3rd SR Crapometer #82

Dear Miss Snark,

I hope you will consider representing my 2,000-word memoir,(wtf?) Mending Fences With My Manic Mother, for publication.

“Displaying her characteristic charm, Mom wastes no time in making a thoughtless remark that downright insults my intelligence. So, with little reserve I say, ‘Mom, you really PISSED ME OFF.’ “

So begins the biggest fight I ever had with my mother; a fight so big that we nearly came to blows, so big it reduced her to a whimpering child, so big that it brought me the biggest revelations of my life.

In simple prose, my memoir encapsulates this clash and two profound revelations that illuminated a life-long conflict between my mother and me. Oddly enough, these revelations were equal in impact but opposite in truth.

Readers will be gripped by this painfully honest, human portrayal of a dysfunctional parent-child relationship, a subject that remains of intense interest because of its universality, and because the essay courageously relates a troubling physical incident between a mother and daughter (and a 6-month old grandson). But more important, the essay reveals the journey of an adult child as she comes to accept the limitations of her emotionally challenged parent.

I have enclosed the first page of my memoir. I recently left my job as a web editor with [magazine name], a hobby magazine with a circulation of 60,000, to focus on writing. I write a creative blog and my past writing credits include several non-fiction articles for newsletters, trade publications, and non-profit websites.

Thank you for considering my work. I can be reached by phone at (---) ----------.



2ooo words isn't even a long magazine piece. Even if you meant 20,000 words, it's still too short. None of that matters because this is an instant zap.

The travails of our own lives are important to us. They are mostly meaningless to other people. I get a lot of these kinds of letters. Survivor letters from people who've lived through terrible things: manic mothers, Hurricane Katrina, breast cancer, the crapometer. You name it, people who've been through it want to write about it.

The trouble is there's no hook. Without that, it's a non starter.

These kinds of books and proposals are the ones that turn normally nice kind agents into snivelling idiots at conferences. There is no way on Dog's Pink Tam to say no to this without coming across as the Grinch who not only stole Christmas, but pawned it and used the money to buy a time machine, kill Jesus and make sure there's no Christmas even invented. Ive seen agents in the ladies rooms of very posh hotel whimpering on the settee after being pitched three of these in a row.

Work like this belongs on your blog. You'll write it, it will help you make sense of your experience, and people who are interested can read it.

Mending Fences With My Manic Mother

Long ago, my mother and I settled on a complacent truce that overlaid a deep and tense emotional divide. In my teen years, when I wasn’t locking myself in my bedroom, I often played the “wise adult,” encouraging Mom to defeat her addictions, to stand up for herself, and to seek her own happiness. Sure, her parents died in a house fire when I was 11 and a nervous breakdown eventually landed her a brief stint in the funny farm. But wasn’t everyone doing that in the 1970s? And sure, her marriage to my father was hardly a success. But happiness is all about choices and if you make the right choices then you’ll be happy, right? So I chose to be happy and my mom chose to be depressed and out of control.

In my twenties I escaped the dreariness of home life to attend college and find my path. As for Mom, I couldn’t bear to see her tired and hurting all the time so my attempts to boost her strength and confidence continued.

In my thirties the tension between us continued. But casting doubt and derision aside, I packed up my two small kids, left my husband behind, and drove to Cleveland for a week. As the miles passed under the grill, I wondered where my mom and I became lost along the way. With my own kids, I yearned for picket fences, picnics in the park, and holidays at Grandma’s. I never wanted my children to sense the wide rift that existed between my us. So, I vowed to stiffen up and act as if everything was happy, sane, and normal. My week was anything but.

Here’s the blow-by-blow:

Sunday. I’m delighted to be “home” again. I’m looking forward to sharing both time and space with my mom and kids. Little irritations with Mom creep up through the day but I brush them aside.

Monday. With her characteristic charm, Mom makes a thoughtless remark that downright insults my intelligence. So with little reserve I say, "Mom, you really PISSED ME OFF." She continues the argument with words such as "I'm your mother and I deserve respect" but her woeful moaning drowns out mine, such as "respect goes both ways.” No apologies from her for the insult, of course. Instead, she accentuates her anger and distress by mending a new pair of chinos I brought from home. Regretfully, she does a beautiful job.

Tuesday. As to be expected, we don’t mention yesterday’s argument. But Mom doesn't spend a stitch of time with her grandkids that supposedly she dearly missed. It irks me but I look the other way.

As Tuesday unfolds, I stew over our fight, churning Monday’s words and emotions over and over in my mind.


The Unpretentious Writer said...

A memoir? 2,000 words? Must have been a short life.

Writerious said...

"Sure, her parents died in a house fire when I was 11 and a nervous breakdown eventually landed her a brief stint in the funny farm. But wasn’t everyone doing that in the 1970s?"

Um -- no. I don't recall there being a fashion for char-broiling one's parents, then trotting off to the psychatric ward.

Or did I just miss something during that decade, somewhere between Vietnam and Disco Duck?

McKoala said...

Too much telling. For example, the conflict on the Monday should be onstage.

Anonymous said...

You might want to Google "narcissistic personality disorder". No, I'm not saying that you're NPD, but your mom might be, and knowing and talking with others in similar situations might help.

Anonymous said...

I disapprove, in literature and in life, of people dragging small children into potentially violent and disruptive situations.

~Nancy said...

2,000 words for a book? (I'll admit up front that memoirs aren't my thing.)

What you might think about doing, author, is to take what happened to you and turn it into some sort of fiction. Change names, change hair color, etc., all that sort of stuff. And for goodness sake, if it comes out to about 3,000 words, pitch it yourself to a magazine.

Seriously. Might be worth a shot if you go the fiction route, but what Miss Snark says is definitely true about me - unless it's some sort of celebrity, I'm not interested in reading the book.

And even less so when the amount of words means it should be sent to a magazine.

Sorry, author. Just my 2 cents.


cynical said...

Dave Pelzer? JT Leroy?

Loads of people *love* reading lurid tales of child abuse -- the more grotesque, the better. It's not healthy, but it is human.

As far as I can tell, the only hook you need is "this story is even *more* lurid and grotesque than all the others you have read."

And if your details aren't gory enough? Make 'em up -- it's worked for plenty of other memoirists.

lizzie26 said...

"Funny farm"? Yes, I know people used to say that, but if you're aiming for a wide readership, drop that term.

Read Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. Great book about his early years. Well told and interesting.

One other piece of advice: Show the action, don't tell.

Anonymous said...

i did a double take with that word count myself.
nothing about this made me want to keep reading after the first paragraph.

MaryKaye said...

I'm not an agent, but if I were receiving a pitch for a memoire, I'd really want to see some authorial detachment in the query letter. It would suggest to me that the author (a) had the perspective to write about the events well, and (b) would be able to take editorial changes without too much personal involvement.

This one doesn't feel detached enough to me, and sets off my warning bells as a result.