Sep 24, 2009

Sample pages- AM I WORTH IT? - young adult

Chapter 1 – "Best Seller in the Making"

I had a song for every mood, for every moment of my life. I could use and artists's or songwriters words and piece them into my day like a puzzle or a map. What's my soug right now? Rescue Me!

"Have you made any connections yet," he asked me, leaning over his desk and pushing his over-priced black rimmed glasses up on his nose- they had to be fake. I took a deep breath letting it out slowly, searching for an ounce of patience. I really wasn't in the mood for his shit today. I reached forward and opened the glass jar on his desk and pulled out a handful of candy, popping one of the little pellets of pure sugar in my mouth.

"Connections?" I asked playing dumb, scanning the rows of bookshelves. I'd spent so many hours here, I had them practically memorized. Right between 'Healing Post Traumatic Stress' and 'Signs Your Child Is Socially Challenged', he sighed heavily, his subtle way of telling me I was being a pain in the ass, yet again. But it's not like he wasn't getting a big fat check every hour we spent together. His eyes zipped to the page of notes in front of him and when he looked up at me again – it was 'return of the concerned and helpful therapist'.

"Your uncle says you've joined the jazz band, and made the team for the school trivia bowl?" He asked narrowing his eyes at me. I threw a couple more pieces of candy in my mouth and chewed slowly. I loved leaving him in that uncomfortable silence, watching him squirm in his chair. It was so fucking funny- about the only entertainment I got these days.

"Yep, I'm aiming for extreme popularity. Can you tell?" I said tossing one of the candies in the air and catching it in my mouth. His face relaxed into an expression I knew all too well – he was trying to get intimate again. Discuss the dark side of Dan, pour out our hearts and souls until we're weeping uncontrollably in each other's arms. It was so touching I thought I might vomit on his spotless white carpet.

"Dan," oh here it comes, the tight ass therapist is going to tell me he loves me and I'm not alone. If I'm lucky he'll hold my hand. They're all so predictable. I could've saved him a hell of a lot of money on that stupid piece of paper hanging on the wall. I almost felt sorry for the guy. Almost, if he wasn't so freakin' annoying. I groaned and rolled my eyes.

"Dan," he said again, "you've been at your new school for two months now. Haven't you made any friends?" No, thank God!

"A few," I lied. He narrowed his eyes at me. He was smart enough to at least know I was full of shit. But then why even ask?

"What about girls?" He asked ignoring my lie.

"You're kidding right?" I said exasperated he would even bring that up, "Is this some kind of test?" He ignored my sarcasm.

"You're a smart, good looking guy. There must be someone you've thought about asking out?" I shook my head in disbelief.

"It's a curse I wish I didn't have," I muttered then immediately regretted letting the words slip out. He now looked honestly concerned.

"When you say things like that, I think you want to talk, but you never do. What did you mean by that – why do you think being smart or good looks are a curse? I don't know any seventeen-year-old boy who would wish that."

"You just don't get it," I said, no one did, "I can guarantee both intelligence and being physically attractive to the opposite sex can be a curse." This was what I did best- give him little snippets of information or just a half second glance in to my mind and then I slam the door in his face. He was frustrated now. So was I. But who gives a damn if I'm frustrated as long as I behave? It's not like I didn't deserve some kind of punishment.

"Look, Dr. Stevens," I said hoping to calm him down a little. I hated to admit this, but the time I spent with him was the only time I did anything out of impulse or acted like I used to – though it was for good reason, it still felt nice having a glimpse of some of that normal teenage rebellion. Like seeing an old friend after a summer apart, "I know what you're trying to do, it's the same plan that all three shrinks tried on me in California. I'm not ready for any of that – I don't think I'll ever be ready, so lay-off. I do everything I'm supposed to. I'm the model teen. Any parent would love to have me." Any parent but my own. He raised his eyebrows probably guessing what I was thinking – damn shrinks! Just when you think they're complete idiots they go and read your mind.

"Have you talked to your parents lately?" He asked

"They sent a check, a credit card and a note asking me if I was working on my college applications," I said mechanically.

"Well, that's good they're communicating with you," he said, though he frowned like he was disappointed – maybe he thought they should do more? Interesting. I assumed he was all about the money. He probably has a 'ladder of healing' I need to climb for his achievements – maybe a book deal? If I'm not healed and perfect in a few months he won't have shit to write about. Whatever. This was so pointless.

"Can we finish a little early? I've got my first practice for the trivia bowl in twenty minutes," I said leaning back and putting my hands over my eyes. He looked a little sad, which surprised me, but I didn't have the energy to analyze his behavior, besides I didn't care.

"Fine," he said pulling his glasses off and rubbing his eyes, "I'll see you Thursday afternoon." I nodded and grabbed my bag and keys and pulled the book I was reading in the waiting room out from underneath my chair.

"What's that you're reading?" He asked me before I could leave. I flashed the cover in front of him. "War and Peace," he said raising his eyebrows. I smiled not being able to help myself.

"Do you honestly think I could go from popular jock to geek without having something of substance between my ears?" I asked laughing a little at the irony. I used to hide books from my friends, not wanting them to see me reading classics like Tolstoy.

"So I've heard," he said shaking his head and writing it all down in that notebook of ingredients for a bestseller to cure crazy kids- and make millions in the process. I didn't want to smash his life's work or anything, but he had a long way to go before he was Dr. Phil. I walked out into the cold November air. I hated cold and Chicago had more cold days than anything else.

Honestly the weather here was so fucking unpredictable. In San Jose, where I spent most of my life, until a few months ago, you get between sixty and eighty degrees most days. Today it was twenty-two, yesterday it was sixty-five.

I sat in my car pulling out my hundredth draft of the letter I may never finish and made yet another attempt.

Dear Hannah,

I know I'm probably the last person you ever want to open a piece of mail from. I'll understand completely if you tear this to shreds the moment you receive it. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of you – think of that night. I wake up seeing your face, horrified and it hurts so much, I think I'll never breathe again. I'll never forgive myself for what I did, but it doesn't compare to your suffering. I'm so sorry –

"Stupid idiot!" I said banging my head against the steering wheel a few times. I tore up the letter, throwing the pieces on to the floor. Who was I kidding, I hardly knew this girl and besides it would never be enough. But I had to try, didn't I?

I put the car in gear and headed back to school for trivia bowl practice, AKA – social suicide. If it was my choice I'd go to class and nothing more, but when I thought of my Uncle Steve worrying about me being alone and, well. . . miserable, I had to show some sign of life. He had done so much for me- sometimes I wished he was ashamed of me like parents. It would make my descision much easier.

Right now, my life balanced somewhere between purgatory and Hell. It's exactly where I needed to be, I didn't deserve anything better.

15 comments:

folksinmt said...

Julie-
I think you have a strong opening. There's so much to like. I love the way you weave is past into this present conversation (no info dump!). The dialog is all realistic.

I think I would pull that first paragraph and drop it in a little later. It's not the strongest hook. (typo in the word song BTW)Jump right into him thinking about being in a shrinks office again...how would this time be any different? Something along that line.

There were a few times where sentences ran on a bit. Scan through your ms and look at any of the longer sentences and sentences with multiple punctuation and ask yourself if the sentence would have more impact if it was broken up. I have learned to love short sentences for the impact that they add. For example your newest query:
...Dan has never been punished for what happened last spring while wasted (I think that would sound better than saying both drunk and high) at a party. He'd never even received a slap on the wrist for what he had done to Hannah. He barely knew her. But he knew he had ruined her life. No one will listen to Dan: not the judge...etc.

That is just a quick revise so pardon the imperfections.

I think the rest of the query is great. That first paragraph could be revised to become more powerful. (Sorry to do two comments in one! I'm lazy!)

Good luck. Even despite the few flaws, I'm hooked enough to want to keep reading. Nice job

gj said...

One of the tricky things about first-person POV is to get the reader to care about the narrator quickly, without infodumping about stuff the narrator wouldn't be thinking about as the story progresses. You need a hook, some action or thought or voice that's interesting, so the reader will want to settle in for a while.

I'm guessing you're trying for that bond with the first paragraph, but as folksinmt says, it doesn't work as a hook. If I don't know the narrator, I don't really care if he has a theme song or what it is. That's not really so unusual that it captivates, and it doesn't tell me anything really useful about the narrator. Then, the reader doesn't know who "he" is in the next paragraph, so it doesn't create a picture for the reader. There's no grounding, nothing to bond with, no image to start creating in the reader's mind. Even calling him "my latest therapist" or some such thing would help.

On a more basic level, the manuscript needs to be cleaned up for verb tenses, punctuation and paragraph breaks (a piece of dialogue by the therapist should be a separate paragraph from the narrator's thoughts/reactions). The first paragraph has several errors (look at the possessives), which may be due to retyping to post here, but the rest of the manuscript has repeated punctuation errors that suggest they're bad habits (especially sentences structured like -- "Are you sure?" He asked or He said -- the *H* should be lower case).

Anonymous said...

I am not a professional writer but am well read. I think you have a lot of talent but that the MS is not ready to be submitted. As a reader there were times where the writing seemed forced and cliched. I think you can polish it up and make it exponentially better.

You obviously have a lot of talent, but to use a sports analogy it seems to be raw and you may need several more revisions before this book achieves its potential greatness. A lot of great parts, but a lot of mistakes too.

I am impressed by your talent but you probably need some time in college before you go to the NBA.

Best of luck

Donna Hole said...

I did the critique on the second submission of the query, then read this exerpt.

It is good writing; I like the voice. Petulant and conceited both. This is in keeping with the tone of the query.

However, the query is a condenced version of this first chapter. I think you're trying to put too much of the plot in this first chapter. You don't have to give everything away here. Set up your main character, the setting. You've done a good job of letting the reader know Dan is conflicted, spoiled and rebellious; don't give away all his secrets.

Let the specifics of his emotional turmoil unfold through the remaining pages.

Long winded way of saying this chapter and the query read too much alike.

Good luck Julie. You're on the right track.

...........dhole

Tabitha Bird said...

One little thing I noticed that may or may not be useful is your use of dialogue tags. 'He said, she said.'
I'd see if you can write in a way that you don't need to use them. It usually makes the writing stronger and the dialogue flow better. And tags are something new writers use/over and I don't think you are a new writer. Your work is very good.

Rick Daley said...

I hope I don't come off as too harsh here. I think you have a very good premise, but I noticed a lot of errors in these sample pages. I think your time would be best spent focusing on the manuscript before tackling another query revision.

In the second paragraph you use the pronoun he before using a proper noun to identify the subject. I recommend changing the first he to "my therapist."

There are a couple consistent issues here that I would expect to permeate the rest of the manuscript:

- Too many dialogue tags followed by action. In many cases it disrupts the flow of the dialogue. Only include the action when it is necessary. Also, you need a comma after the tag and before the description. EX: "Connections?" I asked playing dumb...without the comma after asked, playing dumb is the entity that was asked. "I asked playing dumb" is then read the same as "I asked Sue." I asked, playing dumb...is how it should be written.

- "He sighed heavily, his subtle way of telling me..." to me a heavy sigh seems an obvious indicator, not a subtle one. Be very careful of your word choice. Also, calling the candy little pellets of pure sugar makes me think of sugar cubes for tea or coffee. I think the word pure could be removed.

- In "tight ass therapist" tight-ass should be hyphenated. The meaning of the description changes when those two descriptors are not joined together.

- There is a lot of passive voice. The first sentence is passive. Try to take the transitive verbs and make them active.

- There are shifts between present and past tense. For example, "the only entertainment I got these days" has got as a past sense verb and these being a present tense descriptor. I get these days or I got those days would be correct. also present tense: "Dan," oh here it comes, the tight ass therapist is going to tell me he loves me and I'm not alone.

- "He was smart enough to at least know I was full of shit." This is awkward. "At least he was smart enough to know I was full of shit" would be my recommendation.

Your summary in your query - and the bulk of the comments you've received - demonstrate that you have a very interesting premise that resonates well with many people. That's a major accomplishment. I do think you need to tighten up your prose, though. Take this chapter and re-write it from scratch. Don't try to revise or edit it...a full re-write. Then compare them and see which is better. If the re-write is better, do the same with the next chapter.

It's a lot of work, but if you are serious about selling your novel, it will be a great step forward for you.

Anonymous said...

Rick, I think you are right. the writer needs to work on the mechanics of the MS before submitting. It would be a shame if a great story was rejected because the writing was not yet revised enough to equal the story.

I have learned one thing in trying to write my own MS---writing is 20% talent and 80% hard work. These sample pages are just not ready for prime time. Yet.

The premise is great and sounds very original. You created some good tension and grabbed my attention. But the work needs to be revised many more times.

It may sound harsh, but believe me, better for us to be harsh and tell you the truth now when you can revise it, then bullshit you into thinking it is ready to be queried and it get rejected due to correctable mistakes.

Has the writer mentioned how old he/she is? That would be helpful information.

Julie said...

Thanks so much Rick (and everyone else)!

I am going to do a full re-write. Someone said I seemed very raw and I am just that but also serious about writing something good.

Rick- you answered many of the technical questions I'm constantly asking. I'm not practiced in many grammatical rules.

What happens for me is I write the way it might sound if I was talking to someone which at times works really well, but at other times is very confusing.

In both my manuscripts the first chapter is the worst and I can't figure why that is. I have no problem taking the whole thing abart and making it better- I'm looking forward to actually.

Then I will tackle another query attempt. I've already started my third project and am 7000 words into that. I was thinking I would let this was sit and then go back to look at it fresh.

I would be interested to hear from more experienced writer than myself (I started writing a few months ago) if they jump into the next project then tackle revisions on a previous???

Also just a question on the genre in general- when I think of writing YA as opposed to Adult fiction I just try to capture the teenage voice but I notice a lot of YA's are more repetitive in things like He said/she said

or take Twilight for example - I'm sure I'm not the only one who got really sick of hearing how Beautiful Edward is with his "Cold hard Skin"

Does it need to be more basic for YA??? As far as interpeting symbolism and complex plots.

folksinmt said...

Glad to see that you are still smiling! :)

One thing I've noticed in my writing is that once I move on to the next project, I am unable to go back and match the tone of that previous project. If you really want to polish this one, I wouldn't work on a new one until this one shines. You have to immerse yourself in it. But do keep reading everything you can find, especially all those books that help you revise your ms.

On the other hand...once the ms has been done for some time and you have revised the heck out of it and it still is giving you problems, put it on the shelf and move on.

About the genre...teens read all the classics in high school anyhow, so it goes to show that things don't need to be "dumbed down" or overly repetitive. I think the only thing that should be different about YA is the dialog and the tone.

Rick Daley said...

Julie,

You have a good story and the drive/determination to make something of it. That's two strong points.

You will need to strengthen your grammar skills, especially if it's an admittedly weak point. Google around for some sites that have grammar rules and punctuation guidelines.

If you have not already, read THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by Strunk & White. This is a must.

I write the way it might sound if I was talking to someone

This will be refined into your narrative voice, which is already present in your writing and it is strong. Some things to be aware of are:
- You can get away with a lot more inside the quotations marks than outside them. When you want to get really conversational, let a character be the voice.
- Make sure you do not write all characters from the same voice. I haven't read enough to know if you use the same voice throughout, just saying it as a point of caution; make each character unique.
- That being said, just be you when you're telling us the story. Have fun with it. If you do choose to break a rule, it's important that you know you are doing it and why you are doing it. Get good at this as it can help define your voice.

In regard to YA content, don't hold back on sophistication. I've read that younger readers don't like to be talked down to. I think that's where your story stands out, it takes a very serious issue head on with a unique POV.

Balance multiple projects as you see fit, many of us have several works in progress. As long as you can keep moving them all forward and finish them, go for it. If you have so many in the works and you bounce around too much to finish any of them, then you need to narrow your focus.

Donna Hole said...

Julie:

I wouldn't call myself an experienced writer b/c I have not had a single thing I've written published. Yet, I have written three books in a series over the last three years, and I find sometimes I have to completely put away the novels because of either frustration, or b/c I'm just too involved with my characters.

It may sound wierd, but I'm fully invested in my characters, and sometimes they are such real people to me I can't help but write them completely out of character. Some people can't work on anything else. I work on short stories - or read my favorite authors, or dare I admit, go to sites I can read/critique aspiring writers work. It gives me incentive.

When I can look at my own novel again, the voice is strong enough I can get right back into it. You have a very clear voice in this chapter and in your query. I don't think you'll have a problem slipping right back into your character's world if you've been away for a while.

I know a lot of writers who can work on several projects at once (I am not one of them). I think you are the only person who can answer the question of whether or not you can do it. If you find a WIP suffering from the lack of a voice, or too much voice from another WIP, maybe that route is not for you.

But if you can do it, good for you. You never know what you might learn from your own writing experience.

And let me admit to something here; my first chapter, in all three novels - not to mention the opening paragraph in the short stories - is my hardest. I don't start well. I've revised the first novel about a hundred thousand times, and I think I've spent more time on the first chapter than anything else.

That may be because I know where all the stories end, I'm just not always clear where they should start, or how the characters get there. So I find all my stories start with the end, and sometime have to jump around on their journey, but almost always are worked end to beginning.

Like I said, I doubt I'm experienced. But, I've read just about everything I could find on "how to" (both on the net and in print), taken some online writers courses, and taken the critique advise (advice?) of many people I've interacted with on the blogs. (Several blogs and not just this site.)

I gotta say that I'd take Rick's advice seriously. I've been following his postings on several sites and have come to appreciate his voice, his style and his knowledge of the mechanics of writing. And always; you should listen to your own muse, as you know best what the vision you have in your writing.

I hope this hasn't been too long and boring, and I also hope you take it in the spirit of encouragement it is intended.

Thanks for sharing your ideas, and I look forward to seeing more of your submissions in the future.

........dhole

Julie said...

Rick and Donna everything you said is both beautiful and inspirational advice.

Donna- I have a similar problem that you have in the sense that I get too connected to my characters and don't want to leave them.

I remember Steven Kings book "On Writing" and he said he puts his first draft away for 6 weeks before revising and I keep trying to bargain with myself saying maybe two weeks will be long enough because I want to keep working on it.

I'm now wishing I hadn't submitted my first MS so soon - I did get quite a few bites (2 fulls still floating in agent space and 3 partials)I've had three partials get rejected as well. I think my letter and ideas were good but the story is filled with some of the same issues as this one.

I'm guessing it will be similar to the response here- Some good things but not quite ready yet.

I did save my favorite agents for last and I have started revising that MS as well. All the suggestions I've gotten here have been so helpful.

My first Query letter for my first MS is still up here and it is terrible! It's fun to see the progress everyone makes.

Rick- I'm going to get that book right away!

Thanks everyone and keep up the good work!

Julie said...

Somebody asked how old I am- 29

I've never written any fiction prior to May 15th, 2009. Once I started writing in May, I haven't stopped- not even one day. It's a strange new love!

I'm a gymnastics program director so I do work with kids and teens a lot- I think that's why I leaned toward that genre. Do we have many middle grade writer lurking around this site?

Anonymous said...

Julie,
I am the person who mentioned you had a lot of raw talent which is why I think you will be a successful writer. There were so many interesting ideas you put into your sample pages and your ability to say something in a way that makes me want to know much more about a character is real natural talent. My thought is that you are a natural/gifted storyteller. Like you I read S King On Writing and he talks about the room in your head where a writer goes to write. My sense is you have that room where your stories and writing will come alive. The mechanics are like blocking and tackling. Not as glamorous as running in for the Touchdown but there is no touchdown without it. You can obviously throw touchdowns, which I think is most important when starting off. Focus on the blocking and tackling so that your writing matches your story and you will have an awesome combination. Good luck, I truly can't wait to learn more about what this kid that is motivating himself and then to find out if it is possible for him to forgive himself.

Julie said...

Anon,

I love the sports analogies!!! Thanks again for the encouragement.

Best of luck to you as well!