9.04.2006

3rd SR Crapometer #65

Dear Miss Snark:

A 13-year-old Memphis boy takes over his friend’s newspaper route for one month in the summer of 1959. While he enjoys throwing newspapers, collecting for them is another matter since the boy struggles with a debilitating stutter that causes him to communicate in unusual ways, sometimes humorously and occasionally with catastrophic results The characters he encounters on the paper route change his life unexpectedly as he faces death and longing for the first time. (he faces longing for the first time at 13? Right there you lose me. I don't hang out with kids much, but I ride the subways and I know that kids are magnetic force fields of "longing" from infancy on up.)

Accompanying the boy on this coming-of-age journey is Mam, the family’s housekeeper, who turns out to be both savant and savior. Which tells me nothing.

"A Quartering of Souls" (85,000 words) is presented in a first-person voice that I propose is unique in literary fiction. For instance, the story is told without commas because the boy is afraid of pauses. The stuttering is handled in a way that does not impair readability and
exposes the boy’s love-hate relationship with words. The novel with its simple narrative and fast pace is easily accessible, but the engaged reader will hear a disquieting cry. Telling me how I'm going to feel when I read something is usually the first signal that you like to tell, not show

I’m a 35-year veteran of editing and publishing major daily newspapers in the South and Midwest. Please read my manuscript and consider representing me. (Leave out the second sentence)

A SASE is enclosed or I can be contacted at the email address above. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,


A Quartering of Souls
Throwing the paper route wasn’t the problem. Put that down as the first thing you need to know if you’re going to take time to hear my story. To tell the truth. Throwing seems to be what is holding all the pieces of my whacky life together. A hard throw that got away is the
reason I had to take on the paper route in the first place. It’s all a longer story than I have any business trying to tell. But I’ll give it a try. This is the voice of a 13 year old?

Some of what you will hear I’m not supposed to be talking about. (A person died. Not me. But I came close.) You’ll learn about four special words and the weird way they were given to me. Four words that you probably use everyday but when they are hooked together they become special. (yup, here it is, tell not show) ZAP.

Here's your start
The best place to start is to tell you about my best friend.
Rat.
His real name is Art but I have to call him Rat. He’s the catcher on my ball team. Don’t call him a “hind catcher” because he hates that plenty. He’s the only kid my age – I’m 13 – who can handle my hard throws and sometimes they are even a little too hot for him. We were
throwing at the end of practice when one of my throws got away from him and busted his lip good. Sometimes my ball does a dipsy-doo at the end when I throw it extra hard and when he tried to catch this one it nicked the side of his mitt and busted him a good one right in the
mouth. His lip puffed up more than it bled but Rat didn’t cry or get red-eyed and runny-nosed. He called me a butt-hole for showing off. That’s why I figured I owed it to him when he asked me to take on his paper route for four weeks so he could spend July on his grandparents’
farm.

You also need to know why I have to call my best friend “Rat.” (no we don't) His real name is Arthur and people mostly call him Art. The first time I talked with him was three years ago when he sat next to me on the first day of the sixth grade. He was a little taller than me and he had his ball glove with him and told me he liked the New York Yankees so we hit it off right away. He asked me my name and I showed it to him written in perfect letters in black ink on the back of my glove. He showed me his name painted in white on his blue lunch box. It was easy enough to tell that is name was “Art” but this was on a day I couldn’t get the “a” starter sound to come out of my mouth without a whole bunch of trouble and so I gave him this dumb-kid look and scrunched up my nose.
“Rat?”
He laughed out loud which made me like him even more.
“No. It’s Art. But you call me Rat. I like that.”


You're so caught up in the stuttering motif that you forget all you have to do is tell the story and we'll get it. Go read Motherless Brooklyn.

12 comments:

The other Cathy said...

I've seen this story before. So have you. Here's the link in case anyone wants to see the synopsis along with the cover letter and first page.

http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2005/12/29-crapometer.html

Anonymous said...

The Seven Stages of Snark:

1. Go get'em Miss Snark. Skewer those nitwits.
2. Miss Snark is all knowing.
3. Crapometer says "no partial."
4. Who the hell does she think she is?
5. Miss Snark doesn't know sh*t from Shinola.
6. Maybe she's right?
7. Back to the drawing board.

acd said...

Obviously I don't know anything about Mam but her (?) name and position in the story, but beware the magical negro trope.

Anonymous said...

No commas?

No sale.

Find another gimmick, then don't use it.

Anonymous said...

I see two boys talking to each other (one of whom doesn't appear to have a name), and I'm not too interested in reading on.

Figure out when your main character has a problem to solve, and start the story there. I suspect this happens at the moment when your main character accepts the paper route but realises his stuttering is going to be an issue. You can feed us backstory (in small bits) after you've got us curious to see how the MC solves his problems, but this opening appears to be disguised backstory with no plot in sight.

The Queen-a Athena said...

AHA! I knew it sounded familiar. Thank you, Cathy, for letting me know where I'd seen it before. I spent twenty minutes prowling through my copy of The Sell your Novel Toolkit, thinking that was where I'd seen it. Now I know.

Sonarbabe said...

I thought I recognized this. Good call, the other cathy.

I still kind of like the idea, though. If I were an agent, I'd finish reading the pages just to see if it were something I'd like.

BuffySquirrel said...

Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang is told without commas. So that aspect at least is not "unique in literary fiction".

Presumably "longing" is a euphemism for sexual desire. I wanted to make some kind of pun on condoms and commas, but meh, I'm too tired.

Anonymous said...

Never explain your gimmick.

If you do the 'no commas because he has trouble with pauses' thing well, you won't need to TELL the agent what it's supposed to be doing. She'll be able to figure it out all by herself.

If she can't, and she thinks it's sloppiness, then that's because you're not doing it well enough, and no amount of explanation will fix that.

Word verification: eyarghgz. Which I'm sure Miss Snark has shrieked once or twice over the past few days.

Anonymous said...

Boy wants paper route, boy gets paper route, boy has all manner of adventures keeping the paper route and collecting the cash. In the 1950s.

Sounds like the Henry Huggins series by Beverly Cleary.

Southern Writer said...

Miss Snark, no offense, but I'm guessing at this point that you are YOUNG. I agree that (most) kids today are as you describe them, probably more so in NYC. But in what was not much more than a cow town in 1959, kids were a lot less worldly at that age.

I just finished reading Evening by Susan Minot. It had no quotation marks whatsoever, and sometimes no periods. In fact, it broke a lot of rules, and became a best seller. Anonymous is right. Don't explain it, just do it.

I like the voice, but sadly, the protagonist as narrator stories have gone the way of the wind. It's telling, not showing. If you re-wrote it with action and dialogue, you might end up with a good tale. Just my humble opinion, Memphis.

Anonymous said...

So 'longing' automatically means sexual lust, and not longing for material goods or intangibles, or even an undefinable Sehnsucht?
Crap, when did that happen? Isn't 'lust' automatically meaning 'sexual lust' enough? Or is this a way of saying that puberty hits while sounding poetic?
-Barbara