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On to First Page Friday!
by Bob Muench
I’d been floating in that stinking life pod for weeks. Trapped, bored, going crazy until I saw it. How long was it flashing before that? I don’t know, but there it was. And I was glued to it. There shouldn’t have been able to see a pulsar here.
My escape pod allowed only a small course change but I wanted to see it. I hated what father did to me. It stopped me from rescuing them. My mind floated back.
“But Papi, I’m accurate at 160 KPH,” I said. “I’m the best in the league, and Coach Murillo says that when I graduate I might make the nationals. It’s my life, and I want to play!”
“No Ridley,” he snapped. “I have decided. I know that you throw well, but you will work with me during the summer. You’ll start in the business, and some day it will be yours. Construction is good work, honest work. You’re done with high school in two years and nearly a man. It’s time to act like one. Begin taking some responsibility for your future. It’s decided.”
“But I don’t want to work in labor. I want to play béisbol. I’m good.”
“No more silly games. Play during the school year, but in the summer you work. Come. We’re late for dinner.”
“No!” he shouted. “I’ve heard enou—”
Sirens cut him off, and the floor shuddered beneath our feet. Speakers blared overhead, “Explosion in Engineering. Explosive decompression in sections twenty seven and twenty nine, decks five and six. All passengers report to Emergency Stations.”
“Rápido, vamos!” He grabbed my wrist, and ran.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
The strength of this piece is its central conflict. You can’t go wrong with a classic—i.e., a teenager whose ambitions are at odds with his parents’ plans for him. There are countless possible variations of the father-son struggle.
This page, however, needs some work. I found the story difficult to follow. First Ridley is floating in his life pod, then he sees the pulsar, then he laments not being able to save “them” (we’re not told who “they” are), and then his mind floats back to the conversation at hand with his father. Mid-conversation, something explodes. Does this have anything to do with the pulsar from the beginning of the chapter?
The root of the confusion lies in the structure of the excerpt. Things seem to be happening out of sequence. If I’ve interpreted the text correctly, the story begins with a flashback, and the conversation with Ridley’s father takes place in the present. It’s difficult to get our bearings. We don’t even know what a life pod is or why Ridley has been floating in it for weeks. And, while there are clues, we’re not even told explicitly which sport he’s playing. (I’m assuming baseball, given the references to Ridley’s 160 KPH pitching speed. Quite an arm on that young man.)
The last sentence of the first paragraph needs some tweaking. “There shouldn’t have been able to see a pulsar here” doesn’t quite make sense. I suspect that it should read something like: “He shouldn’t have been able to see a pulsar from here.”
I have some concerns regarding ethnicity in this piece. We have a character from a Spanish-speaking family, but this element feels gratuitous as presented here. The dialogue is peppered randomly with Spanish phrases, yet the character’s name is Ridley. This is a distinctly English name, and it’s not immediately clear why the apparent disconnect between his name and his ethnic background. It would be one thing if his name were something generic like John or Mark, but Ridley is a more unusual name. Be careful not to “apologize” for his minority status by toning it down too much. I love that you’re introducing a Spanish-speaking character; just make sure to do his ethnicity justice. There may be a story behind his name that we simply don't know yet, but since I'm only assessing the first page, I wanted to mention it.
To illustrate my point about toning down ethnicity: Several years ago, I read a book about a boy from the South. The author reminded us often that he didn’t have an accent. At every turn was another stereotype about southern people and lifestyles, and the story established the hero as somehow superior to his fellow southerners because he behaved and sounded more like a northerner. It would have felt more authentic to just let him be southern, accent and all. As written, the book read like an indictment of southern people. This is just food for thought as you develop a character with a distinctive cultural identity. We can learn something from the mistakes in the story I read.
The bottom line: There is the potential for a meaty story here. Think some more about structure and pacing, particularly if you want to switch between the past and the present throughout the story. There needs to be some kind of delineation between flashbacks and present action. The clearer the progression, the better your chances of sustaining your readers’ attention.
A big thank you to Bob and to Ms. Shreditor for their time and effort. See you next week!