Mar 14, 2009


In THE GHOST OF ZORRO, a 35,000-word book for boys, Zorro comes alive to save a thirteen-year-old living in New York

I’m Carlos Rodriguez and my life’s been one bad event after another since my father went out for cigarettes one day three years ago, and never came back. My mother says I’m the man in the family now, and I’m in charge of my little brother.
What a handful. He’s trying to join a gang and I have to stop him, but how much can a thirteen-year-old do?
One night after my brother just about got killed, I couldn’t sleep, and so I watched an old Zorro movie on TV. After I saw all the things he could do, I made a wish to be just like him. This part you won’t believe. I know I don’t. When I woke up the next day, he was in my bedroom. Zorro! I think he’s just a ghost, but he told me he was going to teach me to be a man. That’s when my life started changing.

I’ve copied in the first pages below.

Thank you for your consideration.



Word on the street: my little brother is trying to join a gang.

I’d been looking for him everywhere. So far, no results. My eyes watered from the cold and I had to zip up my Day-Glo Jets jacket just to block out the wind. I rushed along, hoping to find Manuel.

He was my responsibility. My mother told me so.

She’d sat me down three years ago after my father went out for a pack of cigarettes and never came back. “You’re the man in the family now, Carlos,” she told me, tears in her eyes, sadness in her voice.

Too much for a ten-year-old to understand, but I’d been growing up fast. Out of a possible ten, I gave myself a four on how I was doing. What I really needed was a father to show me the ropes about how to be a man. So far, I hadn’t found one.

So, there I was on the street, pushing people out of the way and zigzagging around tamale vendors and taquerias, the smells of quesadillas filled with pork tantalizing my nose. I didn’t have time to stop. I had to find Manuel before he did something really

No one looked friendly, but maybe that was because I was nervous. Not because of the crowd, but because I might be too late.

“¡Cuidado!” A Nuyorican elbowed me as I ran by.

“Sorry,” I shouted back. Didn’t my brother know gangs just played on your weaknesses and fear? They made you do bad things. What gave him the idea to join a gang?
One of the men jostled me as I shoved past.
Another shouted in what sounded like Chinese. “Jiănsù!”
Not daring to look back, or take time to explain, I kept running. Split by weather and speckled with spit and flattened chewing gum, the cement felt cold under my sneakers. What if I couldn’t find my brother in time?
Manuel could get hurt or worse. If only I’d been able to keep him out of trouble.
Salsa, soul, rap and reggae music tumbled from windows above me and cars alongside me. As I neared McDonald’s, the smells of snow cones, uncollected garbage, and fresh-cut flowers combined with the lure of French fries.
I had no idea how to stop my brother or even how to find him. My heart thundered and my lungs ached, but I kept going. I threaded my way around the two-for-one sweat suits, evening gowns, underwear and overcoats hanging on racks and lying in bins that spilled from the open doors of discount stores and the folding tables of temporary merchants.
“Slow down!” One of the employees raised a fist and shouted when I nearly tripped over his decrepit chair held together with speaker wire and duct tape.
I didn’t answer. I had to find Manuel and according to my calculations, it had to be soon.
At the corner, almost covered over by a dumpster and scaffolding, graffiti marked the building with a portrait of the salsa king, Tito Puente. Next to that, a Rest in Peace mural marked the site of a local tragedy. Charred by soot, a temporary altar made of a cardboard box, candle, and liquor bottles depicted the dead kid’s face.
I jumped back when a gypsy cab driver in a black Lincoln Town Car tapped his horn at me in the intersection. I ran around the back of the vehicle and across the street past his favorite bodega. Throat dry and stomach empty, I wanted to stop for a package of mini-donuts and a bottle of quarter water, but I didn’t have the time or the money.
I rushed toward Mr. Blanco’s vegetable stand like a cat, listening for any sound that might give me a clue. I stopped for a gulp of air in front of a hardware store where a couple of gray-haired men sat on a bench, talking.
“Have you seen a boy, about eight years old, about this tall?” I held my hand shoulder high. “Black hair, brown eyes.”
They pointed down the street. “About a dozen boys that size just ran by here going towards the river,” one of them said.
Half a block down, I saw two of Manuel’s friends run across the street to join about a dozen other boys.
“Wait!” I shouted to them, but they kept going, moving as if some kind of invisible force pulled them along. If they were here, Manuel wasn’t far behind. I squinted down the street. He might even be with them.
They wore high-top sneakers and jackets with patches sewn on them and bright-colored baseball hats. Some of the gang wannabees wore their red handkerchiefs in the wrong pocket. Their breath came out like smoke in the chilly air as they streamed across the street, dodging in between cars and trucks, all shouting and whooping. They headed for Mr. Blanco’s stand.
“Hey, you.” I yelled at the boys. “Stop. Manuel?” They paid no attention. I told myself not to think the worst, but with Manuel for a brother, it was hard not to.
I knew I looked even smaller and skinnier than I was in the too big jeans and jacket my mother bought me. But I was big enough and fast enough to teach Manuel a lesson. If I caught him stealing fruit, I’d make him eat lemons, skin and all, for breakfast, lunch and dinner for two weeks.
Still shouting and whooping, the boys rushed up to Mr. Blanco’s stand. They grabbed handfuls of shiny red apples and knobby oranges and most of the bananas. They dropped some of the fruit and it smashed onto the ground. The boys just ran away.
“Get out of here you delinquents!” Red-faced and with a towel tied around his waist, Mr. Blanco came running out of his store. He whacked a couple of the slower boys
with a broom.
The others stuffed fruit into their jacket pockets. They ran back across the street and down the alleyway.
All but one of the smaller boys. He must have gotten confused or just wasn’t watching. He kept running forward and taking more fruit.
“Manuel?” The breath caught in my throat. It couldn’t be Manuel because he didn’t own a jacket with patches sewn on it, at least not that I knew about. But he did look a
lot like my brother with his curly hair and stocky body.
I started across the street. Halfway there a delivery truck roared around the corner and headed toward me. Heart pounding, I shouted out a warning to the boy. “Look
out!” I could barely hear my own voice above the street noise and the boy was too far away for me to grab him.
The driver leaned on the horn and the truck bore down on the boy. At the last second, I jumped back on the sidewalk, and stood watching, terror filling up my heart.
With a loud thud, the truck scooped up the boy and threw him onto the curb. The driver raced past, not even slowing down.
“No!” I somehow willed myself to move, and raced across the street to the boy. It couldn’t be Manuel, it just couldn’t. Once I got to the curb, I wasn’t sure what to do. What I wouldn’t give to find someone to show me. Hands shaking, I stared at the boy lying on the sidewalk and knelt down beside him.
Thank God, it wasn’t Manuel. And triple thanks the kid wasn’t dead, just breathing sort of hacky like he had something stuck in his throat.
Shouldn’t I push on the kid’s chest? I put out my hands and touched the boy, but when he moaned in pain, I jerked back. That was a stupid thing to do. Maybe I hurt the kid even worse. He wasn’t even somebody I knew, but I still felt sorry for what happened to him. And guilty. Why hadn’t I run across the street and tackled the kid before truck


Bethanne said...

Love the opening paragraph. You might interest an agent with it... I know I'm interested. Maybe do a few pitch/synopsis workshops to tighten those middle paragraphs. Also, don't send the first pages unless the agent asks for it. ALWAYS follow the guidelines, otherwise, your query will be the easy reject.[for the agent anyway] Guidelines are like the filter system... Good luck. let me know when you get it published. It's sounds very interesting.

sirayn said...

What's the legal situation with regards to using the pre-existing Zorro character? I'm not familiar enough with copyright or indeed Zorro, but if the character isn't in the public domain, there's no point even querying.

Rick Daley said...

Query Shark had one up that was a continuation of WALL-E, and Janet Reid advised against it, the owners of that intellectual property are not likely to let you ise it, and when they do authorize fan fiction there are rigid guidelines so the author doens't stray from the established canon.

I don't know if Zorro would be trademarked/licensed the same way, though.

That query isn't there now, but maybe it will come back up. Plus, Query Shark is awesome:

Anette J Kres said...

But HOW does Zorro show Carlos how to be a man? What experiences do they go through? I like how you set up the challenges he faces: brother joining a gang (which, by the way, that kid is WAY too young to be joining a gang, yeesh! Lol), father being gone, having to be the man of the house. Zorro and New York City give the story character. But this still feels more like premise than story.