3rd SR Crapometer #90

Dear Miss Snark,

Don't Drop Me Now –- I Can't Die With Split Ends is my 74,000-word novel in the Young Adult genre. YA is a category, not a genre, but I'll go past that for now.

Prudence is having a rough senior year: She begins by publicly embarrassing herself in a pageant. Her hair is unmanageable; her name is hopelessly unfashionable. She can't choose a college, and worst of all, she has fallen for the one guy who's so gorgeous, she can't even look directly at him. Not all is lost, however – she's captain of the debate team, and she gets along with her mom. But that's not exactly cool, is it?

When Genzy Ledbetter moves to town with her take-no-prisoners attitude, she gets Prudence to start taking risks –- with her hair, and her heart. Then Pru wins the lead in the spring musical, a role Genzy covets fiercely. Prudence must find a way to salvage their friendship, survive the flight scenes in the play, and face her fear of speaking to that beautiful boy, all while dealing with her recalcitrant tresses. tresses? tresses? You seriously expect me to read a YA novel from someone using the word tresses? Where are my smelling salts, I feel an attack of the vapors coming on.

I've had several articles published in nonfiction magazines, and I found your blog by way of the Writer Beware blog by A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss. Thank you for your consideration. (No good deed goes unpunished)


Chapter 1
The first notable thing I did my senior year was to flash my hoo-hah at the judges during the talent portion of the Junior Miss Pageant. ZAP. WTF?? I mean really now...what the F is a hoo-hah? My spell check thinks it's a hoopskirt.

Unbelievable. (I just said that)

What a way to start the year. (no kidding)

No, seriously, I flashed the judges. There I was, emoting my guts out through George Bernard Shaw's glorious St. Joan monologue, and when I got to the part about the angel voices on the wind, I heard a giggle in the auditorium. I kept going. Part of my brain disconnected from my monologue-reciting mouth, and I wondered why there were giggles in the middle of this dramatic speech.

I tried to figure it out.

Was there a booger hanging out of my nose? Wait, even if I had a booger hanging out of my nose, the audience wouldn't be able to see it unless it was the size of a bicycle. And even I would notice that. Was I about to fall off the stage? Was I reciting the wrong speech? Was there gum in my hair? Oh, my hair, no, I don't have time for that kind of disaster. So what caused the hilarity?

The giggles grew louder, and I waved my arms dramatically stage left, toward the judges' table, as I exhorted imaginary Inquisitors about perpetual imprisonment.

That's when I felt the swoosh of my costume.

Swoosh? There's no swooshing in St. Joan. There's a lot of ranting and raving and maybe just a smidge of frothing, but definitely no swooshing. Swooshing is best left to romantic, weeping heroines.

But this was an undeniable swoosh, and I felt it -– against my upper thighs.

Oh, that was not good. My thighs were not even remotely involved in this monologue, other than performing the task of holding me upright. So far, three things were wrong with this picture: 1) Giggling. 2) Swooshing. And 3) Thighs.

I managed to glance downward just the teensiest bit without even breaking character. And that's when I beheld the unforeseen disaster that had been lurking in my costume.

The hem of my rhinestone-encrusted, marginally authentic 15th-century tunic was caught on the chain of my rust-colored wrist shackles. Every gesture I made sent the long shirt flying up toward my chest and back toward my thighs – which, again, weren't supposed to be appearing in my St. Joan interpretation, much less points north.

OK, I thought, that's it, now I will officially die of embarrassment.

But I didn't die. No, death would have been entirely too kind and merciful. I had to finish the monologue and somehow stop flipping my hem up to reveal my leotard.

"All this is worse than the furnace in the Bible that was heated seven times," my mouth said on autopilot, but my brain shrieked, oh, Joan of Arc had no idea how much worse that inferno could be. She never flashed anyone in the middle of a stupid pageant. Why did I let my mother talk me into this? I'm never going to get scholarships if I go around showing my private parts to entire theatres full of strangers!

A two-minute monologue turned into a marathon of misery. I temporarily gave up worrying about my hair. Surely it would be gray by the time the curtain dropped, anyway.

Undressed in public is so cliche now that even the FCC fines you for it.
I look for fresh, new and authentic voice.
Three strikes on this one.


Elektra said...

All I pray is that she doesn't get one of those teen "make-overs" where she takes off her glasses, tames her hair, and suddenly--gasp!--she's gorgeous!

Michele said...

I loved the first two paragraphs of the story... great voice! After that I was hoping to see the narrator in action.

p.s. Miss Snark - wow, looks like you might finish soon! You're amazing and entertaining.

-c- said...

Miss Snark has been interested in writing that was far far FAR worse than this. It is the scene that is flat, not the writing, in my opinion. Yes, this would be embarrassing for the kid. But since we don't know the kid or care about the kid, it is a big cliche. In fact, I was afraid it would be a dream. This kind of scene can only work 100 pages in when you love the kid and know how embarrased she gets and know this is the very worst thing that could ever ever happen.

If you can't hook big (like--she's Joan of Arc and she sets the stage on fire or something--no, please don't do that), you have to hook with immediate character identification. So that would be so unique that everyone can relate. Also, since she is telling this, it would be more interesting if the embarrassing moment were a backdrop to something really important to her. Like it was the very first time the cute boy she loved actually touched her, gave her a pat on the shoulder for luck, was in the front row, and then she did something embarrassing.

Just raise the stakes. As high as you can. Emotional stakes for kids are HUGE. Everything is the biggest drama ever. And frankly, I would never try to do this first person, because then you have the problem of her commenting on her situation constantly in that ironic kid voice, which distances the reader.

Good writing. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Porky's (the movie) did Macbeth with a mannequin's leg as a sword. And they did naked Klansmen.

Sorry but flashing your undies isn't even on the radar anymore.

McKoala said...

Isn't the name Prue cooler now since Charmed?

Maybe I'm just a boing old fufbuk with no sense of humour, but after the first paras I wasn't amused (like the audience) or embarassed (like your heroine). I think maybe you are trying too hard and overwriting.

Writerious said...

I rather liked the voice. There may be something here, but I'd have to see more. The query didn't interest me (hairstyles and best friends and popularity -- oh, puhLEEZ), but the voice of the character was interesting. If the story continues with more quirk and less fashion show, it might go somewhere.

And as for "flashing her privates," geez, she had her leotard on, and probably undies under that. It could have been worse.

flannerycat said...

Something about your character feels too cosseted. Her hoo-hah is showing, yet she's tossing off clever lines about J of A and the inferno. So I'm not writhing when I should be. Ergo I don't believe in Prudence's problem, though it's great that you opened with one. (Plus you can write.)

Your query also shows that wherever you might stir up real trouble, you duck. Among Prudence's major problems: her hair (merely unmanageable), her silent crush (innocent for a senior), and her inability to choose a college (obviously she got into several). The 17-year-old girls I know deal with sex, money, divorce, grades, parents, anorexia, relentless pressures of various kinds. So you gotta wonder: What does Prudence hide under her bed? Does she have a funny uncle, a secret she has never told anyone, undercurrents of family trouble, a phobia, a pregnancy scare, a friend who's confessed to thoughts of suicide, a fervent hope?

If you quieted her voice down --stopped prodding her to sound so flip and clever (feels fresh to write, but not, as Miss Snark said, to read)--she might show herself to be conflicted and engaging, like the characters in the YA books you probably love the most.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I gotta disagree with this one. I loved the actual story. I was laughing. I thought it did have a unique voice, and a decidingly teen one, the the world can end while you're trying to grandstand. It could use some pruning, but I really did like it. I'd read the whole thing.

December Quinn said...

Isn't she actually flashing her underwear? I mean, this isn't exactly that scene from Basic Instinct, right? This is more like "My skirt flew up but like any sane high schooler about to go on stage I am wearing panties."

Anonymous said...

the plot seems overdone, but i think that the voice had its good points. there's definately some work that needs to be done to it... some it seems a little rough.

Anonymous said...

"A two-minute monologue turned into a marathon of misery."

I wouldn't go that far, but it is a bit on the slow side.

viscose turnip said...

Don't American teenagers wear knickers any more?

I think I'm in agreement with most of the other commentators. You have talent but I'd suggest either your plot or your take on it needs to be more unusual. Keep on trying!

Imelda said...

I didn't hate it either, but I had a few major problems with the reality of the moment from a stagecraft point of view.

Anyone stage-savvy enough to have learnt chunks of St Joan is going to have had a dress rehearsal. I actually couldn't work out how her costume could be exposing her without it having been obvious it was going to happen before she got anywhere near the stage.

Also, I just don't believe that exposing a leotard is going to freak a stage type out all that much. If she had gone for verisimilitude and was NAKED under the shift, then, we have a problem.

Also, what's with rhinestones on a St Joan costume? Have you ever seen a production of this piece? Read anything about the woman? She was a peasant-turned soldier. There were no rhinestones in her wardrobe. The only way this girl would be wearing rhinestones were if she had got a costume from the costume department (in which case there would not be the wardrobe malfunction) or she is an idiot. Neither is appealing.

This may sound minor, but for me, it was a major distraction - and that's a problem, because I quite liked the writing. Although I agree, you need to up the stakes a bit. Embarassment alone is not enough to launch the story when we don't know her.

Good luck with it

TMack said...

I like what has been referred to as your "ironic kid voice" in the piece. I like being distanced. 'Course I'm not your target audience.

Genzy Ledbetter ... ??? Wha?
I don't compute. "Ledbetter" became "Bedwetter" instantly in some Dyslexic part of my brain. A take-no-prisoners bedwetter... Hmmm, I've changed my mind, I like it more and more.

Kidding aside, I agree that the Reader needs to know your protagonist and care about her before we can feel anything for her. I like your narrative voice. The pacing is good.

If it were me, I would keep at this one, restructure, rethink it a bit, and come up with a different opening scene.

a. m. burns said...

Tighten up to:

I sang in the ABC pageant. My costume fell off. I ran shrieking from the stage, or if you're my neighbor, I collected phone numbers and flipped my hair around a lot.

There are too many words here for so little action. Miss Snark is right: it's common. Get creative. Get quirky. Get drunk and naked, THEN write something outrageous.

(not that I've done that or anything ; i just read about it)

xiqay said...

Oh Miss Snark-
I loved this! I liked the query. I liked the pages.

I think Pru has a voice. The details of the scene give enough concreteness but don't interfere with the forward flow. I thought the writing rocked.

And teen girls are still completely taken up with personal embarrassment of the undress variety (just read the I was embarrassed sections in Teen mags).

This would be a yes in my book.

but I'm not an agent.

Good luck.

Ray Goldensundrop said...

Ah-hah! A genre is what bookstores put on their little signs above shelves. A category is what agents list in books like Guide to Lit Agents. Sometimes they're the same thing.

More categories exist than genres, so those little signs in bookstores might be misleading. Whatever doesn't get stuck in a genre gets slid into fiction/literature.

Love it when jargon reveals itself, or is the proper current YA expression flash yer hoo-hah? Don't know, don't care, but I bet spell check isn't the authority to trust.

Thinking spy ears here or maybe high school teachers. The research possibilities are interesting. Oh, and what if you get caught eavesdropping? Might someone kick your hoo-hah down the street?

snarkaholic said...

I always preferred the term "Hey Nanner Nanner" to "Hoo hah."

But "flaming cunt of an orange" might just be the phrase of this century.

Virginia Miss said...

I liked the title and the author's voice, although it did seem a little strained as I got into the sample. I agree with the earlier commentators that you need to raise the stakes and introduce some unusual situations in order for this to be commercial.

Good luck, author

Anonymous said...

It took 90 tries, but this is the first time that I disagree with MISS Snark.

I was piqued by the query and impressed by the opening.

(I beg the author to rethink "Genzy Ledbetter," though. Guh.)

I knew what a Hoo-Hah was. It's amazing how existential people can be regarding their own sphere of knowledge. Isn't that why we read? To learn new concepts like "Hoo-hah?"

If you don't know a word or a term, that's why God made Google.

Sarah said...

> Miss Snark has been interested in writing that was far far FAR worse than this.

I agree with you -c-.

The writing is a right rollocking laugh.

"The hem of my rhinestone-encrusted, marginally authentic 15th-century tunic was caught on the chain of my rust-colored wrist shackles."

HA HA HA! Excellent. This writer is taking the piss out of herself, I like it.

magz said...

I didnt think I was going to like this based on the query.
I did. Very much! Solid writing with a genuine feel for being in the head of your character, Good Job, Author!

(Whoa; that's twice now I've disagreed with Miss Snark's first opinion. Probably explains why she sells books, and I merely buy them.)

Write On # 90!

Thanks Everyone said...

All the Snarklings who have been sharing their words of wisdom and insight like -c- above (and not snarls like "I saw this alread on EE...I can't believe I got bumped for this....") have been extremely helpful. You make this a great learning experience for us all. Thanks!

Mirym K. said...

I agree with Imelda - most stage people wouldn't take it so hard.

Sometimes you have one minute between scenes to change costume before you're onstage again. That's not enough time to run to a dressing room, so you learn pretty quickly that being seen in your underwear isn't the worst thing in the world. Yeah, it's worse onstage than backstage, but not by THAT much.

blaironaleash said...

In my fambly it's a hoo-hoo.

blaironaleash said...

Let's not even get on to ta-tas.

Jeb said...

Agreed that teen girls are often utterly obsessed with every element of their costume and hair, however she seems too young for 17, and that obsession is too general to make me care about this character flashing a thigh.

Is there some huge personal stake for your heroine in this Junior pageant? Her mother's new boyfriend is in the audience and Mom really, really wants to make a good show? Her dad's new girl-/boyfriend? A scholarship? Something that might add tension to this otherwise slow scene...?

There's a good voice lurking here. Please get to the guts of your character and work from there rather than relying on generic YA memes.

Anonymous said...

i would not say hoo-hah, simply because no teenager would say hoo-hah. maybe my 70 gramma would say it, but no 15 year old in her right mind.
"coochie" is better than that, and charo has hit the jackpot with that word.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jeb,

How do you pronounce "meme"? (Now that I've googled it and get its meaning.)

Anonymous said...

As the stage person who lived this bit -- yes, ripped from real life -- I have to say that "hoo-hah" is still preferable to "cunt" or "vagina." When you're 17, flashing the audience is excruciating. Not so much when you're 34.

I'd like to say that this Crapometer has been a lovely learning experience. Instead, I'll just say I hope someone learned something positive from it.

P.S. -- I know a very nice person nicknamed Genzy. It's short for Genevieve. I adore the name. Not so much Prudence, which I researched. Prudence, despite its appearance in recent novels and movies, has yet to move back into the real mainstream. "Emily," for instance, beats the snot out of "Prudence" for coolness and popularity.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved this and would have read on.