12.26.2006

HH com 441

28-year-old Carly Gantry's half-hearted suicide attempt, the proverbial "cry for help," doesn't produce the effect she wanted. Instead of sympathetic attention, she discovers the world of modern mental health care—indifferent treatment entirely dependent on insurance coverage. Unfortunately, Carly has a lot of issues. Evicted from her apartment, Carly is forced to move in with her parents and deal with her mother, a recluse who speaks entirely in Carly Simon lyrics. She has alienated her staunchest ally—her sister Tate, the lead singer of the self-described angry lesbian band Menstrual Vengeance, and nearly gotten herself fired from her job. In the hospital, Carly befriends Meryl, a fellow patient who has racked up so many hours in mental health treatment she deserves a frequent flier card. What Carly doesn't know is that Meryl is far more troubled than she appears to be.


Carly pins all of her hopes on Dr. Bob—a sportscaster turned pop psychologist, but is devastated when her appearance on his popular talk show turns into a nationally televised study in humiliation and ridicule. Reeling from the aftermath, Carly learns that her mother, in an obvious state of mental confusion, has disappeared, and Meryl has committed suicide. This pulls Carly out of her complacent malaise and forces her to confront the debilitating and deadly side of what has become America's favorite excuse: depression. Carly must learn to heal herself in order to find her mother and bring healing to her family.

Comedy right? Like Ordinary People crossed with Rocky.

this smacks of an issue driven novel.
My thoughts on those are well known.
Story comes first.

and spare me from "complacent malaise" as a description of mental illness.

12 comments:

Crouching Tigger, Flying Dustbunny said...

Sounds like 'Girl Interrupted', but with less story line and insight. Love the bit about a woman who only speaks in Carly Simon lyrics though.

xiqay said...

I liked the mom, a recluse who speaks entirely in Carly Simon lyrics (and who named her daughter Carly). Great character.

I like the band name "Menstrual Vengeance" (I could hum a few bars for them.)

I like the "racked up so many hours in mental health treatment she deserves a frequesnt flier card."

All of these speak of an irreverant, almost humorous, tone.

I hate the premise/solution that Carly is going to wake up from her "complacent malaise" and escape "America's favorite excuse: depression."

Sorry, but there is a real mental illness called depression. Sure there are a lot of slackers and malcontents and malingerers, but for people who really suffer from depression, no amount of biting the bullet is going to make things better.

This hook/book would be a big no for me.

MWT said...

This actually sounds like it has potential in the first couple sentences. Throw in a third sentence about how things are too often treated with drugs, and it's even better.

Where my mind first went "uh...": "speaks entirely in Carly Simon lyrics." Up to that point, it looked like it would be a fairly serious story - but if a character like that is included, it would have to be a comedy. And I'm not sure the rest of it sounds like good material for humor.

Then, next point was: What Carly doesn't know is that Meryl is far more troubled than she appears to be. Err? She's racked up so many hours of treatment she deserves a frequent flier card? That's not a clear enough signal?

Third point: Carly is publicly humiliated on national television, her mother disappears, and Meryl commits suicide. What does Carly do? A truly depressed person would look at all that and give up. There is no way at that point she would find the strength to heal herself with no one supporting her at all. She'd probably try to kill herself again, and succeed.

Going back to the original setup, a world of modern mental health care which involves very little caring - it could be a setup for something more like a narrative nonfiction. As a setup to a fiction story, though, the story described in the hook isn't very plausible. You could keep the setup and write a different story (if it was meant to be serious), keep the setup and write a comedy (I suspect this would be hard to pull off well), or do something nonfiction instead.

aries said...

There is an interesting premise here, indifferent treatment of modern mental health care, but it gets lost in the glibness of the hook. The other problem is that the hook is more like a synopsis. The author should focus on the conflict (will Carly 'heal' herself and find her mother) and less on character descriptions.

December Quinn said...

I love the bit about being humiliated on national tv, and I love "Menstrual Vengeance".

But at the end, the book suddenly goes from a book I'd probably like to read to one I wouldn't. I thought it was a slightly snarky and fun look at mental health treatment. The last paragraph or so makes it sound like a "message book".

LPA said...

I loved this hook, and I think some of the above snarklings are missing the point: Carly (if I am correct) is *not* really depressed, she's just malingering. Meryl, on the other hand, *is*. The point is that Carly must learn the difference between complacent malaise and true depression.

Author, I love irreverent stories about mental illness, so I would eat this up. Maybe you just need to be more careful managing the tone of your hook?

In any case, best of luck with this.

writtenwyrdd said...

First paragraph, I thought it had potential. Second? Splat. Your premise of dehumanizing treatment in The System can work, but not when you place it on the Gerry Springer Show.

What I really liked was the idea that the "cry for help" had consequences. I liked seeing those consequences.

The consequences can, I think, be your adversary, and recovery can be achieved only through dealing with the consequences.

Perhaps widen the lens focus on your story and bring in the wider world, ignoring other mental health patient or doctor issues for the most part. The story is in the family and your protag's life, from what I can see.

Anonymous said...

Author here--thanks everyone for the great comments. Writing this hook has been a huge challenge and it's clear I need to go back to the drawing board and really tease out the substance of the story.

It's not an issue or message book (or it's not meant to be, anyway), but I can see exactly why the hook gives that impression.

Ipa is right that Carly isn't really all that depressed, and she views life with a very lackadaisical attitude. When Meryl kills herself, Carly realizes that depression (and bipolar disorder, as the case is), is truly a devastating illness. When her mother disappears, she realizes that her mother is more than just quirky and really needs serious help.

Thank you again for your comments. I'm off to revise, especially addressing the issues you've all brought up here.

Anonymous said...

If you're planning to include dialogue based on Carly Simon's lyrics and already have official permission to do so, you might mention that. If not you should at least look into what you need to do to get it before you send out queries so you can be prepared to discuss it with an agent.

Anonymous said...

Author again: Good point, anon. I do not have the rights to use Carly Simon's lyrics at this time but I am in the process of obtaining them and do intend to incorporate that as a part of my query letters to agents.

Anonymous said...

Don't know if these comments will help any, but for what they're worth (what they cost?):

Please don't add what that person suggested above (that depression is too often answered with unnecessary drugs) if you're discussing and characterizing people with clinical illness and bipolar disorders. LACK of medicine is the biggest problem for many people with mental illness, NOT too many drugs.

Also, I learned the rough way that when you're trying to make a character grow and learn through the course of the book (Carly goes from self-indulgent to aware and proactive, etc.), you run the risk of making her unlikable in the beginning. Too sunk in her own (fake) depression will make for a dull character; too convinced that she's really hurting while being oblivious to the actual pain of her friends and family might make the reader hate her.

That "personal growth" thing is tricky, so you might want to back off it and concentrate on making her a keen and involved observer. I know what you're trying to do, but it's very, very hard to pull off (apparently I didn't, as I got many full reads and no offers).

Good luck. It's a fascinating subject, and anyone who's been in/on a mental health ward has great stories (all anonymous, of course).

Katrina Stonoff said...

I love the woman who only speaks in Carly Simon lyrics. Not to mention the sportscaster-turned-psychologist.

Though I agree with xiqay: that snide remark about depression would be a no-go for me.