Wednesday, September 12, 2012

CAGI Entry #99

Genre: New Adult
Word Count: 98,000


After suffering a freak accident, surfing pin-up boy Jimmy Wharton’s dream of making the pro circuit is shattered, so he vows to study hard at school and go from the bottom of the grade to the very top. No-one thinks he can do it, except for the gorgeous, breathtaking Olivia, who he falls in love with at the start of Year 11. With Liv by his side Jimmy succeeds in the classroom, and life once again is full of hope and promise. They start university together; Olivia’s studying Psychology and Jimmy Commerce/Law, and he’s also begun writing a novel. But despite having overcome his injury and turning his life around, Jimmy falls victim to a ghastly depression, which threatens to destroy the world he’s worked so hard to rebuild.
At first Olivia tries to be supportive, but as Jimmy is sucked deeper and deeper into the vortex of his illness, the strength of their love is fiercely tested. ‘It’s breaking me, Jimmy. The drinking, the cutting, the drugs . . . and then there was the bridge incident. It’s wearing me out. I can’t take it anymore.’ Despite his anguish, Jimmy resolves to fight his demons and conquer them no matter what. But will Olivia still be around then? Is their love strong enough to survive such a toxic illness?
Confronting, erotic and at times harrowing, yet brightened by abounding moments of strength, true love and hope, my 98,000 word novel I WILL NOT KILL MYSELF, OLIVIA tracks Jimmy’s quest to overcome severe clinical depression whilst continuing his love affair. Set against the backdrop of Sydney’s famous seaside Manly, I WILL NOT KILL MYSELF, OLIIVA is a chilling exploration of an illness that afflicts as many as one in five Westerners.
I am 23 years old and recently quit post-graduate Law to try and make it as an author. I have been working on my novel for approximately five years, over which time I have been fortunate enough to have been mentored by Nick Bleszynski, author of the bestsellers Shoot Straight, You Bastards! (Random House, 2002), You’ll Never Take Me Alive (Random House, 2005) and Bloodlust (Random House, 2008). This is my first novel and the only work I have ever written, except for a 100 word short story that received an Honorable Mention in the ‘100 Words or Fewer’ Writing Competition.
First 250:
I picked up the sharpest piece of glass I could find and put it to my throat.
‘No!’ someone screamed, running towards me.
‘Stay back!’ I yelled, holding out the glass.
The man froze, raising his hands in the surrender sign.
‘Pl-please . . .’ he stuttered. ‘Please don’t do this. Whatever happened . . . it can be fixed.’
‘What the fuck do you know?’ I yelled. ‘You don’t know what it’s like to be me! You’re not crazy! You don’t wanna kill yourself one week and chase hallucinations the next! What the fuck do you know? What the fuck do you know?’
‘OK, OK,’ he motioned, patting the air. ‘I’m sorry. Just please don’t do this. Please.
The crowd all tried to talk me into dropping the glass but once again I brought it to my neck. I pierced the skin, felt hot blood drip onto my hand. Death . . . I craved it, craved it. It was like a maddening hunger that I wanted to feed so badly. Holding that piece of glass was like having my favourite food in front of me: all I wanted to do was scoop up spoonfuls and shove them in my mouth, slit my bloody throat. I was gasping for air through gritted teeth as sweat poured down my body, as the crowd begged me to drop the glass. But they didn’t understand. Everything was so fucked up. Everything had been fucked up for so long and I was sure that this was the only way out.


  1. PART 1:
    Oh man, I'm sorry if I give off false information or horrible advice, but I'm not sure if the query or even the first 250 words are as good as they could be. I really like the concept, and I realize this kind of thing has to be pretty difficult to write about, but there seems to be a little bit of problems here and there.

    First, I was a little confused at the way you introduce Jimmy's conflict. After something horrible happens to him, the beautiful girl befriends him and he's succeeding in school, and then he becomes depressed...because...erm...? I feel like something's missing there. The sentences before make it sound like things are going great for him. The pretty girl cares about him and he's achieving his goal to do epic in school AND he's overcome a horrible injury! it not enough? Does he feel helpless? That's all I'm asking: tiny, brief explanation as to why he falls into depression.

    Second, I don't think you need to quote your own book. In fact, I think Query Shark said something against this (unless the context was different), and the line just stands out in an oddball-in-the-crowd kind of way, not in an intriguing way. You could take out the line entirely (and add a mention that she can't deal with the burden) and nothing of value would be lost.

    Notes on the bio part:
    "I am 23 years old and recently quit post-graduate Law to try and make it as an author.", that seems totally unnecessary. I think someone said that, in most cases, if you're going to list education, it should be because the field you've studied is related to the novel. Like if you studied medicine and wrote a book about a doctor. This just seems totally random and unimportant. Two, and I'm not judging your choices at all, but do you really want to tell an agent that you dropped out of school? Granted, it's post-graduate school, but still. I frankly admire anyone with the bravery to act out on important, life changing decisions to follow a passion, but I don't think that kind of thing makes the best of first impressions. And even if it does, it's still totally unnecessary.

    "...and the only work I have ever written"
    Why mention it's the only work you've ever written? I don't think much is gained from it.

    Nitpicks: I'm always weary of books that deal with writers and are passed as fiction, particularly if they're very personal, realistic narratives. I don't think it's inherently wrong, but is there a purpose for it? Like is he really the type of person who would write, or does it play a part in the story, etc? If so, then I guess the writer aspect will work, if not, then I'm not sure why it should entirely be in there. But this is a total nitpick, so just ignore it if you wish.
    -Other thingy: Not sure about this one, but I don't think you technically have to write "Year 11" like that. I don't think it needs capitalization. Why not just "junior year" and, I guess if you want to be specific, "junior year of high school."
    Or even "11th grade", which looks better to me. More! In the bio: "100 word short story the ‘100 Words or Fewer’ Writing Competition." That made me giggle. Just "short story" is fine. I think they'll figure out how long it was by the name of the competition.
    Again, total nitpick!

    As for the first 250 words:
    I'm not feeling it. The scene is just kind of thrown right out of nowhere and I'm just not feeling it. BAM piece of glass to throat. BAM random person tries to stop him. BAM he starts yelling. WAIT BAM, there's a crowd! Oh hold on...NOW we get description.
    Okay, okay, this kind of thing can work, but I'm not sure how, because it's not working for me here. I'm sure you were aiming for a shocking, unexpected opening scene, but because I have no way to actually know what it is Jimmy's feeling or clearly thinking about, it just seems so random and even a tad silly.

    1. PART 2:
      Do you know the YA novel "13 Reasons Why"? This one a lot of people like, especially its target audience, and while I don't think it's bad, I don't think it's great either. See, "13 Reasons Why" has a narrator that is depressed as well and (through a tape she left behind for people to hear) explains the reasons that led her to give up on life. I never liked it that much because I never felt her depression was real. She sounded like she was going through just normal teenage sadness. I've known people who were clinically depressed, and the few that are writers have a distinct voice. When I read the writings of my father when he was my age and was suffering with depression, I could see clearly that he had given up all hope at the time. It was heartbreaking. And being able to capture that is difficult. I don't know if you're writing from personal experience or not, but either way, yo have to find a way to find that voice without it being whinny or cliche or just bland.

      And that's the thing, trying to harm himself in public WHERE A CROWD CAN GATHER, yelling things like "You don’t know what it’s like to be me!"; it doesn't sound legitimate. Like if he really and truly wanted to die, why do it where people can stop him? He doesn't seem to have any doubts on the last paragraph, and his dialogue indicates that he's been through a lot for some time now, so why such a sporadic attempt in a random place? If there's a reason, will you explain it?

      I think the last paragraph works a bit better and maybe it's just your style of writing, but the first few lines could do with a bit of description. Or tweaking, because if you want to be brief, maybe there's a way to manage. For example, this "I picked up the sharpest piece of glass I could find and put it to my throat." Wayyyy too rushed. How about mentioning that he was holding onto the sharp piece of glass for a while, to hint that maybe he was standing there actually considering suicide?

      Oh, and "...all I wanted to do was scoop up spoonfuls and shove them in my mouth, slit my bloody throat."
      ...wait...what? Why is the comma there? Is slitting his throat what he does every time he tries to eat something delicious? Why is "slit my bloody throat" in the same sentence that's still using the metaphor of food? Confusion!

      This is all my opinion, of course. I'm just trying to explain why it didn't work for me, but maybe the reasons I didn't fall in love with the query and excerpt are reasons why someone else will like it. I'm sure others' advice will be better and maybe even completely different from my own. I hope I helped in someway at least.

  2. Wow. I think the word count in the comments outnumber the word count for the query+250! Go Darth! Wish you had time to spend on ALL of our entries!

    1. Haha! I could definitely try! That actually ate half of my afternoon since I was so afraid I was writing it too nonsensically.

  3. This is very interesting. I haven't read a New Adult myself, but I was a little bit shocked by all the language so soon. Call me a prude, lol!

    You've got a solid writing voice, that's for sure! Great descriptions to some of the stuff. I think, maybe, if you shorten up that query letter, that will help you a lot. You want it to be quick and pack a total punch- make the agents CRAVE more! Taking out the quote will help, and shortening the descriptions and adding a bit more of the uniqueness of your story! Make it GREAT!

  4. I'm not crazy about the query. I think it's too long to start with. I also think that you need to focus a little--it's so spread out, with the accident, and Olivia, and college and then drugs and then wanting to kill himself. Focus somewhat. The third and fourth paragraph--k, my advice would be to cut them both. All you need is the title, word count and genre. Since this is your first novel, just mention something like 'I'm a student at blah blah and an avid reader. Thank you for your consideration.' Don't focus on how new you are to writing.
    Your first 250 feels a little forced. The dialogue doesn't ring true to me--and the question that I have is why do I care that he's so upset? I don't know who this is or what drove him to suicide and until you give me a REASON to care, I'm not going to.
    Good luck!

  5. I think I'm just having a hard time personally buying into the MC. I've worked in mental health for several years (in Crisis), and I've never seen someone that is actually suicidal behave this way. (Even when they were on bath salts). If anything, it's just rubbing me a little the wrong way because of all the people that *have* hurt themselves, when this doesn't seem true to life. Did you talk to people in the field to help prep for the character? You say his diagnosis is clinical depression and that he wants to die, I'm not sure where the last paragraph fits that. If anything, he is acting more schizo-affective. And I'm just saying that because of the carrying on in public comparing glass to food, etc.

    While you certainly have a strong voice, I'm just not convinced of the MC's authenticity.

  6. Agree - in my experience, suicidal people don't want to die - they don't crave death. They just don't want to go on living, and see death as their only means of escape.

  7. At the risk of being overly honest:

    You are not ready to query. There are a lot of issues with this query, which better research will help you avoid. For the sake of ease, though, I'm going to list them here. You're not going to like this feedback. It's harsh. But if no one tells you, you're not going to know.

    - Do not quote excerpts from your own book in the query letter. No exceptions, no excuses.

    - Do not list your age. It's not impressive.

    - Do not talk about how you quit law school to become a writer, because even if true, it does not look as good as you think it does.

    - Do not describe your book in adjectives - an agent will decide if it's erotic, harrowing, or 'brightened by abounding moments of strength'.

    - Your title is heavy-handed, which is maybe not the worst thing in the world, but definitely don't use it more than once. There's no need, and it starts to look silly when held up to the additional scrutiny. (A bad title won't kill you, but a good one can help.)

    - The query makes it sound like you wrote this book to Teach A Lesson About Depression To Westerners. Don't do this. If you did do this, don't admit it.

    - Do not say that this is your first novel.

    - ESPECIALLY do not EVER say it is "the only work I have ever written", for a WHOLE lot of reasons, including but not limited to:
    (1) This is BEGGING for the response of "it shows" (which honestly, it does)
    (2) There is no reason to query the very first thing you have ever written at all ever. It takes a million words to stop writing shit. You've written 98,000 of them. Progress, but you're not there yet.

    - Your opening excerpt reads as if the book is opening purely for shock value. This is not a good thing.

    - As many other people have already commented, this does not seem congruent to me with the experiences of clinically depressed people or of most people who experience suicidal ideations. There are other mental illnesses which might manifest in ways similar to this, but Situational Depression ain't one of them.

    In short: Writing a book is an enormous accomplishment in and of itself and you should be proud. But it takes more than one book - or one draft - to be ready for primetime.

  8. Appreciate the feedback guys. Was previously aware the query wasn't ready, just wanted the feedback, so thank you very much for that.

    Was also particularly interested to hear that you doubted the authenticity of the opening scene. I've run it (and the whole book) by several psychologists/psychiatrists, and they all thought it was accurate. Mental illness is very peculiar - almost anything can happen, given the right circumstances. Fortunately for the purpose of this book I've been through enough of it to find that out.

    Anyway, thank-you once again for this feedback. I hope all you guys succeed in your writing endeavors.