Monday, July 25, 2011

Face-Lift 933

Guess the Plot

Insulin Junkies

1. At a camp for diabetic teens, someone is playing games with campers' lives. Did one of the counselors sneak in a pecan pie? Or is there a killer on the loose? Also, an incontinent dog.

2. Thanks to genetic engineering, the war on drugs is finally over. People just can't get high anymore . . . until eighteen-year-old 'Bones' Jackson hits on the bright idea of selling insulin to the local kids. Also, a corrupt dentist.

3. Diabetic cop Duke Davis has seen it all, but when he catches wind of a string of murders carried out using insulin as a weapon, he's plunged into the murky world of...INSULIN JUNKIES!

4. Hito is the leader of a group of Japanese schoolkids fleeing Fukushima who become morbidly obese on California public school system food. When puberty triggers their genetic metamorphosis into blood-sugar craving vampires Hito realizes their dependence on high fructose corn syrup-infused victims means they can never go home again.

5. It started as a support group for diabetics. But now the tavern is on fire, Miss Laverne's petunias have all been trampled, and twenty pissed-off seniors with low blood sugar and Vespa scooters are terrorizing the sleepy village of Hamlet. Can Constable Cymbolist Mack stop them before they destroy everything in their hunt for low-fat snacks?

6. In the late '60s, earnest diabetic Lori Steinman sets out on her bicycle from West Quoddy Head, Maine, to cross America and prove women don't need no men. At the same time, addict Mike "Sugarman" Sanders sets out on his Harley from Cape Alava, Washington, to cross America and bed as many women as he can. What happens when they meet in Wichita is a secret, but it's sure to astound you.

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Eva knows something’s wrong long before the doctor diagnoses her as an insulin junkie, a.k.a. a diabetic. [A doctor calling a diabetic an insulin junkie before she starts on insulin? That's like the time I told one of my psychiatrists I was thinking of starting a small press and she called me a heroin addict.] No seventeen-year-old wakes up having wet the bed for the fourth time in as many days and thinks, “Yep, this is totally normal.” [I would think, I gotta stop drinking a six pack and taking three Ambiens right before bedtime.] [No need to put quotation marks around something not spoken aloud.] She’s blamed it on the mildly incontinent dog that sleeps in her bed, but there’s no fooling a blood glucose meter. [I can't tell if she blames the dog when her mother notices the sheets are wet, or if she blames the dog because she's in denial. It seems like you mean the latter because of the "no fooling a blood glucose meter" comment, but it seems to me that whatever she wears to bed would be wet, thus getting the dog off the hook even without the glucose test.]

The diagnosis ends Eva’s plans for a post-graduation road trip [to Hershey's Chocolate World]. Instead, she’s off to Camp, [You might want to name the camp, if you're going to capitalize the word.] where the counselors are fellow insulin junkies and every bunk bed comes with a syringe of Glucagon. It’s meant to teach teenage diabetics to take care of themselves, and Eva goes only to placate her grieving mother. [Implying that she doesn't think she needs to learn to take care of herself?] ["Grieving" seems a bit strong. Maybe "distraught," "fearful," "worried"?]

Two of the counselors – known by their Camp names, Rider and Natron – take it upon themselves to teach the lessons not sanctioned by Camp administrators, things like how the campers function with dangerously low blood glucose levels, how alcohol affects diabetics, and how to skirt the rules. Eva, fascinated by Natron and unfortunately attracted to Rider, listens eagerly. [Delete "unfortunately" or explain it.] But when one of the ‘lessons’ puts someone in the hospital, Eva has to figure out who she can trust to teach her about diabetes…and who’s playing with all of them.

INSULIN JUNKIES is a 65,000-word contemporary YA novel. The first five pages follow this email. I’ve had type 1 diabetes since 2000; I also have three YA nonfiction books published: The Diabetes Game (Rewarding Health, 2005), Teen Dream Jobs (Beyond Words Publishing, 2003), and It’s Your Rite (Beyond Words Publishing, 2003). Thank you for your time.



This sounds like a story that will appeal to teens who identify with Eva, and others as well.

The last plot paragraph needs to clarify what it's saying. I'm not sure if you're saying Rider and Natron are teaching secret things a teen diabetic needs to know, even though they aren't sanctioned by the administration, or if they're teaching how to get away with actions that are potentially dangerous. I can't tell if "skirt the rules" refers to rules diabetics must adhere to to stay healthy, or camp rules, like No going in the boys' tent after dark. I can't tell if "playing with all of them" implies that someone is intentionally trying to harm them.

In other words, is there a villain? Is it a mystery? Someone is responsible for someone else ending up in the hospital, and no one is confessing? Is someone in the hospital from a forcibly administered Glucagon overdose or from eating a hunk of cheesecake on a dare?

You might want to cut your set-up to one paragraph: When seventeen-year-old Eva is diagnosed with Diabetes, she cancels her post-graduation road trip and registers at Camp ___________, where the counselors are fellow "insulin junkies" and . . .

That gives you an extra paragraph to fill us in on what's going on in this camp: the conflict, the danger, the stakes, the romantic angle.


Amber said...

A possibly creepy Camp and teen romance gone awry sound like a great book. The part that concerns me is that all the diabetic-related language, and in particular the line "things like how the campers function with dangerously low blood glucose levels, how alcohol affects diabetics" makes me wary that this read like a thinly veiled educational vehicle for diabetic teens. I would expect to learn a few things about diabetes along the way, but I don't want you to wax poetic about testing strips.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but, wow, how much does the author know about diabetes? I know a lot about it - being an insulin dependent, type 1 diabetic.

I've never heard of a 17 year old wetting the bed as a symptom of child-onset diabetes. (I would go with a younger child. But not a 17-year-old - now if the child was up every hour craving something to drink, anything, drinks juice and realizes they are now up ever half-hour craving fluids. . . . see there are symptoms that can make this work.

If someone referred to me as an Insulin Junkie, I would personally set him/her down and lecture to them about disabilities - after I slapped the person.

And, these two camp leaders . . . I just can't imagine camp leaders ever doing anything like this. It's like going to rehab and the counselors teaching someone how to cheat a urinalyis. I'm mean really?

There is nothing, and I am emphasizing this NOTHING, appealing about low blood sugar. I've had dangerously low blood sugars and when my sugar level reaches 45, I can't speak, I shake, I sweat profusely and then I get confused. Then I have a panic attack. Afterwards, I'm exhausted, just absolutely fatigued.

There is no functioning with low blood sugar, the person is on the threshold of dying. It doesn't feel like being high or drunk - it feels like you're dying. Your heart beats so fast -it's like you can't breathe. So there is no appeal at all to having a low blood sugar.

And, I am not exaggerating.

I know I being harsh but for whatever reason this query angered me. And. . .maybe the author does have diabetes and his/her experiences have been different but . . . wow, I am wondering about the research into this. I'm wondering how many other people would be offended by this book.

Evil Editor said...

Apparently you didn't read the query very carefully. The author has had type 1 diabetes for over ten years, which includes her teen years, and has had a nonfiction book published on the topic.

A Googling of bedwetting/teens reveals numerous sites that state: Every teen with enuresis [bedwetting] should have a urinalysis to rule out diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus and screen for infection.

A Googling of "insulin junkie" reveals that it's not uncommon for teen diabetics to refer to themselves by this term. If the doctor used that term, I'm guessing it would not be PC, but it's not clear in the query that the patient didn't alter the doctor's term.

Nowhere in the query is it said that anything is appealing about low blood sugar, or that it makes one feel high or drunk. It's said that the campers are taught how to cope when their blood sugar is low.

As for your inability to imagine a camp counselor doing anything bad, this is fiction. Did you read The Silence of the Lambs and complain that you couldn't imagine anyone doing what Hannibal Lecter did? People commit murder and torture and worse, even in real life, believe it or not.

Anonymous said...

Another vote here for cutting down on the medical details and leavening up the story/drama/conflict.

I'd also like to get a better feel for this heroine's character and attitude. Is she defeatist and self-loathing? Crushed by the diagnosis? Fatherless and vulnerable? I'm guessing her battle with this disease will help her settle some other life obstacle.

Oh, and the Grammar Nanny visits again: Eva has to figure out who she can trust to teach her about diabetes…. That should be "whom she can trust."

JM Gines said...

It seems to me that the counselors teaching underage kids how to function properly as diabetics with alcohol in their systems and how to break rules are the ones she can mark off as untrustworthy. ? Or are they supposed to be the "cool" ones?

The query itself seems like an introduction to her finding out she has diabetes, why she goes to camp and then a small paragraph about what the book is actually about. I would cut the set up into a paragraph as EE suggested and focus on what conflicts she really has to face and fight at camp.

I really like the idea that kids go to this camp seeking help for a very real medical issue only to fall into the hands of those with alternative motives. It's horrifying and would really pull your readers into the story.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Like anonymous, I was uncomfortable with the title being a "cool"/insulting label for people who have a disease. I understand there's some rationale out there that referring to oneself by an insult is somehow "empowering." The problem is, others who may not share this theory of "empowerment" are also being labeled.

The story seems, from the query at least, to be headed in two different directions:

1. Action-packed. High stakes at the summer camp. Not really clear what these high stakes are.

2. Info-packed. A vehicle for everything you ever wanted to know about diabetes but were afraid to ask. (Info-packed stories generally need a serious editorial hatchet taken to 'em.)

The author needs to decide which of these best describes her book and write the query accordingly.

We tend to see more action-oriented queries here than more quiescent story lines, but the latter exist, get published, hit the bestseller list and win awards. Everything doesn't have to be action-packed.

Anonymous said...

I agree with arhooley. I want to know how she's dealing with the diagnosis. I think it could be a interesting book, but I'm also worried that it might just be interesting for people with (or know people with) diabetes. As long as it's not educational like Amber was saying, I think it can be a good read for people not affected by diabetes.

As for the counselors, I'm thinking they're not trying to be mean or teach the kids to forget about eating healthy and just eat whatever you want. I think they're using the knowledge that these kids are just that kids. No, even worse, they're teenagers. They do dumb things, and they might not be the best people to actually follow a diabetic diet. So the counselors are teaching them how to deal with instances where they do the things they're going to do. I know NOTHING about diabetes, but what I got from the alcohol part of the query was that diabetics probably shouldn't drink, but most teenagers drink,so they are being taught how to deal with it if they choose to drink.

Anonymous #2

Dave Fragments said...

This query was so down to normal that it took my breath away. An excellent subject. A book without magic and prophecies and zombies. Go for it. Fix up the query and go for it.

Anonymous said...

Okay EE, maybe I misread what the author meant by this paragraph -

"Two of the counselors – known by their Camp names, Rider and Natron – take it upon themselves to teach the lessons not sanctioned by Camp administrators, things like how the campers function with dangerously low blood glucose levels, how alcohol affects diabetics, and how to skirt the rules."

I thought it was implying the camp leaders were encouraging low blood sugars because I have no idea why the camp would not sanction teaching students how to deal with low blood sugars. So now I want to know why the administrators are not sanctioning something that is basic to a diabetic's survival.

I can understand why a camp would not sanction teaching how alcohol effects blood sugar . . but that would be a baaaad camp for anyone older than 12 and skirting the rules is also a good thing to teach. (IMO and I had teachers who did both. There were no encouraging of low blood sugars - ever. See my point?)

It was the misunderstanding about the low blood sugars that made no sense to me. (And I still am going WTF?)

I am still am slapping anyone that calls me an insulin junkie. It's kind of like, in my opinion, someone using the "N" word to refer to someone who is african american but it is okay for african americans to refer to themselves in this manner. If I utilize a wheelchair and I want to call myself an invalid . . then I reserve teh right to do so . . but I'm not sure it's okay if you call me that.

The query doesn't explain this is her term for herself or other teens. When I first read it, I thought the doctor called her this and went WTF - get a new doctor!

I stopped reading after the sentence about the statement about the blood sugar - I admit that -

So I apologize for a tiny bit of my outrage.

As for the camp leaders doing something bad and my complaint that I can't imagine this. . . well, you're right, of course. But the way the query is written it sounds like the camp leaders are being glorified a little - like they are the cool ones and doing the right thing - the administrators are the baddies for not providing the right information to the teens.

So . . . who should be rooting for the camp leaders or the administrators?

St0n3henge said...

This is rather vague.

The idea that I got was that the counselors are telling the kids, in a way, "Don't listen to those stuffed-shirt medical guys who run this camp. You can get away with [thing you're not supposed to do if diabetic] if you know 'X' trick. Just do 'X' afterward/right before and you can get away with it."

Not that they would talk that way. But it isn't really clear.

Since this is a YA fiction book it can dispense (ha,ha) with most of the medical language because:

1. Teens with diabetes will be getting the correct info from their doctor.

2. Teens without diabetes want to be able to read it and get just enough info to understand their diabetic friends without their eyes glazing over.

Evil Editor said...

I could suggest explanations for what's bothering you, but I haven't read the book, and the author may chime in soon. Let's see if she can put your mind at ease.

Unknown said...

Hi all, author here. Anon #1, I'm sorry some of the language provoked such a strong reaction. "Insulin junkies" is a term that the diabetics at camp use to refer to themselves and fellow diabetics, not something that outsiders say.

I don't want to explain away the query, because clearly sections of it were confusing/misleading, but: the counselors aren't teaching lessons to hurt people - they're doing it because no camp with insurance is going to have kids go low on purpose, but you have to know what a bad low feels like in case you're caught on your own. Would it help to know that the counselors are college students with diabetes, not real grown-ups?

Thanks much for all the comments, folks; I'll revamp the query to expand the camp/romance angle and minimize the medical jargon.

Dave Fragments said...

No legitimate group (Camp counselors, advice organizations or even a big organized blog community) will ever give advice like "go low and see what happens"...

One hint of anything like that and the group gets put out of business. A counselor can't advocate doing something like that without getting into deep, deep poo.

The way this information would be officially passed to the students would be with their parents permission and then only in a classroom as a hypothetical.

Never underestimate the power of a teen to do something outrageously stupid.

Evil Editor said...

The camp counselors ARE teens.

St0n3henge said...

This makes more sense, if we're talking about a couple of young "adult" camp counselors doing experiments with the teens on the sly, thinking they're helping.

The query just needs to be written to make this more clear.

none said...

I suspect a lot of us are too old to assess whether this will appeal to teens.

Anonymous said...

"Never underestimate the power of a teen to do something outrageously stupid."

Amen to that.

Here is the crux of the problem in the query for me (and what outraged me)

This - "things like how the campers function with dangerously low blood glucose levels" (there is no functioning with low blood sugar - there's treatment and death)

does not mean this -

"things like experimenting with low blood sugars to see how dangerous it is or how sick the camper gets."

Now . . . that makes sense and, although, a very dangerous and stupid thing to do . . . the plot now has meaning and interest. Since the camp counselors are young adults (I doubt their smart enough to get into college - and I am not being harsh here - I think there is high schoolers that would say . . what a stupid thing to do. Of course these same high schoolers would then go out light something on fire and try to see if they can jump over it because never underestimate a teenagers' ability to be both stupid and smart in the same day), we now have the resemblance of a book and a query that actually may be pretty good.

Unknown said...

Hi folks - an edited version of the query follows. Thanks for all your help!

Dear Evil Editor,

Eva Hunter knows something’s wrong long before the doctor diagnoses her as a diabetic, a.k.a. an insulin junkie. No seventeen-year-old wakes up to a wet bed for the fourth time in as many days and thinks, “Yep, this is totally normal.” The diagnosis ends Eva’s plans for a post-graduation road trip and torpedoes her parents’ marriage. Eva, desperate to placate her grieving mother, agrees to go to John Day Sanctuary Camp. At JDSC, counselors are fellow insulin junkies and every bunk bed comes with a syringe of Glucagon.

Two college-age counselors, who go by the camp names of Rider and Natron, teach secret nighttime lessons to the campers: how alcohol affects diabetics, what a dangerously low blood sugar feels like, and how to skirt the rules and stay alive. Eva’s fascinated by Natron, a girl who seems to have everything - even diabetes - under control. She can’t help her unfortunate attraction to Rider, who’s on a kamikaze mission to get himself thrown out of camp – preferably by getting caught with Eva.

As for the other campers, well…Eva refuses to think of herself as one of them. All she wants to do is ignore diabetes and hope it’ll miraculously disappear. As the lessons grow more and more dangerous and Rider becomes increasingly unstable, though, Eva has to find a way to navigate diabetes, camp, and a lunatic counselor boyfriend - before someone ends up dead.

INSULIN JUNKIES is a 65,000-word contemporary YA novel. I have three YA nonfiction books published: THE DIABETES GAME (Rewarding Health, 2005), TEEN DREAM JOBS (Beyond Words Publishing, 2003), and IT’S YOUR RITE (Beyond Words Publishing, 2003). I’ve had type 1 diabetes since 2000. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Nora Coon

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

This might just be me, but I knew plenty of kids growing up who had diabetes, and they all seemed to do just fine, so I don't see why the MC is being sent to a special camp to adjust to her diagnosis or why it's torpedoing her parent's marriage.

Evil Editor said...

P1: Get rid of "AKA an insulin junkie." Put quotation marks around "insulin junkies" at the end of the paragraph. Get rid of the torpedoes her parents' marriage unless you want to explain it, which I don't recommend.

P2: I don't see why How alcohol affects diabetics and what low blood sugar feels like wouldn't be covered by the normal "curriculum." What's so secret about it? If they're giving kids alcohol and lowering their blood sugar, say so.

P3: These three sentences don't have much to do with each other. The last one is the one you need.

As Rider becomes more unstable, his lessons grow more and more dangerous. One camper even ends up in the hospital. Eva now must learn to deal with both her diabetes and a lunatic counselor boyfriend - before someone ends up dead.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

I think changing it to "torpedoes her parents' already troubled marriage" would solve some of the problems Dominique is having, which I think are valid. That would make it clear that Eva's diabetes is not the sole cause of her parents' separation, which I find hard to believe. You can also put more emphasis on the idea that Eva's mother can't handle both the breakup of her marriage and her (possibly irrational) fears about Eva's ability to take care of herself is what leads to Eva going to this camp. Then it will be clear that you're not suggesting that a diagnosis of diabetes results in similarly catastrophic consequences for all teens.

How old is Eva? The cancelled post-graduation road trip makes it sound like she's around seventeen. Does it make sense, then, that the camp counsellors are still teens as well?

I'd like a better sense of why Rider is so self destructive, why he wants to get kicked out of camp when - as a counsellor - he's presumably there voluntarily, and whether he and Natron really believe their unconventional and dangerous lessons are helping the kids or if they just don't care if anyone gets hurt.