3rd SR Crapometer #86

Dear Miss Snark,

Carolina Brady cannot ride a horse. She doesn't know how large a cow's rectum is. She couldn't tell you how to drive a tractor. After all, how many suburban teenagers can?

But when Carolina's mom takes off for France and her dad is too busy to talk, Carolina finds herself whisked off to-of all places-a cattle ranch in Wyoming. What's a smart, sarcastic teenager to do when she's stuck on the prairie surrounded by tumbleweeds and cow patties? With the cow patties come the cowboys, and with the cowboys come anonymous notes, flaming piles of cow manure, and secret midnight swims. Like it or not, Carolina's comfortable suburban world is about to get a WEE BIT WESTERN.

I am a Californian high school student and have spent many summers working on cattle ranches in Wyoming. I am quite familiar with Carolina's worlds and the culture shock one feels when going from California suburbia to rural Wyoming. WEE BIT WESTERN is a young adult novel with a romantic bent complete at roughly 50,000 words. A fun, light read, it will appeal to teenage girls. If you like what you see here and in the enclosed sample pages I would be happy to send you a fuller partial or the complete manuscript. Thank you for your time.

Interesting set up, no plot. Even cowgirls need plots.
I'm going to read this cause you never know what pearls lurk inside the oysters of the Rocky Mountains.


"You're ruining my life."

"I hate you!"

"I can't believe you're doing this to me!"

I ignored the first three things that popped into my head and tried for rational persuasion. "Mom," I said, "you know how responsible I am. I swear I wouldn't get in the way if you just took me with you."

She was already shaking her head, glancing across the table at Steve to make sure that he was with her on this. I stifled the urge to roll my eyes. "Speak as one to ensure that your children are not confused by their step parent's role in the decision making process in the household." It was secret number 37 in Mosaic of Love: 101 Secrets to a Happier Blended Family, the most recent self-help book she had left lying next to the toilet. Trapped in the bathroom with no other options I had reread the thing so many times that it was imprinted on my mind.

"Honey," she said, "you know how boring these things are. You don't want to spend your summer hearing about boring medical stuff."

True, but I definitely didn't want to spend my summer working on a cattle ranch. "It'll be fun," I told her, "I'm sure I'll learn a ton."

Steve took over for my mom, laying his hands over hers protectively. "Caroline, your mother and I definitely appreciate how mature you are, but along with your father, we've decided that a summer on the ranch is definitely the best option."

"Sucks for you," Brandon said from across the table. I checked to make sure that my mom and Steve weren't looking and then gave him the finger. Flipping off your stepbrother at the dinner table is definitely not okay when you're trying to build a "Mosaic of Love".

"Caroline just stuck her bad finger up!" Margie reported. I was tempted to flick my "bad finger" in her direction but I resisted the urge. Barely. It was completely unfair; I was being shipped off to Cowland while my stepsiblings got to spend their summers at their mom's house in LA.

The restaurant my dad had picked for dinner was the bad kind of fancy restaurant. The kind where you feel underdressed no matter what you wear, but the food still totally sucks. It was definitely a business meeting sort of place. I was sure my dad had brought countless clients to this restaurant. He would impress them with an expensive bottle of wine and then launch into a "casual" conversation about sports or the weather before getting down to business. I knew his routine because I'd been sitting through it once a week for something like six years. Except with me, my dad wasn't trying to sell me on some exciting new investment opportunity; he was trying to convince me (and probably himself) that we had the picture perfect daddy's girl relationship we'd had before he moved out. That was usually his agenda anyways. Tonight he had a special objective: convincing me that the plan my parents had come up with for my summer was going to be FUN! and EXCITING! a LIFE EXPERIENCE! SOMETHING TO TELL STORIES ABOUT! Shoot me.

You start off with the done-to-death family squabble, and then you veer off into backstory.
How about you start on the ranch in Wyoming when a horse bites her in the ass? Or something..yanno..interesting.

There was a post on Agent Kristin's blog about some poor kid whose mom got all upset at the rejection letter sent to her darling snookums. I've respected your wish to be treated like an adult and an equal participant in the great Crap Fest by not sugar coating this with "oh you're so cute for your age and keep trying". If you're in high school now you're probably tougher than half the people twice your age reading this blog. Work at this. Everything wonderful in your life except love you'll have to earn the hard way: doing it till you get it right.


Anonymous said...

Go to sleep Miss Snark. It's almost one in the morning. You have agenty things to do in a few hours.

Seriously though, thank you for putting so much time and effort into the Crapometer. We really appreciate it.

Butterfly said...

I don't read young adult, so I have no idea how original this opening is, but the writing itself it a hell of a lot better than a lot of other crapometer submissions. I'm starting to get a feel for your character and her life.

If you're only in high school and writing this well, then stick with it. You've got tons of potential, IMHO. Good luck!!

Existential Man said...

Snarky: "Even cowgirls need plots." If this was a take-off on the old country Western song title "Even cowgirls sing the blues", it may be the single most clever (but slightly obscure) line you have ever written on your blog.

go ahead, Snarkums--tell me you had this song in mind when you wrote that line.

Dragonet2 said...

Yanno, I wrote a novel while I was in high school. Or at least started one. I found it a while ago and found it to be the biggest stinking pile of dead carp I'd ever read.

MarySue to the nth degree and worse yet, I peppered it with plot complications that, if ever fulfilled, would have made novel the size of my first home, a 1950s small tract house.

but I've had things published in my lifetime (short stories, alas), and after a hiatus to work in PR I am writing again, this time on longer fiction.

Miss Snark said...

well it may be a song, but it's also a novel. Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Then it was a Gus Van Sant movie. I forgive him for that cause I like him but oh boy, what a mess.

My knowledge of country western songs is limited to "Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life"; "Thank God and Greyhound He's Gone"; and "Orange Cuntry Bumpkin"

Anonymous said...

I actually like the premise of this story. I'm even going to give it a benefit of the doubt and say I think it has a plot, just not one mentioned in the query. I think it would make a great mystery or something similar. but it does need more than just "how to cope".

blaironaleash said...

I generally aim in my own writing for explosions, alien invasions and zombie onslaughts in the first paragraph.

But I don't need it when I'm reading: writing this good can suck me in anyway. It didn't strike me as hugely original: the father/daughter relationship especially struck me as a fictional version of 'Prozac Nation'. But so what: when things have been done dozens of times before they've mostly been done badly. Do 'em well and you're ahead of the game.

Sherry Decker said...

I agree with butterfly. You have potential. Keep writing. Don't give up. If you're tough, and you're determined to make this story work, go back and have something exciting happen at the beginning - something that shows character and might influence your protagonist to react a certain way later. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

The voice is pretty great and the writing is solid. Miss Snark's comments about the content are my only comments also. Start somewhere interesting, zap the backstory, and make sure you've got a well-developed plot supporting the novel. Other than that, just keep trying. You do have talent, and this is a good idea (and a great title). This excerpt is better than quite a few other crapometer entries. Good luck with it!

Anonymous said...

I really liked the author's tone and style, and I'm not saying that out of pity for her age. Less backstory? Sure. Maybe open at the ranch, as MS suggested. But I wouldn't give up on this piece. It's good, just needs a little work.

Kimber An said...

I write Young Adult and I liked this premise. Author of This, get thee to a Critique Group! You could develop this story into something that really rocks if you do! Try www.critiquecircle.com Sometimes great stories get buried or bogged and down come out like they should. I wrote my currant novel in two months, but have been revising it daily for a year and a half. I just started sending out query letters and have gotten one response - a request for a partial! Putting a novel out that others will read and enjoy is hard work! Please, don't give up.;)

Cudd said...

I'm with the others. Your writing isn't bad at all compared to most entry writers. Just work on your organization and plot, and I'm sure you'll come out on top in time, :)

xiqay said...

I thought the writing was okay and I didn't mind where the story started personally, cuz the teen voice started coming through pretty clearly.

But please don't put quotation marks around anything that isn't spoken in dialogue. Thoughts can be italicized, if necessary, but better yet to just write them and let the reader realize that they're thoughts.

I liked the Mosaic of Love stuff--funny.

And as posted on an earlier submission, never include your age. It just invites comments like "you write well for your age" and you don't need those.

My opinion-Not bad. I'd keep reading for now, but also--Get into a critique group and make this perfect.

Young Once (not recently) said...

You definitely have talent. Very impressive, regardless of your age. I would have kept reading a bit further to see if the action picked up, but I love Miss Snark's idea of starting with being bitten on the ass by an ass.

Your query sounds grown-up, and you seem to mention your age only because it is relevant to the story, not because you want the pity vote from an agent.

Check out some writing books from the library - Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, Don't Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden, Writing and Selling your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron, and Between the Lines by Jessica Page Morrell. You are obviously a sophisticated enough writer to appreciate their advice on the more subtle aspects of craft.

So far, your hero doesn't seem too whiny. That's good - if she complains about how unfair life is, the reader won't be able to put herself in the story and FEEL its unfairness.

Good luck and keep with it!

Anonymous said...

The voice here is very good. I wanted to keep reading, honestly. That, IMHO, is the hardest thing to master in writing; a couple of good critique groups/workshops will help with pacing and plot. Don't lose the voice! Whatever you do, DON'T LOSE THE VOICE!

thraesja said...

I also liked the voice and the style. Probably because she is still a teeneager she pulls it off well.
What amused me the most was the book "Mosaic of Love". Great title. I liked the image of it lying next to the toilet. Reminds me of being trapped in my parents' bathroom with nothing but "Chicken Soup for the Soul". Always put me in the mood to flip off family members too.
Take the above criticisms to heart and keep at it, Cowgirl.

M. Takhallus. said...

You're good enough right now to be ghosting for a packager, whic means you're as good as a lot of people making money out there.

I don't want to rain negativity all over critique groups, but I think they can do more harm than good. People who've never sold a book telling you how to write.

A good way to learn is to transcribe some pages of some writer you like. Writing it out forces you to think about how they did what they did. Also, do you read your stuff out loud to yourself? That can be helpful. The best thing you can do is develop an ear for your own b.s. And read Stephen King's book on writing - him you should listen to.

desert snarkling said...

Good for Miss Snark for being honest -- I remember that, by high school, I was already kind of wanting honest feedback on my work so I could improve, and not getting it.

This is a great start. I started writing in high school, too, and all the time I put in then meant that by my early 20s, I really was writing publishable stuff--way sooner than most of the other writers I knew who were barely getting started and making their first attempts around then. Keep at it.

And Miss Snark is right about the critique group. My first critique group taught me an incredible amount.

Anonymous said...

I like the premise, and I even like the very first bit. I can see keeping some of this opening, but trim it down and get us to the ranch quickly.

Possibly cut everything from "I stifled the urge to roll my eyes" to "Steve took over," and then cut the paragraphs about Brandon and Margie. There's some good stuff in there, maybe you can use it in a flashback later, but it doesn't work here.

The scene with the dad might be going somewhere eventually, but what we see of that so far is booooring, and looks like it should all be cut.

Keep writing, and find a critique group--an adult group. You write well enough that you won't have much to learn from other teens.

Gerri said...

This is good stuff, IMO. Even the "done to death" stuff has originality and spark to it. You've got the voice. You can't buy voice. You can't even hardly train voice. Keep at this.

And don't worry about the Mary Sue aspect. As long as your MC isn't perfect and gets all the guys, she isn't a Mary Sue. It's completely all right to write about something you know, especially as well as you seem to know it.

Good luck!

RainSplats said...

"Carolina Brady" immediately summoned the image of Carol Brady from the Brady Bunch. My mind rebelled when I read that Carolina is a teenager.

Did you purposely pick that name to bring up images of the Brady Bunch's mother? Am I the only one who was distracted by it?

Elektra said...

a personal nitpick--it would annoy the heck out of me to read about a girl named Carolina who lives in Wyoming. Just too many state names there. Why can't her name be Caroline instead?

Writerious said...

Um... dare I ask why the MC needs to know the size of a cow's rectum?

The writing shows promise, but I agree with Miss Snark that a better opening would be one with the MC on the ranch with some smart horse making a goober out of her. Fill in the backstory later, working it into the story line itself, such as the MC getting an email from Mom in France, being careful to avoid the "As you know, Bob," syndrome.

And you don't have to say in the cover letter that you're a high school student. The bits about working on a ranch are good, though.

magz said...

Keep writing, author! Remember the Critique Mantra: keep what applies, ignore the rest. You have confidence and style.

Miss Snark? Would you be kind enuff to ship me a copy of your 3rd Country song? I have the other 2.. and I'll bet that last one's great LOL. You SNARK you! heheheheeeeee
wd verf; didfohb- The fear of Urban Orange Cowboys

Anonymous said...

love has to be earned the hard way too

Anonymous said...

The writing is solid, the voice is there. A critique group or a writing partner's help to tighten it up is all you need. 'Nuff said.

Sonarbabe said...

I echo what everyone else here has said. When I was in high school (more years ago than I care to admit to) I wrote YA novels. I pulled them out not that long ago to look over. While my story ideas were good, my writing was just utter crap. You're ahead of the game. Keep at it. Keep writing, keep reading and no matter how many rejection slips you collect, don't ever give up.

Anonymous said...

I liked this one for the writing and felt the backstory revealed the protag's character and attitude rather well while introducing the soon to vanish family. She's smart and not pitching a tantrum like other teens might.

(I can't believe I'm being so nice before slamming back my first caffeine hit. No one faint, 'k?)

I like the voice, but agree the scene should end quickly and cut to the protag's first round of culture shock within her own counrty.

I will hope that she deals with it in a fun way. Without her family to put up a front for, she could at least try to immerse in the experience, like a fem-teen "City Slickers."

When I was away from my family for the first time I had a ball and didn't want to go home. (But then I was the intellectual in a group that thinks Jerry Springer and TV wrestling are real.)

lizzie26 said...

I'm not one for critique groups, either.

Author of the story, you're a very good writer with a great voice. Read all the books you can on writing. Read message boards about writing. And don't ever give up. If writing is your dream, then make that dream your goal.

Rachael Hanel said...

You're off to a great start. I wish I would have written this well in high school. Hell, I wish I would have written in high school. You are way ahead of the game, which should only benefit you in the next few years. Good luck!

HawkOwl said...

Miss Snark: does it bother you at all when query letters try to start with a "hook" instead of a business proposal, such as "Dear Miss Snark: Carolina can't ride a horse" rather than "Dear Miss Snark: I have a manuscript I'd like you to represent"? It drives me nuts reading them on blogs.

Termagant 2 said...

Writer, you are most definitely ahead of the curve. If I'd been able to write this way in high school, I'd be Nora by now.

Keep at it--I liked the voice a lot better than many of the C-o-Meter entries and once you have your story pinned down, it'll fly.

Mis dos enchiladas,

Anonymous said...

I really liked this, and I think it's up to the standard of a lot of current YA books.
The Country Mouse/City Mouse premise has been done before in YA, but your readership won't care; they're in it for the voice, the humour, and the incidents.

Take all the criticism with a grain of salt. This has great potential.

I also think this is a suitable place to start, as starting when she's at the ranch would mean you'd have to drop in a lot of back-story.

Anonymous said...

"Orange Cuntry Bumpkin"

Could we please stop now?

Really...last one, please.

McKoala said...

I love 'Mosaic of Love'! The first paras were good, but the restaurant bit went a bit off. You could describe it during the conversation with her father - use it to reveal thing about him?

LindaBudz said...

I liked this. My very first foray into fiction (never published) was a short story about a 13-year-old city girl being sent to the country to live with her aunt and uncle for a week while her parents celebrated their anniversary in the Bahamas. I started it off with a conversation in the car as they drove to drop her off, then quickly switched to her experience at the farm.

You've got a great voice, the "Mosaic of Love" bit and the finger flipping are great ... funny ways of SHOWING us, not TELLING us about the current state of affairs in the family. Some people never quite understand that disctinction, so you're well ahead of the game.

Keep at it!

Chumplet said...

I would've killed to get sent to a cattle ranch for the summer when I was a teenager. I got sent to Algeria instead.

M. Takhallus. said...

Writer Kid:

See, this is why I don't like critique groups. You have advice from all over the map. If I were you I wouldn't know what to make of it all.

Let me assure you it doesn't get any better when you're publishing. Some editors are great, some are idiots. In many cases you'll get just this kind of feed-back: contradictory, impossible to make sense of, harmful, pointless, occasionally brilliant.

I've co-authored 150 middle reader and YA books and to tell you the truth I can't say whether you'll make it in writing or not. But you established a voice, and that's something 90% of wanna-be writers can't do. Whether that means you can make a living at this, well, we'll see.

You have talent. That's a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. You also have to have faith in yourself. Everyone will try to discourage you, sometimes in the guise of helping you. The business is designed to suck the life out of you. Saying 'no' to you is easy and safe, so everyone will be inclined to say no.

So you have to believe in yourself, but you also need to develop a critical ear for your own writing. Believe in yourself, but don't fall for your own b.s. And don't let it -- agents, critics, skeptics, cynics, editors -- get you down.

kathie said...

Keep at it...whatever work you still have to do to become published, it'll be worth it. You're doing great!

macaronipants said...

you're a good writer. Keep going. and i agree what everyone says about voice. you've got it. my only comment is that the only thing making your story different from every other story out there with the same premise is what your character brings to the table. i didn't see any of her insides in this work. i know what her outside problem is, she's going somewhere she doesn't want to go. but what internal hurdle is she going to clear while she's there?

macaronipants said...

you are a good writer. and i agree with what everyone says about voice. but the only thing that's going to distinguish your story from every other story out there with the same premise is what your main character brings to the table. not her "outsides" ie- mother, life situation, father(s), etc. but her insides. what makes her tick? what does she believe in? what hurdle is she going to clear when she's in wyoming? you need that in your first pages.

Anonymous said...

eh i always have a soft spot for teen writers since I was one of those teen writers.
she's got some good potential, and maybe in a few years she'll be querying again with a better novel?

Kathleen said...

I really laughed at "Mosaic of Love". Keep working author!

Natalia said...

Hm. I like this. I think it needs work, sure, particularly the opening lines, which didn't grab me, but I loved the reference to the self-help book lying next to the toiled, for example.

blaironaleash mentioned the similarity to Prozac Nation. Well, you know, Prozac Nation was a bestseller. It wasn't perfect, but I liked a lot of the writing, and I think you might want to pick it up if you're looking for a way to flesh out the relationship with the father-figure more.

I really hope you don't give up on writing.