Monday, January 28, 2013

Bouncer Post #85

Genre: YA Contemporary
Word Count: 52,000 words


Super-brain Alexis likes everything exactly so. Perfect prep school grades.  School supplies arranged eight inches apart at exact angles. Timed phone calls with her mother. Scheduled hook-ups with her boyfriend Ben. As long as her ongoing self-harm streak is hidden, all is well.

When Alexis receives a B on an essay and then endures an excruciating break-up, her once orderly life spirals into chaos. Now she cuts precise parallel lines on her leg, one inch apart, one for each day since Ben broke up with her. She bangs her head, burns herself—anything to self-soothe and reassert some control over her life.

After her friend accidentally sees her scars, Alexis is trapped into weekly therapy sessions with a counselor, forced disclosure to her parents, and worst of all, dismissal from school if she can’t stop hurting herself. It’s up to Alexis to pull herself out of her hell—that is, if she even wants to.

As an educator and a teacher consultant for the National Writing Project, I know how much the stories of others can speak to teenagers trying to make sense of their own lives. Although there have been other novels about cutting (for example, Patricia McCormick’s Cut and Cheryl Rainfield’s Scars), OUTSIDE IN examines the correlation between perfectionism and self-harm, a survival mechanism for intense pressure.

I am a member of SCBWI and belong to several critique groups. I am also working on two other YA projects.

First 250:

A bright red B. Oh my God. My lowest grade ever.

I dug my fingernails into my arm and risked a glance at the comments on my paper. All bad. I couldn’t read any more—plenty of time to memorize the rest later. I stuffed the paper into my binder before anyone could see it.

My throat closed up and I couldn’t draw a full breath. My G.P.A. would sink. Miranda would pass me in class rank. One single B could ruin everything at our school.
What would my mother say? She’d never forgive me when she saw that B.

“I’ll be right back,” I said, and walked-ran out of the classroom.

Made it into the hallway, close to the bathroom. Such a fool. I clenched my teeth. I should have spent more time on the paper until it was flawless.

I made it to the safety of a marbled stall.

Why didn’t I work harder? I didn’t deserve an A anyway. Dummy, lazy, fat moron.

I jerked up my left sleeve. I uncurled a paper clip, molding the metal into a straight line. I scraped the clip back and forth across my fat upper arm until beads of blood popped up.

So stupid, so stupid….

It wasn’t enough. I took a deep breath. I scraped four more times, changing the line into an angular B. Exactly what I deserved.

I pulled my shirt sleeve back down as far as it would go, clutched it with my fist, and went to my next class.


  1. Absolutely brilliant.

    The voice, the writing, the query. So good.

    Good luck.


  2. Yay for YA contemporary! This definitely something I'd read.

    Here's my little comment with one line that I don't think works. If you break it up, it won't make sense.

    Alexis is trapped into weekly therapy sessions with a counselor, forced disclosure to her parents, and worst of all, dismissal from school if she can’t stop hurting herself.

    Breaking it up:
    Alexis is dismissal from school...
    Alexis is trapped into dismissal from school...

    I'd just tweak a little. Alexis is forced into disclosure to her parents, trapped into weekly therapy sessions with a counselor, and worst of all, faced with dismissal from school if she can’t stop hurting herself.

    I put the disclosure thing first because wouldn't that happen before the forced into therapy?

    Hope that makes sense.

    Good luck.


  3. I love the voice in the 250 words. I was really sucked in, horrified, but definitely wanting to know what happens next. I agree with the above poster about the query. Good luck, and beautiful writing. Oh and by the way, I did this one backwards, where I read the 250 words first and the cutting in the bathroom really surprised me!

    I'm #91.

  4. Phew! This is tough subject matter but I have to say that it is beautifully executed and I really get a sense for the MC.I get the feeling that this will be one intense read.

    The query letter is really tight and oozing with voice. I get a sense that the MC is very uptight and likes everything just so, which follows perfectly into the first 250.

    I think this is an important topic but also a sensitive one and I like how the query letter really gives a sense that it will be handled well.

    Defintely an awesome start!

    -Amber (102)

  5. Fabulous writing! Query & 250 are both tight and compelling. I think there's a lot of market for a well-written book featuring YA self-harm/cutting.

    --I would remove "My lowest grade ever" in your opening line. We get it, and this is a little over the top IMHO.
    --I think the title has to change. There's a very popular dystopian YA duet right now, titled "Inside Out" and "Outside In." You don't want this & that confused.

    Good luck from #76

  6. Oh wow! You took a really tough subject and presented it so well in the MC's perspective. I love the characterization and the writing. Can't think of anything I'd suggest changing. Great work!


  7. I think there's room for another book on self harm and you have a solid platform. I also think your query does a great job at showing us your MC's character. A couple of small, niggling things: I suggest cutting the last line of the first graph of your query, as it slightly confuses the timeline. And I felt like your lede could maybe be a little more subtle? It just felt a tiny bit heavy-handed to me... I'd consider starting with the line "I dug..."

    My MC is also a high-achiever and someone recently raised to me that I needed to make certain that she was likeable to the reader right from the get-go. Because people obsessing about grades can read as not that likeable/sympathetic. I know your MC is going to be extremely sympathetic later on... I'm just passing on the concern as it resonated for me and I made some tweaks to my own MS based on that feedback.

  8. This is a wonderfully written query and sample, and I almost put it through. The reason I didn't is that I don't find the character sympathetic. As a mom and a human being, I care about a teenager cutting herself, and I hope she gets help. But as a reader and a book buyer, I need a reason to immerse myself in hell for 52,000 words. I think the final line of your summary makes this clear: "It’s up to Alexis to pull herself out of her hell—that is, if she even wants to." It's hard for me to root for her if she's not even rooting for herself. That said, your writing is solid, and this project could go places with a little tweaking.

    Don't take my word for it, but 52,000 words may be short for this market.