Saturday, September 23, 2006
Guess the Plot
1. Henry Murchison refinishes furniture, plays a mean game of contract bridge, and reads the New Yorker cover-to-cover every week. The other inmates of the asylum just can't figure him out.
2. Dr. Franz Schmutz has a 100 percent cure rate at his hospital for the slightly bewildered. But he's in for a surprise when his nursing staff turns on him in a frenzied bloodbath.
3. In a world where everyone is normal, Iggy Mopp is strangely insane. Or so he thinks, until he is transported magically into a world where everyone is just like him. Now he must deal with being average and uninteresting.
4. Medical students often suspect they have the diseases they are studying. Unfortunately for psychiatry student Janice Marshall, she actually does.
5. Danny can't decide whether to kill himself with a shotgun or to write a lengthy memoir about his pathetic life as a lonely alcoholic. He writes the memoir, along with an even longer query letter.
6. Paula Jil comes from a long line of schizophrenics, religious zealots and corn-dog comedians. Her obsession with good grades and professional goals brands her as the one who is strangely insane.
I am seeking agent representation for my literary memoir, “Strangely Insane”, complete at 110,000 words. The sequel, “Forty Four Days,” is nearing completion. [It should be done in, oh, about forty-four days.] Another free-standing book, Part III if you will, “The Broad Highway” is about what it is like for a recovered alcoholic to live normally and sanely in an insane world and is planned for 2008. [From 2009 to 2011 you can reach me at the Betty Ford Center, where I'll be undergoing rehab. Then in 2012 Part IV, if you will, "In and Out," about what it's like to lapse back into alcoholism from too much celebrating one's book deal will be ready.]
Ninety percent of all alcoholics will die alcoholic deaths. The reason is that there is a big difference between hard drinkers and real alcoholics and unfortunately there are not many people, professional and otherwise who know how to make that distinction. Even worse is that there are special interests that depend upon that important distinction being blurred. These interests exist inside of the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous and proliferate in the rehab industry. So real alcoholics like me, suffer needlessly or die from untreated alcoholism, never knowing why it was that we just cannot “Get it”. Fortunately I am one of those who finally got it. [Not clear. What's the distinction? What did you get?]
One night in October in 1999, Danny Schwarzhoff, who after being sober for two years finds himself on the balcony of his bedroom contemplating suicide after coming out of a two day alcoholic blackout. [Was that a complete sentence?] He cannot even remember how it happened. There is every good reason for it to never have happen again. [Are you sure you haven't been hitting the sauce?] Yet it did. It is the loneliest place on earth. Grey white moonlight pours from the skylight above and floods the upper rooms with vivid colorlessness ["Vivid" is not an adjective I would apply to colorlessness; in fact, Dictionary.com defines "colorlessness" as "lacking vividness."] and with his back to his wife Nancy he can feel and see her in his minds eye. She is like a woman in a scene frozen onto a black and white TV screen, curled into a ball, sleeping – utterly exhausted out of her days of waiting for her husband of twenty years to finally come home. He had.
Below the balcony off the center hall of their Cotuit Massachusetts home he can see down into their two year old son’s bedroom – and he is sleeping. Danny’s eyes trace imaginary footsteps along the stone tiled floor, from the hall entrance into his son’s room - steps he has taken a hundred times on hundreds of nights [Which, when you think about it, means "occasionally."] – to kiss his son lightly on the forehead and whisper words into his ear that are the most important words in the world to both of them, “You are a good man and Daddy loves you.” Except on this night Danny did not retrace those steps as he had done so many times before. [Yes, a hundred times on hundreds of nights; you told us. Get on with it.] No words of love left his lips to seep into his sleeping son’s slumbering head. [Is this a letter or a bad poem?] When Danny came home tonight he rushed through the hall and up the stairway leading to the upstairs bedroom where Nancy lay in bed. He is disappointed and relieved to find that she could no longer stay awake for him.
Moved by the sight and the silent presence of his loving wife and child, but preoccupied with thoughts playing like an endless loop of tape in his head he was having bad thoughts. Rotten thoughts. Powerful and baffling thoughts. Danny has not come to the balcony to quietly consider the family he loves. He is there because the balcony is there. It is a bridge, a gangplank between two worlds and he is stuck between the two - one of which has nothing in the least to do with love. The other is seemingly indefinable - unattainable. [Indecipherable.] [That paragraph is so vague as to be meaningless.]
From this place where neither life nor death holds any import to him, Danny knows that the staircase leading downstairs will bring him one level closer to the 12 Gauge Winchester single barrel shotgun in the basement. It is the gun with which he is considering blasting his head off - in full view of his wife and son. He knows that there must be another way out, but if there is, it has not yet occurred to him. [He hasn't even considered the obvious? Jumping off the balcony and landing on his face? Or blasting his head off out of view of his wife and son?] He can only think of this one. Yes, it is horrific.
From the balcony I narrate an accurate, entertaining and verifiably true-to-life memoir of the real alcoholic, a person distinguished from all other forms of problem or heavy drinkers by characteristics that set me and my type apart as distinct entities – from the rest of all other drunks as well as the entire human race. My story is told in flashbacks that colorfully reveal the misunderstood dynamics of alcoholism in a way that no other contemporary author dare. [A quick check of Amazon.com shows more than 43,000 books on alcoholism. By 43,000 cowards, apparently.] The clues begin to build through events in my childhood, though adolescence and into my adulthood - and by the end of Strangely Insane, a preponderance of evidence defines the root causes of alcoholism and proposes a solution. It turns out that alcohol does not cause alcoholism and alcohol is the solution to the root problem - not the problem itself. [Alcohol is the solution? This is a revolutionary book, after all.] But the solution only works for real alcoholics like me. This common solution is the alternative to death that I seek in the moments on the balcony. Will I follow downstairs to the basement or will I take the alternative? Well, of course I take the cure -- I live to write a memoir about it. [I'm starting to think this query letter is a memoir about it.] [These really long ones always wear me down; I stop making comments just to get it over with.]
It is my passion and my pleasure to tell my story with dogged determination, intent upon smashing home the powerful message of successful recovery into the hearts and minds of the American consciousness. I must do this.
It was important to me that "Strangely Insane" not be anything like what has currently been written about alcoholism and addiction. My memoir is not a diary-of-contrition, scribbled into a Spiro-bound notebook from the lush couches of a well-appointed rehab center. I have never been in a rehab facility except as a speaker. It is not an overblown “Drunkologue” or a tear jerking chronicle of self-pity – the kind that has become so prolific in recent years. My story is simply a rigorously honest sometimes humorous if disturbing memoir of a former Wall Street Stockbroker, me, who shares a progressive, fiendish malady with millions of others for whom there only seems to be no hope.
I've been writing for a long time – over thirty years. A good portion of it while drunk I must admit. I was an advertising copywriter, a public relations practitioner and Editor-in-Chief for a weekly tabloid trade paper. I have covered everything from mold infections on Thompson Seedless grapes to an in depth interview with Caesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers Union, [You know you're an alcoholic when you get hired as a writer and most of what you write about is grapes.] among other credits with CEOs and top executives of major corporations. For the past five years I have been writing extensively on numerous online recovery sites and blogs. I have also been published (Anonymously) in Grapevine, AA’s magazine. I am also an in-demand international public speaker on the subject of recovery from alcoholism.
My most current reporting work, while sober I might add, has appeared in the Barnstable Patriot on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
If this query piques your interest, I should be delighted to provide a partial. Thank you for your generous time. I look forward to hearing from you soon
Evil Editor congratulates you on your accomplishments. But this query letter is long enough to be three or four query letters, yet it says less than most one-page query letters. It's not ready for an agent, and I'm not filled with confidence that the book has been edited into a clear and concise memoir.
If Danny is you, is there a reason you aren't writing in first person? Is it written as if it's fiction? It sounds like you're describing a novel through much of it. If it's nonfiction, describe it as such.
1st paragraph: the first sentence is all you need here.
2nd paragraph: Not clear enough; dump it.
3rd paragraph: Tone down the description.
4th paragraph: Wordy and repetitive, tighten it up.
5th paragraph: Says nothing; dump it.
I could continue, but there are so many paragraphs it would feel disheartening. When you've boiled it down to a page, stick with the credits about your public speaking and the AA magazine.
Actually, if you're an in-demand international public speaker, you're probably doing a lot more good now than you will by getting another book into a field that has more than 43,000 already.