Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Beginning 824

Lizzie wasn’t the first person to kill herself this year. Five weeks prior to her final ascension Gordy “Queerbait” Wilson hung himself in his basement. Rumor has it he used the belt his father beat him with. For two days he hung there, feet pooling with blood, before daddy came down the stairs in search of a cold one.

I guess that’s the difference between Gordy and Lizzie.

Lizzie didn’t go quietly.

I’m Angelina Lakesly. I was Lizzie’s best friend. We met in kindergarten – did the whole blood-sisters-death-do-us-part thing with a couple of Home Ec sewing needles. Lizzie cried when the needle pierced her skin, but not me. Back then nothing could scare me.

I got breasts before she did, started dating before she did. My parents divorced first. (Lucky me!) We used to joke that I’d get knocked up first but it was one of those jokes based completely in reality. Lizzie never touched anybody. She was Prude Queen.

Then everything changed. I’m sure you’ve heard about it. Every blogger within a ten mile radius had a fucking field day with the story: Little Miss Perfect Seduces Prom King While Girlfriend Primps Down the Hall.

Unless you use Twitter. The whole sordid tale was too many characters for a Tweet, so went unnoticed on Twitter. Just emo kids doing what they do, anyway. Bored by it now. Need to log on to FB and friend some new kids.

Opening: Chelsea P......Continuation: anon.


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuation:

Some people have a hard time understanding why she did it. Not me. Knowing an old nanny like Mary Poppins stole your man while you were running down the hall with your curling iron tangled in your hair is hard to live with. Knowing that she only met him because your parents were tired of your messy room, and that the songs Mary Poppins wrote about all of this are making bank is unbearable. Especially since you never even got to touch him first.

I'd have jumped into the alligator tank at the zoo too.


BuffySquirrel said...

I thought this a good opening. Only things I'd change would be remove 'completely' and to shorten the headline by removing Down the Hall.

Anonymous said...

Well, that was as well-written as it was utterly depressing. I would not read further. But presumably the suicide groupies will. And we all know suicide is the new vampires.


Does nobody read John Gardner (specifically, on the writer's social responsibility) anymore?

Evil Editor said...

I would drop "Queerbait."

I would tack "Lizzie didn’t go quietly" onto the previous paragraph. Also, it's not clear in this passage what is meant by Lizzie didn't go quietly.

The dash after "kindergarten" could lead readers to think the blood sisters thing occurred in kindergarten. I can't tell if "Back then" means back in kindergarten or back in whatever grade they had home ec in. Also, crying when a needle stabs you doesn't necessarily mean you're scared, so I'm not sure why "nothing could scare me" is there.

This being the same Lizzie who's called Queen of the Sluts (Face-Lift 855), I'm not crazy about also calling her Prude Queen. I could handle Princess Prude.

Anonymous said...

Does nobody read John Gardner (specifically, on the writer's social responsibility) anymore?

Never have, but I loved what he did with the James Bond character.

Lauren K said...

Sounds like a good opening. I only have one minor nitpick. Personally I'd change the exclamation point after "lucky me" to a period.

Anonymous said...

I'd use "hanged himself" rather than hung. Especially since you use "hung" again a few words later...

Eric said...

"Five weeks prior to her final ascension"-- surely you meant "Five weeks before she died"? The euphemisms are strange, especially considering you use the f-bomb a few sentences later.

"I’m Angelina Lakesly"--This doesn't feel right at all. The character has been telling us all this heavy personal stuff and then it turns out we're strangers who just met. Find a smoother way to tell us the character's name-- work it into dialogue or something.

"Every blogger"-- I think (as the continuation observed) Facebook is more popular than blogging among today's teenagers. (And texting is more popular yet.) What would happen, plot-wise, is that somebody would snap embarrassing photos of the cheating couple with their phone and upload them to FB (also with their phone).

Otherwise, I'm with alaskaravenclaw. The writing is good, but the subject is seriously depressing. What will make parents / librarians / etc. want to buy this for their already depressed teenage readers?

Evil Editor said...

Depressing subject matter hasn't prevented many a book from becoming a runaway bestseller, even in the YA genre (as evidenced by The Hunger Games and it's two sequels). But even if that weren't the case, people might read the book to see Angie take revenge on the people who drove Lizzie to suicide (as described in Face-Lift 855).

BuffySquirrel said...

It's not irresponsible to write about suicide; it's how you write about it that matters. There isn't enough here to tell whether the writer is being irresponsible, imo.

You might have many reasons for crying when stabbed with a needle, indeed, but as this is first person, I can go with the idea that the narrator believes it was because Lizzie was scared.

Anonymous said...

EE-- Sure, I know it sells. I was just in the teen section at B & N the other day and noticed it was a virtual smorgas-morgue of teen suicidey goodness.

Books about getting back at the mean ol' people who drove the poor character to suicide was certainly a sizable chunk of the stash. AKA 13-reasons-why-not-if-it-sells?

But is it socially responsible?

And does it matter when there're $$$ to be made?

Call me old-fashioned.

Evil Editor said...

I think one should read the books before declaring them socially irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

Author, I think your competition is posted over on query shark, a couple of posts down.

Dave F. said...

Too many teens think about suicide for it not to be a big topic in books they read. Self doubt combined with the normal teenage tendency to turn into inarticulate lumps of silence make these topics quite popular.

As for the opening:
I think feet pooling with blood is inaccurate even if it isn't, it's gilding the lily. Hanging two days before being found is horrific enough.

I too wondered if they had Home Econ in kindergarten.

This bolded section caught me up and took me out of the story:
We used to joke that I’d get knocked up first but it was one of those jokes based completely in reality. Lizzie never touched anybody. She was Prude Queen.
I understand the idea but the words are really hard to parse into that meaning. Perhaps use "because" rather than "but".

"Mattress Back" is a phrase you might consider.

I personally wouldn't drop the "f" bomb where you did but that's my opinion and you know your character better than I do.

Anonymous said...

For me it's too much seemingly unimportant detail too soon. If Gordy's suicide or Lizzie crying while Angelina did not or Angelina blithering on about doing everything first (breasts, dating, divorced parents) are important factors in the story you might bring them in over time rather than whack the readers with all this detail right off the top.

Also IIRC, this story features Angelina getting back at the people who caused Lizzie to kill herself. It seems to be told by Angelina after the fact, and I would think she would have realized that calling Lizzie names like "Prude Queen" and "Little Miss ..." were part of why Lizzie killed herself, so why is Angelina still calling Lizzie names? Didn't she learn anything from the whole experience? If not, why is she writing the book?

vkw said...

"final ascension" doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the opening.

Queerbait seems off.

"Feet pooling with blood" I don't think is necessary.

Two days? Really? It took dad that long to need a beer? Come on.. . . maybe it was two hours.

I would leave off "home-ec"

I would say, "Lizzie was scared shitless, cried the whole way through."

"blogger" doesn't seem to fit. Facebook reference would be better.

The title, "Little Miss Perfect Seducs Prom King While Girlfriend Primps Down the Hall" is too long of a thought for most teenagers. Also when you read it out loud, it breaks the flow. I would change.

I am not supportive of making suicide anything but horror. Even the idea of getting revenge, (due to the happy ending, redemption or hero aspects of the idea, repulses me.

Suicide is in my mind evidence that evil/satan/demons walk amongst us.

I don't think revenge is a good motive for anything either.

But, I have no idea how this novel ends and I support the author's right to write anything he/she wants - socially responsible or not nor should my opinion count.


BuffySquirrel said...

Of course revenge is a bad motive. Who said it wasn't? Of course suicide is horrific. Who said it wasn't?

The opening uses humour. That doesn't mean it's laughing at suicide.

Angie is using the names in telling the story because the names are part of the story. To fudge them would be dishonest.

Anonymous said...

The Virgin Suicides is an excellent book, and not a terrible Movie.

Matt said...

I agree with BuffySquirrel and Evil Editor. There is no evidence to suggest the author is treating suicide lightly, and it is an appropriate subject for teens because it's something they could possibly deal with.

Judging from the query, the suicide has Carrie-like consequences. It's not like she becomes a sparkling vampire after she takes her life.

As for the writing, if you combine the standalone sentences into the first paragraph and put an ellipse before "Lizzie didn't go quietly" I think it would have a bigger impact.

I think you could drop "I'm Angelina Lakesly. I was Lizzie's best friend."

Dave F. said...

Well, we thoroughly worked this opening down to the a's, and's, and the's...

What have we got left:

Lizzie killed herself. Wilson hung himself. Daddy cold.
Angelina Lakesly nothing could scare.
Breasts. Knocked, Queen.

That just about says it all.

Jo-Ann said...

Very intersting discussion - suicide is a powerful topic. Given that the suicidal levels in our population are the highest amongst young people (and perhaps the elderly, but under-reported as such), I dont think that it should be glossed over.

My belief is that the YA titles featuring suicide sell because the one question in peoples' minds after a young person has taken their own life is "why?".

Most teens' lives, have, unfortunately, been touched by suicide (even if they didn't know the deceased person, they will know somebody who knows somebody). Perhaps they believe that a story will provide them with some insight into why a person just like the will take such a violent, painful course of action. That's not to say that there are no novels exploiting this as the latest hot-button issue. Voyeurism always exists.

Yes, there is published evidence (in the psycho-social/ epidemiological literature) of suicide clusters. That is, one young person kills themself, and this is followed by a spate of copy-cat other suicides within a twelve month period.

Therefore, some educators are concerned that reading about a suicidal teen may validate this option for a vulnerable person. However, I am not aware of any evidence supporting this in the scientific literature. That's not to say that this does not exist.

Lets not forget this is a litigenous society, and a publisher will hesitate to publish anything that they feel may make them vulnerable to a law suit, ie, from parents of a child who killed themself after reading a book featuring suicide.

My opinion is that a well written piece may be powerful enough to help a vulnerable young person to realise that suicide is a tragic, irreversible decision, and that there is no problem that is so great that ending their life is the only option. There will always be a number of people who cherish them and will help in any way they can.

I dont know if the piece under discussion is exploitative or not. But I do know that pretending teenage suicide does not exist is not only unhelpful, but insults the intelligence of a YA readership.

chelsea said...

Author here,

Hello all, and thank you for your wonderful comments. I've made quite a few tweaks based on your suggestions. I think I'll just post the revision when I'm happy with it, rather than annoy you by explaining every single change.

EE, I love "Princess Prude." I'm a sucker for alliteration.

I would love to hear people's reasons for wanting me to cut "Queerbait". My intention with the nickname was to allude to the fact that Gordy was bullied for being gay. Is this not coming across, or IS it coming across but still irrelevant at this point in the story?

I'm still clinging to "final ascension" and "blogger" for now, but they may be taken out in a later revision. My reasons for blogger are simple: two years ago, MySpace was the hot networking site for teens. Now it's Facebook. Any story written now won't be published for 2+ years. People will still be blogging, but Facebook and Twitter? Who knows?

For the record, this is a story about Angie choosing love over hate, light over dark, forgiveness over revenge, etc. etc. That's not coming across in the opening, but that's because she starts the story from a dark place. Thank you to those who defended my (possible) integrity. Much appreciated.

I love the Mary Poppins continuation. Just fantastic.

Evil Editor said...

Queerbait this early in the book could give the wrong impression. Kind of like the N word in sentence one. Plus, a father who hits him with a belt and doesn't care enough about him to wonder where he is when he's been missing two days is the reason some readers will attribute the suicide to, even with Queerbait in there. Plus, why would Angelina, who's telling the story, refer to Gordy as Queerbait? Is that how she referred to him when he was alive? If so, she's not a sympathetic character. Isn't she the character who wants revenge on those who called Lizzie Queen of Sluts?

As for the Mary Poppins continuation, it reversed the characters. It has the girl who was betrayed killing herself, when it's the betrayer who killed herself.

chelsea said...

Gotcha. Angie uses Gordy's nickname here to illustrate the types of names her classmates use (not the names she uses) but that's clearly not coming across this early in the story. I'll take it out here and work it into some dialogue later. I know just the place :)

chelsea said...

Rewrite time! Here we go:

Lizzie wasn’t the first person to kill herself this year. Five weeks prior to her death Gordy Wilson hanged himself in his basement. Rumor has it he used the belt his father beat him with. For two hours he hung there before daddy came down the stairs in search of a cold one.

I guess that’s the difference between Gordy and Lizzie. Lizzie didn’t go quietly.

We met in kindergarten – did the whole blood-sisters, death-do-us-part thing with a couple of sewing needles. Of course, back then we didn’t know death would part us so quickly. And I think we both figured I’d be the first to go.

I was always one step ahead of Lizzie.

I got breasts before she did. My parents divorced first. (I know, lucky me.) We used to joke that I’d be the first to get knocked up, but it was one of those jokes based completely in reality. Lizzie never touched anybody.

She was Princess Prude.

Then everything changed. Maybe you’ve heard about it? Every blogger within a ten-mile radius had a field day with the story: Little Miss Perfect Seduces Prom King While Girlfriend Primps. My Lizzie with my Jake. The whole school rallied behind me. And while Jake got off with a boys-will-be-boys slap on the wrist, Lizzie became Queen of the Sluts.

Dave Fragments said...

I think you are missing the dramatic points and stepping all over them. I went back and looked at the original and the revision.

This is the way I think your opening paragraph should read:
Lizzie wasn’t the first person to kill herself this year. Five weeks prior to her death Gordy Wilson hanged himself in his basement. he hung there For two hours before daddy came in search of a cold one. Rumor has it he used the belt his father beat him with.

Let's analyze: first you let the reader know that Lizzie is dead by suicide. Then you the horrific image of Gordy in the basement and set up the reversal of his father coming down for a cold beer. The punch in the gut is the belt. That's a complete emotional hit. I would stop there.

And in the next bunch of paragraphs you want to set up another emotional impact.

I like the kindergarten line. It sets up the friendship. Then, you try for an emotional impact but the reader is not prepared. They barely know the speaker and Lizzie's relationship.

Move this line:
Of course, back then we didn’t know death would part us so quickly. to after She was Princess Prude.

and delete this:
And I think we both figured I’d be the first to go.

Then after the word "sluts" add "Lizzie couldn't take the gossip. She killed herself." Punch it right into the reader's face. In fact punch harder with "I caused it." or "I'm glad she did." or something just as heartless.

Why do I like this better?
a) your opening line is a breathtaker and your closing line echoes it in cold and clinical terms.

b) it's an easy setup for the next line which after hearing about the story is another reversal about the power of gossip and lies and how that is really responsible for Lizzie's death.

What would the next line be? Possibly Angelina blaming herself or the gossips or Lizzie being weak (because the opening chapter is Angelina in darkness).

Angelina starts out as a very unsympathetic character and although she might only be that for a few hundred words, a chapter or two or half the book... You do redeem her. However, you can't redeem her in the opening.

This is an emotional story and as the author you get to manipulate the reader.

Phoenix said...

So what's the focus of Gordy's suicide? Are you going back to him later on to explain that it wasn't just daddy beating him at home that led to his suicide but that it was also precipated by gaybashing?

From your comments, it sounds like you're going for a connection of peer bullying between Gordy and Lizzie's deaths. By your focusing on the beatings from his father in both versions, we aren't drawing a connection other than they both suicided.

As it is, Dave sees the focus as being the belt, but I think you're going for the fanfarelessness of Gordy's death in contrast to Lizzie's more public one (which makes the sentence order you have correct as the lead-in to "Lizzie didn't go quietly.")

Personally, I'd go for storytelling over -- or at least before -- shock and find a way to imply Gordy was driven to suicide by something more than his daddy. You can keep the belt, but you'll want to counter it with something equally as strong on the bullying side so the belt doesn't become the focus for the reader.

We used to joke that I’d be the first to get knocked up, but it was one of those jokes based completely in reality
The second clause there seems a little awkward to me. It's a good place to throw in some voice, like:
--but really, not so much a joke.

chelsea said...

Hey there, and thanks for returning! You both bring up valid points (as usual.)

Dave, I appreciate you pointing out the dramatic points. Being as close to the story as I am, it's not a huge surprise I've missed some of them. In the kindergarten paragraph, I added in the part about Angie logically being the first to die because I wanted to link it to the next paragraph -- something I failed to do in the original version. I think that can still be streamlined, though, and your comments will help me do it. In terms of what to add next, as it is now, the next few paragraphs explain how the word "slut" followed Lizzie around until her suicide, and then the story enters the present: Angie coming to school to find "suicide slut" written on the lockers. The chapter ends on that note. For the record, I'm not trying to make Angie too unsympathetic from the start. I brought up the "in darkness" thing because she's focused on revenge rather than forgiveness/healing. She's not scornful toward Lizzie at this point -- in fact, she's not holding Lizzie responsible for her choices at all.

Phoenix, you are right about the belt not being the intended focal point. In the original version, I put in the nickname "queerbait" specifically to imply that Gordy was bullied. That is, as you've noted, the real reason Gordy even exists in this opening: to draw a link between his bullying and Lizzie's, and thus, draw a link between the bullying and their suicides.Without Gordy's nickname, that kind of falls apart, so my choices are to leave the nickname in and hope agents get that Angie isn't personally calling him that, OR find another way to bring up the bullying without making the opening All About Gordy (which it isn't). (Also, since you asked, more details of Gordy's bulling do show up later in the story.)

Ideally I want to imply that Angie not only goes to a school of bullies, but lives in a culture of bullies, without seeming preachy or too obvious. My hope was that "queerbait" did that, but enough people took issue with it for me to second guess.

Phoenix said...

I think people took issue with queerbait because it seemed like Angie was using the term herself. How about something like:

Lizzie wasn’t the first person to kill herself this year. Right after Thanksgiving Gordy Wilson hanged himself in his basement. I think he did it himself to save his classmates the trouble. Who wouldn't be thinking Matthew Shepard every time they heard someone yell "Queerbait!" at them? That he used the belt his daddy beat him with was only a rumor. What's true is that Gordy hung there for two hours before dear old dad came down the stairs in search of a cold one.

That's the difference between Gordy and Lizzie. Lizzie didn't go quietly.

chelsea said...

Wow, Phoenix, has anyone ever told you you are very good at this? I like your version a lot. I do worry that it's spending too much time on Gordy, but maybe not.

I've been contemplating something like, "Five weeks prior to her death Gordy Wilson (known to my lowlier contemporaries as "Queerbait") hanged himself in his basement." But even that feels a bit wordy.

I do like the Matthew Shepard mention. I can only hope teenagers today actually know that name.