September 19, 2012

Late to the GUTGAA but I'm here

Okay, so I've been doing a million things this summer. Something had to give and blogging seemed to be the one to go. I'm slowly getting back into the swing of blogging, contest, and commenting. I realize I'm way late to the game, but below is my GUTGAA entry.

Keep in mind this is a MEMOIR so it's supposed to be in first person. Janet Reid wrote a blog post on why memoir queries are supposed to be in first person. I know fiction writers seem to struggle with this, I sure did. I'll be trying to get into the small press contests, but I haven't had much luck with contests lately... so we'll see. I'd love any comments/critiques. I'll do my best to hop around to others as well. Feel free to comment below that you have an entry you'd like me to critique :) Next Friday is the entry window for small press so maybe I can have this bad boy in shape by then :)

GENRE: YA memoir
WORD COUNT: 66,000

PERFECTLY BROKEN is my memoir, complete at 66,000 words. It is a cross bettween THE DEVIL IN PEW NUMBER SEVEN by Rebecca Nichols and RAPE GIRL by Alina Klein.

At fifteen-years-old I was a spitfire of a girl who was as quick to throw a punch as I was to steal a kiss. When I got kidnapped and raped, I put up one hell of a fight.

Set free, numb and in shock, I went straight to the police. Three days later the serial rapist was caught. Still, it wasn’t enough. Fear and rage were my closest companions and I teeter-tottered between the two. If that madman were ever set free, I’d have to kill him. I couldn’t live in a world where he roamed the streets abducting helpless girls—girls like me.
A youth pastor reached out to me and shook my 'Sunday only' Christian faith to its core. Desperate to be in control, but knowing this was more than I could handle, I handed this situation over to God. I found peace in the black, white, and read pages of the bible, but still struggled with human touch. The first boy who tried almost got a cheek full of knuckles.
With the court date months away, a chance to be something more than 'the raped girl' was an answered prayer. Falling in love and wanting to stay was not in my brochure though. My case was the only solid one the police had against that madman and if I didn't return and testify he could walk. But in Spain I felt alive, and the idea of leaving Pedro seemed more than I could bear. I was just starting to find my strength and happiness. I needed to decide what was more important—protecting my heart or protecting other women from a monster.


I know at any moment he’ll kill me. His scorching breath is on my neck. His odor is embedded in my nose. It’s only been minutes since he crawled off me, but the rape keeps replaying in my mind, torturing me over and over again.
My head is twisted in an impossible headlock and my body is tangled across the front seat of his car. He pushes my face into his stomach and with each breath I inhale his shirt, slowly suffocating.

With just one hand on my head, he’s locked me in place using his other hand to drive, as if this is easy. There’s a professional way about his strength, like he’s done this before. Methodical, calculated, professional. Military crosses my mind.

He’s had me in his clutches for at least an hour. Or maybe it’s been ten minutes.

Time seems to stop right before you die.

That's it. So what do you think? Would you want to read more? Was there anything that confused you?




Ellie Heller said...

This is very powerful. I assume as it's a memoir it's autobiographical, and I can't tell you how brave I think you are to put this out there.

However, I'm not sure using first person for a query works, though it is attention getting. Hmm, hmm, the first person is so very powerful here.

What I'd suggest you do is put your tag line (☺ I know you worked one up for the pitch contest) at the top then some in first person explaining what you are telling in your story but not reciting the actual events.

So, staring with your tag line:

15 year old Amber will stop at nothing to make sure she’s the last victim in a string of rapes. If the system can’t ensure that, a gun will. (although reading the rest of this query you need to tweak this too I think).

I am Amber and this is my story. My story of my kidnapping, rape, and the year that followed. A year in which I helped police to create a case against a serial rapist. A year where I teetered between fear and rage, between wanting to stay safe and knowing I would kill him if I had the chance. A year in which I built up walls and invisible scars left me incapable of being touched. The first boy who tried almost got a cheek full of knuckles.

I tell of my escape from the pressures of the trial and my new life via a foreign exchange program to Spain. Of how I learned I could go on, be someone new there. The walls I spent all year building came crashing down as I learned to laugh again, touch again, love again.

But my old life beckoned me back. I dreaded returning home to face my demons. I knew my case was the only solid one they had against that madman, but if I went back, I might never return to Spain, return to the person I'd become there. I had to decide what was more important—protecting my heart or protecting other women from a monster.

Just one take. :-) There's still a lot of work to be done, some tense issues and flow, but if you like it it'll give you something to work with.

Amber said...

What an awesome critique! I'll be by once I get a second to myself--aka--once the kids are sleeping.

Carrie-Anne said...

When it comes to fiction, I'm extremely burned-out by first-person present tense, but in a memoir like this, I think it's a perfect, natural fit. Your query does a good job of conveying the heart of your memoir, though I'm not sure whether you're supposed to write a memoir query in first-person. I'd love to read this when it's published. It takes a lot of courage to put this kind of story out there.

Ellie Heller said...

Amber - if/when you do revise, post it please! I'd love to see where you go with this. :-)

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I like it. But I'd love it if you start here, "come with me as I tell you of the year my soul died, and all the things God did to carry me through those dark days and rebuild this broken girl."

Delete the stuff above it. It slows it down. The second line is where you caught my attention...start there.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I'm not sure about the 1st person query critique issue. I think it only makes sense that you'd query a memoir in first person, if not it sounds like you're one of those strange people who talk about themselves in third person.
Elizabeth thinks that sounds silly. Maybe put "Perfectly Broken" is a memoir complete at X number of words."
Did Elizabeth make her point? LOL

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I meant put memoir in the top line, then go on with the 1st person query.

Amber said...

@Elizabeth--haha you are so funny. About the first person query, that's the same point Janet made. It's sort of weird to talk about yourself in third person when it's a TRUE story. I just think fiction writers have had it bashed into their heads to never write a query in first person that even when they know it's a memoir, it still sours their interests. Thanks for the advice. I did do what you suggested.

In my query for agents I always start out by saying this is a memoir at such and such, so by the time they get to the first person they understand why. But in contests they say just put the meat of your query, and then everyone hates the first person b/c they don't read the part that it's a memoir. :D So I'm gonna break the rules :)

Amber said...

@Carrie Anne--I know it seems weird for a query to be in first person. A memoir query is expected to have all the same elements as a fiction query-character, plot, tension--the only thing that is supposed to be different is the first person. :/ It did seem really strange at first though :)

@Ellie--I did take some of your advice and although I loved all of your tips, I felt it read more like a synopsis. In fact that's exactly how my proposal (synopsis for nonfic) reads.

Ellie Heller said...

NP, not used to working with NF.

Two thoughts, in your genre you should probably put inspirational / christian, although it's clear in your pitch how important your faith is to you. AND you *might* want to put NF - although that is redundant with memoir, it does help clarify and, given there are people who don't understand genres and may be using memoir incorrectly, it clarifies you are using it correctly.

NF YA Memoir - Inspirational

I'm glad you've gotten requests, there's definitely a press out there somewhere who would love this piece!

erica m. chapman said...

Hi! I'm here. Sorry I'm late. I know I told you last night.

First, I think you are so brave to tell your story! I love the title.

I understand the first person query, which is fine, since you prefaced it saying that a memoir can be first person. That said, I'm not feeling the emotion in this. Something reads off for me.

For instance: "So come with me [this is a little corny, if I'm being honest] as I tell you of the year my soul died and all the things God did to carry me through those dark days to rebuild this [strange choice of word "this" it takes us out of the first person a little] broken girl."

I like the content you present here. It's compelling and I can't imagine trying to tell others of something like that. But this reads a little un-emotional. You have the opportunity to make this emotional, really pull us in. What do you feel? You have some nice emotion/description in your First 150, I'd love to see that same tone in your query.

Remember that a query only needs to entice the agent. This reads a little like a synopsis to me (which I think you mention in the comments). If you focus on the emotion and the parts of the story that would set it apart, I think it would read smoother, at least for me. I like what Ellie suggested in the comments.

I really enjoyed your 150. It's very powerful and knowing this actually happened, I just... you have so much courage in many ways. For making it through, for telling your story.

I think you are amazing. Good luck in the contest ;o)

Mara Valderran said...

I can only echo what others have said--you are so brave for putting this out there and to know what you've gone through...just wow. You are an inspiration of strength to us all.

Now on to the critiques! I like that it is written in first person. That really makes the fact that it is a true story resonate for me. That being said, I love the first three paragraphs. The fourth paragraph seemed to shift from the tension that you were building though. I understand that your faith has probably helped you through this and you want to include that, but is there a way to make it flow with the tension building that is paragraph 3?

I also feel like there is something missing from paragraph 4. The fact that you are suddenly in Spain confused me, and I didn't even know you were at risk of falling in love until you said so. I would clarify the situation a little more in this paragraph. Even though it is a memoir, you are still the protagonist and we as the readers need to know what is going on with you in order to understand the stakes. Staying in Spain means staying with Pedro but letting your rapist walk free. Why are you so torn? Is it Pedro? Or is it your fear?

Hope this helps!

Amber said...

Thanks a million Erica!

@Mara--I have struggled sooo much over the faith paragraph!! It never seems to work. I've done the query w/out it and given more details about Spain and it seems to flow better, but I'm always left feeling like I'm deceiving the agents. I want them to know that there are Christian elements. I compare my memoir to THE DEVIL IN PEW NUMBER SEVEN so I feel like I need to explain why. But then when I mention Spain it seems like info overload... BUT Spain is where my conflict comes into play. I can extend my foreign exchange program to remain w/ my love--or risk dooming the relationship to an impossible long distance relationship (before the days of FB and Twitter).

But if I don't return to testify, my case could crumble and the man could walk. Knowing that I was his third victim in a month tells me that if he ever gets set free, he'll rape again.

But I'm finally happy, in Spain and in love.

Mara Valderran said...

I don't think you should get rid of it, just amp it up a bit. Everything else is so intense but the faith paragraph falls a bit flat. Maybe you can say something about the dark place you were in and how your Sunday-Christian faith had been shaken only to have the pastor try to help you strengthen it and turn everything back over to God. Then you can transition into the foreign exchange program being a mixed blessing in the next paragraph and go from there. I definitely think you need to specify how you ended up in Spain.

Ellie Heller said...

AMBER!! There's a CHUM BUCKET tonight!
Have you head of this?! Here's a link, I think you should go for it!!

Ellie Heller said...

Last one, but I saw this and thought of you!! Have you subbed to this agency? :

I'd just really love for you to find a home for this story!