HH Com 175

When his ex-wife rudely awakened Dr. Ben McAllan on Christmas Eve, he never imagined that within a 24-hour timeframe he would be faced with an emotionally charged reunion with a love thought lost to death, or have his reality again jolted by the realization that their son, Jonah, was in need of life-saving brain surgery. Feeling a need to gain control of his life, Ben undertakes a harrowing journey through a severe snowstorm in his open Mercedes convertible for one, possibly final chance to grant his son's simple wish to see a real Christmas tree.

Set in a hospital in Portland, Oregon, the 53K word novel, Jonah's Tree, chronicles a 24- hour day in the life of anesthesiologist, Ben McAllan. Layers of emotion for friends and family are peeled away, finally exposing Ben's intense feelings of betrayal as they are unleashed on a past love whose possession of a stolen identity complicates, not only their lives, but jeopardized the of their son. Tender, humorous, and even abrasive at times, Ben McAllan navigates the fine lines between faith and mistrust, love and loathing, but most importantly, the inescapable realities between life and death.

As the physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries defining Ben's life are tested again and again, will a mischievous stranger help him find the strength of forgiveness and the courage to love again?

A severe snow storm in Portland Oregon?
yea right

and of course an "open convertible" cause what? the mechanism broke?
spare me.

"to see a real Christmas tree?" Portland is a city FULL of evergreens.

This is unfocused blather and some of what you write literally doesn't make sense: "the inescapable realities between life and death"; "physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries defining Ben's life"; and "exposing Ben's intense feelings of betrayal as they are unleashed".

Start over. Be specific. You're going to get some harsh comments in the comment trail. Pay attention to them.


angie said...

I had a hard time following your sentences - there are so many clauses it's tough to keep it all straight. Simplifying your sentence structure would go a long way to improving clarity.

I'm not sure what's going on here. There are vague insinuations that left me scratching my head (who is it with the stolen identity and what does that have to do with anything?).

The one thing that sounded interesting was the genie character of "the mischievous stranger." Then again, I have no idea what that means or how it plays into this story.

Keeping it grounded in reality (MS is right about the setting issues), giving good reason to care about what happens to Ben and laying out clearly what is happening would really help this hook.

mozartgirl said...

There ARE snowstorms in Portland, there was one 2 weeks ago. Rare, but it happens. And Portland itself isn't exacly full of pine trees, although most of the rest of western Oregon is. -Debbie in Seattle where the snowstorm also hit.

wavybrains said...

A severe snowstorm in Portland isn't outside of reality--in fact they're rare enough that they tend to cripple the region, but not so common that we're prepared for them. But, the Christmas tree wish feels contrived--and not realistic given the northwest setting where you can get a live tree for $5 on any street corner this time of year.

The car just isn't realistic--highway patrol would pull him over--put the top up and give him a broken heater. That's enough drama. Add tension to his journey in other ways.

This is a neat concept though and I feel some good energy going on here. Is the main story about Ben's transformation from Scrooge to Good Father or is it about restoring love with his ex-wife? Both of these are good powerful themes. If the relationship is central, highlight that. If his transformation is the main story, give him a bigger mission than a tree--what would push your doctor completely out of his comfort zone? A mission to a faith healer? A wish for a stinky slobbery puppy that's going to upend Ben's life? This stolen identity thing--get more specific--maybe the quest has something to do with it--looking for a birth mother etc. The stolen identity thing needs motivate his quest in some real way.

If you want to use the Northwest setting--make the quest for something from the coast or the mountains--a harrowing drive in bad weather. If you're not from the area, try to schedule a winter visit for research.

klschaub said...

MS is right -- severe snowstorms just don't happen in Portland Oregon. Ice storms, yes. Sleet, yes. Windstorms, yes (read the news this past week?). This close to the Pacific, we don't get much snow. Is the family from out of the area and somehow ended up at OHSU or John Hopkins 'cause that's were terminally ill children go? What is the specific issue with the ex-wife? Why wouldn't a doctor expect problems on Christmas Eve just the same as any other day?

Crys said...

i agree with wavybrains; there are some viable/timeless themes here which i think are appealing. i don't even object too much to the open convertible---i'd like to see how he manages to swing THAT one. ;)

Dave said...

May I point out that there is no such thing as cosmetic brain surgery. It's always life-threatening to have brain surgery.

And to see a christmas tree? THERE's nine of them in my front yard. It's not like conifers are rare.

As for riding around in the cold with the windows down or the car open - - The "no-good" hunters spot deer from the back of pickup trucks and open cars on winter nights around here. Dress warm. Dress Warm. Get snow tires. Get four wheel drive.

This has the potential to be a good story if you can work past the problems.

Hypergraphia said...

The idea is here and I personally liked the hook (I can't write them too well though, so listen to Miss Snark - she's the professional). Though it was hard to follow, I think you have a good work in progress and take heed about the suggestions you have received. I look forward to seeing a finished product!

cm allison said...

Please pay attention to wavybrains, some snow in the city, but not likely (more where I commute to home ) but ice , yes, quite possible. (like tonight?). And anyone who can afford a mercedes can keep the top fixed. (Those of us driving 30 year old flat beds can even manage the heater.) Come visit, CNN makes it news when we get snow, wind, or ice because it IS news, if it happened a lot, it wouldn't be news.

And I picked up a 12 foot noble fir for $25 just down the street from my home, douglas firs are in ANY parking lot, grocery store, ad naseum for $5-15.

Anonymous said...


I was stuck in a severe snow storm in Portland Oregon. December 2003.

Writerious said...

And Portland itself isn't exacly full of pine trees, although most of the rest of western Oregon is.

Nope. Western Oregon is full of conifers, but few of them are pines. Most are Douglas-firs, true firs (in the mountains), and (on the coast) Sitka spruce and a few shore pines right on the beach.

On the east side you find the pines.

But there's no shortage of real Christmas trees in the Portland area, considering the number of Christmas tree farms all over western Oregon. I know. I grew up on one. You want a tree? I know where you can get one. Fresh. Good price, too.

Snow on Christmas Eve happens in the holiday specials, but rarely in Portland. Yes, western Oregon does get an occasional snowfall, but a "major snowstorm" in our area is like, wow, six or eight inches at least! And the snow lasted a couple of days before it melted! Sure, it makes the whole city sieze up, because no one know how to drive in it, and our city (Salem) doesn't even have snowplows. They have to borrow snowplows from the county. If we get snow, it's usually in January or February, though it's not unusual to go an entire year without a snowfall.

Make it an ice storm or freezing rain all night and I'll believe it.

Anonymous said...

I agree there needs to be focus with this. However, I don't understand why this particular hook is noted as "not making sense" when I can at least get a sense of where the author is going because the story is based in reality. Some of these fantasy hooks seem laugh out loud ridiculous with their premise--yet nothing is being said about that--probably because their ridiculousness is masked behind the fantasy.

Jo Bourne said...

Is the '53K novel' a missprint?

Must be. For one thing you couldn't fit all this incident into 53K.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Debbie, there wasn't a snowstorm two weeks ago. Not in Portland. And I'm sensitive to snow, being a native Texan!

But back to this hook -- I agree that the convertible and the desire to see a christmas tree are both very unrealistic, given the setting. I can see three big pines from my house, and I live right in the city.

Are those details necessary to the story, writer? I'm assuming the story isn't really about those things, so what is it about?

OIMAQT said...

It's a pretty hard one to describe....has lots of layers of action all tied together by the one stranger...
I guess if I had mentioned that the woman was a medical tech in Zimbabwe where her son was born, it might have made more sense about the Christmas tree thing.

Oh, and if I could have figured out a way to explain that the reason the convertible was open was because the Christmas tree couldn't fit with the top closed, that might have made more sense too.

Oh, and all you Portlandians out there know we get nailed with snow sometimes, and if you are going anywhere close to the "hospital on the hill" then it might make more sense about the "harrowing" aspect of the trip.

But, I guess that's all in another hook I'll write! HAHA

Thanks for all your comments...I think I came away fairly unscathed!

Anonymous said...

Clarity, precision, and wordiness are the terms you'll want to research. Start with grammar books (college level) then read some style books.

Spunk & Bite, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and Elements of Style (Strunk & White) come to mind. Clean up your writing, then go after the story.

Your readers won't believe your story anyway if you write like an amateur.

Wonderwood said...

I think I have an idea of what the story is about, but it isn't really clear in the hook. Author, you probably have a legitimate reason for the top to be down on the car, but since you can't explain it in the hook, don't include it in the hook, it sounds unrealistic.

Look at this sentence standing alone:

Feeling a need to gain control of his life, Ben undertakes a harrowing journey through a severe snowstorm in his open Mercedes convertible for one, possibly final chance to grant his son's simple wish to see a real Christmas tree.

It's a long ass sentence to begin with, it mentions the open convertible in a snowstorm, and you've included this awkward phrase: "...for one, possibly final chance...". It just clunks when I read it. Change it to just "one final chance" or something.

I think you've got the makings of a good "man realizes his shortcomings and strives for redemption" story, but the hook needs, ah, toned down. Don't feel bad, most of us have a tendency to over-write. After all, if brevity is the soul of good writing, subtlety is certainly the spirit.

blissbat said...

This is a silly thing to be on about, but as a resident of Portland, yes, we do get snowstorms. In late January of 2003, the whole city shut down because we got about eight inches of snow over a few days, and we don't have the equipment to deal with that sort of thing.

So the commenters who are unequivocally stating that we don't get snowstorms must have missed that. I was here trekking through the snow to my favorite neighborhood bar alongside people on skis, so I can verify it.

That said, it doesn't SOUND right, which is what really matters. If you call it a "freak" snowstorm or something like that, it might sound more likely. And the tree? You're going to need to explain your way out of that, because it doesn't sound remotely plausible.

Moving on, your sentences are too long and convoluted, which makes the hook difficult to read. More importantly, the hook makes this sound like a novel that takes place mostly in your protagonist's head, and not in a good way.

Anonymous said...

When we have a severe snowstorm here in Portland, Oregon, about twice in the 30+ years I've lived here, just about everything shuts down. What exactly is the "real Christmas tree" thing about? With the Pacific Northwest as a backdrop, that's about as interesting a reason to visit as going on a quest to see "real grass."

No go on the convertible with the top down. Of course, if you're determined to use it, and the child is in the car at the time, that could add some conflict to your story when the highway patrol calls children's protective services to take the kid away from the negligent adult. A few tickets . . . a towed car . . . Now it's starting to get interesting.

Anonymous said...

More about the snowstorm: I've lived in Portland on and off over the last 30 years. Just as wavybrains said, we get snowstorms rarely, and five or six inches closes everything down.

Great idea to substitute a wind/rainstorm and have characters drive over the Coast Range in it. Truly life-threatening and dramatic as heck, what with the mudslides and gigantic trees falling on your car and across the twisty, hairpin-curved, unlit, no-shoulder road.

There are interesting elements in your story, from what I can tell. The hook is too unorganized for me to grasp clearly. Pick the two most interesting dramatic crises and focus on them.


Anonymous said...

I forgot to say that not ever having seen a real Christmas tree in Portland, Oregon is like not ever having seen a chair.

If they've left Portland for some Christmas treeless place like Phoenix or Tonga, that's not evident in the hook.


shelby said...

As far as the snowstorm goes, it works far better that Portland doesn't usually get snowstorms. Cities that get frequent snow are capable of dealing with it. When snow hits a city that doesn't usually get it, everything is completely paralyzed, even if it's a small amount of snow.

So there.

The Christmas tree, however, is just awful. I have spent numerous Christmases in Palm Springs and I can tell you that a Christmas tree can just as easily and cheaply be had as anywhere else. Guess where they truck them in from? In addition to being implausible, it's unbelievably cheesy and reduces the story, starting with the title, to a picture book and/or something straight out of Chicken Soup for the Soul. I'm sure the tree in integral to the story, but I would strongly examine what the tree means (the real Christmas spirit? pine-fresh air?) and try to fit something else in there that isn't a cliche'.

aries said...

I have less problems with whether or not a snowstorm can take place in Oregon than the author's propensity to tell rather than show in the hook. Lose the "tender, humorous, and even abrasive at times" as well as "the inescapable realities between life and death." Like MS said, it's blather and takes up valuable real estate that could be used to expand Ben's conflict and make the hook more compelling.

December Quinn said...

The kid's dying wish is to see a Chriatmas tree? Who is he, Tiny Tim? I need some insulin after reading that.

Why not ake the kid's wish to have a real Christmas with Dad, and Dad decides the tree is necessary? That way it's his obsession, and would tell us a lot more about his character.

JMO, but even a kid from Zimbabwe could be expected to have seen a Christmas tree at this point--you know they put them in hospitals, right?

Anonymous said...

Heck, if the author's determined to have a harrowing and grueling trip in a Mercedes, simply have him drive downtown! That's harrowing even on a clear summer day. I refuse to take anything but public transit when I'm in downtown Portland for that very reason. Even we native Portlandians hate driving downtown because the streets are stupid and confusing.

Now, add an ice storm or torrential freezing rain, and it's believable. If it's a freak snow storm, so much the better, because now you're writing about a character fighting to navigate his way through confusing downtown in a city that's completely shut down due to the storm.

Of course, if the character were to be downtown, there's just no missing the GIGANTIC tree in the middle of Pioneer Square.

I also agree with Wavybrains and recommend a winter trip to see it for yourself. Talk to the locals; we're really quite friendly!

~Delena, native Portlandian and loving it

Anonymous said...

I'm sensing you're going for a "Family Stone" type of good feel Christmas story. I love those kinds of tales, but you're not doing a good job of presenting it in your hook. I'm assuming you have an assorted cast of characters with various character flaws to overcome, and you're adding humor to it to lighten the story with the open convertibles etc..., but you'll need a quirky unifying theme. Cancer's too depressing as the main focus in these stories, it should be there, but in the backgroud IMO.

OIMAQT said...

Hey Delena...

You nailed it! Portland is awful in bad weather.

I really appreciate those of you who see that this is 24 hours of unusual occurances. It's a Christmas...oops, holiday novel.

It's Ben that decides his son needs to see a Christmas tree...but I can't tell you why without ruining the story.

Sometimes there are novels whose goals are more about reminding readers that unseen magic happens during the holidays, no matter what the religion. It's just whether or not we are able to see it.

Granted, my hook sank miserably...but I learned a lot and I thank you all for your advice and critisism.

BTW...if you have healthy children, hug them tight this Christmas and be thankful. There are a lot of "Tiny Tims" in the world that could use a bit of magic everyday.

Janet Black said...

Yes, there can be severe (short-lived) snowstorms in the Pacific Northwest when the jet stream drops south of us enough for Arctic lows to drop down across us. Acres of evergreen trees do not a Christmas tree make. However, every other complaint Miss Snark said applies.

December Quinn said...

It's Ben that decides his son needs to see a Christmas tree...but I can't tell you why without ruining the story.

Then put that in. That makes Ben's quest interesting--it makes it about himself. "Ben becomes obsessed with bringing a Christmas tree to the boy's room."

BTW...if you have healthy children, hug them tight this Christmas and be thankful. There are a lot of "Tiny Tims" in the world that could use a bit of magic everyday.

I know, and this is why every year my husband and I donate used and new children's books and comic books to pediatric hospital wards.