Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Face-Lift 349


Guess the Plot

The Choice to Change

1. For Pvt. Mort Slimper, changing his socks and underwear in the field meant turning them inside out every week. But with the Army's new Laundry Battalion, everyone now has . . . The Choice to Change.

2. In this daring sequel to my groundbreaking The Choice to Feed, I show new parents how to avoid the whole diaper ritual.

3. Does this make me look fat? How about the slinky black dress? No? Maybe that navy blue blouse with the Peter Pan collar for that barely-legal schoolgirl look?

4. Join the author of this fascinating memoir as she first becomes invisible, and then attempts to find herself.

5. My life in the US Mint, where I dealt with decisions ranging from the thickness and sheen of pennies to the number of ridges on a dime, shaping the course of American coinage.

6. When a body is discovered atop a pile of $600 in quarters, Randy Roberts, change maker at the Galloping Ghost Slots Emporium in Reno becomes the prime suspect and goes on the run while trying to clear his name.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor;

I often wonder just how deep the effects of the trauma of my childhood go and whether I'll ever be totally free of them. I was so shy, na├»ve, protected, and isolated from all the problems of daily life. Except for the movies, TV and an occasional vacation, my early point of view was extremely narrow. [I think I'm the wrong person to unload on--movies, TV and the occasional vacation are still the only things shaping my worldview.] I had my own little world – my fantasy world. I had complete faith and trust in the people around me and believed that life would unfold in a good and logical way. [You were a kid. What do kids know?]

Then one day it all shattered. My father's infidelity created a nasty separation and divorce and mother moved us to a large city far away from my small rural town. I was totally unprepared for the realities that faced me. I retreated into the protection of the one place I felt safe – into myself. But I had no foundation upon which to draw and no one who would take the time to help me. It wasn't that I was unloved – just that I wasn't a priority. I became invisible. [Just to confirm, you didn't accidentally switch your letters to Evil Editor and to Dr. Phil, right?]

For years I drifted through schools, jobs, locations and men trying to find my place - always looking outside myself for the answers. I used sex and drugs as an antidote for my pain and developed deep-seeded [seated] abandonment and intimacy issues. Then I got cancer. [One problem with starting a query letter in first person and not mentioning the book is that the editor begins to wonder if the next paragraph is going to begin: Anyway, at the age of fifty, my life is finally settling down, I'm at peace with my father, my cancer is gone, and I've decided to become a science fiction author. Would you be interested in taking a look at my 100,000-word novel, Zombie Wolverines of Planet Q?] [Believe it or not, such query letters do make their way to editors.]

THE CHOICE TO CHANGE explores my journey from an idyllic childhood, through years of feeling lost and alone, through cancer and the related stress and changes it caused and the search to find my self. It relates the lessons I learned along the way and the importance of forgiveness [Forgiveness? Listen, speaking as Evil Psychiatrist, the only way you'll ever be happy is if you put a bullet in your father's brain.] and acceptance of responsibility.

THE CHOICE TO CHANGE is a memoir of 63,000 words. Thank you for your consideration of my submission. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,


Notes

As I may have mentioned earlier, there's something discomforting about a query letter in first person that takes a long time to get around to mentioning a book. This wasn't as bothersome as Face-Lift 76, but you don't want the editor wondering if you're an infatuated stalker. I'd put the title, genre and word count up front.

Perhaps it's a sad commentary on our world, but no one wants to read your memoir unless you're famous or they're related to you--unless your life has been truly amazing. Writing this book was a good thing to do, but to sell it you have to show what makes your story interesting to a large number of complete strangers. Or convert it into a novel and throw in some truly amazing or hilarious fictional events.

This has given me a great idea for a new blog: Evil Psychiatrist. To see if it would be entertaining, I'll let Evil Psychiatrist take over my blog this weekend. Those of you with problems, real or imagined, write to me now. Sorry, I don't do bedwetting.

12 comments:

Kanani said...

Every so often, I meet people writing their life story. I think the author has to figure out whether they are writing this to impart some wider message about personal growth, or if it's simply catharsis.

If it was cathartic for you to write it, then fine. But what happens in your story that would compel someone else to read it. And remember, that your story isn't unique --the divorce rate is around 50%, which means that many people have had either the same or even a rougher experience than you.

So, analyze your reasons for writing it, go through it and make sure something compelling happens.

150 said...

EE is right: there's so little market for these memoirs. It's honestly wonderful that you wrote it, but it (as queried) has nothing unique to offer a stranger. Certainly keep it for your friends and family!

However, if you're determined to keep trying, there are some elements that could at least get you a few requests for partials. If you have vibrant, startling characters (say, you learned about forgiveness from a foul-mouthed one-armed bartender), mention them in the query. If your path led you to some extreme action (like walking cross-country or joining the circus), then frame the book and query along that interesting element. If your active childhood imagination led you to envision everything from custody hearings to chemo as part of a vivid fairy-world, describe that. If your journey gave you such perspective that you can frame all your experiences as hilarious stories, give an example. If your book has a unique framework, like a set of guiding principles, that's noteworthy too.

Up until the divorce, your query describes the childhood of like every bookworm ever, so that part isn't compelling and can be cut--making room for you to describe the interesting stuff, above.

Hope this helps. Congratulations on completing your memoir!

Dave said...

This is one of those Face Lifts where I read the GTPs in absolute, Hitchcockian fear of the actual story.
I once wrote a story about gay slugs on a jungle planet and somehow even that pales in comparison to "Zombie Wolverines of Planet Q"... It's the dreams of John Agar in full rampages and Zsa Zsa Gabor as the Queen of Outer Space that haunt me.

December/Stacia said...

Oooh!

*runs off to think of questions for Evil Psychiatrist*


As for the query...what about it is any different from the story of any one of millions of other children of divorce? That's what you need to focus on.

spooge26 said...

i just read the face lift 76 you referenced.

how am i supposed to eat my lunch while reading these if i spew spinach salad all over my monitor??

as for the current face lift, i wouldn't read on. too depressing.

pjd said...

Since I'm a child of divorce and didn't turn to sex and drugs or really have any ill psychological affects (that I can detect), does this mean that I should write my memoir because I'm so utterly different from all the other millions of children of divorce? Maybe I should call it "The Choice to Remain the Same"?

Author, I apologize for not having anything much productive to offer. (Like why should today be any different?) I don't read this type of memoir typically, and as I read the query I felt sorry for your path but not at all interested in reading your book. On the one hand, it's a story I've heard many times before. On the other, I have had a few people close to me die of cancer in the past few years, and I have no interest in reading more about it. (Nothing personal against you, of course. I would rather spend as little time thinking about cancer as possible these days.)

pacatrue said...

The one thing I might add which hasn't already been covered in detail is that you might be able to sell a unique voice. As 150 says, often this is giving a really funny spin to things, but any voice that is captivating and draws us in will do (because of course that's so easy). If you have developed this in the memoir, be sure to show it in the query. Good luck!

spooge26 said...

hey, i do want to read Zombie Wolverines of Planet Q, but only if there are dancing cows in it. or circus clowns. now they scare me!

Brenda Bradshaw said...

*Writes a list of questions for Psych EE* Careful what you wish for, big guy.

ME said...

I'm sorry author. Anything I have to offer will have to wait until I manage to clear the image of Pvt. Slimper's privates as he steps into his panties afield. It may take a day or two.

phoenix said...

Author: We all appreciate the difficulties you've been through and applaud that you've been able to overcome them and achieve an outlook of forgiveness and accountability. Big-time kudos to you on the very personal level!

But as has been pointed out, unless you have more to share, this is a journey far too many of us take on our own. Why buy a book when we can go to any number of blogs or support sites for children of divorce or cancer survivors and participate in real-time discussion of the issues?

The problem is, we all handle adversity differently. As pjd said, divorce didn't throw him/her into the depression it did you. I, too, was the bookworm kid. And I'm a cancer survivor, and while I made some life changes because of it, I consider that period in my life more a hiccup and an annoyance than anything else. Unless you have something unique to say to me on that score, I wouldn't need/want to hear it.

So who do you envision as your target audience? People who have been through adversity? People who haven't? People helping others go through it? Memoir is in a unique position that, while mostly treated like fiction, it still helps tremendously to have a platform for it the same as for non-fiction.

I like EE's suggestion of turning the memoir into a novel and adding some spice to it. But you would still need to find a unique angle to set it apart. Pick up something out of 150's post. Maybe your MC walks cross country to join the circus!

Oh, and depending on your audience, it may or may not matter, but I can't be certain whether the person in this memoir is male or female. The "men" reference could go either way. I would guess female just from the way the query "feels."

Anonymous said...

What they said.

A personal memoir like this may be well done and charming, etc. but agents can only pay the bills by representing books that do well commercially. Your premise just doesn't seem to have a commercial orientation. For a non-commercial project, you don't need an agent. Your postage etc might be better used for submitting the most story-like excerpts to literary magazines that publish memoir. You can find info about them here:

http://www.duotrope.com/