Wednesday, August 20, 2008

#65-Revisions

SECOND REVISION



Title: Doorways and Mirrors
Genre: Women's fiction

Liz is a happy go lucky girl with a problem. She is having panic attacks, and she wants to know why. The merry go round of doctors she visits are of no help at all. Liz is a patient adrift in the wonderful world of western medicine, experiencing a frightening and embarrassing health crisis that culminates in a complete loss of self esteem, getting fired from her job and losing her health care coverage. She is determined to find a cure and goes on a desperate search for sanity in an insane, drug obsessed country where insurance companies rule, television offers treatments and physicians are demoted to “prescribers.”

After a frustrating three year search for answers through the labyrinth of conventional and alternative medicine, she finds the root of the problem while watching an HBO special on drug issues facing the elderly: an over the counter drug interaction.

In Doorways and Mirrors, Liz goes on a journey of healing and self discovery similar to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love. She draws on spiritual strength, philosophy and a whole lot of humor to find answers, and reclaim her health:


I'm sorry but I don't want to read novels about health care. I want to read novels about people. Jodi Picoult writes very compellingly about a health care issue in My Sister's Keeper. Here's the first paragraph of the jacket copy:

Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of a preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate--a life and a role that she has never challenged...until now.


Now you tell me if you can stand not knowing what happens. Yes, it's about health issues, but mostly it's about Anna and how we now have an instant sense of her, and what the stakes are.


Liz Riser walked out of the tri county community-health clinic in a complete huff, frustrated with the commercialized pill pushing industry of modern medicine only to get in the car and hear her trusty radio ask if “Viagra is right for me.” As she drove down the street, her heart raced. Her face flushed. She felt that ol' dreaded wave adrenaline surge upward, overpowering her for the millionth time. She panicked. She clutched her chest. She was dying, over and over again, and none of the doctors could tell her why. Even worse, she was convinced that for the most part, they did not even care.

She pulled over and dialed 911, for the third time that week.

Don't put your first paragraph in your query letter. Particularly without mentioning that's what you're doing. It's jarring in the extreme.

This is a story of white coats and co-pays, shamanic healers and scammers, all mixed up in the day to day life of a working mother with bills to shuffle, laundry to ignore, and the frightening thought that Richard Simmons might really be her friend for three easy payments of $19.95.


The author is a congressional policy liaison with a wide base of knowledge on women’s health, alternative medicine, and the structure problems of our conventional medical/insurance systems. She has co-authored two privately published works of non-fiction for corporate clients, and this is her first novel.


Pages are available on request.



You're getting lost in all this description. You can distill this all down to: Liz is a happy go lucky girl who suddenly finds herself having panic attacks and can't understand why. She's got the same problems everyone else does, so why is she suddenly dialing 911 every day thinking she's dying?

And then you can get into why we should care about her.

This still has the feeling of a novel that's written to rally people to a cause, and that never goes over very well. The story has to come first. Much like Jodi Picoult's novel is not couched as an exploration of right and wrong, but as a novel about people facing choices, your novel needs to be about Liz first and foremost.

Form rejection

-------------------------------------------







FIRST REVISION:

Dear Query Shark:


Title: Doorways and Mirrors
Genre: Women's fiction


Liz is a happy go lucky girl with a problem. She is having panic attacks, and she wants to know why. The merry go round of doctors she visits are of no help at all. Liz is a patient adrift in the wonderful world of western medicine, experiencing a frightening and embarrassing health crisis that culminates in a complete loss of self esteem, getting fired from her job and losing her health care coverage. She is determined to find a cure and goes on a desperate search for sanity in an insane, drug obsessed country where insurance companies rule, television offers treatments and physicians are demoted to “prescribers.”


After a frustrating three year search for answers through the labyrinth of conventional and alternative medicine, she finds the root of the problem while watching an HBO special on prescription drugs issues for the elderly: an over the counter drug interaction.

In Doorways and Mirrors, Liz goes on a healing journey of self discovery similar to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love. She draws on spiritual strength, philosophy and a whole lot of humor to find answers, and reclaim her health.

You've already said this is a novel. Eat, Pray, Love is a memoir, not a novel.



Liz Riser walked out of the tri county community-health clinic in a complete huff, frustrated with the commercialized pill pushing industry of modern medicine only to get in the car and hear her trusty radio ask if “Viagra is right for me.” As she drove down the street, her heart raced. Her face flushed. She felt that ol' dreaded wave adrenaline surge upward, overpowering her for the millionth time. She panicked. She clutched her chest. She was dying, over and over again, and none of the doctors could tell her why. Even worse, she was convinced that for the most part, they did not even listen.

She pulled over and dialed 911, for the third time that week.

This is an abrupt shift from the query letter to the first page of the book, with no warning.

This is a story of white coats and co-pays, shamanic healers and scammers, all mixed up in the day to day life of a working mother with bills to shuffle, laundry to ignore, and the frightening thought that Richard Simmons might really be her friend for three easy payments of $19.95.

You've just got too much going on here. The tone alternates between funny, and sort of pathetic. I don't know what to think about Liz, and I don't have much sympathy for her. And Richard Simmons is a weight loss guru, not anyone associated with therapy. (I had to look up Richard Simmons website just to make sure he hadn't become a therapist since I'd last heard of him and was fortunate enough to find this youtube of his appearance on Whose Line Is It Anyway-this is NOT for anyone who finds sexually nuanced jokes in bad taste. I laughed for ten minutes)

The author is a congressional policy liaison with a wide base of knowledge on women’s health, alternative medicine, and the structure problems of our conventional medical/insurance systems. She has co-authored two privately published works of non-fiction for corporate clients, and this is her first novel.

You don't need qualifications to write a novel. From this though I get the idea that you want to use this novel to illuminate problems in the structure our conventional medical/insurance systems. I'm always leery of books that start from a prescriptive premise. Start with the story. The prescriptive flows from the story not the other way around.

Don't talk about yourself in the third person in a query letter.

Pages are available on request.

This is a form rejection.







---------------------------
ORIGINAL

Dear Query Shark,

I am dipping my toes in the water to give you something to chew on. Enjoy the feast:

Title: Doorways and Mirrors
Genre: Women's fiction


“I think I’m allergic to Pop Tarts. Or maybe it was the Advil, or the Pepsid. I also ate my kids Flintstones vitamin that day, so maybe that’s what put me in the hospital on deaths door in a full blown tachycardia. I'm not sure, but I’m not taking any chances Doc. I’m not taking any more pills.”

“Panic attacks and anxiety disorders are common Liz. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We just need to look at the root cause…together.”

At that moment laser beams shot from my eyes and melted that creepy councilor's sappy face to the floor. Anxiety disorder? Give me an ever lovin break. I’m trying to find the source of a life threatening allergy here, and this bitch is going all Sigmund Freud on me.

“I am NOT paying for this. I'm NOT a psycho.”

I walked out of the tri county community counseling center in a complete huff, only to get in the car and hear my trusty radio ask if “Viagra is right for me.” My heart raced. My face flushed. I felt that ol' dreaded wave adrenaline surge upward and overpower me for the millionth time. I felt like an abused child at the moment when the bedroom door creeks open at two am. I panicked. I clutched my chest. I was dying.

I dialed 911.

Again.

Thus began my three years of hell as a patient adrift in the wonderful world of western medicine, the complete the loss of my Self, the shrinking of my world and a desperate search for sanity in an insane, drug obsessed world where insurance companies rule, television offers treatments and Physicians are demoted to “prescribers.” It is the story of white coats and co-pays, shamanic healers and yoga, all mixed up in the day to day life of a working mother with bills to shuffle, laundry to ignore, and the frightening thought that Richard Simmons might really be my friend for three easy payments of $19.95.

This is a story of courage that has nothing to do with war.

Feel free to request pages if you run out of Ambien.


Sincerley,


I can overlook misspelling "sincerely"; that's not a problem. The problem here is that you are talking in a sort of jokey, off the cuff, don't-take-me-seriously voice about a topic that's pretty serious. And of course you use the analogy of an abused kid at 2am. That's as jarring a pairing with jokey voice as I can think of.

This reads like the query for a memoir. Only cause you told me it was women's fiction did I know I was supposed to be thinking novel. The problem with that of course is that your query letter is in the first person. That makes me think it's you.

When I finish reading I'm utterly confused about what you're trying to write about, and thinking, honestly, "you" ie the narrator DO sound psycho so this one is a form rejection.

7 comments:

Lehcarjt said...

Thus began my three years of hell as a patient adrift in the wonderful world of western medicine, the complete the loss of my Self...

This is where you lost me. This paragraph (in its entirety) came off as preachy and judgmental. It seems like this is a book with a mission to demonize western medicine rather than tell the story of a woman battling hypochondria. I have no interest in reading a novel with a negative message like this. I read novels for entertainment not moral/political/etc views. You would pull me in better if you focused on the character, her journey, and specific obstacles. Leave out the judgments.

I also agree with QS that the first person made me think this was a memoir.

Southern Writer said...

I am dipping my toes in the water to give you something to chew on. Enjoy the feast:

Am I the only person who thought this was weird? It sounds like the author is washing her toes so Janet can munch on them, and wants her to enjoy the feast. I'm not sure if that's kinky or disgusting.

Other than that, I can't overlook the flawed research here. Allergy? Here's some news for you: panic attacks are precursors of heart attacks. Is that what the story is about? I can't tell, but I do know that mature women who experience at least one full-blown panic attack have an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, and an increased risk of death within five years. Having one or more panic attacks is associated with four times the risk of myocardial infarction (death of heart tissue), three times the risk of having a heart attack or stroke, and nearly twice the risk of death from any cause. The associations remain after controlling for depression, suggesting that panic attacks may be a separate, independent risk factor for cardiovascular events. It's not a laughing matter and I find it hard to believe you could pull off a comedy on this subject. There's a reason for the cliché "serious as a heart attack."

Then you suggest Janet should feel free to request pages if she runs out of Ambien, which is a sleeping pill. This is all a joke, right? You're just screwing with us to see if anyone would notice?

Beth said...

Am I the only person who thought this was weird?

No.

What I want to know is -- are the laser beams shooting from the eyes real?

K.B. said...

I think I’m allergic to Pop Tarts. Or maybe it was the Advil, or the Pepsid. I also ate my kids Flintstones vitamin that day...”

Followed by:

Anxiety disorder? Give me an ever lovin break. I’m trying to find the source of a life threatening allergy here, and this bitch is going all Sigmund Freud on me.

Um... the first paragraph sounds like either a hypochondriac or someone with OCD who is compulsively taking medicines, especially when you get to the part about eating the kids' vitamins -- then the narrator complains about allergic responses and has a panic attack at the mere mention of taking pills? I'm not following this.

“Panic attacks and anxiety disorders are common Liz. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We just need to look at the root cause…together.”

Sounds like a spot-on diagnosis. True, panic attacks can be associated with allergies. I have a potentially serious seafood allergy, and I've been dragged into restaurants that I was promised weren't just seafood, only to find they were total seafood and the smell of fish triggered a panic attack. But anxiety disorder doesn't have to have a physical trigger like that.

At that moment laser beams shot from my eyes and melted that creepy councilor's sappy face to the floor. Anxiety disorder? Give me an ever lovin break. I’m trying to find the source of a life threatening allergy here, and this bitch is going all Sigmund Freud on me.

“I am NOT paying for this. I'm NOT a psycho.”


Is the first sentence meant to be literal? Because that takes us to a very different section of the bookstore.

This is where the query loses me. If this were a story about a person overcoming their denial about anxiety disorder and finally coming to grips with it, this could be a good story. Instead, it's turns into an attack of western medicine. Anxiety disorder is real, it's not about being "a psycho," and it can be successfully treated with medicine, cognitive therapy, or a combination of both. The writer here has rejected the diagnosis of anxiety disorder but hasn't given us a good reason why -- yet the whole rejection of western medicine appears to be based on that diagnosis.

Criss said...

I agree with the rest of the commenters... after reading this, I felt like I needed to take some sort of pills to aleviate the dizziness from changing directions so drastically so many times. This needs to be taken down from 11 to, say, 2.5.

(Or maybe my headache was due to the violent absence of possessive apostrophes in the first paragraph... but that might just be me.)

magdalune said...

You lost me when you wrote "kids" instead of "kids'" - grammar, punctuation, and spelling are tools you use when writing. If you can't use the tools correctly, get someone to help. Otherwise, it looks shoddy and like you don't care.

Everyone else covered the psycho subject matter.

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