Saturday, January 06, 2007

Face-Lift 256

Guess the Plot

To Starve

1. The third book in the seminal "Crash Diet" trilogy, following To Exercise and To Vomit.

2. Fred Snurd hates it when his English teacher, Miss Dobber, makes him go to the board and conjugate verbs. Will the frail 74-year-old survive when Fred locks her in her coat closet for the summer with the cryptic last words, "Conjugate this!"?

3. Sarah Moore, 700-pound Circus fat lady, is trapped in the ski cabin of paramour Les Jones when the avalanche of '04 hits. She's given up for dead but subsists in the basement by eating melted snow -- and emerges in April, looking fabulous!

4. Four unrelated stories about a country under famine, a housewife with an eating disorder, a morbidly obese family whose food stamps are cut off, and a Dust Bowl farmer's orphaned children are brought together through a common narrator.

5. When a group of high school students discover that prom is scheduled on opening night of The Best Teen Movie Ever, they have only one choice . . . a hunger strike.

6. When Jack Garland decides to commit suicide, he realizes that driving his car in front of a speeding train would be messy, so he settles on a slow death from starvation.

Original Version

Dear NAME:

I am seeking representation/a publisher for my 83,000-word literary fiction, To Starve.

The only time Stan Garland ever admires his father Jack is when the old bastard starves himself to death. Everyone wants Stan to intervene and convince his father to live. [Hi dad, I thought I'd pay you a visit on your deathbed. Hope you don't mind, but I brought my dinner: a rack of barbecued babyback ribs, fried potatoes with onions, and strawberry shortcake. All your favorites. I'd offer to share, but I'm pretty hungry. How's it going, you old bastard? You look like you've lost some weight. Mmm, these ribs are tender. You gotta try one. Oh, right, I forgot, you're starving yourself to death. Hand me a napkin, will you? I really admire the way you're able to resist eating, bastard.] But Stan understands the story of Jack's life better than anyone - perhaps even better than Jack himself does -- and Stan chooses to do nothing while Jack slowly dies. [If the plan is to be dead in ten days, why not pig out on your favorite foods for ten days and then shoot yourself? Hell, two days of not eating, and I'd be ready to shoot myself.]

The horrific death of his father from blood poisoning traumatizes Jack when he is eight years old. [If the previous paragraph was in present tense, this back story should be in past tense.] The lesson Jack learns is that his world is no longer a safe place; he learns to be wary, suspicious. [Especially of those who approach him with syringes of poison.] After a disastrous stint in the Navy, [He accidentally sank an aircraft carrier, which the Navy frowns upon, especially when it's their aircraft carrier.] Jack comes home and starts a fast-track career with the railroad. [Let EE do the jokes, please.] While his life appears promising, he suffers a crippling panic attack when he receives his first big promotion. [He's promoted to train engineer.] He fights the panic with booze - lots of booze. Alcohol and obsessions start to affect his career, but Jack hides his pain for a long time. [I read a report once that said alcohol and drugs were involved in hundreds of train wrecks in the past decade. I had no idea trains were wrecking right and left. They're on tracks, for Pete's sake. It's not like they can veer into each other's paths. In one train wreck, the engineer and the head brakeman were both drunk, and the train was being driven by a friend of the engineer. That wreck caused fourteen million dollars in damages and the evacuation of 3000 people.]

[Jack: Hey Billy Bob, how many beers you had?

Billy Bob: Six.

Jack: Well we've both had eight. Guess yer the designated driver.

Billy Bob: But I don't know how to drive a train.

Jack: Wush the problem? It's on tracks, for Pete's sake. Jusht remember to slow down for Dead Man's Curve. Hey Ray, toss me another cold one.]

He has created a public persona of a raconteur, a stud, a backslapper. He spends his nights trolling the bars of New York, seducing and using an endless series of interchangeable "broads." He desperately struggles to appear "normal."

Jack is emotionally blackmailed into marriage when he gets one of his "broads" pregnant, and he fathers seven children in as many years. However, Jack doesn't let a wife and kids cramp his style; he continues to gamble away his paychecks and flirt with "the broads." [I'm growing annoyed with "the broads" in quotation marks. Can't you call them something else?] A strange, exciting encounter with a transvestite feeds into Jack's frantic anxiety; he must now be constantly on guard to protect himself from "the fags." [Um, let's go back to "the broads."]

Jack's marriage deteriorates into a series of pointless, vicious brawls. [His marriage becomes a hockey game?] Divorced and underemployed, the final blow to Jack's increasingly brittle sense of self comes when his oldest son Stan drops out of college and begins his own descent into addiction. After a bitter, climactic confrontation, the two men never speak to each other again.

As the years go on, the sheer effort to appear normal slowly grinds Jack down. [As the query goes on, the sheer effort to keep reading is grinding me down. In short, it's too long. It's supposed to be a query letter, not Jack's biography.] His defenses eventually start to collapse around him, and he accepts that he [doesn't want to] deal with life anymore. He makes the first authentic decision of his life: to starve to death and be done with it. Jack finally embraces the childhood horror that shaped his life, and he realizes that he wasted his entire life on a long, pointless mourning. [On the other hand, he did have some good times with "the broads."] Stan discovers, to his own surprise, that he still loves his estranged, dying father despite everything, and that this love demands that he let Jack choose his own death.

I am a freelance writer whose non-fiction work has appeared in Free Inquiry magazine, Journal of Contemporary Thought, The Peace Review, and Res Cogitans: Journal of Philosophy. My one-act play, Green Water, was included in the 'Teaching Katrina' issue of the Journal of the Claflin UniversityPerforming Arts for Effective Civic Education. My short play, Annunciation, was a semi-finalist in the 2006 Play Slam at the Carrboro Arts Center.

Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to read this query. I have enclosed a SASE, and I look forward to hearing from you.



Who are these people trying to convince Stan to talk some sense into his father? Why don't they do something? What about Jack's other six children? Stan, the dropout/addict, is the one who gets to determine whether to try to save Jack, while the other six kids, a group that probably includes at least one social worker, psychiatrist, or suicide hotline operator, have no say?

Just because you changed the title from Resolution doesn't mean Evil Editor isn't going to recognize this as the same book we did in Face-Lift 16. Normally, revised versions are put in the comments, and readers are alerted, but this one has mostly different information, and, more importantly, we're running low on queries (hint, hint, minions).

Shouldn't Stan at least confront the old bastard and confirm that he's set on starving himself, instead of never talking to the old bastard again after their earlier confrontation? How does he know the old bastard is of sound mind? And why does he call him "the old bastard," if he still loves him despite everything? I think "the old man" would do.

It was the panic attack that set Jack on the path of addiction, not his father's death. Is there a connection between the two?

This query needs less detail about Jack's life and more about the present. I assume Stan is a main character, but there almost nothing about him.


writtenwyrdd said...

The query makes your tale sound dull. I actually think the story could be interesting, but you have to make it sound better than watching paint dry or contemplating naval lint.

How about telling us what the son is doing? What the conflict is?

And I suspect, based on what your listed creds are, that you might be using the story as a platform for a MESSAGE. Don't let the temptation to have your message overwhelm the story win. Most readers aren't tolerant of that, because the story always suffers.

Best of luck on this.

Bernita said...

hint, hint, minions
Dammit, EE, I thought I had expiated my sin in blood...

Anonymous said...

Remember Hooton's third law of attraction? -- Misery is not attractive. You offer the reader nothing but...

Whoever tells authors of "literary" novels to pile on the afflictions and maladies means to ensure they never get published. You must resist this temptation. Disease and personal suffering do not make anyone interesting. This query is like a thorn. I would rather read a chemistry text. Try wit and energy. Feign it if you must. Try a good therapist and an Rx for antidepressants if you're as miserable as your characters.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, EE, there's lots of good info there. Jeez, did I actually submit this to you back when it was still called 'Resolution'? Holy crap, that takes me back ages and ages ago (well, OK, just several months, it just feels like it's ages and ages ago...) Yeah, it's had a title change and lots of gutting and reconstruction and God knows what-all-else. But as you can see, I'm still struggling (heroically, may I say) to get the query letter dialed in. Your ideas are excellent. Back to editing my query.

Steve Gallagher, author of 'To Starve'.

Anonymous said...

His marriage becomes a hockey game?

I very infrequently laugh out loud at anything I read outside of Dave Barry, David Sedaris, and Calvin & Hobbes, but this really got me.

Anonymous said...

Remember Hooton's third law of attraction? -- Misery is not attractive. You offer the reader nothing but...

Ok, who's Hooton and what are his laws?

Rei said...

This is not an enticing query. It is a mix of tedious synopsis and unneeded backstory.

Anonymous said...

After all the names I have for my dad (anorexic ass is one of my favorites), old bastard is actually a term of endearment. Could I use it?

Anonymous said...

"Jack comes home and starts a fast-track career with the railroad. [Let EE do the jokes, please.]"

Pause ...

Ok, so I'm slow, but it was good when I got it.

Steve, aka author -- with all due respect, why are you writing this? What about the story appeals to you? As someone else said, it has the distinct feel of "you might be using the story as a platform for a MESSAGE." What is the message & why would anyone besides you want it?

HawkOwl said...

Hmmm... I think I said on Miss Snark that the premise sounds good, but the execution doesn't inspire confidence. I still stand by that comment. I'd love to read this book if it's well done, but your writing always seems so heavy and plodding. I'd say keep working at it. It's bound to work some time. And whatever you do, ignore the Anonymous who said to add wit. Wit sucks.

That being said, I'd look at more of this.

Kate Thornton said...

OMG - if Hawkowl likes it, then it's either inspired or really downbeat!

I hope it's inspired, but it just seems like a depressing read to me. I don't spend all my reading time with Mary Poppins and Pollyanna, but if not a happy ending, I would at least need to be assured of some redemption coming before reading this one. Steve, I know you can write, but this story might need more uplifting for me, just a personal taste.

Anonymous said...

horror, your dad's anorexic?