!
    Good luck, Lisa!
    Heather Cashman