3rd SR Crapometer #3

Dear Miss Snark:

A Dog Like Me (inspirational info (wtf is that?)-novel, 56,000 words) is about a local Midwestern Catholic radio station’s call-in talk show embracing a wide array of quirky questions about everyday life and spiritual journeys—-the funny, the poignant and the irrational. (You don't need to tell me what they are-show me) Although he’s a capable host and guide for most callers, psychologist and theologian Jack Kerrigan cannot elude his own personal struggles with pride, trust, family and mortality. That plus the neighbor’s dog who daily lifts his leg in Jack’s prized prayer garden.

This story offers imperfect, endearing, struggling and humorous characters: Can you buy your friend’s way out of Purgatory? What if his wife is “praying against him real hard?” Is a young party girl’s “fifth virginity” a too-lofty goal? (here's the show) A quickly moving parade of characters and subjects gradually intertwine to celebrate the universal family we are becoming—-despite our diverse heritages and cultures. (blech)

I’ve been working as a freelance writer for over 20 years, mostly producing advertising, promotion and publicity for businesses ranging from the very small to the Fortune 100. As a creative director, I’ve also worked with broadcast stations and sound studios. In addition, I’ve written a weekly newspaper column for The Appleton Post-Crescent. I’m currently working on my second novel.

Thanks for helping us with this exercise.


Tom Kelly

The warm smell of electrical equipment and halogen canisters filled the tiny windowless studio, its dark brown walls covered with acoustically dead egg crate foam. The pre-recorded intro faded up--an upbeat improvisational piano version of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” Already the queue on the monitor displayed a caller patiently blinking to be heard on the air: Marie; Eden; Confession. Seated next to Jack at the small table, a silver-haired
priest seemed distracted, adjusting his collar as if the audience would be able to see him.

Two nuns smiled warmly from across the table. The room was crowded with the sisters and Father Carl in the more comfortable studio chairs and Jack on an extra folding chair.

“I like that music,” said the younger nun, her smooth face glowing.

“Pretty jazzy for 'Let All Mortal Flesh' if you ask me, Lucia,” the elder companion protested with a grin.

As the musical intro built to its crescendo, Meg raised her "World's Best Producer" mug from the control room--Jack's cue to begin following her standard weekly introduction.

“It’s time for Any Questions--Catholic Valley Radio’s live call-in show responding to your questions about faith and family. Here’s your host, noted Doctor of Psychology and Theology, and author of ‘Putting God First in the Third Millennium,’ Jack Kerrigan.”

“Good morning!” Jack began. “And what a beautiful spring morning it is! My special guests today include Father Carl Fenlon, from Saints Peter & Paul Parish in Silver Falls. He’s here to help us on our journey, and I’d like to invite you now to give us a call toll free at 1-800-555-2555. Father Carl? Welcome!”

“Thank you Jack,” the priest replied. “It’s always a pleasure to visit with you and your listeners.” A seasoned pro, Father Carl positioned the microphone and his mouth at the ideal distance and angle.

“His P’s never pop,” Jack observed silently as he continued the introductions. “We’re also honored to have Sister John and Sister Lucia from the Dominican Sisters of Saint Joseph Congregation join us today. Good morning Sisters.”

“Good morning Jack,” both women responded in cheerful unison.

Their full habits seemed to deepen the room beyond its ordinary closeness. Sister Lucia wore the white veil of initial formation. Sister John’s was black--she was committed for life. Their headphones gave them an uncanny
halo-like appearance.

The queue now displayed three callers:

Marie; Eden; Confession

Brenda; Twin Lakes; Bingo Worry

Arthur; rural Sussex; Beer Tent

(here's where it starts to get interesting)
“Let’s get right to our first caller, Marie... Marie? Are you with us?”

Dead air. Jack hated to lose callers.


The caller cleared her raspy voice, hesitated and spoke.

“Father. I need to make confession.”

“Bless you,” the priest said. “It’s sad that such a wonderful sacrament, such a gift, has fallen into such an under-celebrated state. Please know that you’re welcome at Saints Peter & Paul on Saturdays at 9:30am or by appointment.”

The woman cleared her throat again.

“No. I want to make confession now.”

The puzzled priest’s eyebrows moved closer together.

Jack was perplexed. “You mean on the air? With thousands of people listening?”

“I stole chickens,” she blurted.

You spend a LOT of time telling what everything looks like. Get to the action. In a normal query you'd have a couple more pages for me to read after *it gets interesting* but if you fell back into the drying paint of description, I'd stop.

Your query letter makes me wonder if there's a plot in this. I'm guessing there isn't.

Also I'm really really over dog's peeing as a humor point. It's been done to death.


Dave said...

I agree with Miss Snark. In fact, I would say lose the description and dialog before "...Let’s get right to our first caller, Marie..."
and write the scene starting at that point. Start with the drama and spread all that description (it's good stuff) through the first chapter.

Try it as an excercise and see what happens.

Angelle said...

I agree with Miss Snark (who wouldn't?) that your story MUST have a plot and you MUST make that clear in your query.

I also agree that you should lop off the description, move some (not all) of it back into the story after its rolling, and start where the action is.

I LOVE the nuns in headphones. A recovering Catholic, I have a great affection for humorous, human clergy novels, which is what this seems to be. My favorite example of that genre is "Bless Me Father" by Neil Boyd, published in the 70s. YOu might check it out from the library and other books like it to help you better-position your book.

Best of Luck!

Anonymous said...

Okay, I am not over dogs peeing as a form of humour; I quite liked line about the mutt raising his leg in the prayer garden.

Inkwolf said...

The Appleton Post-Crescent? Neighbor!!! I'm from Seymour! How ya doing?

I like the Catholic Radio call-in concept. :D

Anonymous said...

Too much up front description. Will the priest and nuns be important characters? If not, then no need to bother with those details on them.

The "welcome to the show" paragraph complete with phone number tossed me out, since it was a fake number with all the 5's and everyone knows that kind of thing by now.

It could be put as a one-liner. (Jack delivered his standard welcome-to-the-show introduction then punched the button to bring in the first caller.)

The notes stalled me since I had to figure out they were a cue-type thing and not some random list of names the writer chose for his characters and accidently printed.

This is an interesting premise to me, but I want to see a smoother execution. It's like the writer is too-anxious to assure us that HE knows radio.

You're totally right about where the action starts. I am deeply concerned about the fate of those stolen chickens. Are they even now being abused by some horrible white-slaver of chickens? Or cooking to a turn at the local KFC? I wanna know!

St. Wannabe said...

Thank you Miss Snark for reading, and for your comments. For whatever it's worth, there's a plot holding all this parade of callers and emailers together. The hero is frustrated by his garden hobby--he wants perfection, but no garden is ever perfect, at least for long. The garden is a metaphor for his personal life--fighting to keep his marriage strong, teaching his kids to navigate the culture, and helping an old friend through her death.

I wrote about what I love--faith and family. I write for markets all the time, but not here. I don't know if this can sell. Jesus wasn't mass market, and my book is a very humble repackaging of a fraction of that wisdom. Is that what makes "celebrating universal family" so "blech" to the masses?

But, yanno, I thought you were gonna redact my name and book title. Yikes! How many Miss Snarks are commenting here?

Sam said...

I think it would have made a good beginning to a cozy murder mystery - the caller would have confessed to murder & the sisters would have solved the crime.

Sherry Decker said...

I think it would be a lot funnier if his drunken neighbor pee'd in his prayer garden instead of the dog. As a matter of fact, I think you should start with that scene.

JRBrown said...

I concur on triming/moving the description before the call-in part, but keep the nuns in headphones. Your writing is pretty good, but if I pick up a book in a store or library and the first page is that slow, unless the back cover promises a scandalous murder or something, I'm not going to read far enough to get hooked.

St. Wannabe said...
For whatever it's worth, there's a plot holding all this parade of callers and emailers together. The hero is frustrated by his garden hobby--he wants perfection, but no garden is ever perfect, at least for long. The garden is a metaphor for his personal life--fighting to keep his marriage strong, teaching his kids to navigate the culture, and helping an old friend through her death.

I don't read much Christian fiction, but this doesn't sound like a strong enough plot to hang a book on to me. The writing has to be very compelling or funny or otherwise engaging to carry a "nothing much happens here" kind of book (unless "helping an old friend through her death" turns out to be more of a crisis than you imply). I'd be happier if there were some sort of conflict, even if it's all internal.

Frainstorm said...

Gotta say, I'd keep reading because the best part (I hope) is just about to happen. Of course, the bar was set a little low with the long set-up, but the bit about making a confession over the air might be great stuff.

Too bad, I skipped a little to get there. I think an agent might give up before then, so start with the action if you think you can and add some of that description as you go. My two cents anyway. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

The characters might catch my interest... but so far, nothing is happening.

BuffySquirrel said...

This could be fun, and I write as someone who would normally run a mile from anything marked "inspirational". I like radio phone-in based stories. But can we start in someone's POV, please?

Crystal said...

I agree with the Snarkling who said the author is anxious to assure the audience that they know radio. All those little bits can come in handy later. You lost me at the queue; maybe you can add the radio shorthand later in the book, once we're more familiar with the format. Also, there’s so much description of Stuff, more than people. The nuns have no faces, and neither does anyone else. Part of the nice part of “behind-the-scenes” at a radio station would be Seeing the people who are involved.

But I did like everything after where it officially got “interesting”.

Anne said...

"Faith and family" stuff seems very hot right now. Look at all the Chicken Soup type stuff out on the B&N tables. Jesus himself may not have been mass market, but Middle America brand Christianity is.
I don't generally read this sort of book myself, but I got interested at the same point as Miss S. Take the advice of the early posters, tighten the prose, and if the characters and situations are as interesting as they sound in the query, I think you're well on your way.