Tuesday, July 24, 2012

18 1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Hollinbeck - Rev 2

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 grey 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.

He helped her lay back against the pillows, then lifted her feet onto the bed. “You rest now, Momma. Maybe Walter or Karl will stop by today,” he said. Their grown brothers usually visited after work once or twice each week. Everyone was so worried about Momma. Freddy laid a soft afghan over her, tucking it around her feet.

Voices floated through the window.

“Hey, Freddy!”

“Shhhhh, Rudy. Our mother is resting.” Emmi scolded.


Freddy reached across Momma and smoothed the afghan.

“Freddy, you go,” Trudy whispered. “Play with your friends. It’s a little while before Poppa comes.”

“You sure?”

“Ya. Ya. I sit with Momma. You go.”

Freddy lowered the shade on the west-facing window before slipping out the door. Rudy waited by the alley gate.

“C’mon. The guys are waitin’ on the corner. We got us a stickball game.”

They played hard for awhile. The hot afternoon sun made the street shimmer. After hitting a ball over the cemetery wall for a home run, Freddy penguin-walked to the base and back, twirling the 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 the 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.

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 settling the lid. 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.”

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. His eyes stung and a growing lump in his throat burned. It had cost a quarter. A QUARTER! And Poppa had one every day. But he couldn’t afford to keep his son.


  1. Excellent revisions, Rosi! I think you really manage to build emotion in the first portion so that you see how much Freddy loves his mother and how tenderly he takes care of her.

    I have mixed feelings with respect to the stickball scene. You know I'm a champion of the imagery and I thought you did a GREAT job softening the transition. SOOO much smoother and not at all shifty. But I'm wondering if it really helps your overall plot. Just something to ponder. Truly great job creating empathy. Looking forward to next time!

    1. Thanks, Marissa. I'm glad the transition seems to work. I really need the scene to set up for things later in the book, but I'll look at trying to trim it. I appreciate your comments.

    2. I saw your comment below earlier today and totally would keep it in then. It's smaller than before and you really softened the transiton. :)

    3. Oh, thanks, Marissa. I am going to leave it in. I'm glad the transition is better.

  2. Love love love this ending. I also liked seeing a little more of the family. My comments are fairly minor. I think you can say Freddy played stickball without the scene because it disrupts the flow a little.

    I also found myself wondering whether MG readers will know what the sister is doing with the wooden egg with the sock. I don't know what the father is saying with "sehr gut" so that removed me from the story otherwise I loved your added descriptions in this version!

    1. Thanks, Sarah. I am adding a line to sort of explain the wooden egg and will be interested to know if it is enough. The "sehr gut" I thought was explained by the next line, but maybe it isn't enough. Hmmmm. I will think about that. I just don't know what to do about the stickball scene. I really need it there to set up some things in later chapters. Maybe I can trim it a bit, but I doubt it. Thanks for your comments.

  3. Excellent revision! The ending is much more gripping now. I love what you've done with Freddy and his mother; that part really builds our empathy for him, particularly when we see what's happening to him at the end. And overall, you've done a good job smoothing the transitions so it's more fluid. Bravo!

    Moving forward, I agree with Marissa and Sarah about the stickball scene. We historical fiction writers tend to fall in love with certain details from our time period; I don't know if this is what's happening here, but that scene does drag the pace a bit and it doesn't seem to add to the plot line, so I would second cutting that part. Secondly, I'm wondering now what age Freddy is. I was thinking ten/eleven, but when Popps says he's a man now, I'm wondering if he's a little older. If ten is the right age, then you're spot on. But if he's older (or younger), you might want to slip his age in there so the reader is clear.

    Overall, such great improvement here. Way to go, Rosi!

    1. Thanks, Becca. I did slip Freddy's age in near the beginning, where it says he might only be ten, but Poppa wouldn't want him to look like a bum. Do you think I need to slip it in again somewhere to emphasize his age? As for the stickball scene (sigh), I really do need it as it leads to some things in Chapter 3 and it also builds in something an editor at a conference who read this suggested needed to be built in. So, my question is, is it so much of a drag that it can't stay? I appreciate your good advice.

  4. This is going to throw you for a loop, but I actually liked it when you opened with the stickball scene, transitioned to get beer and went home. I think you can say the mom is sick and then elaborate on that in the coming pages (when he says goodbye). I kind of like the idea of him having fun with stickball, moving into the responsibility of getting beer, and then BAM, getting hit with the news that he's kicked out.

    I LOVE the mom scene and know that we guided you to expand it, but I'm hearing that you really want to keep that stickball scene. If that's absolutely going to be the case, I think it should be at the beginning, not the middle. And then I think you can do the mom stuff later. Maybe he can kiss her on the cheek and she can give him a weak smile from the couch when he comes home, but I would say go with stickball, beer, Dad confrontation. 3 things in that five pages, and no more.

    Sorry if this is confusing! I'm just trying to think of a way to make it work with the stickball scene (which isn't a drag at all--it's just that when you put it in the middle, it comes across as random and fleeting).

    LOVE Freddy!! This has been a joy to read :)

  5. Well, I'm glad you like Freddy and are enjoying reading this, but yes, you really did throw me for a loop. Auggghhh! Now I don't know what to do. Thinking here. I really felt like this was working. (sigh)

    1. No, no, no, I DO like what you have here!! I really do! I'm just hearing that everyone else is saying to cut the stickball scene and you really don't want to do that...I was trying to come up with a solution. Just ignore my comment!! Seriously!

    2. PS~ that's my comment above- Blogger put me as Jessica, not Jess, but that's me :)

    3. Thanks, Jess. I really need the scene, so will keep it in. I'm glad you like what's here.

  6. Rosi -

    I LOVE the ending - so gripping. Poor Freddy!

    I'm on the fence about the stickball scene. I liked it when it was longer - the juxtaposition between Freddy playing with his friends and Freddy dealing with his father illustrated his struggles nicely. Cut shorter as it is here doesn't do anything to drive the story forward or tell me anything more about Freddy.

    Don't get too stressed out about the stickball scene right now just keep writing/editing the rest of the piece. Sometimes we need distance from work for these issues to work themselves out. You have some good stuff here and I promise you the stickball scene issue will get resolved when you least expect it (for me its generally when I am driving down the freeway in the fast lane - can't tell you how many exits I've missed...)


  7. Thanks, Shelley. That's good advice. I'm going to put this away for awhile. I'm off to a writer's retreat on Aug. 9 and am going to work on something else until after that.

  8. This is a good opening chapter. I would change the last line, though, "couldn't afford to keep his son", because it sounds like an older point of view instead of ten-year-old Freddie's p.o.v. Maybe Freddie could think the last part of that. "But he can't afford to keep me," Freddie thought. And then give us a brushstroke about his feelings to keep us in his head.

    Also, in the stickball game, I'd change the order in one line about Rudy: Where you have "nearly fell off the fence, he laughed so hard," I'd suggest "laughed so hard he nearly fell off the fence."

    I agree with Jessica that the stickball scene could be longer, because it's probably the last scene where Freddie gets to be a little boy, and the reader gets to see how he clowns around and is popular with his friends, before all of that has to change.

    The information about his mother could be introduced in the kitchen scene when his father asks him if he wants his mother to get well. (It really only calls for a few brushstrokes about how frail she is and when she got sick, since his relationship with her gets highlighted a little more later when he's leaving.)

    A good chapter, though.


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