Sunday, February 3, 2019

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Ramos

Lisa Ramos
Middle Grade Contemporary
Title: Becoming Invincible Senorita

Anita Santiago cannot believe she is letting her friend, Carmen Fuentes, convince her to spy on Mami.

“Is she breathing?” Carmen asks Anita.

Anita presses her ear up against her mother’s bedroom door. “I can’t hear anything.” Anita lies on the cold linoleum floor and squints through a crack under the door. “I can’t see her feet. She’s probably just sleeping, Carmen.”

“Your mom’s definitely depressed,” says Carmen. “My father’s cousin got dressed. He was sent away.”

Anita lifts her head up and looks at her friend, “Who says she is depressed? She’s a little different but she definitely is not depressed.”

Lily walks into the room sucking her thumb as she drags her doll by the hair. She pulls out her thumb. “What’s de-plessed?” she asks.

“Says my mom,” Carmen responds ignoring Lily. “Besides, according to Latin Gossip column, she has all the symptoms.” Carmen seems to have all the answers. 

“Like what?” Anita tolerates Carmen’s annoying talk because they both attend Providence Elementary and play on the same softball team, Las Fresitas, on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. 

Carmen elevates her nose in the air and crosses her arms over her chest. “Like sleeping all day, not eating. Anita, your mom doesn’t even comb her hair.”

“Is Mami de-plessed, Nita?” Lily asks. Her black banana curls cover her big brown eyes.

“Yes, your mom is going to be—”

“Stop it, Carmen,” Anita interjects. “You’ll scare her.” Anita boosts herself up and sits on her knees. “Mami is not depressed. She is only sad.”

“Same thing,” Carmen ho-hums

“—and Mami is not going anywhere.” Anita quickly glances at Carmen waiting for a response. She is growing tired of Carmen’s know-it-all answers, especially when it frightens her little sister. Ever since Dad left, Lily is too afraid to sleep in her own room. Now, her room is crowded with dolls, a mess of wooden alphabet blocks and a maple crib.

“Anita, my dad knows about—” Carmen immediately stops when Anita raises an eyebrow. “What’s wrong?”

Anita lifts her index finger up to her lips. “Shish, I hear whispering and music.”

“Is Mami singing?” Lily smiles. She presses her pudgy cheek against the door to listen, just like her big sister.

“Phew, she is playing the Invincible song,” Anita sighs in relief.“So?” retorts Carmen.

“So, Mami says it makes her feel invincible.”

“Oh.” Carmen shrugs uninterested. She flips her black hair over her shoulder and rearranges the pink headband in her hair.
“Mami feels invisible?” Lily’s forehead wrinkles as her head tilts sideways in wonder.
Carmen rolls her eyes. “No silly. In-vin-ci-ble. It means having superhuman powers. Like—like Superwoman.”
“Just leave it alone, Carmen. She’s only three.”
“I’m sure glad I’m an only child,” Carmen sighs.
“It’s not so bad having a sister.” Anita could not imagine her life without having Lily to look after, especially, during the weekends Mami is sick and unavailable. Besides, Lily is potty trained and hardly gives Anita any trouble. Lily even lets Anita pick all the shows on television. 
“Well, I have to go now, it’s almost dinner time. My mother is baking vanilla flan for dessert.” Carmen picks up her knapsack and waves. “See you in class tomorrow.”
“Bye.” Anita looks down. Lily stares up at her with wanting eyes. “You hungry?”

Lily nods.
“Okay, I’ll make you a hotdog.” Anita is relieved her sister wants to eat. If only Mami regained her appetite.
Anita stops in her tracks when she hears the bedroom door squeak. Mami pops her head out the door. A loose roller springs over her eyes like a curl. Anita is relieved to see her mother awake.
Lily runs towards the open door and wraps her arms around her mother’s fluffy red bathrobe. “You not invisible.”
“Hola my sweet Lilita, of course I’m not invisible.” Mami rubs Lily’s back. “Anita, did Fuentes leave?”
Mami calls Carmen by her last name because she says Carmen is the fountain of arguments. 

“Si, Mami,” Anita answers.

“Good. Tell Carmencita I will not be able to attend tomorrow’s domino game. Her mother will have to replace me, again.”

Anita exhales a sigh a relief. She does not feel like visiting the Fuentes family anytime soon, especially tomorrow. She does not want to miss her mystery show.

Mami drops her head and smacks the hanging curls aside. “Dios mio, Lilita, you are still wearing yesterday’s clothes?” I think you are ready for a good bath. You don’t want to smell like a skunk, do you?”

Lily looks up to her mommy and giggles.

“Mami, I’m making Lily a hotdog, want one?”

“No gracias,” she says holding her stomach. “I’m not so hungry lately. Anita, can you—?

“Si, Mami, I will give Lily a bath.” Anita spots a stain on Lily’s dress. It reminds her to load the washing machine before she goes to bed.

“Lilita, go with Anita.”

Lily obeys.

Mami reminds Anita to keep the lights off in the bathroom. “You know we are being watched by la migre. Don't want draw attention to our trailer. Well, I’m tired. Buenas noches, girls. Ah—Anita, this time don’t stay up too late watching television. Okay?” 

“I won’t.” Anita watches her mother return to the foreign world behind closed doors. She wonders, this time, how long before immigration takes her too.

That night, Lily falls fast asleep on the red velvet couch. Anita is not paying attention to the fuzzy television screen. Instead, she tightly onto a wrinkled sheet of paper she has just pulled out of her jeans pocket.

Science Fair:
First Prize: $5,000 
Second Prize: New Bike
Third Prize: A color TV

Her eyes settle on second prize. A new bike would give her freedom to travel around the neighborhood like a bird. Anita has been collecting loose change that falls under the couch to save up for one. She does not want to win first prize because Mami might use the money to pay bills. 

“Always pay bills first, then, and only then we buy other things,” Mami says. But Anita feels like Mami always has bills to pay.

“If only Mami felt better, she could help me come up with a great science project,” she says to Lily. 

Anita looks at Lily, deep in sleep. “I got to win second prize. I just got to,” she sighs.
The clock cuckoos ten times. Anita pulls on her little sister’s shoulder. “Come on, let’s go to bed.” Tomorrow is another day.


  1. Hi Lisa! I'm excited to be working with you in this workshop.

    First, I loved this entry. It reminded me a bit of my childhood, and you do a fantastic job writing children characters to be believable. Things I loved included the dialogue, which flowed well across the excerpt, and the injection of Anita's culture brought me much closer to her and her family. Also, the looming threat of immigration being an issue had me nervous, so great way to add stakes early on. I would certainly be excited to continue reading.

    As far as improvements, there were a few things of note:

    1) Setting: Where are we? I mean, yes, we are in a trailer, it seems. Yet we should know what state, city, or the general area where their home is located. Additionally, you describe places within the home, but not the home itself. Since its the initial scene, I would have liked some more grounding in the location. This can be done with just a short paragraph after you indicate that they were squatting outside of Mami's bedroom.

    2) Character: Lily is easy enough, being that she is three and quickly described. However, you don't describe Carmen and Anita, whom the novel opens with! We know they are children, but how old are they specifically and how do they look like? Give us a few defining characteristics, and the presence of Carmen is a great way to use her as a means of comparing and thus describing their appearance for us.

    3) Friendship: why are Anita and Carmen friends? From this read, Carmen seems insufferable. She has no redeeming qualities, and there doesn't seem to be a reason for the friendship outside of their playing on the same sports team. There's even a thought that Anita has about not wanting to go to Carmen's house. Maybe give Carmen one or two redeeming qualities, or a reason for them spending time together.

    4) Sequence of Events: What threw me off was that Anita had to give Lily a bath as well as make her food, and yet it skips to them sitting on the couch and watching television. This was abrupt when no mention is given of the activities (where they hard, did Anita face any challenges or did something go wrong?). The sequence of these events could be clarified with a sentence or two about them having been completed.

    5) Extraneous edits: You indicate Mami calling Carmen by her last name (loved that detail, by the way) and yet she goes on to call her "Carmencita" right after. Is this intentional? Otherwise, its inconsistent. Also, in the fourth paragraph, "dressed" should be "depressed".

    Great job all in all. Can't way to see your revision!

  2. Hi, Lisa! So glad to have you in the workshop, and to give some feedback on your contemporary MG. I feel like you have all the right elements in these opening pages-- the characters, the situation, an inciting incident in the science fair. I think each of these elements could be given a little more depth to really make them shine, but all the potential is there.

    In terms of character, I'd slow down and let the reader really understand the dynamics of these characters. Instead of packing these first pages with dialogue, we could have some description about who they are, what they look like, etc. And on another note, I felt like there could be more grounding as to where they are in the house. It read like all of this was happening right outside Mami's door, and if that was the case, wouldn't she hear them?

    I think you could also slow down and elaborate on the situation. It is brushed over that the father has left the picture. While I know you want to get to the action and hook the reader in these first pages, it is okay to slow down and give that necessary backstory while still showing instead of telling.

    Another note: I feel that the prizes for the science fair are a little extravagant. I think the bike can say, and it's great that we find out that's what Anita wants, but the other two seem extreme for a science fair.

    I absolutely loved the line "Now, her room is crowded with dolls, a mess of wooden alphabet blocks and a maple crib." I'd love to see more description like this applied to the characters and setting.

    Happy revising, and I'll look forward to reading next week!

    All the best,

  3. Hi Lisa!

    I love the culture in your piece, it adds a bit flavor in the best sort of way. What was interesting to me was the fact that you wrote in present tense. I was wondering if there was a specific reason behind that choice? It would be interesting to see if some of sentences read smoother if the story was told from past tense. Also I love Lily, she contributes wonderful comedic notes to your writing!

    I agree with the sentiments in the above comments, I feel like I need a bit more setting and background to understand where I am at in the story. The concept of Mami being depressed might be something you want to dig into more. How long has it been? Was there a precursory event? You do a lovely job of giving a hint to the impact when Anita offers automatically to give Lily her bath and then also load the washing machine. Maybe go in a bit more on how this is her normal because of what is going on with Mami?

    Additionally, I find myself wanting more explanation as to why Anita is letting Carmen help her spy. Did her friend beg to be included or does she think her friend will be able to provide important perspective? Was this decision a struggle? If so, what went into it?

    I know it’s a little hard to fit everything into just five pages so maybe some of these questions will filter further into the story. Just wanted to give you some ideas to think about.

    Best wishes,

  4. Hi Lisa! I’m Kim. I’m excited to read your work!

    I personally liked the first sentence in your sample. It has a simple hook that keeps me reading. I also like how smooth the dialogue between Anita and Carmen came across. My favorite line: “Mami calls Carmen by her last name because she says Carmen is the fountain of arguments.” Really made me laugh! You did a great job integrating Spanglish into your work. Reading it felt natural; I could hear Mami in my head!

    A couple things I noticed that might help:

    1) The Setting: I know the girls are listening at the door, but I think you could add a little more detail about the residence. Readers are forced to discern where the girls are. “A red velvet couch” tells us they’re in the living room but not much else is described. A couple more details about their surroundings would keep the reader engaged, in my opinion.

    2) Tone: The actions the girls take—I.E: “Says”, “looks”, “sighs”, etc felt to me almost robotic, in that it lacked a personal nuance. They’re going through the process of “doing things”, but emotion and expression of which they do them falls flat. (Ex: Anita looks at Lily, deep in sleep. “I got to win second prize. I just got to,” she sighs.) I couldn’t tell if her sigh is in defeat, or if it’s a determined grumble where she balls her fists. (another Ex: “Your mom’s definitely depressed,” says Carmen. “My father’s cousin got dressed. He was sent away.”) How is she saying that? Bluntly? With a concern whisper? The first few pages are where authors have to establish tone. I’d recommend adding some detail to the dialogue.

    3) Science Fair: I don’t know if there’s a particular reason why the first prize is 5 grand, but if not, I might consider lowering the prize money. Five grand seems way too much for a middle grade science fair. Though, if the five grand were a scholarship, that’d make more sense.

    4) Theme: While I like the fact that you’re tackling two themes in your early pages (depression and immigration), I as a reader am not sure which one is supposed to be more important. My gut says the depression, because we see that more actively. I might reposition the immigration topic to a later part in your work, where the depression is already established and the reader has more room to fully absorb it.

    Really awesome start. I feel emotionally invested in these young ladies. Can’t wait to see where you take them!

  5. Hi Lisa,

    Thanks so much for sharing your work with us! I love how the stakes of the story are right up front - there is no question that Anita has both internal and external conflicts to solve and the reader immediately feels invested in her journey. I also echo the sentiments in previous comments.

    The thing that struck me the most was the voice. It does not read middle grade to me. You've got dialogue tags and phrasing that don't say 8-12 year old. I might encourage you to take a look at some recently published MG books told in 3rd person and study the voice.

    Here's an example:

    "Anita tolerates Carmen’s annoying talk..."

    Middle school kids probably wouldn't say "tolerates." You could swap it with something like "The way Carmen spoke to Anita was annoying, but she let it slide because...." Think about Carmen's inner monologue and what's going on in her head where no one else can hear her.

    Overall, I think this is a great start and I look forward to reading the revisions!

  6. Hi! Oooh Middle Grade family stories are one of my favorites and this has the potential to be a great one.
    1. I wouldn't mind having a little more setting at the very start of the the pages
    2. The characters often call each other by their names, which can slow down the flow of the story.
    3. there was a little too much dialogue for me and not enough intieror thoughts. I'd like to know more about Anita's own thoughts and reactions, rather than rapidfire dialogue.
    4. There is some amazing writing in here, and I giggled at the line "fountain of arguments"
    all in all, a voicey, diverse start to what promises to be a fun read!