9.04.2006

3rd SR Crapometer #75

Dear Miss Snark,

Please find attached a sample of my novel entitled "XYZ", for submission to the Crapometer. It is a commercial fiction novel (ARGH!!!!!!) of 90,000 words, and is set in the US rock music industry of the 80s and 90s. "XYZ" is the memoir of a female rock singer who, when we meet
her in Chapter One, has decided to end her life. The book details her life and career in one of America's biggest bands; her bohemian single mother, her chaotic upbringing, the relationships between her and the three male members of the band, their struggle for success and the problems that rip the band apart after four albums. (this isn't a plot, it's a recitation of events)

I am 29 years old and moved to London from Dublin in January 2005. I currently work at LMNOP, the record label, and also DJ. This is my first novel.

Many thanks for your time (and please pass on my best regards to Killer Yapp).

Yours sincerely,


_____________________________________________________

CHAPTER ONE

I tried to commit suicide once before. Horrible experience, mainly because I got caught. If you've made the decision to end your life, taken that mental leap and plucked up every ounce of courage, it's somewhat humiliating if it doesn't come off. You've got to make sure
the building is high enough, the blade is sharp enough, you have enough pills, to finally, decisively, end your life. Otherwise the alternative is too horrible. Everyone tiptoes around you careful not to set you off; you're wrapped in cotton wool and spoken about in
whispers. Everyone feels guilty and yet somehow reprieved, as if they have been given a second chance to make things better. If you had succeeded they now know how responsible they would feel and so you are smothered with love and attention, far more than you need or want. And you are judged, forevermore. You are somehow set apart for the rest of your life as someone who cannot cope.

I thought I was alone for long enough. I could down handfuls of multicoloured pills with a bottle of champagne and have enough time to change into the red carpet worthy dress I had set aside for my last big photo op. Enough time to slip into the oblivion I so desperately
craved. But no such luck. Twelve hours later, I woke up in a hospital with a raw throat, a pounding headache and a distraught Billy staring at me. And I knew then that I would be apologising forever, trying to appease everyone so that they didn't think it was their
failure that had sent me over the edge, when in truth it was no-one's failure except my own that bothered me.

So this time, it's different. This time I'm using a gun. It's instantaneous, irrevocable, final. I will accept no alternative and I will take no chances. Soon, after my last cigarette, I will take the gun and point it at my heart, for I am still too vain to destroy my face, and pull the trigger. And then it will all be over and I don't care what happens afterwards. I am too selfish to care how the few people left will feel and too cynical to believe in any kind of afterlife. All I want is for it to all be over. Now. I am not even slightly scared.

There is a sliver of light falling across the screen as I write this. I seem to have come to the end too quickly, I thought it would have taken longer. I have written all night and dawn is pressing up against the windows, clamouring to be let in. It seems more fitting to keep the curtains closed for it is still night for me, a new morning seems inappropriate. I guess there's nothing more to do. It's all here. All the bullshit and craziness that made up my life. The glamour, the emptiness, the controversy, the insanity, the great love and great pain that everyone always wanted to know about. Now I won't be around to answer any more questions I felt that I should try and provide the answers before I go, get it all down, and I think I've done a pretty thorough job. Call it what you want; confession, suicide note, memoir. Whatever it is, enjoy it. I want someone to have enjoyed my life.




Write something you know. This doesn't work on any level. I erased sixteen versions of "this offends me" cause that's not very helpful, but it does. Suicide is a terrible terrible thing brought on by mental illness and cold despair. To use it like this, as a device, makes me wish I'd stopped reading at "fictional novel"

77 comments:

Anonymous said...

The main character should study the death of Lupe Velez before planning that beautiful death scene.

Anonymous said...

How about "The Rose" with Bette Midler

or Buried Alive - the Life of Janis Jopplin

Anonymous said...

I am 29 years old and moved to London from Dublin in January 2005.
And how is this relevant to your query?

Anonymous said...

Recently, my son had to intervene when his roommate tried to commit suicide.

"Devastating" - for everyone involved - doesn't begin to describe the experience.

The young man survived, but my son believes he'll eventually succeed.

Sadly, because of his family's denial, I do too.

I could never, ever read this.

Debby G. said...

Hmm, I thought the attempted suicide scenes opening the humorous novels Gail Parent's SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK and Nick Hornby's A LONG WAY DOWN worked very well.

Adrian said...

I liked it far more than several of the others Miss Snark would have requested partials on. It didn't feel gimmicky or artificial, nor did it offend me. In fact, it felt frighteningly authentic.

I liked the suspense. I desperately want to read on, to learn what brought the main character to the brink of suicide twice.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing wrong with having your heroine be flippant, even facetious, when talking about suicide - people often talk that way about things that make them uncomfortable. What's wrong here is just about everything else. None of it rings true. I don't believe there's an adult on this planet who can honestly say that they've never considered suicide, even it was only for a moment. This reads as if you're the exception to this rule. IMHO, if you want to produce something meaningful, you need to dig deeper into yourself and not be afraid to write something honest.

desert snarkling said...

I don't know that suicidal folks have the togetherness and sense of life outside their own pain to think in great detail--and, more, with such clarity--about, well, what other people think.

I suspect the first reaction of someone who attempted suicide upon waking and realizing they didn't pull it off is more often than not roughly, "Fuck. Can't I even get this right?"

Because depression works that way.

BuffySquirrel said...

Another one?

Not much to say here, except that I don't find the writing convincing. It's not even self-satisfied enough.

Anonymous said...

I had to write a suicide scene from the POV of the perp; this rings true, covering many issues I dealt with in my work. As that character survived he/she is now dealing with the same emotional aftermath addressed in this excerpt.

I've had a few thoughts in that direction, too, though mine was an escape mechanism. (I'm all better now, wisely choosing to get rid of the screwed-up partner who was the source of the depression.)

Such a story would be a very hard sell, I'm sure, out of fear that it might inspire kids to do the same thing. But I had no objection to the writing and would want to see more.

However, I would caution the writer that audiences and the publishers will want the protag find a way to recover and overcome--especially the optimistic yanks.

Anonymous said...

White Teeth also begins with a suicide. Zadie Smith makes it actually funny - and somehow it works.

Anonymous said...

From the author:

Thanks to Miss Snark for the critique and those who were kind enough to post these comments. I am horrified that I caused offence with this opening scene as that was not my intention. I have had personal experience of suicide and rather than just using it as a hook, I was actually trying to communicate something honest. I guess that hasn't come across and it needs work.

And yes, now in retrospect, I agree that how old I am and where I live is not at all relevant to my query. I wrote the query with no personal informnation and it just seemed sterile and strange. A rookie mistake and one I won't be repeating!

Thanks to all again.

Anonymous said...

There are (at least) three things that can never be funny for me:

1. The Holocaust

2. Nine-Eleven

3. Suicide

Sorry

Anonymous said...

You can tell me you have 'personal experience' of suicide, but I think it's that you knew someone who did it.

No emotional authenticity in this for me. Nothing here to make me think this person doesn't care about life. She obviously cares enough about her own life to write out the last 'you're all going to regret doing/saying what you did because of what I did, nyah nyah' BOOK. If you don't care about your life and it's all misery and pain and nastiness, why write about it?

Use the old literary convention of straightforward storytelling. Lose the framing device of a suicidal gal telling her story. It's not the only thing you'll likely need to tweak, but that framing device would have me leaving your book at the store/library.

blaironaleash said...

Well, I wasn't offended. Suicide has touched my own circle, but I don't feel like people should have to spell the word out in a whisper.

Voyeurism is part of why people read, and not just about suicide.

Bad 'literary' novels about middle-aged middle-class people divorcing/shagging their secretaries/wondering whether to get divorced, now that's offensive. Who wants to take a peek at that kind of tedium?

M. Takhallus. said...

The seventh comment down, one of the Anonymouses had it right: nothing wrong with this scene. It just needs a rewrite to

Remember the suicide scene in MASH? Of course suicide can be funny.

LindaBudz said...

I liked the writing and to some extent the voice, but I agree with the previous post that the writer's words are too measured and precise if she is in a suicidal state.

Greg said...

Andrea Siegel's novel "Like the Red Panda" actually uses much the same device, and the same tone, and was well-reviewed. I'm someone who's lost at least one, and possibly two, people they were close to to suicide, and I've struggled with depression myself, and I can honestly say I wasn't bothered by this submission (though I respect the viewpoints of those who were).

In fact, I thought the writing was quite good. I do think it's important for the author to know that not everyone whose life has been touched by suicide would be offended by this, though clearly it's going to get a reaction.

desert snarkling said...

Oh, I think suicide can be funny. If it didn't ring true for me, it wasn't because of the humor.

Everything can be funny. It's when we can learn to laugh, even uneasily, that we can learn to cope.

Anonymous said...

my objection isn't the subject matter (I've had personal experience of this) but that it doesn't sound like the 'voice' of a rock star. Or, at least, how I imagine one to sound.

It's readable.

Jessica said...

Amp up the humour more and i could work.

Anonymous said...

I think some of you people are being a little harsh here. As one of you said, is there anyone who hasn't at least considered suicide for a brief moment? Well, probably not, and if that's the case, then how do you know what another person's thoughts might be before and after an attempt at it? To say that this writer doesn't know what he/she is writing about with the suicide is... well, I don't even know how to say what I want to say. It just sounds condescending to me. Everyone experiences life and pain differently, and getting a glimpse of another person's thoughts and feelings is what reading fiction is all about, isn't it? Personally, I would have kept reading, which is more than I can say for some of the stuff posted here that was supposed to be "good."

But this is not to say that some of these suggestions can't be used. Whoever said that your character might be more apt to think, "Fuck. Can't I even get this right?"... I like that. But if that's not what your character would do, don't do it. You're the one who knows her best.

Anonymous said...

I found it very spooky, especially near the end.

I've been close to suicide, and I wasn't as clear headed as this person seems to be. I don't think I would have wanted to apologize, but yeah I would have felt stupid, if I was caught in the act. Fortunately I was able to talk myself out of it with a lot of prayer.

I wasn't offended by it but if you had someone you lost that way I could see it being offensive. I thought it was beautifully written.

Renee Luke said...

I'm offended, too.

When I was 14 my best friend shot himself in the head with a .357. And event that wounded me, and changed my life forever. And his family's.

A few months ago, the girl on our court shot herself twice, once in the shoulder, once in the neck, only missing her heart because of the gun's kickback. I held a towel on her wounds while we waited for the EMT's to arrive. Her young siblings had been home at the time.

One of these teens died while the other survived, yet they both left massive amounts of descruction behind. The emotional damage isn't easy to fix.

To write about suicide as if it's neat or tricky lacks tact and clearly sensitivity.

I'm glad Miss Snark is done for the day. I couldn't read any more right now, either.

Anonymous said...

to the anon who said this...

I don't believe there's an adult on this planet who can honestly say that they've never considered suicide, even it was only for a moment...

What absolute bunk! As the child of a man who killed himself when I was 12, I CAN honestly say that I've never considered suicide, no, not even for a moment. To THINK about suicide is different than CONSIDERING suicide. Surely, you misspoke.

magz said...

With utmost respect to Her Snarkiness,
I thought this was exellent oh Author.

The most Powerful opening I've read yet here.

Yes! Painful and wince inducing and very few people's idea of entertaining Fiction..

Which is exactly why it worked. AWESOME voice.. from one who certainly seems to be writing exactly what they know. Hang in there Author, I'm convinced this is a Great Book. Congratulations on getting lightyears beyond the trivial!

Jo Bourne said...

Hi Anon -- (the writer) --

If somebody asked me to comment, which they haven't ... I'd say this passage needs tightening.

The text is full of repetition --

"somehow reprieved, as if they have been given a second chance"

"you are smothered with love and attention, far more than you need or want"


Half the words would convey the emotion more forcefully and more clearly. IMO.

Something to try, anyhow.

JoB

the green ray said...

Read or see Sarah Kane's last play, 4.48 Psychosis, about her own suicide right before she did it. It's funny, elegant, poetic and moving - and tops everything else.

the green ray said...

PS - to the author: I went back and read your opening, and I have to say, I really found it beautiful. Sarah Kane had said there's nothing that you can't represent on the stage; and I think the same thing holds true for novels. I remember that your entry captured my attention originally, but I was in a hurry, and didn't get to appreciate it until now. Good luck with it, I'd want to read more.

blissbat said...

For what it's worth, I don't think it's the suicide attempt itself that's the problem. It just doesn't, as someone else said, ring true. The humor has to be black black black if you're going for funny, and this is too self-conscious and mannered and distant for that. And if it comes off as false, as I'm afraid this currently does, it does feel like a callously used device.

That clearly wasn't your intention. I think it's twice as hard to write well about events that come with so much emotional weight built in. Keep at it!

Jocasta said...

After the first paragraph, I wondered if I really wanted to read more. After the second, I thought I would be brave and work my way through the third. Then I gave up. It rings overdone and, on top of it, bloody depressing. Am off to bed with a double gin now... it's approaching 1:00AM on my side of the Atlantic , obviously not the best time to read about people trying to kill themselves!

MJO'D said...

I wanted to keep reading. Shouldn't that be the test? I don't care what the subject is--suicide is not taboo, the Holocaust is not taboo, not even the "falling man" on 9/11 is taboo (see Tom Junod's moving essay in Esquire magazine, Sept. 2003). All of it is part of life, and all of it can and should be written about. To me, this exerpt rang true and made me want to read more. (It reminded me of Paul Auster's "Leviathan.") Not everyone will agree, but then not everyone needs to. I say, writer, take heart.

Dama Negra said...

This is the most artificial suicide scene I've ever read in my life. I've seen my share of attempted suicides and, because of mental illness, have had suicidal thoughts, and what this person is thinking is too far away from reality on so many different levels it's insulting.

"I am to selfish to think of everyone that's being left behind." This sentence is plain wrong. People don't think that. They stop, think about their beloved ones and decide bo's will be better off without them OR they won't even remember the people they're living behind, as if they don't exist. In no moment anyone stops, thinks about everyone that's being left behind, and then decides they're not thinking about them. How's that for logic?

Lexie Ward said...

This opening didn't offend me at all, but then I've never had personal experience with suicide.

However, there are subjects I do have difficulty reading about on a fictional level--cancer in particular, because I helped take care of someone who was dying from it. If a book delves too deeply into that subject, it brings back painful and depressing memories and I have to put it down, regardless of how well written. The same goes for my friend whose daughter was abducted and murdered when it comes to any novel that deals with that subject.

I think there are certain things for each of us that can never be part of the fantasy world of fiction because we have experienced the reality.

caren1701 said...

I think it's well-done, but might benefit from one more polishing session.

Don't let anyone tell you that you have to write certain subjects in a certain way or you're wrong -- even Miss Snark says this biz is extremely subjective. I like dark, heavy, gritty subjects -- if the stories honestly disturb me on some level it's a rare treat, because most writers just don't take chances like that (not saying they are wrong either, mind you). I have a lot of respect for people who do, because haven't we all read enough about normal, middle-class people who think infidelity is the deadliest sin?

Keep rocking the boat! :)

Marss said...

There's one big thing you have going for your story: You've rallied more people to comment than any other submission.

It's okay that some people won't read about suicide. Many will, if it's handled well, so go for it.

For me the problems with this opening are two-fold and have nothing to do with the subject matter.

First, the diction seems too stilted, logical and generic for the voice of a rock star raised in a wild household who's now twice decided to kill herself. I think if you could dig in and find her voice it would have bite and tang and probably some vulgarity or at least interesting jargon from her profession. Right now the words she's typing sound like a summary of what someone learned about suicide rather than the wild mind of a person who is so uniquely alone and complex.

Secondly, a lot of her feelings and the plans she's set into place could be shown, rather than told. For example, if while she's writing her memoir/note she's applying a perfect make-up job, it could show that she's too vain to destroy the face that made her famous. It could get really good with some tactile description of the process (a sharp eye liner pencil or whatever) so we can feel and smell and touch her experience. Instead of telling us why she's going for the gun, can you show her preparing it meticulously - or whatever you think best shows her intent?

Overall, this sounds like a terrific story that some people won't read and others will -- IF you can capture her personality in the voice.

Personally, if I have to read another "How I survived addiction" memoir I'll turn in my B & N card. Don't give this up. It could make it.

Anonymous said...

So murder, female serial killers, dead kids...nobody is offended by those topics?

But just let one character even consider committing suicide and everyone suddenly gets queasy?

Stacy said...

I felt like I was watching an episode of Laguna Beach, listening to some spoiled little bitch natter on about how awful her life is. I was not moved, or saddened. She just seemed superficial and self-important.

Now if that was what you were going for, you nailed it. If not, this needs work.

Anonymous said...

Suicide is born of the belief that one doesn't deserve to live. The pain and despair is so intense that a true suicide would not think his life worth writing about, much less choosing to leave behind an entire novel of the reasons for the event. Suicides believe they have no place on this earth, why seek to leave a record? The only thing a suicide is thinking of is the way out.

I'm not offended by this work. When I read it, I was thinking the author had no idea what she or he was talking about, that she or he thought suicide was somehow glamorous or edgy.

It's not. It's permanent.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was one of the best of the offerings so far! I was griped by the first two paragraphs.

I think this shows a lot of promise and hope the author publishes it one day.

Scottie McBruiser said...

Yah, yah, yah.

It was yer Steve Allen 'oo said tha' th' nature of comedy is some other bloke's tragedy.

Doan' read wha' offends, buh doan' bugger the boy fer tryin' sumpthin' different, neither.

Clarice Snarkling said...

Stacy, I got a similar YA-ish vibe from this excerpt. When I read the query, I knew that voice was going to be key in the author's work. And it was. A funny yet sympathy-inducing voice could sell this novel. But the voice that the author has created so far doesn't make me care if the character lives or dies (actually, no, I'm leaning a little bit to the death side).

anon below Stacy -- I've no doubt that a lot of suicides have the thought process that you've described. But is it not possible that, especially among teen suicides, the victim does not recognize the permanence of what he or she is about to do? He or she writes a long note and has an "I'll show them!" agenda. That's the feeling I got from this excerpt. The narrator seemed to be deluded about the reality of suicide and seemed to want the rock n' roll glamour of tragedy without considering that an inconvenient little thing called death might accompany it.

Southern Writer said...

I like dark and edgy and I loved this. I wanted to keep reading. I about spewed my drink on my keyboard reading some of these comments, though. Of course, everyone is entitled to an opinion; that's why we get to leave comments here (yay).

"Suicide is born of the belief that one doesn't deserve to live." That may be the case with some, but not every rule fits every situation. Not every person who commits suicide does it because they're depressed. How a person feels about death depends a lot on how they feel about a) their life, and b) what they believe comes next. Not everyone fears death and some see it as an escape from an otherwise unsatisfactory life. I'm not condoning it. I'm just saying.

And "not the voice of a rock star" I wonder how those people think a rock star sounds? Maybe they were looking for a little more vanity or flash? Or maybe the protag should have been singing the prose? Some rock stars are over the top (are they ever!), but a whole lot of them are pretty ordinary people like the rest of us. If some seem standoffish or arrogant, it's because everyone wants a piece of them. They're seldom treated like ordinary people. Again, not every rule fits.

I did agree with some of what Marss said. I'd like to see all the senses come into play, but didn't feel the voice was stilted or too logical for her background. Some people grow up in spite of their parents. That's something I'd like to learn more about as the story continues. As much as we'd sometimes like to get everything on the first page, it just isn't possible. I think it's okay to let a story unfold like a flower, a bit at a time. I would like to get a sense of her age up front, if possible.

Okay, they're not books, but the movie Harold and Maude (with Ruth Gordon, and I think it was Christopher Makepeace)became a cult classic, and Anne Bancroft and Sissy Spacek were mesmerizing in 'Night Mother. All the people who think suicide is a bad subject for fiction should rent these videos and watch them.

IMHO, you have a good start here, and I hope you keep at it.

nikita said...

Is it not very possible, perhaps even most likely, that there's more than one suicidal mindset, ranging anywhere from clinical depression to impulsive vengeance to genuine attempts to escape overwhelming pain and many many others?

Regardless, the primary issue I have with the writing is I don't like the narrator- she sounds whiney and the type of vapid that likes to think itself like, rilly deep y'know. I'm not sad her life has come to this, I'm not angry she's making a mistake, and worst of all, not only am I not curious about her, I don't want to listen to her boohooing for another minute!

Anonymous said...

To whoever wrote this:

"What absolute bunk! As the child of a man who killed himself when I was 12, I CAN honestly say that I've never considered suicide, no, not even for a moment. To THINK about suicide is different than CONSIDERING suicide. Surely, you misspoke."

Amen to that! I find the assumption that "everyone contemplates suicide once in their life" utter nonsense; of course I can't speak for everyone when I say that I think it's the exception rather than the rule, but the person who thinks it's the rule is doing just that.

Suicide does not offend me, and I'm wondering why that subject should be so delicate, and murder not? I've never heard this many complaints about murder, or for that matter any kind of unexpected death?
This excerpt was a little too dreary for me, but handled well suicide belongs in literature just as every other dimension of human life. To tel the truth I am am slightly more offended by the light and sugarcoated themes that seem to be taking over the publishing process these days. It's as if we don't want to face the ugly side of life, the troubling themes.
As in everything else in writing, it's a matter of how well it's done.

umpteenth anonymous said...

I think the fact that a writer has had personal experience with something quite painful--suicide, 9/11, rape, war--can make it harder, not easier, to write about. We build up defenses in order to keep our experience and at a manageable emotional distance. Those defenses may be why some of you find this inauthentic. Occasionally "write what you can imagine" will let you dig deeper than "write what you know."

BuffySquirrel said...

I wasn't offended. I wasn't really moved to any feeling at all. From the tone of the piece, the narrator might be deciding to sell her car, or maybe buy a vacation cottage in the Rockies. Lines like "the oblivion I so desperately craved" aren't just telling; they're cliched.

Of course suicide can be funny, but I didn't find this funny. Of course suicide is the proper stuff of fiction; everything is. If thy novel offends one agent, send it to a different one.

Renee Luke said...

It's not the subject of suicide I took offense to. I agree it can be written about, and should be. I've written and published several short stories about suicide.

It's a selfish act. They're gone, the leave behind pain and suffering.

What offended me about the submission was the voice and tone. It lacked real emotion and came across as crass, as if making a mockery of something serious. And I agree with a previous commentor, it reeked with self-importance.

And yes, I've thought about suicide plenty--as in, the pain others have done--but never once considered doing it. Not ever.

Anonymous said...

I believe suicide is morally wrong to do and a very sad thing. However, it is a personal choice everyone has the right to make.

the anon beneath stacy said...

I invite anybody who has never experienced the black pit that precedes suicidal thought and action to go here and get educated. Personally, I think teens feel that pit more deeply than adults. They slide faster because they do not have the lens of maturity, the understanding that the feelings may pass...someday, that their existence truly will end with a successful attempt. Failure to understand the consequences of their action, does not make their action any less seriously contemplated. If anything, the danger is greater because of their inability to visualize beyond the act.

Anything can be made funny, even suicide, but you better know what you are about if you attempt it. This passage doesn't offend because it isn't real. From the tone she takes, this rock star may as well be upset about a hangnail, as her life. The more she tells us how she feels, the less I believe it. If the author truly understands suicide, better she be willing to draw deep to portray it, because there's no way to write it, funny or not, without leaving blood on the page.

kate said...

Author:

Personally, I would enjoy reading something like this. I'm a suicide attempt survivor, and I also knew someone who, unfortunately, wasn't as lucky as I was. I know people keep saying that your protagonist seems too clear-headed in her thinking, and I agree with that...to a point. You said you had personal experience with suicide, and while I'm not going to presume whether it was your own experience or that of someone close to you, I think that a previous commenter was right when s/he said that it's sometimes harder to write about something that you've personally experienced. People who kill themselves can be *very* clear-headed about it -- when a friend of my mother's killed himself, it turned out he'd spent months quietly putting his affairs in order, and when he checked himself into a hotel to carry it out, he called a friend of his first to let him know so that the maid wouldn't be the one to find him -- but unfortunately, the clear-headed suicide is something of a fictional oddity. What works in real life doesn't always work for fiction.

Unfortunately, people in real life sometimes do things for no particular reason. We can act on a whim, make sudden, completely out-of-character decisions, experience all sorts of bizarre coincidences and no one bats an eye because real life is messy like that. It can be difficult to understand why someone might rationally and logically go about ending his or her life, but we accept it as realistic because it *happened*. In fiction, though, we need motivation. We hate coincidence because it feels like cheating. We hate when characters act without any motivation because it feels like the author is being lazy. Something that's real and true when we experience it can feel utterly fake when we read about it, because the fictional conventions we're used to just aren't there, and I think that's where the problem is.

I like that she's being rational about the whole thing. It's different from what I've come to expect from a suicide narrative, and based on that I would probably read on. I do think, however, that you need to explain her mental state a bit better. As someone said earlier, you can show a lot of this instead of telling about it. I still can't quite tell if it's despair or pique that's brought her to this point, so I think some indication of that early on would help readers know how to approach this opening. There's nothing wrong with flippancy in the face of death (I'm somewhat abashed to say I've made all sort of tasteless jokes about my own attempt, simply because it helps me to deal with it), but for those who don't know where you're coming from, that sort of lightheartedness can be horrifying. Your protagonist is serious, but I think people feel like she's not being serious *enough* considering the subject matter. If there's a reason for that, I think you should definitely let us in on that early.

Overall, I hope that you'll keep tinkering with this. It's got potential. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I think it is one of the most well writen pieces I have ever read. The person can write and describe feelings. Suicide is morbid, of course but it is a personal God-given choice. She also adds the sarcastic humor of the suicidal act just at the right moments.It is totally appropriate for suicide talk which is no more morbid than rape, mass murder or hatchet jobs.
Mattie

Kanani said...

I'm very sorry that you've had personal experience with suicide. It's dark, serious and the journey there is exceptionally painful. I"m still reeling over the suicide of a neighborhood kid two years ago. In fact, it is very hard to even type those words, so hats off to you if you've pulled off a whole book.

There's stuff here that I like. But as a whole, the act of suicide is almost trifled with by going over the failed attempts, or how to do it succcesfully.
The protagonist has already made up her/his mind. So why should I ready any further?
Let the reader walk around in the protagonist's mind. Don't hit us with everything all at once. Give your protagonist a bit of history, tell the reader his or her story, let us see it unfold, albeit without any sentimentality. For example, pick up Hubert Selby, Jr's. "Waiting Period" if you want a very dark walk into a disturbed mind.

Anonymous said...

I say write what you write, author. If the story line offends people, too bad. You'll just have to find an agent that doesn't mind. Look at it this way. You must have done something right because of all the emotion your opening has evoked. Write what you want to write and whatever you do, don't write to not offend.

Here's a favorite quote of mine:

"Writing is bearing your soul to the world. If you don't have the courage to do that, then put down your pencil." Let's see, trying to think of who said that . . . oh, yeah! It was me. -JTC

Anonymous said...

This could be an authentic voice but, the heroine is in a state of emotional withdrawal, unable to empathize with normal people (ie. the reader ) and will be a difficult POV for a whole novel. No problem if you're aware of this. Have you considered varying the POV in some way? Also, the second half of the last paragraph should come later - it's too much "telling," at this stage.
re. moving from Dublin to London etc. - see no harm in placing yourself, in a US blog.

Natalia said...

I'm not offended, although suicide has touched my family in the most sickening way. I didn't really like this opening, until I got to the last few lines, which actually moved me.

More dark humour. Less posturing. Less talk of "oblivion"," "glamour" and "emptiness," etc. With these words, you're telling, not showing. And I really want to *see* this person you're describing.

I think you have it in you.

Anonymous said...

So if you have a novel that's historical fiction, you can't say "historical fiction novel"? If it's science fiction, you can't say "science fiction novel"?

Don't you need the fiction in there for these to distinguish them from non-fiction or to just label the genre? I realize novel means fiction, so a historical novel might work, but a science novel just sounds wrong.

Guess it's just better to avoid this little problem altogether. Write mysteries.

Anonymous said...

My comments before reading the comment thread--

I don't know much about the subject of suicide--only that a nephew died that way. And my father-in-law. And my friend's daughter tried to od on pills. And I'm a professional who's had quite a few clients over the years in and out of the hospital with mental illness and with suicide ideation, gestures, attempts. And there was the family trying to live with the son who survived hanging, but now he's brain-damaged. All these were not me, but the touched my life.

I didn't feel offended as did Miss Snark. I didn't feel this was a gimmick. I felt that this was a small, weak voice speaking from some depressive mode, calling out one more time for help.

I didn't think it was bad at all. I would keep reading-despite the query, which I didn't like.

jmho.

Terri said...

I was a stand-up comedian for several years. I took writing classes at UCLA from Bob Basso, one of the original writers from SNL and a great teacher. There are some things that aren't funny. Will never be funny. Suicide is one of them.

Of course you're probably trying to echo the tones of Brett Ellis in Less Than Zero - you know, taking a raw, powerful subject (his case drugs, your case suicide) and trying to talk about it devoid of feeling or hope. Sadly you've completely missed the mark. Painfully I might add. Sorry. Stick with what you know. You obviously are talking about a subject you know nothing about. My best friend, my cousin and another close friend all committed suicide. Two women. One male. Two hung themselves. One murdered her daughter and then killed herself hari kari style with a kitchen butcher knive. So see? The reality of suicide. Not funny. Even if it's your own.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Oh, I have many things to say, but none of them I want to post to the Internet.

I grasp at life. Life is a slippery, wiggly thing, and hard to hold. I understand a genuine despair.

Most of us hold on to life by our teeth and claws. We don't realize that until faced with - something - anything - that greedily wishes to take life and thought from us, but we do hold life dear.

I may be wrong, but I don't think the person who wrote this has a real sense of life and death issues.

If any of this reflects a truth in their life, they need some help. But my impression is of someone who's never faced true helplessness.

If this is mere artifice, it is offensive. If it is true despair, I'm sorry.

Really wanting to die is a hard experience and sad. Presenting human tragedy as if it were - what? A festered hangnail? A mere inconvenience and embarrassment? - is just wrong.

Oh, I have lots to say, and I don't know how to do it. This is frustrating.

There is no God in this writing. There is no right, only wrong. There is only self, and not self expressed well. I reject this.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I have to confess I didn't read past the query, which sounded so much like Louise Voss's To Be Someone that I was wondering if it had been cut and pasted.

Anonymous said...

I have worked with scores of people who are high risk for suicide. Self harm is always an attempt at communication. You might want to give a hint about what she isnt getting from her environment eg what is her desire thwarted, her quest etc

the anon beneath Stacy said...

There are some things that aren't funny. Will never be funny. Suicide is one of them

But the suicidal person can be funny, though the act isn't. I can't speak for the others, but that's what I meant when I said that anything can be funny. Some people, no matter how deep the pit, can still come up with gallows humor. I like to think it's a saving grace.

That website I linked to, by the way, is the first that comes up if one googles 'suicide'.

Grendel's Dam said...

Has everyone forgotten Dorothy Parker?

"Razors pain you/
Rivers are damp etc."

All writers are suicidal at one time or another. Why not look the beast in the face and laugh at it once in a while?

writtenwyrdd said...

I didn't think this was particularly gripping, but it wasn't a bad opening. The discussion needs to be visceral and show that you have a point though, that you aren't using suicide as a gimmick. Heaven forbit you use it as a metaphore for something, which is what I was left expecting.

Anonymous said...

To those who think there's humor in suicide--

Is it funny when a 13 year old boy hangs himself in the garage while his mom is fixing dinner and his brother playing with mini fire trucks? Is it funny that the brother (7) found his brother still twitching and cried out for their mom? Is it funny that when the mom tried to help her dying son, the family dogs attacked her, thinking she was hurting him. Shredded her legs so badly she spent five days in the hospital, and had two surgeries. Is it funny that mom and brother now suffer from nightmares? That their lives will never be normal again?

Or maybe it's funny that a 12 year old boy waited for his parents to go out, locked his 9 year old sister in the bathroom and found his father's gun (a sherrif, who'd locked the gun in a case in the trunk of his undercover car)? Is it funny that he took a bible to the front yard where his parents would see his body as they arrived and then blew his head clear off? Is it funny that his sister never recovered, as she'd escaped from the bathroom and held his lifeless body in her frail arms? Or maybe there's humor in the fact that seven years later the sister died of a drug OD because she'd used them to avoid the pain of his loss.

Hey, I've got it. Maybe it's laughable that a mother of three small children decided her life wasn't worth living after her husband had an affair and took too many pills while her children watched Spongebob.

Yep, I'm seeing lots of humor.

And to the anon who said they were a suicide survivor--Suicide survivors aren't those who attempt it, but the ones left behind to clean up the mess of their lives. Those are survivors.

Anonymous said...

Dear Author:

"I tried to commit suicide once before. Horrible experience, mainly because I got caught." Actually, the right voice is found, not caught. There is no guilt here about being caught; who the f* cares about other peoples' rules. We're past that.

"plucked up every ounce of courage ..." I agree. I always thought that suicide takes an enormous amount of courage. Unfortunately, it is always just a bit more courage than I have ever had. But I return to its allure, again and again.

The multitude of possible ways to get through to suicide are an irrelevant waste of words in this story. Get rid of them.

The alternative being "too horrible" is misplaced. The alternative is dreary, just another gol' darn dreary scene in a succession of dreary scenes that were supposed to terminate. There is nothing "too horrible" about it; that sounds like you are skittish, which just can't be true.

"Everyone feels guilty but somehow reprieved ..." I like that. I know few unsuccessful suicides, but I imagine that it is easy to think their families feel this way. It is much more real than the following piece "how responsible they feel and you are smothered with love and attention, far more than you need or want." Don't you know that if you could really feel their love, you wouldn't write this? You are smothered with noise, not love; love might reach you. All the right motions and noise coming from these folks, along with a pile of duty-bound behaviour, but it feels like rain drumming the side of an empty metal barrel, just a lot of noise. You can't feel it, let alone be able to identify it. Another time you might know what love is, but not now.

"And you are judged forever more." That only matters to the living. It's mostly irrelevant to someone who wants to terminate the game. Who cares what they think?

The handful of pills and the dress may be artistic invention. Ok if you want it, it's your story. "Apologizing forever so that they didn't think it was their failure that had sent me over the edge" is not very real to me, maybe it's more artistic licence, but it sounds like it is imagining feelings of other people that we cannot really know (and have never bothered to ask about). "This time it's different" and "take no chances" both have a melodramatic feel, but they also don't sound very *real* to me, though maybe this is the best that you can do. "After my last cigarette" is RIGHT on the money for a million reasons. In general, I think this whole paragraph could be much more powerfully written.

The paragraph starting with the sliver of light falling across the computer screen has more real ambiguity in it than the whole preceeding work. This has less "tell me" and more "show me" than much of the earlier paragraphs, though I would still seriously slice many of these sentences. The point, perhaps, is that the actual taking of one's life will resolve the ambiguity; up until then it is a constant back-and-forth argument.

As you have noticed in the comments of this posting, talking about suicide upsets many people. Ergo, included in a piece of writing, it has great potential as a device or lever to move people. Possibly not in ways that you like.

Personally, I've been thinking about suicide ever since I was 16, which is a long time ago by now. I've never thought of it as a weakness. I know it would take a vast amount of courage, and I often look at it longingly. Sometimes I think about it ALL THE TIME, like the last few years when I have had a little trouble coming to terms with how difficult the world is.

Suicide is simple: It's my life, not yours. Moreover, you don't have any right to tell me that I have to abide by your rules. Or, you can tell me whatever you want, but I am under no obligation to listen.

Usually, I'm too depressed to have enough courage to start thinking about how *exactly* I will do this, although some times I think I almost have enough angst to go there.

Well my friend the writer, I am willing to talk with you about suicide if you want to perfect this piece of writing. Send a query to Miss Snark if you want to get in touch with me. I'm sure that Miss Snark would be willing to act as go-between for your email address and mine; all she has to do is to let us know that she is looking for Anon #66.

Best,
me.

Anonymous said...

Suicide doesn't take courage.

It's a cowardly act. Cowards lack courage.

What it takes is self-centered selfishness.

Anonymous said...

I actually liked the writing, a lot, and it seemed to me that the writer had an insight into what it felt like, I've been there, and it seems very familiar to me.

Tough subject, but written well and bravely tackled. Yes, not to everyone's taste, and there will always be knee-jerk reactions, but sensitive issues must be written about.

Keep querying anon-writer 75!

Erastes

Bernita said...

"All writers are suicidal at one time or another."
Oh crap.
Guess I'm not "a real writer" then.

kate said...

And to the anon who said they were a suicide survivor--Suicide survivors aren't those who attempt it, but the ones left behind to clean up the mess of their lives. Those are survivors.

I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you're referring to my comment, since I mentioned being a suicide *attempt* survivor. There's a difference. When someone does succeed in killing him or herself, the people left behind are survivors; those of us who are lucky enough to live through our own attempts are survivors too. Considering the frame of mind I was in at that point and how I've spent the last several years putting myself back together, I feel I've earned the right to call myself that.

"Is it funny when a 13 year old boy hangs himself in the garage..."

The scenarios you outline are horrific, and no, those sorts of things will never, ever be funny. The act itself, especially when it succeeds, isn't funny. But for those of us who have lived through it, gallows humor is sometimes the only way to cope, and three years after my own attempt, I can find humor in some aspects of the bleakness that characterized my life at that time. Hell, I'm glad that I can find humor in it. But -- and I suppose this comes back to the issue of the author's intentions with this piece -- if anyone else were to make the same jokes I do, or act as if they thought my situation was funny independent of my saying something first...yeah, I'd be upset. What I think everyone is arguing about isn't so much the writing or the story, but whether or not the author has the right to tell this sort of story in the first place. Since I don't know the author, I can't say either way, but I applaud him/her for at least *trying*.

Based on the comments, it seems like the people who have their own depression/suicide attempt issues are sometimes more forgiving about these kinds of narratives, while those who have lost loved ones tend to be more rigid (rightly so, given the circumstances) in how they approach the topic. Author, this may want to be something you consider when you revise. A lot of the audience may react with hostility; that doesn't mean you shouldn't write it, but it is something to keep in mind.

Kaytie said...

Are you still there, author?

I was thinking you might consider telling the story in the third person. Yes, it removes the "suicide letter" trope but maybe you don't need that. Perhaps the voice that has emerged is better as "authorial" than as character.

Something to try, anyway--no telling whether it will work better or worse than the first person. It's possible some narrative distance will improve the story and in the end it's your decision.

Anonymous said...

'horrible' twice in the first para stopped me cold. Didn't read beyond that. Good God woman, proof-read your own stuff before you send it out!

Nikki said...

Hi author,

I didn't like your main character - she came across as self-absorbed, her suicide attempt as a cry for attention. I think if we could all read to the end of the book, maybe there wouldn't be that offended sense. I do agree with those who said that the voice didn't ring true, and I think if this was better written, the sense the reader is meant to take away would be far clearer, and you wouldn't have this sense of outrage. I think you need to tighten up the writing - make us care about her before the suicide part, perhaps not make the 'this is why' so bald.

Being offended or not is a personal reaction. I don't think as a writer you have to take people's offence as a guide to what to write. Just think - there wouldn't be South Park!

To all those who say there isn't humour in suicide, well, no, but surely we can use humour to understand it - and other terrible events, a couple of examples mentioned already - even to make light of it so that we can go on?

Black humour, anyone?

It wasn't quite well done enough in this piece, but it could be.

Good luck, author, I hope you do well with the book. But I do think it needs work.

Anonymous said...

I have written all night and dawn is pressing up against the windows, clamouring to be let in.
what?

A. M. said...

My suggestion:

Epilogue

Start: "So this time it's different..."
End: with end of this paragraph, "I am not even slightly scared". This paragraph is IT.

That's your epilogue. That's all you need. It says all we need to know (including that it's not the first attempt!), it grabs us, it makes us curious. It's perfect as is!

Then, start the story. Past tense, of course. Show us. You promise exciting and crazy, show us this exciting and crazy life.

Prologue
Back to the epilogue-situation, back to present tense. Tell us if he kills himself or if the phone rings or whatever (sequel?).

This could be fab if you cut out all the stuff that slows it down.

Good luck and I hope to see more of it!

A. M. said...

Did I just switch prologue and epilogue in my comment? Oops, I think I did. Be conventional, why don't you, author. Works better, sometimes.

Jeez. Breakfast first. That'll teach me.