Thursday, June 25, 2009

Face-Lift 647

Guess the Plot

From Hopkins to Homeless

1. College sophomore Donna Williams works backward through the encyclopedia to learn about life, love, and spelling -- and gets her first job: baking crumpets at the Mad Duchess, a surreal cafe frequented by passionate young men who all look like Che Guevera.

2. Tired of inspirational stories about homeless guys becoming concert violinists and CEOs? Then you'll love this story of a doctor who threw away a promising career. Prescription forgery, suicide attempts, drug addiction and car crashes take him from respected doctor to homeless guy, and then to rock bottom: homeless guy writing a book.

3. When Bailey Barron discovers she's adopted, she drops out of Baltimore's Johns Hopkins medical school to experience the world of her homeless biological father. What she finds is a world filled with danger, hunger, disrespect and filth. But hey, it's got interning beat by a mile.

4. The true story of Dr. Shereen Martin, who went from Assistant Professor of Wymyn's studies at Johns Hopkins to homeless when her jealous rivals for the attention of biologist Dr. Lynn Morgan exposed her groundbreaking work on the plight of lesbian opticians in Baltimore as a total fabrication.

5. Dr. Jonathan Rydell was a brilliant plastic surgeon whose life fell apart. Alcohol, gambling, and the loss of his medical license, friends and family, are followed by a fall into homeless despair. But when developers plan to bulldoze the shelter and put up a high-rise condo building, Rydell springs into action.

6. Ian Adams, fired from teaching at prestigious Johns Hopkins medical school in Baltimore, demonstrates that even hobos can perform brain surgery. But can he prove his former students aren't behind the recent kidney thefts?

Original Version

I am currently respectfully seeking representation for the publication of my autobiography, “From Hopkins to Homeless: My True Story of Drug Addiction”. This book addresses the disease of addiction and the process of recovery by providing a unique, thought provoking, and inspirational insight [through suffering, sacrifice, and redemption] [Those brackets should be parentheses; otherwise readers will think I put them there, and wonder what's so funny.] into the life cycle of addiction as experienced by a severe prescription addict [myself]. [Those brackets can stay, as that's pretty funny.] This book will have approximately 275 [8.5” x 5.5”] pages [Are you printing your manuscript on 8.5" x 5.5" paper, or have you already chosen the font and font size and book dimensions the publisher is to use?] divided into 12 chapters, 15 appendixes and 12 (if not cost prohibitive) pictures and illustrations. [When a former doctor offers to send me fifteen appendixes, I start to worry about where he's getting them.]

[Appendix 1: Possible side effects of taking six oxycontin tablets a day, including losing your job as a respected physician.

Appendix 2: Baltimore Restaurants with the best dumpster fare.

Appendix 3: Johns Hopkins nurses who put out when you're a doctor, but not when you're a homeless guy.

Appendix 4: Unrealistic things that have happened on House.

Appendix 5: My favorite bridges for sleeping under.

Appendix 6: Why killing other homeless guys and selling their organs isn't the best path back to respectability.

Appendix 7: How the hell did you come up with material for fifteen appendixes?

Appendix 8: Things doctors do with removed appendixes (includes recipes).

Appendix 9: Baltimore area pharmacists with lax ethics.

Appendix 10: Johns Hopkins doctors who are always high but haven't been caught yet.

Appendix 11: Why carjacking people as they pull away from the drive-thru at CVS is a bad idea.

Appendix 12: How you can get drugs to me.

Appendix 13: Heroin vs. aspirin: An ex-doctor's surprising perspective.

Appendix 14: Christ, it looks like I'm gonna make it to fifteen after all.

Appendix 15: Literary agents who refused to take me on just because I'm a homeless guy.]

Starting in my Doctorate program in Respiratory Medicine and ending homeless on the streets, addiction crept into my life [It wasn't addiction that was homeless; it was you. Try: Respiratory Medicine, I ended up homeless on the streets when addiction crept into my life...] and took from me my possessions, my profession, my loved ones, and my sanity. [If addiction doesn't take your sanity, trying to make it as a writer surely will.] One day I was a respected well-known Senior Medicinal Aerosol Scientist lecturing all over the world, and next I was being arrested at a medical conference in Atlanta for forging a prescription earlier that day. [Signing another doc's name to a prescription is illegal; signing another doc's name to one of your prescriptions is stupid. But understandable if you were desperate for a fix.] The police waited until I finished my lecture, approached me, put me in handcuffs, and led me through the conference hall while all my colleagues were looking at me in utter disbelief.

[Cop 1: We should at least let him finish his lecture before we arrest him.

Cop 2: Are you kidding? If he goes on another five minutes we'll all be asleep dead.]

This book describes all of the incidents that I experienced, [All of them?] (some very dark and disturbing), during my 9 year journey/battle from addiction to sobriety and recovery. From 3 suicide attempts, [If you can't slit your wrists properly in three tries, I'm glad you never operated on me.] 2 roll over car crashes, 15 toxic overdoses [each of which is described in detail in its own appendix], having a gun put to my head and many more. It is amazing to me that I did not die. [I'm surprised the doctors didn't let you die after 20 trips to the emergency room and no way to pay for them.] I feel I still have something I need to accomplish. I have kept all supporting documents during my addiction to prove my book is an accurate and factual account of my life as an addict. I knew one day it would be a remarkable story and at the same time have great potential to provide hope, advice, guidance, and assistance [Those last three are pretty much all the same thing.] to other addicts seeking sobriety and long term recovery.

My credentials and qualifications for writing this book include:
Ø For nine years I experienced every aspect of being an addict trying to regain my sobriety in a system that is overworked, under funded, and not always a priority to assist those addicts who truly want help. [Not really a qualification for writing this or any book.]

Ø Being school orientated, for years I researched addiction aggressively to find an answer. I became very educated about this disease but realized there is no textbook answer and I was going to have to trust people I did not know to save my life. [That must have been almost as scary as trusting a drug-addicted respiratory doctor you don't know to save your life.]

Ø A Master’s degree and required thesis in respiratory medicine. [Maybe you can explain why it is I can hear the dog whimpering three rooms away when I'm asleep, but I can't hear myself snoring like a chainsaw cutting petrified wood.] 

Ø Nine peer reviewed publications in various medical journals.

Ø Fifty-five medical papers published and presented at the numerous medical conferences that took place every year.

Ø Contributing author, (in one chapter), in the book, “Inhalations Aerosols”, [Anagram: Heroin: Satan's lasso.] edited by Anthony Hickey.

To help you decide if you might be interested in representing my book, I can send the following immediately upon your request: My Promotion Plan, My Curriculum Vitae, My Competition Analysis, and a Proposal of a possible subsequent book taken from daily journals and experiences in my year long residential treatment. [What about the book? Can you send the book?]

Thank you for your generous time. I eagerly await your response and look forward to hearing from you soon. I have enclosed a SASE for your convenience.


It's too long. You don't need to tell the publisher the page count, paper size, number of chapters/appendixes. The word count will do.

You don't need to list your qualifications. You experienced the events in the book. That's what's important for the writing of an autobiography. Although . . .

I'm not sure I'd call it an autobiography, as it has a narrow focus.

You don't need documentation of your addiction in your book. You may need it to get on Oprah, as she's probably being careful about that stuff these days.

The query details your fall, but as you claim the book will aid other addicts (those who read books, anyway) you might want to tell us how far back you've come. Do you have a home, a job, a family? Do you help the homeless? Show that ultimately it's an inspirational story.


Matt said...

I'm wondering the same things as EE. Are you back on top again? If you cut the fluff and include how you live now, this could be an enticing query.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I don't know if there are many books out there about doctors who are/were prescription addicts. Could be very interesting.

Love the Appendixes, EE!

Dave Fragments said...

aerosol scientists study fugitive emissions...

This reads like a report and not a query.

Anonymous said...

Prescription drug abuse is one of the most common addictions in the United States and, unfortunately, is prevalent within the medical industry. It is incrediably easy, (from what I have been told) to get prescription drugs. I would love to read your memoir especially if it is inspirational and your no longer homeless and if you have solutions to the problem. How do you stop this kind of abuse? How do you recognize this is occuring or that you have become addicted? What can be done to address the problem?

Now this is just my opinion - but I get frustrated with memoirs where I had this problem, I overcame it and I am a better person. That is great. It's inspirational but I want to go a step further and want to know from the person's perspective how did it happen, what could have stopped it and how do we prevent it from happening. I also like some understanding of how it impacted your family, how they reacted, what they did to help or hinder and how are they now.


Mame said...

Yeah, I like the overall premise. This one needs serious work. You have a situation that dragged you into the dregs, and you fought your way out (I assume). Take out the journal moments and inject the ride. I think it has good potential as a memoir.

Is it just me, or does "Appendixes" sound like a retarded word?

Adam Heine said...

I can't believe you wrote all 15 fake appendices, EE. Hilarious.

writtenwyrdd said...

This sounds like it could be a good read, but you really do need to show us the point of the book in your query. One presumes it's about your fall from grace and subsequent recovery, but the letter needs to say so, as well as give us something of the events you describe.

The appendices worry me slightly, though. Because I have to wonder what, exactly, you need appendices for in a memoir? People reading memoirs are not looking for scholarly treatises!

I know you have had it rough and am happy for you and the progress I presume you have made. I think the letter should also tell us where you are at at this moment, whether you are working in the medical field again, doing lectures, etc. (If you aren't recovered, your platform for this memoir is a bit of a problem.)

none said...

Drug memoirs are now so tainted (thankyou James Frey) that I wonder if it might be worthwhile offering some means of verification. But then I'm not the readership for this, so la.

Anonymous said...

If things are still not going well, you might try making a few adjustments, change the ID of your characters, and transform the story to fiction.

_*rachel*_ said...

My eyes were glazing over before you got to the story. You don't need all those details, and I'm used to seeing them at the end.

I think one of the problems I have with this query is one that's shown up again and again in others: too passive. You talk about addiction doing things to you, "I was being," etc. What did YOU DO? That's what I'm interested in.

Shouldn't you save the format and appendix(es?) for the proposal/synopsis/whatever? Do you even need them? I suppose you're used to writing studies, but this sounds like a memoir, and I doubt most memoirs have even one appendix. I even remember EE/Miss Snark/The Rejecter saying something about just querying for a memoir and forgetting a full nonfiction proposal.

The sentence that begins "Starting my Doctorate" has the subjects confused. YOU started your doctorate and ADDICTION crept into your life, leaving YOU homeless, etc.

This isn't irredemable; it's just that you're not used to writing narrative non/fiction.

Mame said...

(Here we go with the thorn in my eye)

In order for this to be effective, you have to drop the victimization. Drugs didn't do anything to you, you did drugs.

150 said...

I'm not getting a sense of why I, a non-doctor and non-addict, might want to read this. You only glaze over incidents, and I don't see a true narrative. Memoir really needs a solid beginning-middle-end story, so the more detail you can give, the better.

Anyway, congratulations on getting clean.

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

What grabbed me was the part where you were arrested at a conference. I've been to enough conferences to know that a) this is pretty unusual and b) it's always going to be a more interesting topic of discussion than the keynote speaker. I'd think about using that as your opening/attention-grabber, as that scene seems to encapsulate the range of this book - you're esteemed in your field, and then lo, here come the cops....

(Oh, and maybe don't tell us WHY you're being arrested - not at that moment, anyway - let us wonder for a bit. Not TOO long, as it's a query letter.)

Dave Fragments said...

I worked on symposia or anthologies like the author describes and published scientific papers. Selling biography is not the same as selling scientific work.

You technical publishing history counts only for the fact that you've been handled, manhandled and abused by editors and that you know how to take criticism and do revisions. That's one sentence or two at most in your query.

The rest of the query has to convince a reader that your story is compelling and worth reading. There is a movie titled "Clean and Sober" that I remember as a worthy story but a dark story and when it ended with the character being clean and sober, it still wasn't happy and cheery. It was accurate, gritty, real and one left it not feeling elated but as having watched a true struggle, a life of turmoil finally redeemed from addiction but not angelic or exalted.

There's your job, make the agent reading the query understand your struggle.

Chris Eldin said...

The title is similar to this movie, just an fyi...

(From Homeless to Harvard)

writtenwyrdd said...

What Tracy said about the opening being the conference? I sort of assumed that was the opening of the book since you mentioned it in the query.

Chris Eldin said...

HEY!! I just noticed you were poking fun of Baltimore. Let me know if you need more material, dearest Evil. I'll give you a tour...

Anonymous said...

"In order for this to be effective, you have to drop the victimization. Drugs didn't do anything to you, you did drugs."

I quoted this because I tried forever to say the same thing. It think this is very important and what bothered me about this query, after all the information you crammed into this, not one word about 1. Drug of choice (prescription meds is vague since there are so many) 2. How many times you attempted and failed to get clean. 3. How long you've been clean.

A book about an Oxycontin user is different from a book about a valuume abuser. A book about a man who's been six months clean is a different deal than a book about a man who's been 9 years clean, who went to rehab 21 times, who attending 90 AA meetings in 90 days, (and hasn't missed a meeting except for when his mother died) to get that way.

And I'm not placing value on time or the drugs themselves. I'm just saying I need to know more about your addiction.

Leah said...

I was so convinced this was a fake Guess the Plot, b/c it's a narration of the last few seasons of House, minus the car accident.

Mame said...

Late in the game...

"Your technical publishing history counts only for the fact that you've been handled, manhandled and abused by editors."

Although, I'd try to find some natural sunshine and kiss a little arse rather than take that view.

Anonymous said...

Drug addiction can't be cured or fixed or prevented, so there isn't a way to address these issues in a memoir. Addiction can be arrested, but not cured. Recovery is a life long commitment.

I believe there is a reason you don't see many memoirs about recovery and that's because of the eleventh tradition in 12 step recovery programs. For anyone who might be interested, "Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films."

There's a good reason for this. There are crazy people in recovery and you don't want them being the poster boys/girls for what 12 step work looks like.

So, to the author, if you aren't in a 12 step recovery program, go for it. But if you are? Call your sponsor, dude.