Monday, July 16, 2012

11 1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Hollinbeck Rev 1

Rosi Hollinbeck
Middle Grade Historical Fiction
The Incredible Journey of Freddy J.

Chapter One

Big News

Freddy’s mother turned her face toward the sun.

“Read one more chapter, Freddy.”

Treasure Island was a favorite of them all. Trudy put the wooden egg into another sock and threaded a thick needle with thin yarn. Emmi brought a bowl of potatoes, sat on the edge of the porch, and began peeling.

Freddy read, but it wasn’t long until Momma’s eyes began to close.

“Momma needs to go in, Freddy,” Emmi said. “Trudy, can you turn down her bed please? My hands are messy.”

Freddy helped Momma up. 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, but she was so fragile; he was afraid she would break or fly away on a puff of wind.

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 still stayed in bed most of the day.

With his chores done and Momma napping, Freddy went out to play. After hitting a home run, Freddy penguin-walked to the base and back, twirling the stickball stick, just like Charlie Chaplin twirling his cane in The Goldrush. The boys guffawed and Rudy fell off the curbstone, 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.

Squat, brick tenement buildings and a rusty overpass carrying busy Chicago traffic stood across from him. Someday he would design beautiful bridges and elegant skyscrapers like those in the Loop. Someday. If he studied hard in school. And he would. No dirty factory work for him.

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.”

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.

Freddy pushed through the heavy door and put his pail on the bar. 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 walked 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 drained the mug without a breath and filled it again. Sitting heavily at the kitchen table, he 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 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 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 more medicine and food. More meat and such. You vant Momma to get better, don’tcha?” Poppa said.

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

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. No one knew what was wrong. Even the doctor didn’t know.

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.

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.


  1. Okay. I LOVE the new scene with Freddy and his mother and sisters. It shows so clearly the dynamic between the four of them. But there are quite a few scene changes here that make it a little jerky--the porch, playing ball, the speakeasy, back home. My advice is to cut the bit playing ball. It's only a paragraph long and doesn't further the plot of the story. Instead, maybe show him having to stop reading because he's got to go meet Poppa. Show his reluctance, not wanting to leave Mama, and his anxiety, that he doesn't want to be late. Show the girls' agreement as they shoo him out and assure him they'll get Mama upstairs. Then you can describe the setting and his architect aspirations (great addition, btw) as he hurries along. I'd also like to see a little more anxiety at the speakeasy; he's interested in the game, but he absolutely does not want to get home late. All of this, I think, will add tension while maintaining a smooth flow.

    Secondly, the scene with Poppa is interrupted a bit by the backstory about Mama, the girls, and even the older brothers. I advise cutting those two paragraphs to keep the pace moving.

    And lastly, the ending has the potential to be so incredibly powerful, but for me, it falls a little flat. I think part of it is due to Freddy's mild emotional response to Poppa's announcement. At first, absolutely, I like that he's not really responding, like it's taking a while to sink in. But it should sink in right there at the end. Show what he's feeling: tears, or a tightening in his belly, or legs that begin to tremble, or a quivering voice. The final paragraph, also needs to be phrased in a way to show his emotion. It sounds angry right now, and I don't imagine he'd be angry just yet. Also, you want the reader to really feel for him, and anger doesn't quite get that done. I think despair would work better in terms of keeping him vulnerable through the chapter's end. Let him make the connection between Poppa's beer and his inability to keep Freddy, but let it sink in with despair, and show it through bodily cues so the reader will feel it, too. Make the ending memorable and powerful by ending it on the lowest note possible.

    Great job so far. Talk to you soon :).

    1. Thanks, Becca. I really need the stickball scene in the first chapter, but after reading all the notes, I think I may have found a way. By the way, I received my copy of The Emotion Thesaures yesterday. I'm looking forward to spending some time looking through it soon. What I've seen looks great!

  2. Hi Rosi! I was excited to see what changes you'd make this week and you certainly didn't disappoint. I enjoyed the emotional connection Freddy and his mother have and the early sense of her fragility. You crafted that in seemlessly!

    Like Becca, I struggle with the baseball portion. I love the image of Freddy walking like a penguin and twirling the stickball stick because we see that childish/playful side of him. That said, I don't want to let my love of the image cloud the fact that I felt like it was too much switching around of scenery. You do a great job of building Freddy as likable/loving through his interactions with the family. I also agree that the last paragraph is almost something you need to allow the reader to work out for themselves. They will see Freddy's father for who he is by virtue of the fact that he's having Freddy go get his beer before throwing him out as a young boy (not to mention the fact that this will cut him off from his mother and sisters and this is heartbreaking!). I had the same thought as Becca above when I read the scene-- the backstory of Mama slowed things down at that spot for me.

    I am so impressed by the addition of the family scene up front and it truly resonated with me much more strongly by the chapter's end. Looking forward to next week. Great work!

    1. Thanks, Marissa. Really helpful comments. I really need the stickball scene in the first chapter, but after reading everyone's comments, I think I may have found a way to make it work. I look forward to more comments next week.

  3. I LOVE what you've done here~ I get a real sense of the family unit and bonding with his sisters (in fact, if you wanted to keep that last line in, you could have one of his sisters angrily point it out to the other sister as Freddy is gathering his stuff to leave the house in the coming pages). I'm back and forth on his first emotions at the drastic news, and I'm inclined to say keep it as it is (I like how you have Freddy's voice drop to a near whisper as he gives suggestions on how he might stay). Depending on Freddy's character, I think anger IS actually one of the first responses in some ages. I remember getting a lot of initial "No fair!" type of responses from my older kids when they were that age, later followed by the realization that they wouldn't be getting what they wanted even by getting mad. That's when the truth and sadness really sunk in. I would totally buy that Freddy would feel angry at the sight of his Dad getting up to refill his beer glass. Followed by loneliness and despair upon leaving the house.

    THAT SAID, I totally see what Becca is saying in her comment about ending on his vulnerability. So...this comment is pretty unhelpful in terms of pointing you toward a revision. I do agree with the others about being able to nix the baseball bit for now, just to help the flow. Overall, I really love the tone of these pages and enjoyed reading them!!

    1. Thanks, Jess. All comments are helpful. I do need the stickball scene in the first chapter, but think I may have found a way to keep it. I look forward to hearing what you think on the next round.

  4. Comments above are right on. I did find myself wondering if the new opening scene with the mother (which I'm glad you added) should have been just a little longer and emotional. Maybe it's as simple as showing us Freddy lying his mother down and what that emotional pull is to have the roles reversed (him in many ways like the parent and her as the child in need).

    I think Freddy should be encouraged by the sisters to go and we see this reluctance on his part to leave his mother. That will further strengthen the bond do when he leaves we feel even sadder.

    I agree with previous edits that this could be a little less jumpy in terms of all the settings Freddy is at within just 5 pages. I think the ending is even stronger if you end it in dialogue (perhaps his father putting a hand on Freddy's shoulder and saying the four words that would change his life forever, "Freddy, you can't stay."). Obviously you don't have to use those exact words but I want us as readers to have this information sink in at the same time Freddy does and given that brief pause to consider all that it means for him.

    This is a very strong piece on the whole and is definitely coming along. Good job.

    1. Really helpful comments, Sarah. I hope I've smoothed things out on the next revision. Thanks.

  5. Thanks, everyone. Good suggestions and good confirmation for me! I think it's getting better and hope you will agree after seeing this week's post. I just figured out how to subscribe to the comments, so I'm hoping I don't need to copy each of you.

  6. Hi Rosi!

    Well you certainly have way with words - I LOVE the imagery your descriptions conjure up:

    "When she laid her hand on his arm, it was as if a dry autumn leaf had landed there"

    This sums up so beautifully how fragile his mother is and I can immediately picture her in my mind. The penguin walking was awesome as well - so many visual gems in this.

    I agree with whats been said above. I would love to see the pace slow down a bit - I want to linger on the porch a little bit more. I want to walk with Freddy to the ball field and be in his worried little head a bit to get to know him and feel what he feels when he is not at play. Show me how his worries wash away when he gets to the ball field and again how the world comes crashing down on him when he hears the bell of the streetcar. You have told me these things but I want you to use those great visual descriptions you are so good at to show me.

    1. Thanks, Shelley. I need to keep all that stuff in the first chapter. It's nice to know it works for some readers! We'll see how folks like the next iteration.


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