HH Com 455

Mormon mother of six young children, with one on the way--people tell this woman she's crazy, or a saint. She laughs at those labels. But when her baby is born ten weeks early and is diagnosed with Down syndrome, she can't laugh anymore. God tells her that this painful experience will lead her to the life of goodness she desires most. Friends tell her she is special, strong. So when the the impact of the baby's medical problems and disability press upon her, the mother vows to maintain her self-control and her dignity, and refuses to grieve. As her emotional health unravels she faces a crisis of her heart and her faith. Yet through her relationship with her infant son, she comes to understand that the events we most fear are often those we most need—if we are to find the realm of peace that waits within each of us.

This isn't a hook. It never will be because there's no antagonist.

"I lived through this" memoir doesn't work if you don't have something spectacular attached to it like your kid grows up to be president or a great artist (My Left Foot) or is so mordantly funny and fictionalized that it reads like a novel.

It's my least favorite pitch to hear at writer's conferences because theres no way to say no to a person's memoir without sounding like you're dismissing their life. I don't mind causing heart wrenching screams of anguish but I'd rather it be about your writing, not your actual...yanno...life.


Molly Mormon said...

Okay, I've read enough "Especially For Mormons" stories in my life to know the type -- all too well. Yes, it's unbelievable that you can still find this stuff all over the shelves of Deseret Book, but why? Why does Mormon fiction have to sound like testimony meeting instead of having plots? There are plenty of Christian novels that manage, and lots of Jewish-themed works (I'm thinking Hollocaust stories, unfortunately, but many have great writing) that do, too. I'm sorry, but I'm sick to death of warm and fuzzy garbage for the Mormon soul. Let's write stuff with real plots, please!!
Oh, and the whole bit about God telling her ... whatever it was. Yeah, I know about personal inspiration, but that sentence makes it sound like she just went out to lunch with God and had a conversation.
Sorry for the rant, Miss Snark. If you don't want to post this one because it's too mean, I understand. But if you'd seen as much of this gunk as I have over the years, you'd be pounding your keyboard, too.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it a bit extreme to say that it NEVER will be a book? Haven't there been PLENTY of books written on this very thing, a woman who has a crisis (sick baby) and faces it and then after a series of events comes out of it a CHANGED PERSON? I dunno, I care less about the subject matter and not thinking of this particular pitch, but can't the IDEA of the pitch be a book?

Inkwolf said...

Now if she was seriously tempted to kill the kid, to the point of making preparations, and had a change of heart later, that would be something. But you'd still need more to fill in the gaps.

heidi said...

The fact that she survives and there's an HEA doesn't make for an interesting hook. A good hook plays on our fears that there's a very likely chance the hero(ine) will make a wrong decision and be plunged into the depths of misery. We've got to see the hero(ine) up against some serious consequenses, that if they fail, Very Bad Things will happen.

This read more like a short synop, and I guess that's all right if you're pitching to Sherrie L. Dew. But if you're writing this for a mainstream audience (and nothing says you can't), I'd focus more on the "As her emotional health unravels she faces a crisis of her heart and faith" bit. Things Going Wrong makes for interesting reading. Her life as she knew it being shattered is fascinating. Watching her not be able to hold it together will draw us in.

Everything before that point could be easily condensed into one or two sentences:

(please forgive my paraphrasing)

"When Molly's seventh child is born with Down Syndrome, it becomes the biggest challenge of her life. While she trusts that God won't give her anything she can't handle, she finds it difficult to cope and her personal strength begins to unravel."

Now you can describe the conflict. Can she put on her "Molly Mormon" face or will she give in to her human side and eventually succumb to the natural man? Make us worry that she won't survive.

The antagonist is the persona that she feels she must present to society and you need to come right out and say that. Don't give away that there is an HEA. We don't want to know that. In fact, we want there to be some doubt. It's called "suspense"; that's the whole idea behind a hook.

It's okay for this story to be all about her: one woman's descent into Too Many Straws on Her Back. That's interesting. Right now, your hook sounds like she doesn't really change and grow. It seems she simply fights a rough spot, then everything goes back to Status Quo.

In real life, it never does, not really.

Don't feel that it's "selfish" for the story to be all about her, because if she can't learn to put her own oxygen mask on before helping the others on the plane, she will never be the sort of self-strong character she needs to become in order to make this an appealing story.

Not everyone can understand the struggles of having a child with special needs. That's just your vehicle. But everyone can understand feeling so overwhelmed with life that they can't cope, and that's what's going to grab your readers.

Eileen said...

Raise the stakes- what choices exist? A choice to put the child in an institution? If she keeps the child- what does she have to give up? What does the spouse want? Think tension.

M. Takhallus. said...

Not enough happening. And here's the thing, writer: unless you're a celebrity or a politician, you don't really want a life so compelling it makes for a good book. Tragedy is compelling. Horror is compelling. Madness is compelling. Your life is merely difficult. On balance, aren't you glad?

jennifer said...

Perhaps the development of the hook wasn't complete, but I don't think you can deduce that the story will sound like "testimony meeting." There is a tradition of parents writing about children who change their lives; Pearl S. Buck did it, for one. I say go back to the drawing board on the hook form; the rest is yet to be seen.

queen serene said...

Geez, I feel honored to have snagged your attention and comments.

Molly Mormon, rest assured, this book would have no future at Deseret Book or Covenant. But I can see how the hook suggests that it would. And yes, I have lunch with God all the time.

I heartily disagree that the story will only be weighty enough if I plot to kill the retarded kid.

But I do see how vital it is to show the stakes. Heidi, your comments are fabulous. As soon as I read MS's response I realized that I'm protagonist and antagonist in the story. I hadn't caught that before. I like how you elaborated on that. (btw, Heidi, I followed your link to your personal site. You should write for _Segullah_. One week until our personal essay contest deadline, and we have no decent entries. Submit! www.segullah.org)(Molly, methinks you're more of an ExII fan, no?)

I don't think I have to be famous, or a tragic figure, to capture a reading audience. I'm reading a memoir right now that's a contemplative, woman's-internal-journey kind of book. (Joan Anderson's _A Year By the Sea_). But the point is well-taken: the conflict needs to be clear, and poignant, and have wide application. Will work on that.

Thanks again forthe feedback.

Michele said...

To both "molly mormon" and the author - if you want to read something compelling by a Morman (and that is aimed at a wider audience), try Orson Scott Card.

To the author - like the others, I wasn't really sure where the conflict lies. Yes, having a kid with Down Syndrome can be an ordeal, but you still need to describe how that manifests as conflict for the protagonist: crisis of faith(and does that lead to further conflicts with family and/or friends? or does she struggle to overcome the crisis without anyone noticing?), family and/or marital conflicts, how the other children react.

This might be based on your own experiences, but don't be afraid to pile extra conflicts on your protagonist. We want to see your character reach a dark moment, and then change. If her faith doesn't change, then perhaps the change is in learning to trust her other children (or someone else), that she doesn't have to be super mom, because God has provided her with other strong people.

Anonymous said...

Is this memoir or novel? If it's a memoir, I'm happy to know you have found peace with the unexpected challenge of a special needs child. If it's a novel, I'd want to see more conflict and less vague 'everything unravels and then turns out in the end' stuff. Something that is specific to her LDS faith (and that makes the fact that she's Mormon with seven kids a pertinent fact rather than cliche.)
Dig deeper, and good luck.

Angus Weeks said...

'She' needs a name, otherwise it sounds like we are reading a fable instead of a story about an individual character/person.

Radicalfeministpoet said...

Martha Beck wrote a memoir along these lines called Expecting Adam.

I don't think it got into this particular book, but Martha's marriage later went south and she found a lesbian partner. Oh yes, and she began to remember curious things about her father, who's famous among Mormons and justly unknown to everyone else for coming up with all sort of ridiculous explanations and defences for the absurdities of Mormon doctrine.

I'm not clear whether this is a memoir, as Snark assumes, or fiction. However, I disagree with Snark and her sycophantic minions, though: this memoir, if that's what it is--any memoir, if well written, can be interesting. It will be more interesting if the author discovers that Mormonism is a crock, but you can't have everything. As fiction--or metafiction, for fiction about Mormonism is by definition fiction about fiction--it can work too. It all depends on the writing....but alas, few write as well as I do.

Anonymous said...

anonymous--Miss Snark didn't say it will never be a book, she said it will never be a HOOK.

Jeanne said...

I'm a teacher. Down Syndrome children are like angels on Earth -- the sweetest people alive. Unless the child has profound mental handicaps, the child can be taught and will be able to learn to do some things for himself. I don't see it as a problem for parents approaching the level of, say, unfocused teenage boys and girls roaming the streets unsupervised, or diseases like juvenile diabetes and cancer.

writtenwyrdd said...

Gotta agree with Molly on this one. Mormon family, similar feelings, blah blah. That said, you can still write a book that can use these themes of personal discovery and fulfillment through religion.

Just bear in mind that testimony does not a novel make. It is not fiction nor enjoyment when I am being thumped over the head with a THEME. I'm sure 99% of the world agrees.

What we're missing is the conflict. Is it that hubby abandons her emotionally, or she realizes she has been giving to everybody but not herself because it is expected...but with the new baby she WANTS to give? Is the antagonist her marriage vs. the child? I'm guessing. But I don't think the conversation with God bit covers this.

This sounds like a memoir.

jennifer said...

Jeanne, I agree with you. I am mom to a three year old with Down syndrome and have found the experience to be both lovely and surprising. What this means for the hook, is that the unjustified fears need to be made clear, and the author, as she mentioned, needs to better outline what the conflict is--what stands to be gained and lost.

Anonymous said...

My little brother has Down's Syndrome. I can't stand books where a Down's child causes major conflict. I've just known too many families and kids who did just fine. (I've also met a lot of bratty Down's kids too, jeanne--don't stereotype them for angels!)

90% of fetuses diagnosed with Down's are aborted. If the conflict is whether the mother will keep the child, tell us! Likewise if it's a crisis of faith, or a decision about adoption. Something happening to a character isn't interesting; it's what they do about it.

queen serene said...

yes, it's memoir. I put that at the top of the non-hook for MS to see.

The conflict is between myself and myself.

Yes, having a child with DS is no tragedy, but that's a secret known by a select few, given the current abortion rate for DS fetuses (92%)Discovering that secret unlocked all kinds of companion truths, and required me to face some raw stuff about myself.

I'm well acquainted with _Expecting Adam_. And OSC.

I agree that the quality of writing will make or break the book's future.

Like hundreds of other snarklings, I submitted this blurb with no idea of what a hook really is. Now I know. Lucky for me, I already have an agent, so I don't have to rely on a stellar hook to get some chapters read. But I figured it would be a valuable exercise, and it has been.

Thank you Miss Snark, and everyone else, for your time and attention.

Anonymous said...

I don't see it as a problem for parents approaching the level of, say, unfocused teenage boys and girls roaming the streets unsupervised, or diseases like juvenile diabetes and cancer.

No, it doesn't compare to cancer, and I'm sure you're very good at your job, Jeanne, but until you've had a child with a mental disability, why don't you keep your opinions of how parents facing it should feel about it to yourself.

--parent of an autistic child, who thinks this book would probably be too difficult to read, emotionally

A Paperback Writer said...

I agree with both Michelle and Molly Mormon: there's a big difference between the writings of Jack Weyland and Orson Scott Card.
"Lunch with God"? Oh my.
I'm sure that a DS child would be a huge change in life; I have neighbors with a 9-year-old DS boy. However, you still need a plot, not just challenging characters.
Good luck, author. May you find a way to make this work.

queen serene said...

anonymous parent with an autistic child,

I'm glad you posted. People are well-meaning with their platitudes, and I'm certainly glad that there are teachers out there who see what's beautiful in children with disabilities, but the easy words ring hollow when you're in pain, don't they?

Ours is one of those families that is doing "just fine." More than fine, as a matter of fact. I wouldn't give my son up, or change him, for anything. But that surety didn't come automatically, and it's insensitive for people to imply that it should. "Should" nearly cost me my sanity.

*end rant*

Zany Mom said...

Of course, I know nothing about memoir -- neither how to write it or market/sell it, so feel free to ignore this advice.

One way I've dealt with issues in my personal life (including a sick child) was to write fiction, but not fiction with myself (or my child) as the main character dealing with the issue, but a character doing something totally unrelated who just happened to have a child with X disease, or something. I could write the raw emotions through the character, but the sick child wasn't the focus of the novel. It was there to add depth to the character.

If that makes any sense at all...

Anonymous said...

Hugs, Queen Serene, and thanks.

I've heard that line before, "these children are blessings"--always either from someone childless, or whose own children are fine--and always have to be restrained from hitting the people saying it.

My child is a blessing. That doesn't mean I wouldn't rather s/he was able to do the things other kids can do, or talk to me the way they do, or just understand things the way other kids do. That doesn't mean I don't dream of the life they should have had and want to scream and cry because they never will, and for someone to tell me it shouldn't be a problem for me, like there's something wrong with being upset that my hopes and dreams for my baby will never come true, is so insensitive and cruel it kills me.

--anon parent of autistic child

queen serene said...

Thanks, zany mom.

And I hear you loud and clear, anon. My friend, a mom to a child with DS, says coming to peace after a diagnosis is like a long, painful climb up a mountainside. No no matter how clear the view from up there, the climb should not be forgotten. And I might add: the only people who have the right to describe the view are those who have made the trek themselves.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand, if you already have an agent, why you submitted a hook for your book. If it's sold already, what does the hook matter anymore?

And why, when you learned that there were 700-plus submissions, didn't you pull yours, seeing as it's already found a home?

queen serene said...

The ms. hasn't been written yet, let alone sold. My agent may or may not want to represent it. I wrote and submitted my (attempt at a) hook as an exercise, and learned much in the process. I have just as much of a right to do so as anybody else.