Oct 2, 2009

AM I WORTH IT? sample pages- attempt # 2

Click here to read the first sample page submission.
Click here to read the most recent query.

He's only learned one thing from this experience. One lesson to carry him forward in his desolate life- getting off easy is the worst punishment possible.

He can't sit in silence for longer than a minute. His eyes close and he sees everything again. No one knows about the entire bottle of vodka he drank and tried to wash down with thirty Vicodin.

He was too much of a coward to do it, but everyone knows cowards get off easy. Now he can't go a week without being engulfed in the less than comforting words of a mental health professional.

It won't help. Nothing will help because nothing will change what he did.

"Have you made any progress yet?"

Shrink number four attempted to pull me from another session of mentally writing my memoir- it was just one of many creative methods to make it through the hour sentence.

"Progress?" I played dumb letting the minutes pass without an ounce of effort. My eyes scanned the rows of bookshelves. Countless hours here and I had them all memorized.

Right between 'Healing Post Traumatic Stress' and 'Signs Your Child Is Socially Challenged', he sighed heavily, his wordless way of telling me I was being a pain in the ass. Don't pity him- he's getting a big fat check every hour we spent together- three hundred dollars to be exact.

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?"

I threw a couple pieces of candy in my mouth and chewed slowly, leaving him in that uncomfortable silence, watching him squirm in his chair. It was so fucking funny- about the only entertainment I got lately.

"Yep, I'm aiming for extreme popularity. Can you tell?" I tossed one of the candies in the air and caught it in my mouth. His face relaxed forming the look 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.

"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 almost felt sorry for the guy. Almost- if he wasn't so freakin' annoying. I groaned and rolled my eyes.

"Dan, 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 knew I was full of shit. But then why even ask?

"What about girls?"

"You're kidding right?" How could he even bring that up?

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 immediately regretted letting the words slip out. Now he looked confused which meant I had to explain myself further.
Nah, I'll just fuck with him a little.

Luckily I knew exactly how much I could screw with his head before I would be sent on to shrink number five and maybe eventually declared insane. Which might be true- who the hell knows?

"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 think that."

"I'm just thinking of nearly every vampire book or movie- the sadistic creature is always some super-stud able to lure the beautiful girl into a grave yard late at night. And if you throw in a little brains with the face- now you've got a pretty-boy who can quote Shakespeare."

"But how is that a curse for the vampire? It's the girl lured into the graveyard who's dealt the bad hand."

"Exactly." I narrowed my eyes, looking dark and mysterious.

He shifted uncomfortably in his seat while I worked hard not to laugh- it was too damn easy! I sent him in a different direction every time- picking a symptom from a psychological disorder and hinting at it.

Thursday, I'm planning a sexual identity crisis- maybe a dream about the guy who washes our PE uniforms in the locker room. It would be perfect, 'Dr. Stevens what does this mean? I'm so confused!'

I needed to think about what act would best follow that one? Hallucinations about an alien abduction? Might be too over the top.

"Are you saying you're dangerous?" He was trying to sound calm, but he wasn't.
He was worried he missed something important- slipped in his diagnosis. In a couple days he'll be feeling sorry for my struggle to come-out-of-the-closet.

"I was disproving your theory. If you're only talking of me specifically, you shouldn't generalize your questions to include the entire population of Seventeen-year-old boys."

I knew exactly which buttons to push- 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?

Sometimes I felt guilty for screwing with him so much. But it was the only time I did anything rebellious or acting out of impulse, like I used to. It was like seeing an old friend after a summer apart. But I had no desire to move on to shrink number five.

"Look, Dr. Stevens, 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?"

"They sent a check and a credit card last week."

"Well, that's good they're communicating with you." He frowned like he was disappointed.
Sometimes I wondered if I was the subject for a future bestseller. I could totally see him on Oprah crying and telling the world how he saved me from myself. Maybe he's disappointed because I'm not progressing like I should- probably has a 'ladder of healing' I need to climb for his achievements?

If I'm not healed and perfect in a few months he won't have shit to write about. It was a pointless attempt on his part- obviously he was too much of an idiot to see that. It wasn't my job to tell him.

"Your parents sent me your SAT scores- have you seen them?"

I hadn't seen them but I didn't need to. I shook my head. He glanced down at his notes again.

"You got five perfect scores on the subject tests – German, French, Spanish, Physics, and Biology. How does someone your age speak three languages proficiently enough to get a perfect score?"

I couldn't help smiling, "Because I cheated and you're not allowed to tell anyone- doctor patient confidentiality." He didn't look surprised- he already made this assumption.

"You're right, I'm not at liberty to tell anyone, but they're going to ask you to re-test."

"I'll take the test again. It's a shame I'm so emotionally disturbed now- I'm sure I won't do as well. And I have records from four shrink to prove how fucked up I am."

"How did you cheat and why wouldn't you miss a few questions to keep from getting noticed."
I was amused by his change in tone- he actually sounded like a normal person. He also sounded honestly curious how I pulled off this stunt.

"Money is how I cheated- lots of it and some friends in low places. And maybe I wanted to be noticed? Doesn't everyone want their moment in the spotlight- even in your profession I sure you can re-late? Look at Dr. Phil."

Now I had just become an attention seeking, spoiled brat. Possibly a pathological liar?

"Interesting." He shook his head and wrote 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.

"Can we finish a little early? I've got my first practice for the trivia bowl in twenty minutes." I leaned back and put my hands over my eyes.

"Fine, I'll see you Thursday afternoon."

I nodded and grabbed my bag and key and 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 almost year round. Today it's twenty-two degrees. Yesterday afternoon it was sixty-five. What the hell!

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.

"Damn!" I banged my head against the steering wheel a few times. I'd never get it right. 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. It's exactly where I needed to be right now, I didn't deserve anything better.

7 comments:

MitMoi said...

I'm glad to see you've revised - and listened/incorporated the critiques from last time.

I am struggling to find anything likable about your MC in these first pages. And I'm also struggling with disbelief.

30 Vicoden? If he did 30 and Vodka, NOTHING but a trip to the ER happened at that party. Srsly. Talk to a pharmacist to get a realistic number of pills that could be mixed with alcohol and still allow someone to negotiate consciousness.

I'm also not buying 500 pts for THREE different languages on the SAT. Sure, it's possible there's a kid out there that can do this ... but when we write, we must write what people will believe.

I think you have the good beginnings of a "flippant" voice for you MC. I'm just worried there is no reason to cheer him on - and for the reader to hope he can meet his challenge, unless you mean your story to be a tragedy.

I'm the worlds WORST editor - but there are still a few verb tense changes - and odd capitalizations going on.

I hope you keep at it - we all grown with practice. Or at least that's what I keep telling myself.

Julie said...

The vicodin was a suicide attempt as a result of depression from what happened at the party. But he didn't take any of them-

"No one knows about the entire bottle of vodka he drank and tried to wash down with thirty Vicodin. He was too much of a coward to do it."

Is that part confusing?

I was trying to get across that he's contemplating suicide (because of guilt) but no one knows- he's so smart that he's running all the shrinks in circles with a million different diagnosis, except being suicidal.

Right now he's too scared- perhaps there is still an ounce of hope in him and until that's completely gone he can't do it.

The doctor is an idiot but I think I do need to show his nicer side in this chapter- or just a glimpse? It does come out in chapter 2.

He is a very good guy.

Your feedback was very helpful! Thanks so much for taking the time to read.

Julie

Julie said...

I meant to say the doctor is an idiot, which is why the MC is so unlikeable in this chapter. But the MC is a very good guy. I might need to hint at that.

Hollie Sessoms said...

I just wanted to weigh in with my opinion about your MC. I really like him. It's obvious to me that he's wounded and is masquarading to hide this. I find the flawed hero appealing. If he was ladeling out soup to wounded homeless veterens, I would probably roll my eyes and discontinue reading.

I do agree with MitMoi about the disbelief about the SAT and I was very confused about the vodka and Vicodin. I thought he did it and survived until I read your comment.

Good Luck!

Julie said...

If I change beginning to say this this does it help clarify the vicodin part?


"No one knows about the entire bottle of vodka he drank, sitting on the pier alone, looking out at the ocean, tossing a bottle of thirty Vicodin back and forth in his hand- trying to decide if he was ready.

He was too much of a coward to do it, but everyone knows cowards get off easy."

Donna Hole said...

At the risk of sounding harsh, I’d like to offer what I hope is constructive feedback.

I’ve been reading through the comments, paying particular attention to yours Julie, and what I find is that you have to “explain” to the critters a lot of what you meant to say, or what is actually happening in Dan’s thoughts. Again, I don’t mean to be harsh, but if you have to explain to us, in here, what this scene is trying to convey, how do you expect your readers to “get it”?

Maybe you could write it from the Psych’s POV; like, what his case notes might say of his observations. Then, read this scene again, and see if you put all those elements in, but from Dan’s POV.

Speaking of POV, that may be one of the problems you’re having conveying empathy for this character. The beginning narrative is in (to me anyways) third person limited (to Dan’s perspective). Yet the therapy session is in first person. You use the noun HE to describe not only your MC, but the doctor also. Sometimes its hard to tell who is thinking/saying what. Try writing the opening from first person, using “I“ statements and lots of feeling words. Or, write the rest of the scene from third person or omnipotent.

One place that can use some clarification for me is: "Progress?" I played dumb letting the minutes pass without an ounce of effort. My eyes scanned the rows of bookshelves. Countless hours here and I had them all memorized.

Right between 'Healing Post Traumatic Stress' and 'Signs Your Child Is Socially Challenged', he sighed heavily, his wordless way of telling me I was being a pain in the ass. Don't pity him- he's getting a big fat check every hour we spent together- three hundred dollars to be exact.

That “he sighed heavily” is a change in POV mid sentence. Very confusing. Another confusing - flow? - is that Dan says “Shrink number four attempted to pull me from another session of mentally writing my memoir . .” and later Dan thinks his shrink is only using him to write Dr. Phil type novel. “He shook his head and wrote it all down in that notebook of ingredients for a bestseller to cure crazy kids- and make millions in the process.” Maybe only one of them should be thinking “book deal” on Ophra in a scene?

Another incongruence happens between “Luckily I knew exactly how much I could screw with his head before I would be sent on to shrink number five and maybe eventually declared insane” and “But I had no desire to move on to shrink number five.”

I get that Dan is suffering a lot of mental anguish but that’s only because he blatantly says so. For me, that’s not enough. I’d “feel” it more if, in the opening when “His eyes close and he sees everything again.” you show us the scene that is causing his mental distress. Let him drift back into that memory that explains so much. What you “tell” is a selfish act of cowardice, but you haven’t given “him” any redeeming traits yet to make us care.

The other spot you could really build character empathy is: "You're kidding right?" How could he even bring that up? This is a good opening to explain all Dan’s current anger and self disgust.

By the end of this scene, I’m looking for the true hero, and suspecting maybe I’ll see at least two POV: Dan’s and Hannah’s.

This novel has so much potential, and I feel you are at right person to write it. Please remember that my feedback is only ONE voice out there, and that I do not read much in YA, so I can’t possibly know what writing style would appeal to teens. But keep working on it, and keep submitting. Thanks for sharing.
...........dhole

Julie said...

Donna-

You're bringing up some good points. I'm struggling so much with this first chapter.

Last night I read over most of the novel and the tone and Dan's thoughts are very different.

I think I'm going to summit the second chapter here and see if it might be a better starting place.

The problem is I make reference to the first chapter throughout the novel because of Dr. Stevens. I'm thinking I could weave little bits of that conversation in as him remembering it.

I think you were right in your comment the first time I posted sample pages when you said I was trying to put to much in this chapter. Revealing too many secrets.