Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Workshop Wednesday

By repeated request we've started Workshop Wednesday. It will definitely play out through 2011, and beyond that we'll just have to see. We've received well over 200 queries at this point, but we are choosing at random, so don't be afraid to participate as per the guidelines in our original post.

For anyone wanting to comment, we ask that you comment in a polite and respectful manner, and we ask that you be as constructive as possible. If you can be useful to the brave souls who submitted their query and comment on the query, that's great. Please keep any anonymous tirades on publishing or other snarky comments to yourself. This is and should remain an open and safe forum for people to put themselves and their queries out there so that everyone can learn. I'm leaving comments open and open to anonymous posters, as I always have; don't make me feel the need to change that policy.

And for those who have never "met" Query Shark, get over there and do that. She's the originator of the query critique, the queen, if you will.

Dear [Agent's name]

Considering your client list and book sales, I am writing to seek your representation of my women's fiction manuscript "All of Us", complete at 85,000 words.

Dan Wilkins is having an affair – or at least, he thinks he is.

Hmm. I’m listening . . . I love this opening. I can’t wait to find what you’re talking about.

Gini is the spitting image of his wife, and everything he thought that depressed, lifeless Emma was when he married her. He didn't even know Emma had a twin, and now he's sleeping with her.

Dan wouldn’t find it incredible that another person looks precisely like his wife? He wouldn’t think it was his wife playing a trick? Have you ever met a person who looks so much like an unrelated person that they could actually be that person? This doesn’t seem plausible, and also, this part feels disconnected from the rest of the query—it’s completely forgotten after the next paragraph.

Then one day Emma shows him a positive pregnancy test – but Dan hasn't touched her in months. The truth comes out. Gini is Emma – she is one of seven alters in Emma's mind. Emma has Dissociative Identity Disorder, and Dan had no idea he married a multiple. He has to be the only man in the world to cheat on his wife with his wife.

Now Dan has to learn to accept the separate parts of Emma's mind or watch his marriage disintegrate. He joins Emma in therapy to meet her alters – none of which had any idea Gini was taking over.

He was cheating on Emma (at least emotionally) and thought she was lifeless and depressing. Seems to me his marriage had already dissolved. Yet he’s willing to go through therapy and the other issues that are often part of DID, such as paranoia, epileptic seizures, phobia, and panic attacks? I’ve missed something . . . I need to know more about Dan’s journey with Emma. Does he realize that he does in fact love her and want to help? Is he sorry or feeling guilty that he cheated? I think the part about Dan sleeping with Gini is not important enough, judging by your query, to be included. It might be best to scrap that part and focus on Emma’s disorder.

Assuming control of the body once again, Gini tries to get an abortion, and Dan feels he has no choice: he lays out an ultimatum. Emma must integrate all of her alters into one whole, or else give up custody of the baby. But is there a way to get rid of Gini so that Dan and Emma can become a family – multiple parts and all?

The element of the baby sort of takes this over the top for me. I think the baby is a great ticking clock to create a deeper sense of urgency to Emma’s healing journey and to up the stakes, but since you’ve started the query with infidelity, continued it with mental illness, and have now arrived at pregnancy and child custody, I feel like I have whiplash. It is probably because you didn’t want to leave anything out in your query, but that’s the thing with queries: to write one, you have to master the art of leaving the right things out. What is the main focus, the larger thread of your book? This is what you’ll want to focus on because a publishing professional will use it as a sales handle. It seems here the main idea is Emma’s mental illness. This is interesting enough without the infidelity and the baby. These bits should be in a synopsis, not a query.

Please find below the first [xx] pages of “All of Us” [+ other submission requests]. I would be happy to provide you with the complete manuscript. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.


I would have rejected this because even though I love the intrigue of DID and Dan cheating on his wife with his wife, it seems like you present some misinformation, improbabilities, and contradictions, like Dan not knowing a person identical to his wife would be his wife, or Emma being expected to integrate her personalities during the short span of her pregnancy. Something about the casual way you discuss Dissociative Identity Disorder worries me that you haven’t done enough research to properly depict a character with this controversial disorder.

This query was a little jarring. I felt jerked around because things change abruptly on this page. First Dan's cheating, but only maybe. Then, he's cheating with his wife's long-lost twin. Then, he's actually not cheating at all because he's sleeping with two different women within his wife. Then! I don't like Dan too much in the beginning because he's cheating on his wife. Then, without much note to this, he's solidly helping her through her illness. Then we take another hairpin turn when Dan says Emma must integrate all her personalities, but in the next sentence, I'm told they are trying to become a family, personalities and all.



Foolplustime said...

Imagining for a moment this is how DID works, why does Dan chose Emma over Gini? He's found the woman he thought his wife was, wouldn't he *want* Gini to become the dominant alter?

If I wanted to read too much into it, I'd also raise concerns regarding Dan's reaction to Gini's choice about the baby - he's essentially disposing of her because she wants to have an abortion. I say again, she is supposed to be the woman he thought his wife was, but he is willing to metaphorically murder her over this issue. Dan is coming across as a controlling, misogynistic jerk.
We also have the simple fact of his not noticing his wife has a fairly significant psychological disorder. How did he not notice that? Did she convince him her mood swings were down to *really bad* PMT?

Emma should be having a heck of an emotional impact on this query but all I know is her husband thinks she's lifeless. She is pregnant and, as far as she knows, she hasn't had sex with her husband in ages. How does she even know Dan is the father? How does Dan? If he's been having an affair with Gini, how does he know Gini (or any of the other alters) hasn't been having it away with somebody else?
I'm wondering if this Q (MS issues aside) would work better from Emma's POV, beginning with her finding out she's pregnant. She has the emotional payload. She is pregnant, she doesn't know how, she is reliant on trusting this husband of hers who has been having an affair, she has to help him understand her condition, even if they can stop her alter from having an abortion, how does she know her baby would be safe with them? How does she feel about the baby anyway?
I want to see her fear and confusion and emotional upheaval. This is women's fiction, so I'd expect to find those things in the text. That there isn't a hint of them in the Q reinforces my (possibly erroneous) belief that you haven't thought this through or done the research to understand the condition.

It is a nice idea - cheating on your wife with your wife - but...there is a real world logic failure here. Along with the "Hollywood DID", it feels like this might need a major MS overhaul. If they are up for it, I think it would be worth doing, the bare bones of the idea are really interesting.

Anonymous said...

Assuming control of the body once again, Gini tries to get an abortion, and Dan feels he has no choice: he lays out an ultimatum. Emma must integrate all of her alters into one whole, or else give up custody of the baby.

I'm a little confused about who's who, but whoever's body these personalities occupy, it surely isn't Dan's, so how can he force her to give up custody of a future baby if she chooses not to have it?

Dan's right. He has no choice.

It doesn't matter if you personally think abortion is murder or whatevs: A man cannot forbid a woman to have an abortion. That's the law.

Anonymous said...

If this is women's fiction, is it appropriate to have it from a man's point of view? I had the impression it had to be from the women's pov, otherwise it is general fiction.

Anonymous said...

I don't care how good the query gets. I can't imagine any way this will turn out to be a good book.

Donna said...

You can't just order someone to get over a major mental illness... life just doesn't work that way. That kills the whole thing for me. I do like Foolplustime's idea of rewriting it from Emma's point of view. I think that could really work, and though the author might be wedded to their POV, I think the writer should consider this.

Lehcarjt said...

The 'big issue' of the book seems to be the husband's demand the wife solve her problems or give up the baby.

To me, that rings false. Because (A) If solving DID was so simple that a person could just choose to 'integrate' their personalities, wouldn't the people with DID just do this rather than spend their entire lives fighting the disease? I don't think so. I think the husband's ultimatum isn't possible because she isn't capable of 'integrating' her personalities.

And (B) I don't think a man can force a woman to give up a baby for adoption. He can sue for full custody himself (and in a DID case, he'd have a good chance of winning), but he can't force her to walk away. (The State can, but unless the child was in some kind of danger, I'm not sure they would.)

This probably sounds mean, but I think you need to go back to the drawing board with this idea. It just doesn't sound credible enough.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

The first line of the query is FANTASTIC, but the rest doesn't fly for me. I'm fascinated by DID, but this seems a bit all over the place. I think more of a focus to what the heart of the story is about is needed, as well as a better understanding of DID. Best of luck!

Elissa M said...

Not sure my commentary is needed because I agree with everyone so far. I especially like Foolplustime's advice about the query (and story) focusing on Emma. If the author has actually done the research needed for this subject, it's definitely not coming through in the query. It's hard, but sometimes starting over is the best thing a writer can do for themselves and the story.

Feaky Snucker said...

It might be interesting to write it from Gini, Emma AND Dan's perspectives. It would give the opportunity to really showcase the different personalities, and their interactions with Dan, while keeping Dan in there.

Agreed that you can't just order someone to integrate their personalities. It simply doesn't work that way. Maybe she refuses to take her medication for DID instead, since that is something within her control.

Taymalin said...

Dissociative Identity Disorder, like most dissociative disorders, is a self-defense mechanism, and is usually the result of severe psychological trauma. The mind creates different identities which manifest in order to take care of the person who is not able to care for themselves. The identities may have different feelings about the base personality, but they all have the same purpose--to take care of some aspect of life that the person cannot deal with.

It takes years of work with a psychiatric professional for someone with this disorder to function normally, and while it does require the full cooperation of the sufferer, it is not something that can be worked through in less than the duration of a pregnancy simply because a husband says so.

Emma would have to discover her memories of trauma (which she is unlikely to know because another personality would probably hold those memories to protect her), and work through them before she could even hope to integrate her personalities.

It's a process that is terrifying for the client, and not something that anyone would easily agree to, even for the love of a child.

Dissociative disorders cannot be medicated away, this is especially true of DID because it can be difficult to get all of the identities to agree to take prescriptions, or even to explain to all of them that they are required, as many of them may be unaware of the illness and can be triggered at any time to take over their shared body.

As for wanting Gini to become the dominant personality, Gini is just an aspect of Emma's personality. It isn't a matter of getting rid of the personalities after choosing the one you like the best, it's a matter of taking a shattered personality and making it whole again.

Jen Klen said...

FWIW, I thought Matt Ruff's book SET THIS HOUSE IN ORDER was a rather brilliant fictional take on DID.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I worry, frankly, that this book would be offensive to anyone suffering from mental illness. You can't order someone to get over it, and if he's going to therapy with her, that should be one of the first things he learns. I could understand Dan being upset if Emma refused to get treatment or something, but his giving an ultimatum, especially after he stepped out of their marriage first, really makes me dislike him.

Also, I found myself curious about Emma's reaction to the affair. In my mind, it doesn't matter if Gini actually is Emma; Dan didn't think she was (although the reasoning there seems thin, too), and fully intended to sleep with someone other than his wife. So unless he's lying to Emma ("I swear, I thought she was you, I thought you were trying to spice things up", etc.), I'd expect her to be a lot more upset with him. Maybe she is, and that just didn't make it into the query because Dan is the main character. I agree with the other commenters who said this story would be really interesting if written from Emma/Gini's perspective, or maybe from all three of theirs.

The beginning of this query is really intriguing, but the characters' reasonings and motivations become implausible as it goes on, and I think perhaps a bit more research into what it's really like to have mental illness is necessary. DID isn't a sexy, random thing; as someone mentioned above, it usually develops to help the person deal with serious mental trauma. But! The good news here is that you seem to have piqued many people's interest with the idea behind this book, and though it might take a lot of rewriting, you could probably have something really solid here in the future.

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Anonymous said...

This query sounds exactly like a soap opera - complete with all the unbelievable plot points - this could only happen on a soap...

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Anonymous said...

The television show "United States of Tara" does an excellent job with this premise, so a book now would have to do a really amazing job of putting a new twist on this concept.

Justin said...

A note about DID, there's been talk about removing it from the new revision of the DSM, because of the controversy surrounding diagnosis and the fact that "Sybil" (which precipitated this disease's inclusion in the diagnostic manual) turned out to be a hoax.

I'd hate to see a writer craft a novel around this disease only to have it no longer be relevant before the book can be published.