Wednesday, September 5, 2012

CAGI Entry #21

Genre: YA Contemporary
Word Count: 59,000


Oxycontin, Adderall, and cough syrup are sixteen-year-old Dylan Halstrom's best friends. The drugs dull the shame, but nothing can erase the memories. No, the reality of her father and sister's deaths wait for her on the other side of her high, shining like an interrogation lamp, reminding her she doesn't deserve to be happy after causing so much despair.  Desperate to numb her feelings once and for all, Dylan tries heroin.  It takes away the pain, but it does more than that.  It makes her carefree, something she hasn’t felt in three years.  The more carefree she becomes, the more aware she is of her feelings for Matt.  He’s the only person in her world that she can connect with and can make her feel something other than pain and guilt. 

When Dylan tries meth for the first time out of curiosity, the bad trip ends with her two-year-old sister fighting for her life in the ICU after falling down the stairs.  Feeling responsible for yet another tragedy, she pushes everyone away, including Matt.  Because if Matt’s too close, he might find out her darkest secret: that she’s unlovable.  Now, Dylan must decide if she’s strong enough to quit getting high and finally allow herself to love someone again and be loved in return, despite her flaws.  Because if she’s not, the drugs will destroy her, and she’ll end up just like the family she loves--dead.

First 250:

Red and blue lights dance off the roof of my mother’s car.

I groan and lean back against the seat.  The movement makes my head spin and my stomach rolls.  The pain is unbearable.  Like thousands of ice picks hammering into my temple at once. 

Pushing against the steering wheel, I try to shift away from the pain.  My hand slips and my elbow slams into something hard.  I grunt and cradle my arm against my chest.  Blood covers my hand.  It’s smeared across my shirt and the soaked fabric clings to my skin.  It’s sticky and uncomfortable.  

It’s dark.  I don’t understand why I’m in the car.  I can’t even pin down my last memory.  It feels like days ago that I was at Logan’s house.  But it was just this afternoon, right?  Maybe? 

I squint to make out the objects past the cracks in the windshield.  A tree has sprouted through the hood of the car, its branches splayed across the glass.  I turn stiffly to my right.  More trees.  How the hell did I make it this far into the woods in a car?

A distant memory floods my consciousness.  Lily.  My dad. 

Panic seizes my body.  The air is thick, like molasses, and I can’t get enough as I gulp for more.  Each breath I take sends a shock of pain rocketing through my chest as my lungs expand against my tender ribs.  The blood rushing to my brain pounds against my skull and I lean over in time to vomit into the passenger seat.


  1. Interesting subject matter. I like your opening, there's some good emotion here.

  2. Your premise is super intense and something I sure as heck wouldn't be comfortable with writing, so good on you for that! This being said, your query made me super pumped to read your first 250, but they didn't work completely for me. I think what is missing is a little of Dylan's voice. You've done a lovely job of describing everything and I totally understand the setting, but I don't understand Dylan. I think voice is a super hard concept, one that I still struggle with, but I've learned a few things that I think help out. Instead of describing the setting, describe the setting as Dylan would see it in her mind. So instead of the first line being: "Red and blue lights dance off the roof of my mother's car." You could go more of what Dylan would be thinking upon seeing police lights. Like: "I hate the colors red and blue. They are always around when they shouldn't be, like now, dancing their way across the hood of my mom's car."
    I don't know if that is in Dylan's character or not, but that is what I mean. I hope this helps because I really like the sound of this story! It has a heavy message that I think people could really get into and Dylan seems like a really well formed character from the query. Good luck!!

  3. HOWDY! I love, love tough contemp books and these are some high stakes your setting. I'm going to take this query then first 250, so stick with me! ;)If you have any questions you can reply here and @ (@andimjulie) me on twitter to let me know you have a question!

    Query: The meat of your query is a good length, but I think it's actually a little too detailed. This is a really fine line, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt because I think you're just barely over that line. You present your reader with some great visuals like, "shining like an interrogation lamp", but I think it's a little too much for a query. Don't forget that, at the root of this, a query is a business letter. Also, you might have this in your full query, but I love to see comps and think you could fit 2 comps in right in at the end of your second paragraph. I also think that second paragraph should start with "Now, Dylan must..." and have the front half condensed into the first paragraph.

    First 250: I actually really like the first 250 and disagree a bit with the previous commenter. I love the simplicity. My pet peeve is overwriting, and you're good there! I would like to see a little more voice. Is she the type of girl to drop some language when she sees police lights? Things like that. If she has a drug proble, I'm betting she's had a run-in with the law, so maybe some gut reaction on that front would be nice? The simple groan seems like too small of a reaction for the situation. I also really like the train of thought. Just as I was wondering what her last memory was, you answered that she couldn't remember.

    Good luck, 21!

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback, ladies!

      Julie: I've gone back and forth on this query so many times trying to inject the right amount of voice and likeability into Dylan's character, so I really appreciate your thoughts. I'm usually struggling with trying to provide enough detail, instead of too much. I'm going to go play around with these some more and see what I can tweak. Thanks again!