3rd SR Crapometer #11

Dear Ms. Snark,

HELP US, ST. JUDE is a family saga that focuses on three generations of women over the course of six years (saga and six years are mutually exclusive) in the 1980s. The story unveils this German Catholic family with frank portrayals of what has shaped its members during times of stress and joy, while also probing questions of family, regret, religion, culture, and grief, showing how family members can be suffocated and nurtured at the same time. Catholicism binds the family; it's a source of strength, an excuse for silence — it's in the house and in the minds and hearts of these people. Even the characters that challenge its relevance can't seem, ultimately, to escape its grip.

HELP US, ST. JUDE is currently one of five finalists for the X Award, and has also been a finalist for the Y Award and the Z Award for the Novel. The first chapter appeared in The M Magazine and the seventh chapter won second prize in the Unfinished Works competition. I received my MFA from the U of Yapp Creative Writing program, where I was a X Fellow and the Fiction Editor for Z Magazine. I was also a Bronx Writers' Center Fellow, attended the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and received an X for the Arts residency.

May I send you an excerpt of HELP US, ST. JUDE? Thank you for your consideration and time.

Is there a plot in this book? My guess is you write pretty well given the credentials and awards but from the description you give of the book, I'd want to see a synopsis early on.

I'm also really really over the recovering-Catholic bit so you'd have to show me something really new and fresh to overcome that.

Grandma held the holy water canister up high above her head; ready to let it swing. "Celia," she said, "which roses should we start with?"

"The white ones," I answered.

Grandma nodded and sprayed the white rose section. Her hair blended in with the petals and for a moment, she faded away. She believed the secret to her roses was the holy water Father Joseph brought once a week. Father Joseph held the gold canister, said a prayer and
blessing then handed it to Grandma. She made the sign of the cross and sprinkled the holy water onto her roses. Only Grandma did this; I wasn't allowed to. Mom believed this sacrilegious, but Grandma said her garden was intended for God so it was okay. If Father Joseph brought the holy water it couldn't be that bad, but it was nothing I'd ever tell my friends at Sacred Heart.

"Why do we start with the white ones?" Grandma asked.

I lifted the straw hat off my head. Grandma had given it to me to protect my fair skin from the strong summer sun. She wanted me to look in her eyes when I responded, to show her I knew this was important. "Because they stand for purity and purity always comes first." This was the summer of 1981; I was twelve and about to begin junior high. In seven years, Grandma would die. On her deathbed, she would tell me her secret and the truth about herself, more than I would ever want to know. But of course I didn't know this then. Grandma and I were tending her prized roses as we did every summer. Mom and I had left Utah earlier than usual for our annual trip to Missouri because of Aunt Joan's wedding. This trip would be the last
time I would know my family the way I had always known them.

Grandma raised the holy water container again. "Then what?"

"Yellow, because they stand for friendship." I'd had the answers memorized for years.
Grandma smiled, pleased. As she sprayed the yellow roses, droplets fell onto my arms; goose bumps rose from the cool water and I inhaled Grandma's baby powder and rose scent.

She paused before asking the final question. "What comes last?"

It was obvious, there were three sections besides the climbers, which she never asked about, but she was making a point. "The red ones, because they stand for passion."

"That's right, dear. You must remember that passion always comes last." She grabbed my shoulders. "Passion gets people in trouble and it impairs their senses. Junior high is a dangerous time. You need the Lord's influence." Grandma leaned over and kissed me. Her
gardening shears jabbed my leg.

The climbers wound along my grandparents' ten-foot fence with their heads peeking over onto the neighbors' yard. Grandma said the climbers were lovely, but they also helped fortify her home; no one could see onto her property because of them. The climbers made the
garden feel like a jungle and I could step among them, disappearing into a place where I only had to worry about avoiding their thorns.

Who doesn't have a grandma who thinks holy water is the cure for everything? I'd read one or two more pages just to make sure but this isn't capturing my interest like a Sicilian widow throwing herself on the cross screaming "take me Jesus, take me now". I'm looking for something with more zip.


Dave Fragments said...

I remember when "Mother of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church" put up a new building and the Priest didn't take the statues from the old church building. One day, a small, black-clad little old Italian lady came into church before mass and starting at the back of the church, she unleashed a call for her St Rooco statue in broken English and didn't leave until her son had the statue in hand.
It was a passionate, devoted and very startling display of pure, raw emotion in church.
Some weddings didn't have this much emotion and only rarely did funerals exceed this display. It's faith and belief and it's personal and emotional. Make the reader believe that.
My point is that you need to capture that fire and adoration and broing it to the reader.

Anonymous said...

Good writing here, but I started skimming after the yellow roses. Could you get through the roses a bit more quickly? I suspect the discussion of their merits will be crucial to understanding Granny's big secret, but it makes for dull reading.

I liked the garden shears poking the main character when Grandmother kissed her, and the mention of the thorns in the rose garden. It gives a sense of that this book will be full of safe-seeming places that are crowded with little perils. Nicely done! Good luck with it.

Anonymous said...

Do most of these first pages actually fit on one page? I was literal about the first page, but contemplated including more. Now I wish I did! My first page is very short, the actual first page of my manuscript. Oh well. So glad my number won the lottery. Thank you, Miss Snark. This is great.

Anonymous said...

The vivid image in Dave's comment captured my attention more than this crapometer excerpt did.

Anonymous said...

The query letter made my eyes glaze over, but the excerpt is decent. I'd read on. (Though I started skimming at yellow roses, too.) Get more character/plot and less family themes blah blah blah in the query.

McKoala said...

It's not moving fast, but the writing is nice. Given that garden shears are sharp, though, 'stabbing' with the garden shears did make me expect the next sentence to start with 'as the blood dripped down my leg...' Maybe another word?!

A. M. said...

yep, shears/kiss was nice.

Unimpressed w/ the roses though. Thorns/Catholicism, it's too familiar a combination. From Jesus' thorn crown to "Thorn Birds" and whatnot.

Thorns per se - done to death. Perhaps when people read "Jane Eyre" for the first time Thornfield was a clever name or something.

Roses to symbolize that something can be beautiful and pleasant but hey, the thorns? See above.

If I seem hung up on the roses/thorns - they took up a lot of real estate in this excerpt, too.

I felt that I'm being fed information (look! Important stuff!) in an all too obvious way. It felt like I'm told what the trouble will be about, later.