9.07.2006

3rd SR Crapometer #91

Dear Miss Snark,
I’d like you to consider SHERBET SKIES, my contemporary young adult novel. The manuscript is complete at 57,000 words.

Nine months ago, seventeen-year-old Brinn wouldn’t have run unless you made her and her weight proved it. Now she loves the sport because when she runs she doesn’t have to think about how screwed up her family has become.

Her father is a recently uncloseted gay with a boyfriend and her mother slips in and out of depressive moods because of it. Running is Brinn’s only outlet for her frustration and within nine months, she sheds fifty pounds. Suddenly she’s noticed by her crush, North Shore’s It Guy, Evan and Brinn will do anything to keep that attention. Even if it means keeping her gay dad and his boyfriend a secret.

While Sherbet Skies deals with serious teen issues, the tone is light and often humorous. May I send a partial or the completed manuscript? Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,


Telling me something is light and humerous makes me pretty sure it isn't and I don't see much here to tell me what's going to distinguish this from the one gazillion other books about body image and gay parents. Heather Has Two Mommies was published 16 years ago. You're going to have to do something more with this "gay father is embarrassing".

Chapter One

In a mirror, you can be anything you want to be. (that doesn't make any sense to me) You can be beautiful, but overweight. You just have to suck in your gut, wear the right shirt and good jeans. A scale always tells the truth. There is nothing other than the number. No angle to hide the bad areas, no beauty to balance the butt hanging off your backside.

I went into the bathroom and closed the door behind me trying not to wake my mother up down the hall. I turned to the scale. Today was my self-imposed weigh-in day. Every second Wednesday of the month I got a little closer to my goal of 140lbs.

The early sun shone through the slats of the blinds on the window, highlighting the scale like some sort of heavenly light. Either the angels were going to sing when I stepped on that scale, or the devil was going to laugh.
Last month I was at 143lbs.

I was so close. Almost there. I told myself, when I reached my goal weight, I’d treat myself to something. A reward, for all the hard work and pain and strength of will. Because, as far as I was concerned, there was nothing harder than walking right past a chocolate covered donut while it stared you in the face.


I pulled the blind open and pushed the window up. The old wood groaned and I slowed, listening for any movement in the rest of the house. When silence answered back, I pushed a few more inches until I could stick my head outside.

The waves of Lake Michigan crashed against the breakwall just three blocks west. I could smell the sand and the dune grass, the moist air of early summer. It was a different world entirely on the shore. Bad moods changed there as swiftly as the wind changed the dunes. When I was frustrated with everything, I ran on the beach. With the water sloshing around my bare feet and the seagulls flying off as I neared, I felt like I could run forever.

With my junior year of high school behind me, I wanted to use the summer to reinvent myself. There was no more Fat Brinn and I didn’t want to be that person ever again.


People don't think to themselves like this. People don't describe what they are seeing to themselves. They just see it. Here's the difference: "I could smell the sand and the dune grass, the moist air of early summer" vs "The sand and the dune grass smelled of early summer".

And no teen ager in the history of the world is sniffing the air if she's weighing herself. She's either spitting into the sink to get rid of those vile extra ounces of moisture or she's leaning on the vanity while stepping gingerly on the scale to try and make her goal weight.

This is a form rejection.

19 comments:

McKoala said...

To me the tone and the topic and the time seemed to jump about all over the place just in these paras. Having said that, there were some really nice touches in the writing

Anonymous said...

When I read that, the first thing that went through my mind was, "Dear God, please learn to use a comma when you're making a compound sentence.

Writerious said...

All she smells coming off of Lake Michigan is sand and dune grass?

Doesn't live in Chicago or Gary, I take it?

Yeah, I know, it's a big, big lake. I'm just sayin'.

loftybit said...

What is "a gay?" Yeeks.

writtenwyrdd said...

I don't believe the author knows exactly what she/he is trying to say.

Pick an emotional angle and stick with it. This is not a debate where you must argue with yourself.

Also, I have to agree there are a few good bits. What you have here is something that needs you to knuckle down and edit. Just figure out what purpose this serves first.

A. M. said...

First thought: Have you not heard the magic words, Brinn? "David" and "Kirsch". Or the other thing: MTV. How about getting "Made"? Oh, it's summer? How about one of those weight-loss camps for teens?

Depressed re: gay hubby/father? PFlag, of course. In times of The L-Word, Queer as Folk, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy etc. etc. I find this story to sound like it's set in the last century.

When losing weight, the goals girls set for themselves are usually more in the realm of the almost-not-achievable. Running used to be the thing to do in the 80's or 90's, I think.

She's 17? Sounds much younger to me.

Surprised that Miss Snark didn't say "get on the scale and get on with the story".

diane s said...

Yeah, all the criticisms are valid, but I think there's an interesting voice and some talent in there- just needs work. xx

a. m. burns said...

If you want to show how you (or your character) feels, write an essay. That's what they're for. If you want to show consequence, you need a story form. Because he/she has a weight problem, it causes him/her to do what? Earn a government grant to enlarge movie theater seats? Walk into a Krispy Kreme with a sawed-off?

I doubt feelings about a weight issue alone are enough for a novel. Maybe put it in the background. I mean, the character deals with a weight problem WHILE he/she saves the world from aliens, builds a pigeon emergency care clinic (sorry KY), or opens a business to find lost socks and mittens.

And find out who Sol Stein is.

xiqay said...

I think the query is okay and the writing is okay.

I'm not taken with either, but not put off, either.

I liked some of the sensory detail-the wood groaned. But I didn't like the combination of sensory detail that was present and other detail that was remembered (water on the feet).

I do agree with Miss Snark-this doesn't sound much like a real teen's voice in the moment--more like looking back.

I didn't like the angel/devil stuff. If you've lost a lot of weight and at your last weigh-in you're just 3 pounds over your goal, you're probably going to be eager to jump on that scale because you've been doing some great work.

It's a start, but not ready for the finish.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

"All she smells coming off of Lake Michigan is sand and dune grass?

Doesn't live in Chicago or Gary, I take it?"

Or Milwaukee! Dead fish galore.

thraesja said...

Please, please, please fix up your grammar in the letter. Ack!

Calling someone "a gay" is insulting, like calling someone "a black". Use it as a description, not as a label. Her father is gay, or her father is a gay man, but never her father is a gay.

The entire sentence needs work too. It's confusing, redundant, and a bit boring. Instead of "Her father is a recently uncloseted gay with a boyfriend and her mother slips in and out of depressive moods because of it." try something along the lines of "Her father recently stepped out of the closet and began dating Paul (or whoever). Her mother took the news badly and is often unbearable to be around." I'm sure you can rephrase to say exactly what you mean.

As for the page, the comments above are correct. She turns to the scale, and then leans out the window? No one opens the window to contemplate life when about to do a monthly weigh-in. You shut the door so no one else can see. You take off all your clothes; they might weigh a half a pound. You pee to get rid of the possible pound of water weight. Then you step on and wiggle around until the scale reads the lowest possible number. This is not only more realistic, it gets you to some sort of action faster. Is she happy to reach her goal weight? Should she have laid off the double-stuffed Oreos last night? How does she feel and what effect will it have on her immediate existence?

This is going to need work. I'm sure you're up to it if you care about your characters. Best of luck.

Virginia Miss said...

Do kids trying to lose weight really have the patience to wait two weeks to weigh themselves?

There's potential in this author's writing -- I liked a lot of the sentences -- but it needs work. It's a snore to read about someone weighing themselves, so there's no opening hook. It doesn't sound authentic. If the author hasn't read a ton of recently published YA novels, that would be a good place to start.

boudin man said...

"I could smell the sand and the dune grass, the moist air of early summer." Of course this doesn't work; however, the rest of the writing displays concrete imagery. Besides, I know lots of teenagers who think like this. Self-delusion takes all kinds of forms...one of which is believing teenagers never think like this.

Janet Black said...

'Nine months ago, seventeen-year-old Brinn wouldn’t have run unless you made her and her weight proved it.'

I had to read that line five times before it made any sense. A comma might have helped.

Miss Snark said: "I could smell the sand and the dune grass, the moist air of early summer" vs "The sand and the dune grass smelled of early summer."

Did anyone notice, Miss Snark shed the 'could smell' and inserted 'smelled'? Eliminate could-do combinations. Use decent verbs.

Anonymous said...

I'm the writer and I just wanted to thank Miss Snark for her time, and the blog readers for commenting.

Obviously my first page needs to be rewritten! I'm right on top of that!

With that said, there were a few comments I wanted to respond to.

All she smells coming off of Lake Michigan is sand and dune grass? Doesn't live in Chicago or Gary, I take it?

Nope, further north. I've never been to Chicago, but if you can't smell the water and the sand, I feel for ya! I live two miles from Lake Michigan and on breezy days I can smell it. Nothing better.

What is "a gay?" Yeeks.

I'll rephrase! It wasn't meant to be insulting.

Depressed re: gay hubby/father?

Dad's not depressed, he's actually the happiest he's ever been. Did you mean Mom? Now Mom IS depressed.

When losing weight, the goals girls set for themselves are usually more in the realm of the almost-not-achievable. Running used to be the thing to do in the 80's or 90's, I think.

Running is a trend? People still enjoy running and HS track/cross country is big around here.

RE Impossible goals: You mean, all girls want to be super thin? I have to disagree.

Besides, I know lots of teenagers who think like this. Self-delusion takes all kinds of forms...one of which is believing teenagers never think like this.

Yes, thank you, Boudin Man!!

And thank you to everyone else who made suggestions. I appreciate the help. :)

Anonymous said...

I want to see a book about a closeted black father.

flannerycat said...

Oh, yes, Sol Stein -- "Stein on Writing." Brilliant. And here is a novel where weight issues successfully drive the whole thing--to an extreme: "Life Size" by Jenifer Chute.

Main characters do not have to be NICE. Heaven forbid. But we have to care about them. In 2006 I'm not likely to care about a girl who tries to keep her father in the closet. Maybe if the tone weren't light and humorous--maybe if it got dark & serious--I'd be interested in the moral choice she was (hopefully) struggling with: snag her first love and betray her father (whether dad even knows it or not)? Or defend her father's identity, lose the boyfriend, and succumb to binge-eating again? Or lose the boyfriend & become an over-compulsiv runner? Course that's my vision, not yours. I'm drawn to conflict, always.

I suspect that if YA writers took notes on ten YA novels they loved, they'd find more painful problems than the ones they keep at bay in their own mss. Death of a little girl (Bridge to Terabithia), murder of children by adults (some great book by Lois Gould, help me out here), imprisonment of children in a labor camp by a real bastard (Holes by Louis Sacchar), and maybe I've strayed out of YA here and y'all can yell at me if you must...Long way of saying I don't have a problem with your premise, anonymous--I think you've got Brinn in a potentially good bind--but I want to feel the weight of it, and IMO your lite treatment isn't doing it justice.

Miss Snark took one sentence to say all that. Sorry.

ananke said...

I'd posit that the author doesn't know much about being overweight either. Because, while mirrors do lie, there's a point where the truth will be smacking you in the face no matter how you hide.

As far as weight/body image as a theme goes - I loved 'Killing Aurora" by Helen Barnes and 'Massive' by Julie Bell which both have weight as a central theme. It can be done. It just requires more sensitivity/experience than this first page suggests.

Anonymous said...

That line about the mirror struck me as so true. I thought, Oh my God, I do that. Of course I never step on the scales but if I did I would definetly employ delaying manoeuvres first. I'm not an agent but if I was I'd have asked to see more. I was surprised Ms Snark critted it in the way she did. Although the closet gay dad angle isn't great. But then characters have to have room to grow within the story and maybe that was going to be her growth. I reckon a lot of adults critting YA, forget that teenagers have not seen it all before. For many this will be the first book they read dealing with this particular topic. Just cos you're as old as Methusalah and have seen as much. Are adults in denial about teenagers'shiny newness and their big fat open minds.