Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Face-Lift 423

Guess the Plot

Swimming to the Summit

1. A team of expert climbers, racing to the summit of Mount Everest to rescue a fellow mountaineer, discover that global warming is definitely no hoax.

2. For the teenagers at Orion Space Station, swimming to the summit at Ryevee is a rite of passage. But Jarrod Carruthers is convinced that those who participate come back different . . . alien even. Only trouble is, his daughter won't believe him, and she's ready to swim.

3. Denny considers his depression "drowning," and the day he tried to kill himself "the summit." Now he's swimming toward . . . Never mind. It's kind of nuts, but hey, it makes sense to Denny. Also, a princess and the Ghost of Christmas Past.

4. Survivorman Les Stroud recounts his seven day adventure to reach the summit of the Briny Deep Mountain. Hilarity ensues when he discovers that his camp at the base of the mountain is five thousand feet under the Pacific Ocean, forcing him to jerry-rig scuba gear using bubble gum, shoe laces and a screwdriver.

5. Seth is fed up with his diminutive Master Gurgl. First the "Do or do not, no try," line; and now "Swim to the summit." He's dead sick of cryptic aphorisms and wants to go slay evil.

6. Arch-villain Thor Braun, whose boyhood dream of climbing Mount Everest was crushed when an industrial accident left him with paralyzing vertigo, has hatched the ultimate plan: drop Everest into the ocean to cause flooding that will annihilate all life as we know it, and then fulfill his dream--without having to get way up high.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Denny Holmes could have been at the top of the Class of 2006. Instead, he dropped out in May to work at a gas station with his cousin Joe. Now he’s [making six times what he would have with a degree in English.] back for a fifth year and, as he writes in his journal, “it’s like touring your life with the Ghost of Christmas Past. Nobody sees you.” [Assuming we're in the northern hemisphere, if you've made it to May of your senior year and you had any chance of being at the top of your class, even flunking your final exams is unlikely to keep you from graduating. And if it does, they wouldn't make you take the entire senior year over. They'd arrange for you to pick up where you left off. Their goal is to get rid of you, ASAP.]

Denny's mind is set on surviving a second senior year, this time without the drinking, the bad attitude, [This kid could have been at the top of his class? Hey, I coulda been another Einstein if I'd been willing to ignore the fact that calculus has no real-world application, and if I'd laid off the drugs.] or the months when he couldn’t go home. In November, a flashback to the night his parents sent him to live with Joe’s family [You'll miss us, Den, but at least you'll always have plenty of gas for your car.] sparks a panic attack and Denny lashes out at himself, cutting his arm. Some friends treat it like a joke; Denny's parents and Joe assume it’s a suicide attempt. The only person who asks is Liz, [I hope it wasn't a cry for attention. When you slice open your arm and bleed all over the house as a cry for attention, and only one person bothers to ask why there's a huge gash in your arm, you'd better get on Prozac fast.] a “princess” from the rich side of town whose friendship surprises Denny, gradually evolving into love. But even with Liz by his side, Denny can’t escape the fear that he’ll find himself back in the depression he refers to as “the drowning.” Nor can he bring himself to walk away from his lifelong friends who miss the “old Denny”--the guy who was up for anything and never turned down a dare.

When Denny’s Northern Irish father must visit Belfast for the first time since escaping the violent city of his youth, his courage and honesty inspire Denny to piece together his muddled memories of “the drowning.” Instead of trying to forget the past, he begins to accept and make amends for one day up on the Summit that nearly cut short much more than Denny’s senior year.

“Swimming to the Summit” is Denny’s journal of the events that lead him to understand that in order to be trusted again he needs to be able to trust himself, and the only way to do that is to rely on the friends and family who love him. [Is it in journal form, or a novel adapted from a journal?] The 100,000 word mainstream fiction manuscript is complete and available upon request.

Thank you for your time,


So "The Summit" is the highest point his depression reached, the point at which he almost killed himself? Usually we refer to this as the lowest point. It seems like if depression is analogous to drowning, trying to break free of depression would be swimming toward the surface. But if the surface (or "summit," if you prefer, though I'd go with "surface") is when the depression was at its worst, I'm not sure I'd want to go back there. Trying to understand what was going on at your lowest point is one thing; trying to get back there is another. The easiest fix (assuming I'm making any sense) is to call the book Swiming to the Summit or Surface, but to call the place he was at when he tried to kill himself something else, like "rock bottom."

The connection between Dad going to Belfast and Denny pulling his life together is a bit tenuous. If Dad can stand to go back to the city where he grew up, I can stand to face a really bad day I had. Probably it's stronger in the book.


Anonymous said...

When Denny’s Northern Irish father must visit Belfast for the first time since escaping the violent city of his youth...

"Denny's Northern Irish father" sounds a tad clumsy. Probably don't need to call out his identity as we can figure it out, or at least infer it, from Belfast being the city of his youth.

Precie said...

Ok, I feel as though the story underneath this query has serious potential...It's a story of survival and self-acceptance...with, I'm guessing, a new appreciation for family along the way.

But all that is obscured by the query, especially since the "this happened, then this happened, then this happened" format leads, as EE said, to a sharp contrast between what Denny's father must have suffered and the "smaller" trials Denny has experienced.

I suggest that the author should focus the query more on the facets of the story that will make readers want to read it.

To be more specific, I would recommend that you cut the entire first half...Start with "Denny can’t escape the fear..." and revise that section to focus your query more on the big picture.

Just my $.02.

Pete said...

Sorry. It's High-School Teenage Angst, The Novel. I'm probably not the intended audience, but that does nothing for me. I feel like I should put on some Linkin Park while I read.

The query letter wasn't too bad, though. The story just did nothing for me.

Robin S. said...

This is a book I'd probably read, if I liked how it read.

Is it in 3rd person, 1st person, journal form...?

Ali said...

Author here with couple of clarifications:

Yes, it is in journal form.

The Summit is the actual geographical place, up on a bluff, where Denny almost killed himself. Since he has no memory of the event that took place there, the word Summit isn't used in reference to his depression until the end of the book when Joe realizes Denny doesn't remember what happened up there, and tells him. Swimming to the Summit refers to returning to the "scene of the crime," so to speak, having learned to swim (or to handle depression without drowning in it)

"Could have been at the top of his class" is a stretch--he blew off school throughout because being smart wasn't cool in his crowd. If he hadn't dropped out after the suicide attempt, he would have graduated after summer school. It's explained in the book, but I didn't think that detail needed to be in the query. Should I rephrase the first sentence?

Lightsmith said...

Sorry. It's High-School Teenage Angst, The Novel.

I get the impression that the author is talking about serious depression, not just your average teenage angst.

I really like the description of the MC's repeat senior year being “like touring your life with the Ghost of Christmas Past. Nobody sees you.” This gives me hope for the quality of writing in the novel itself.

I agree with Precie that the underlying story seems to have potential, but it isn't quite coming through in the query.

Don't care for the title. It reminds me of one of those Successories motivational posters.

Good luck.

Evil Editor said...

I'd change the opening to something like:

Denny Holmes could have graduated with honors if he hadn't blown off his senior year, drinking his way through first semester and dropping out in February . . .

February because despite the laxity of school systems, I like to think that if you're in school in May, and have a chance of graduating, teachers and counselors are going to be on you constantly. May is graduation month. If it's May, you'll graduate if they have to tie you to your chair and shove a diploma down your throat.

Robin S. said...

Hi ali,

Thanks for the clarification points. Sounds really interesting to me - not at all angsty in the recentlly-become traditional, gazing-at-lint-in-navel sense someone mentioned before.

Best of luck to you with it!

Ali said...

Author again:

Anon 3:55, you're probably right that I could drop "Northern Irish." I don't give my fellow Americans enough credit for being aware of world geography.

EE, how about March, would you buy him dropping out in March? That's when things started really falling apart. It's all back story anyway, but making it February would require more rewriting than March.

Thanks for all the feedback and support, it's really helpful! Less painful than I expected, somehow.

Don't care for the title. It reminds me of one of those Successories motivational posters. LOL! It does sound kind of like that, now that you mention it. My husband doesn't love the title either, he keeps telling me a better one is going to come to me.

Ali said...

One more thing: the tenuousness of the dad/Belfast connection. A lot happens between Denny and his dad (both parents, but Dad is key): Dad won't talk about his family and Denny feels shut out, especially when Dad refuses to let him come along to Belfast. It's a huge point of contention whose resolution leads them to a new level in their father-son relationship before Dad leaves for Belfast. When he returns a week later, they begin to deal with the rift between them that had played a major role in instigating Denny's depression. The Belfast trip is a plot element I pulled out to capture that for the query without getting bogged down in describing their relationship and then hearing the dreaded: "But you haven't told us what happens in the story." But maybe I failed to say what happens with the Belfast plot element that relates it to the story? Urgh.

pacatrue said...

To make sure I've got it, Denny actually did try to commit suicide in a fit of depression, but he's blocked it out and thinks he cut himself in a panic attack instead?

Evil Editor said...

Yes, March. Blows off his midterm exams, so he can't graduate without acing his finals, which he doesn't show up for.

However, if he passed his courses in the fall semester, he still wouldn't have to repeat the entire senior year, just the spring semester.

Ali said...

Pacatrue: Yes, that's basically right. Except there's also a panic attack/cutting incident during the story's timeline, which is the one mentioned in the query. For most of the novel he thinks he had done pretty much the same thing in May (everything up until the beginning of the current school year is backstory) but he was in a blackout at the time and doesn't remember the actual incident.

EE--thanks, that will work, and you're right, it's more plausible.

Dave said...

I would think that you have to mention his non-communication with his father as a problem contributing to his suicide attempts earlier and more clearly in the query.
That's a big reason for him being isolated from his family.

Phoenix said...

Hi Ali: What I'm not getting from this query is the real ramification of depression. When Denny cuts himself, his parents and Joe assume it's a suicide attempt and they ... what? Do nothing? I don't see it in the query, but in your comments you say Joe knows about the suicide attempt on the Summit and he and Denny's parents STILL don't seek medical help for what they think is a SECOND attempt? Not sure why Denny isn't evaluated and put on meds before he cuts himself in the first place.

Then he need not worry whether he can find his own way to trust based on witnessing someone else's honesty and courage. He'll be getting medication for a debilitating illness, not just something that can be toughed out.

This may be all nicely and logically wrapped up in your story, but it's just not coming through in the query.

Loved every one of the GTPs. They all swam to the summit this time.

BuffySquirrel said...

Depression going undiagnosed/untreated doesn't surprise me at all.

Robin S. said...

It doesn't surprise me, either, buffy- glad you mentioned that.

Lots of reasons why - Parents may be having their own problems - left undiagnosed or unattended to - and/or the family feels that if they don't talk/think about the child's problems, times passes on, and the child "gets over it", which is, after all, what anyone had to do until quite recently.

Precie said...

I think phoenix's main point is not that depression doesn't go untreated but that the query doesn't present that conflict very effectively.

The very fact that his suicide attempt is left unaddressed by the people in his life seems to be the core of your story, and yet the original query doesn't make it sound that way.

BuffySquirrel said...

I suppose some of us feel that neglect of depression is so commonplace that it doesn't require explanation....

Ali said...

Thanks again, all, for your help and thoughts on this.

I think all of you are right. Depression going unaddressed, especially when the person is unwilling to talk about it, is all too common. But, as Phoenix says, the fact that it's not addressed is a major point of the book, so that needs to come through in the query. And Dave makes a good point about the Dad issues needing to be more clear.

How about this? "Some friends treat it like a joke; Denny's parents and Joe assume it’s a suicide attempt and are frustrated by Denny's refusal of their efforts to help him." Then I need to figure out a way to bring the father/son relationship to the forefront more.

Phoenix said...

Denny's parents and Joe assume it’s a suicide attempt and are frustrated by Denny's refusal of their efforts to help him.

Well, reading your comment that the fact that it's not addressed is a major point of the book makes the above statement actually more confusing, even if it makes Joe and parents seem less ogre-ish now. Especially when the query later says Denny is afraid of falling back into depression. What's the motivation for Denny to refuse help?

Also, in reading your comment about the father-son rift, I'm left with the same question of motivation. Your comment doesn't say what the resolution from their falling out is and why Dad would all of a sudden become enlightened enough to start to deal with the rift between them.

It sounds like Dad is on a growth journey of his own, so closely linking Dad and Denny's journeys and paralleling their stories may make us more sympathetic toward Dad.

Ali said...

Denny is afraid of falling back into depression. What's the motivation for Denny to refuse help?

A big old honking case of denial. He doesn't need help, he's fine. "If I ignore this it'll go away" is a pretty common reaction to lots of health issues, including mental health. (Don't get me started, I could talk/write about this stuff all day.)

It sounds like Dad is on a growth journey of his own, so closely linking Dad and Denny's journeys and paralleling their stories may make us more sympathetic toward Dad.

Yes, exactly. Just a matter of finding a way, in one or two sentences, to do that. Thanks!