Monday, July 9, 2012

16 1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Hollinbeck

Rosi Hollinbeck
Middle Grade Historical Fiction

The Incredible Journey of Freddy J.

Chapter One
Big News


Freddy penguin-walked and twirled the stickball stick, just like Charlie Chaplin twirling his cane in The Goldrush. The boys guffawed and Rudy fell off the stoop, he laughed so hard. Freddy grinned.

In the distance, Freddy heard the streetcar bell and his grin disappeared. “Rudy, meet me by the car barn after supper, will ya?” he called. He ran to his front porch and grabbed the tin pail. The buttons on his knickers were loose, and the heavy cuffs flapped against his shins. He might only be ten, but Poppa wouldn’t like it if Freddy looked like a bum. The car was still a block away. Dropping the pail, he buttoned his knickers below his knees.

Poppa stepped from the streetcar and handed Freddy a quarter. “No vasting time. Ve got some tings to talk about. Come straight home from de Schenke.” They didn’t speak German much since the Great War, but when Poppa spoke, his thick, guttural accent turned “w’s” into a “v’s” and the soft “th” sounds into hard “d’s” or “t’s.”

Poppa turned and walked away.

“Well, that don’t sound like good news,” Freddy muttered as he walked to the speakeasy behind the grocery store. Prohibition had sent all the bars into back allies.

Freddy hurried. He had seen the back of Poppa’s hand enough times to know not to make him wait.

Pushing his way to the bar, he put his pail on it. He could barely see over the tall counter, but Otto knew who he was and what he wanted. And he knew better than to give Freddy a pail of foam.

“How you doin’, kid?” Otto smiled down at him. “Got a quarter today?”

Freddy slapped the quarter down and watched Otto fill the pail and scrape foam off with a knife before setting the lid on. The Cubs game blared from the radio behind the bar. Grover Cleveland Alexander was pitching against the Boston Braves, and the Cubs weren’t doing too well.

“Stupid Cubs! When’s the last time they had a real team?” some guy at the bar growled.

Someone answered, “Got Alexander and Lefty Tyler in 1918 and dat was sposta do it. It’s been eight years and nothin’!” He slammed his mug on the bar and pointed to it, letting Otto know he wanted another.

“Hey!” Freddy said. “Alexander’s a great pitcher. If anyone can help the Cubbies pull this out, it’s him.” Freddy didn’t like hearing guys talk bad about the Cubs. He loved them and would like to hang around to listen to the game but didn’t dare.

Otto pushed the pail across, shook his head slightly, and said, “Don’t you know bein’ a Cubs fan is gonna break your heart, kid?” All the men laughed.

Freddy took the pail, walking as quickly as he could without sloshing. It was only two blocks to home, but the heavy wire handle cut into his hands. His arms ached by the time he set the pail on the sink-board. He pumped cool water to help work the kinks from his fingers.

When he turned around, Poppa loomed over him. Poppa had changed out of his dirty work clothes and was ready for his beer. He lifted the lid on the pail and nodded with a satisfied look. “No vasteful foam. Das ist gut. And you didn’t spill none. Ya. Sehr gut.”

Good he got it right. Sometimes it seemed he couldn’t do anything to please Poppa.

Poppa took a heavy glass mug from the cupboard and dipped it into the beer. He drank the mugful without a breath and filled it again. He sat heavily at the kitchen table and kicked another chair out from under it.

“Come. Ve talk.” He nodded toward the chair.

A whisper of feet shuffled behind the partly-closed door to the hallway. His older sisters, Emmi and Gertrud, peeked between door and frame. Emmi crouched down so Trudy could see over her, and Emmi wiggled her forefinger at Freddy as if waving hello. Freddy crossed his eyes and made a face. Emmi covered her mouth, but Trudy shook her head.

Freddy sat. His feet didn’t quite reach the floor, and he swung them without thinking.

Poppa drank off another half glass of beer and wiped flecks of foam from his bushy mustache. His sharp blue eyes drilled through Freddy and pinned him there.

“Momma been getting sicker and sicker. Doctor says she needs better medicine and food. More meat and such. You vant Momma to get vell, don’tcha?” Poppa said.

“Of course, Poppa. We all want Momma to get well.”

Freddy searched his memory, trying to figure out when she had first gotten sick. It was a few days before Christmas. Now in August, she was still staying in bed.

Trudy had stayed home from school since third grade to help around the house. Poppa said girls didn’t need to go to school, so when Momma got sick, Emmi stayed home too. Even though Trudy was only fourteen and Emmi twelve, they took care of all Momma’s needs, cooking for her and dressing her, gently bathing her and helping her turn so she wouldn’t get sores. Trudy whizzed around with brooms and rags, keeping everything shining. When Freddy smelled delicious aromas, he knew Emmi was in the kitchen, working her magic with vegetables from the garden the three of them kept in the back yard.

But they all worried – his sisters and even his grown brothers, Walter and Karl, who came by at least two or three times a week after work.

Freddy helped Momma walk to the back porch each afternoon to sit in the sun for a little. He was almost as tall as she was, and he thought he probably weighed more. He surely was stronger. When she laid her hand on his arm, it was as if a dry autumn leaf had landed there. Sometimes he thought he should carry her out, but she was so fragile; he was afraid she would break or fly away on a puff of wind.

Poppa picked up the salt shaker and sprinkled some in his beer. “Dey are cutting back hours at da factory. Dey only gonna pay us to vork ten hours each day and only half a day on Saturdays.” He stared at the table top, then picked up the glass and drained it again. “You’re gonna need to go, Freddy. Ve can’t afford to keep you.”

Freddy heard a quiet sob from behind the door. When he looked, Trudy was gone, but Emmi remained, her eyes wide and full. Freddy swallowed hard.

 “What do you mean go, Poppa? Go where?” Freddy tried to look into his Poppa’s eyes, but Poppa wouldn’t look at him. Poppa took his jackknife out, opened the little blade, and started to clean the black from under his cracked, blunt fingernails.

Poppa wouldn’t look up. “Ve don’t got enough. You’re a man now. You need to go.”

“Poppa,” Freddy said, almost a whisper, “Please, Poppa. I don’t know where to go. I can find milk bottles and turn ‘em in. Or carry shopping for rich ladies. I have to get your beer every day. The girls can’t do that. Maybe Otto down at the bar will lemme sweep and mop. I won’t eat much. I can —”

“Stop!” Poppa thundered, his fist hitting the table hard. The salt shaker fell over, spilling on the table top. Freddy stared. That was bad luck. He should throw some over his shoulder, but he couldn’t move.

Poppa stood and walked to the sink-board to fill his glass.

Freddy stared at the pail. It had cost a quarter. A QUARTER! And Poppa had one every day. But he couldn’t afford to keep his son.

16 comments:

  1. Hi, Rosi. First off, I really like the idea of a story set in Prohibition; that’s definitely an under-represented time period in MG. And poor Freddy’s in such a horrible situation. I know that things like this did happen occasionally during this time, so it rings true, and I feel for him. His little legs swinging in the chair sent me over the edge--the perfect detail. Great job evoking reader emotion here.

    There are just a couple of pacing issues I’d like to address. First of all, there’s quite a bit of telling, which is one of the things agents and editors (and many readers) just won’t tolerate. My advice is to excise every bit of unnecessary telling from this very important first chapter. Go through and highlight every place that’s telling (if you need help identifying these spots, send me a message [becca.puglisi@yahoo.com] and I’ll help). I notice that you actually tend to show pretty well what’s going on, but then you tack on a telling statement at the end. Like this:

    Poppa stepped from the streetcar and handed Freddy a quarter. “No vasting time. Ve got some tings to talk about. Come straight home from de Schenke.” They didn’t speak German much since the Great War, but when Poppa spoke, his thick, guttural accent turned “w’s” into a “v’s” and the soft “th” sounds into hard “d’s” or “t’s.”

    You clearly show Papa’s enunciations through his speech, so there’s no need to explain it. When you do have telling, see if you’ve already shown it. If so, cut the telling part. If you haven’t shown it, rewrite it. And if it’s not something that’s necessary for the reader to know right now, look for somewhere else in the story to show it so you can keep the pace moving in this first chapter.

    Secondly, I’d like to see Momma’s illness come up earlier. It’s pivotal to the story, yet we don’t hear anything about it until Papa is kicking Freddy out. At that point, there’s a paragraph of backstory to explain what’s happening; that paragraph slows the pace. Now, Freddy’s a boy; he’s not going to wander around town mooning about his sick Mom, especially if she’s been sick for awhile. But if someone were to ask him how she was doing, that would remind him, and he could answer, and have a little internal dialogue to show what’s going on with her and how he feels about it. Then, when he gets home, I’d like to see Freddy interact with his Mom. Something quick--maybe have him take her outside to sit in the sun, like he says he often does. A tender moment like this will show how sick she is and how important she is to Freddy. It will make his having to leave even more heart-wrenching.

    That’s all I’ve got for now. Great job. Thanks for letting me read!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow! So many wonderful comments and suggestions. Thank you. I see I have a lot of work to do and much to think about. I'm going to send this as a reply to each of you so you will know some things about this story. It is based on my father's childhood. When he was 10 (1926) his father sent him out on his own. He never told us why, but he did tell us some stories of his journey from Chicago to California. That was the seed for my tale. The accent issue always is a discussion. I think it's right to take out the exposition, but I was told by an editor to leave the accent in. It's only one editor, but... The mother relationship is developed in the next couple of chapters, but perhaps I can move it forward. I'm going to try. Thanks for all your advice and kind words.

      Delete
  2. Rosi, I just finished reading THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA and I saw a lot of parallels with your story because you've done SUCH a good job building Freddy's character and his father's. I thought your scene in the bar was great. The dialogue felt real and you really grounded the reader in the times.

    One thing I might suggest is going to sort of flip-flop on what Becca said above. I felt like the dialogue with the father was cumbersome due to including an accent. In the book I mentioned above, the family in the story is from Finland and though the dad's dialogue is broken at times, there's no accent applied. It doesn't take away from the sense that the parents are immigrants at all. For a MG audience, I think this may be an issue to consider. You can mention the accent via telling, but not allow it to overtake a young reader. I also agree with Becca on cutting down a teeny bit of backstory/telling. I'd like to hear about Freddy and Momma as opposed to the sisters and Momma if you have to make cuts.

    Very cool ideas going on here. I'm already vested in Freddy and want to know what happens!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow! So many wonderful comments and suggestions. Thank you. I see I have a lot of work to do and much to think about. I'm going to send this as a reply to each of you so you will know some things about this story. It is based on my father's childhood. When he was 10 (1926) his father sent him out on his own. He never told us why, but he did tell us some stories of his journey from Chicago to California. That was the seed for my tale. The accent issue always is a discussion. I think it's right to take out the exposition, but I was told by an editor to leave the accent in. It's only one editor, but... The mother relationship is developed in the next couple of chapters, but perhaps I can move it forward. I'm going to try. Thanks for all your advice and kind words.

      Delete
  3. Great and heartbreaking last line! I love reading about this time period, and your natural way of including the manner of dress was charming. I really like Becca's suggestions, from toning down the telling in some cases (like the accent part) to the interaction with Freddy's mother~ which might be coming in the next few pages for all we know.

    Again, you've captured a time period's struggles in very few pages, and you've endeared me to Freddy. Great job~ looking forward to reading this again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow! So many wonderful comments and suggestions. Thank you. I see I have a lot of work to do and much to think about. I'm going to send this as a reply to each of you so you will know some things about this story. It is based on my father's childhood. When he was 10 (1926) his father sent him out on his own. He never told us why, but he did tell us some stories of his journey from Chicago to California. That was the seed for my tale. The accent issue always is a discussion. I think it's right to take out the exposition, but I was told by an editor to leave the accent in. It's only one editor, but... The mother relationship is developed in the next couple of chapters, but perhaps I can move it forward. I'm going to try. Thanks for all your advice and kind words.

      Delete
  4. I like that in the first five pages you show up front what the main issue is that Freddy will have to overcome. I like that the setting is unique. There aren't a lot of books out there about the 20's in MG. And I really like little Freddy!

    I have to disagree with a comment above (sorry) about the dialogue. It brings another layer of authentication to Poppa. What a hard time to be a German in America. His accent makes him seem tougher. And I don't think we should talk down to kids by dumbing down an accent or removing it completely. Let it ring true!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow! So many wonderful comments and suggestions. Thank you. I see I have a lot of work to do and much to think about. I'm going to send this as a reply to each of you so you will know some things about this story. It is based on my father's childhood. When he was 10 (1926) his father sent him out on his own. He never told us why, but he did tell us some stories of his journey from Chicago to California. That was the seed for my tale. The accent issue always is a discussion. I think it's right to take out the exposition, but I was told by an editor to leave the accent in. It's only one editor, but... The mother relationship is developed in the next couple of chapters, but perhaps I can move it forward. I'm going to try. Thanks for all your advice and kind words.

      Delete
  5. Just to comment on Anne Marie's comment, I wanted to clarify~ I don't think you need to remove the accent in the dialogue--just the part where you explain the accent ("when Poppa spoke, his thick, guttural accent turned “w’s” into a “v’s” and the soft “th” sounds into hard “d’s” or “t’s.”").

    ReplyDelete
  6. I love this. I totally agree that not only do we not really see this time period represented in MG but, really, there isn't much historical fiction in MG either. This is becoming a more and more popular genre in YA so I think you're onto something.

    I could totally envision everything going on and the character interactions. The one area that didn't seem to mesh was Freddy's belief that his father wouldn't want him to look like a bum and then we find out that the father is kicking Freddy out and he's about to become just that. I also wondered if it's important for Freddy to go to school more so than the girls and he's the only one that can get beer, then why not kick out or try to marry off a sister? I also found myself wondering a bit more about his mother's illness. Perhaps you could hint at what she's sick with a little more to explain why she's been in bed so long.

    Otherwise I really am excited about where this is going and would definitely read on. Great job.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow! So many wonderful comments and suggestions. Thank you. I see I have a lot of work to do and much to think about. I'm going to send this as a reply to each of you so you will know some things about this story. It is based on my father's childhood. When he was 10 (1926) his father sent him out on his own. He never told us why, but he did tell us some stories of his journey from Chicago to California. That was the seed for my tale. The accent issue always is a discussion. I think it's right to take out the exposition, but I was told by an editor to leave the accent in. It's only one editor, but... The mother relationship is developed in the next couple of chapters, but perhaps I can move it forward. I'm going to try. Thanks for all your advice and kind words.

      Delete
  7. Hi Rosi -

    Yay - another male MC and historical fiction no less! I love that he goes to get his dad's beer, it really shows us quickly that this is not the world we live in now. I too like the accent the father speaks in and agree it does not need an explanation. The accent of the father gives a great sense that the relationship between Toby and his father could be volatile having literally gown up in two different worlds.

    One thing I didn't see addressed was world building. I would love to get a sense of the scenery in this time period. When you mention his pant cuffs and buttons I can't quite picture it and I'm a child of the 60's so I am curious how a young adult reading this would picture the pants. It's rich details like that that bring a story to life for me. Your descriptions don't have to be long - just snippets of how the people in the story dress and what their surroundings look like.

    Thank you for sharing!

    shell

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow! So many wonderful comments and suggestions. Thank you. I see I have a lot of work to do and much to think about. I'm going to send this as a reply to each of you so you will know some things about this story. It is based on my father's childhood. When he was 10 (1926) his father sent him out on his own. He never told us why, but he did tell us some stories of his journey from Chicago to California. That was the seed for my tale. The accent issue always is a discussion. I think it's right to take out the exposition, but I was told by an editor to leave the accent in. It's only one editor, but... The mother relationship is developed in the next couple of chapters, but perhaps I can move it forward. I'm going to try. Thanks for all your advice and kind words.

      Delete
  8. Hi Rosi:

    I love the idea of a middle grade set in the twenties, and you’re doing a great job so far anchoring us in the times with a few well-placed references (Chaplin, speakeasies, the war). The family’s economic situation feels authentic, and you slipped in some great details about their life. The last line was so heartbreaking! I’m eager to read on to see how Freddy deals with his new circumstances—he seems like a resourceful and strong character.

    Overall, I really think you’re on the right track. I have just a few suggestions for your consideration:

    INTRODUCE MOM EARILER

    Since her illness is the reason Dad gives for having to send Freddy away, I’d love to get a glimpse of Mom and Freddy’s relationship with her right off the bat. You chose some nice details when you summarized Mom’s illness and the sisters’ chores, but that was all telling instead of showing. Because the illness is such an important situation for Freddy’s inciting incident, I think it will resonate much more strongly if we can see it in scene. For example, rather than meeting Freddy’s friends in the first paragraph, who don’t seem important to this opening scene, I’d much rather meet Mom, see Freddy helping her onto the porch, and then being sent for Dad’s beer. I would also love a stronger hint about whether Mom knows about this news – that Dad’s hours are being cut back and that he’s kicking Freddy out. I’m assuming she doesn’t, but I thought Freddy might wonder about it (although, that could happen after page 5. Just something to think about).

    HOLD BACK ON THE ACCENT

    I love the father’s accent – it lends a lot of authenticity to the characters and the time. But dialect is extremely difficult and slow to read because of the way our brains look for patterns in words – when the letters aren’t immediately recognizable as a word, we have to stop and process it differently. With dialect, less is usually more. The father’s accent itself is great, but to get it across more clearly to the readers, try to pick just a few key phrases to accent (and drop in an occasional German word like you’re doing already), and let our imaginations fill in the rest. We’ll still “hear” his accent on the non-accented words.

    WATCH FOR AS/ING CONSTRUCTION

    This is a minor issue but I’ll mention it here so you can watch for it going forward. Try to avoid or limit as and –ing construction that hides action in a dependent clause.

    Example:
    Pushing his way to the bar, he put his pail on it.
    Freddy took the pail, walking as quickly as he could without sloshing.

    These examples, while unambiguous and grammatically correct, remove the reader from the primary actions and diminish their importance and impact. These constructions can also lead to physical impossibilities. E.g., Freddy didn’t actually put his pail on the bar at the same time that he pushed his way to the bar. First he pushed his way to the bar. Then he put the pail on it.

    In some instances, when used sparingly, as and –ing construction can be effective:

    Freddy searched his memory, trying to figure out when she had first gotten sick.

    But overall, try to find a stronger way to show the action.

    When you reach the revision stage, one resource you might want to check out is SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Browne and Dave King. I always use that book when I’m ready for a final polish to catch things like the as/ing stuff and dialogue issues.

    Thanks again for sharing your work. I hope things turn out okay for Freddy – I’m rooting for him! ☺

    -Sarah Ockler

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow! So many wonderful comments and suggestions. Thank you. I see I have a lot of work to do and much to think about. I'm going to send this as a reply to each of you so you will know some things about this story. It is based on my father's childhood. When he was 10 (1926) his father sent him out on his own. He never told us why, but he did tell us some stories of his journey from Chicago to California. That was the seed for my tale. The accent issue always is a discussion. I think it's right to take out the exposition, but I was told by an editor to leave the accent in. It's only one editor, but... The mother relationship is developed in the next couple of chapters, but perhaps I can move it forward. I'm going to try. Thanks for all your advice and kind words.

      Delete
  9. OMG, now I'm even more intrigued! Can't wait to read the revision, Rosi.

    ReplyDelete

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