12.16.2006

HHCom 40

One town over, they’re digging up the wrong daughter with a backhoe. I hear this on the news, and start seriously looking for God. Not a ray of light, or a pocket of warm air, or a hologram – I want the real thing. I want the tall man with the big book and the deep voice and the robes.

I’ve looked for God before, off and on anyway, but now I think I might have found him on CNN. And, in a few other surprising places, too. Like inside the tiny chocolate crosses in my Advent calendar, skinny-dipping in Lake Michigan, and yelling in absentia at the Dalai Lama.

In April, two college students from my area were victims of a violent car accident. Both evangelical Christians, one lived, one died. The coroner mixed up their identities and one student’s body had to be exhumed. With a backhoe. It was more than a month before the mistake was discovered. Not even their grieving parents knew.

As an adult adoptee, and newly single after two decades of marriage, I have my own identity questions. The sad tale of the two students, Whitney Cerak and Laura VanRyn, struck a personal note with me, bordering on a fixation. Tiny Chocolate Crosses is my spiritual memoir about the affects of mistaken identity. Through an assortment of breaking news, Buddhism, Christianity, and my everyday life, I seek, and find, a spiritual foothold. Think Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies meets Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild.



You've got a GREAT first sentence.
Leave out the God stuff, (sorry Big Guy); in fact leave out all of paragraph two and you've got yourself a read.

Winner.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

wow! Intersting in subjective terms...I'd be curious where exactly the author got this idea from. My cousin and her evangelical christian friend died in a violent car accident in March, in the midwest.

Rei said...

How can you leave the God stuff out of this query? It's a spiritual memoir.

Dave said...

nitpicking:
It's effects not affects:
about the affects of mistaken identity

michaelgav said...

I like this. I like Anne Lamott a lot too. You know how she bursts out of extremely wrenching discussions sometimes and wonders whether Jesus starts drinking his gin out of the dog's dish when he overhears what she's thinking? I'd like just a taste of that in this hook -- just a sense of not only who you are (because you describe that), but what you're like. Of course, I'm the third-string tight end of the Toronto Argonauts, not a publishing professional, so consider the source.

Dave said...

I think this really happened.
The reader won't care about your search for God (not that it isn't important, it's too ordinary, we all search for the answer to life and death in some way). The real heart-render is the mis-identification and the fact that they have to exhume the body.

Follow Miss Snarks suggestions and alter the last paragraph to something like this:
"The sad tale of the two students, Whitney Cerak and Laura VanRyn, struck a note with me. Tiny Chocolate Crosses is a spiritual memoir about the consequences of mistaken identity told through breaking news, Buddhism, Christianity, and everyday life."

HawkOwl said...

Wow. That was so hackneyed and yet so grandiose. And not only did it go nowhere by way of complete randomness, but you ought to know what an "affect" is before you try using it in a psychological-development type story.

If I made a flush sound now I'd have to follow it up with a plunger sound.

Poohba said...

I'm not the author of this hook, but I live in Michigan and can attest this story was big news when it happened.

The two girls had similar appearances and were so injured in the accident that no one suspected there had been a mix-up in their identification. The Cerak family buried Laura VanRyn, thinking she was Whitney Cerak, and it took Whitney several weeks to communicate from her hospital bed that she wasn't Laura.

There's more info about it here.

Not-Miss-Snark said...

I like the God stuff. Life of Pi had lots of God stuff that made it more compelling.

But I'm not Miss Snark.

Don't listen to me.

Anonymous said...

Um, that's because this isn't a novel. It's non-fiction.

Sal said...

Let's try again ...

Seems if you aren't logged into beta Blogger, Blogger doesn't gracefully handle your comments to Miss Snark's blog.

If you have switched to beta Blogger, LOG IN! to Blogger before you try to comment to Miss Snark's blog. Blogger won't let you log-in on the fly.

(Bug report! Bug report!)

Whitney Cerak and Laura VanRyn were in a car accident last April. The VanRyns found out five weeks later that Cerak had survived and been mistakenly identified as VanRyn.

Sad story.

The poster's work is a spiritual memoir triggered by the Cerak VanRyn story.

Wabi Sabi said...

I don't know if you've seen the film 'I love Huckerbees'? It's all about spiritual investigation, but the trailer doesn't mention this. It doesn't even hint at it. I assume that's because some people might be put off by an overtly spiritual theme. The 'Huckerbees' plot could stand alone, without you having to engage fully with the spiritual discussion - but it works even better if you do.

Is MS saying that your plot must work first and foremost? Then, once you've hooked your readers, and they've bought the novel, you can reveal the spritual issues?

I wonder, when she says cut out references to 'God', if she means drop all spritual references (Buddhism, etc?) Or drop absolutely all clues, such as the word 'spiritual' in your penultimate line?

Emmy Voter said...

Whitney Cerak and Laura van Ryn are real people, and their story is real -- they were in a car accident together and the doctors were wrong about which one died and which was in a coma. The wrong family sat at their 'daughter's' bedside for months. It sounds like this author's work is a personal memoir of his/her own spiritual quest in response to this news story, rather than a recounting of the story itself?

cudd said...

Read closely. She got her ideas from life--it's non-fiction. The story of the month-long identity switch-up for two girls where one's dead and the other's alive happened earlier this year, if I recall correctly.

cudd said...

Read closely. She got her ideas from life--it's non-fiction. The story of the month-long identity switch-up for two girls where one's dead and the other's alive happened earlier this year, if I recall correctly.

sundae best said...

I remember reading about this case. How heartbreaking for the family that was told their daughter was beneath all those bandages.

Wordswoman said...

Anonymous, the author is writing about a true story--Google the names of the girls mentioned in the hook. It really was stranger than fiction.

Anonymous said...

This really happend. It was on the national news. I believe that is the true name of the girls. It was just tragic. Their school photos were beautiful, and they were strikingly similar.

Calamity Jane said...

The last paragraph explains where the author got the idea. The true story of Whitney and Laura and the tragic mistaken identity was all over the news.

December Quinn said...

This rings a bell, like this was a real story and so there is an explanation for it...but you should explain in the query how the wrong girl was buried if only one of them died. Was the other in a coma, so badly mutilated she was unrecognizeable, or what?

Anonymous said...

Probably from the true story that this is based on...do a google search for either of the girls' names.

Anonymous said...

No just no.

Anonymous said...

But if you take out all the "God stuff" then its just about some guy hearing about the true events. I thought the writer was trying to tell a story of his own reaction to those events (and others) in a personal spiritual journey/awakening/failing or whatever it'll end up being..

Anonymous said...

Keep the God stuff!

wonderer said...

I'm not sure of the legal and moral implications of springboarding off that tragedy, but I absolutely loved the voice.

Ski said...

If you've written this like you did the first paragraph, I'll buy the first copy of the book.

Good luck to you.

Rgds............Ski

Virginia Miss said...

Great voice. Memoirs and spriritual journeys aren't my thing, but this voice just might pull me in.

Anonymous said...

It could be great, but the idea of using someone else's tragedy as a leaping-off point for your own musings is utterly squicky. If I were a member of either family or one of their friends, I'd be appalled.