Thursday, April 30, 2015

#YayYA Critique Party: Entry #10

Name: Nicole Panteleakos

Genre: Contemporary

Title: By a Thread

35 Word Pitch:
Eleanor hates her brother Ezra for many things. For being smarter. Being dorky. Being her shadow. But mostly, she hates him for dying. Because it was a choice. His choice. And her fault.

First 500 Words:
The Head Doctor
She said to keep a journal. “It will make you feel better.”
So I said, “I already keep a journal.”
And she asked, “Where do you keep it?”
And I answered “None of your business.”
So I guess that’s kind of a theme with me.
But here it is.
My Journal.

Tuesday Morning
The funeral was short.
            There were a lot of people, especially people from the community that Mom said she’d never seen before and didn’t want nowhere around her baby’s last goodbye. People from the school who didn’t care enough to listen when he was still alive, but suddenly care enough to come sit in the pews and cry and pray and act like they wish they could’ve done more to help.
            Shut up.

Thursday Afternoon
My father finally showed up.
            Like Mom says, “Too little, too late.”

I didn’t bother to get out of bed.
            Neither did Mom.

I still didn’t bother to get out of bed.
            But I couldn’t sleep. Every time I closed my eyes I’d relive that last day.

That Last Day
            “Do you ever think about what it would be like?” he’d asked.
            “What what would be like?” I wasn’t in the mood for one of his downer conversations. I was taking this quiz in a magazine I borrowed from Alexis.Who’s Your Rocker Soul Mate? I was hoping to score Nick Tristan, lead guitar from Broken Dream, because they’re the hottest band ever.
            “Death,” he said. “Dying. I wonder if it would hurt, or if it’s peaceful.”
            I rolled my eyes. “I guess it depends on whether you kick it in your sleep or catch on fire when you’re awake.”          
            “I won’t catch on fire,” he said. “But I don’t think I’ll be sleeping either.”
            “Whatever.” I went back to my magazine.  
            I should have been paying attention.

I didn’t feel like going back to school.
So I stayed home.

 More of the same.

Memorial Day
Aunt Cammie and Uncle Brent threw a barbeque.
Cammie showed up early to pick me up and drag me there. 
I got back in bed and pulled the covers over my head.
            “She shouldn’t spend all her time cooped up in her room.” I heard Aunt Cammie tell Mom from my spot on my bed. “It’s not healthy. She’ll get depressed.”
            “We’re all depressed,” Mom answered.
            But Aunt Cammie refused to take no for an answer.
            That’s why I found myself in the backseat of Uncle Brent’s car on my way to their house in the nice part of town while Mom stayed home alone, cooped up in her room, depressed.
            It was a miserable day. Overcast and ugly. Not ideal Memorial Day BBQ weather. But it wasn’t raining, so Uncle Brent and the other men made a big show of going out to fire up the grill, because nothing says “Honoring Our Troops” like slightly undercooked hamburgers and char-broiled hotdogs.


  1. Ooo, love the voice! Communicates the emotional landscape of the pitch beautifully.

    I think there's a few things you can strike out to make the punch that much more immediate. For example, I'd drop the first few lines and start with Tuesday - "The funeral was short" makes a much stronger opening, and the format will tell us that it's a journal anyway. Think you could also cut "I got back in bed and pulled the covers over my head" and "Not ideal Memorial Day BBQ weather."

    I found "didn't want nowhere near" a little jarring - would stick with "anywhere near." Also I think I'd change "Shut up" to something that's not addressed directly to the people in question - doesn't quite jive with past tense. Something like "Yeah, right. Like they're fooling anybody" might work...alternatively, what did she feel like doing? Screaming, kicking them in the shins...?

    Hope this helps!

  2. I'd agree with Amelinda, you could probably lose the first section. It's obviously her journal, so we don't really need the set-up.

    The funeral section was really true to life. I remember a funeral for a classmate that committed suicide, it was like that.

    The last day section was great. The dialogue was natural and it's exactly the kind of thing a survivor of suicide would think about on loop. Really resonant.

    The bit about the barbecue is a great representation of how well meaning relatives react to grieving people. As in wrong. I wonder if you could do more to describe the interior of Uncle Brent's car. How does it feel? Smell? Is she cold in too-light clothes? I LOVE the mom's apathy, btw. It rings really true.

    Good work and good luck polishing.

  3. Very chilling and emotional. Agree that the first bit maybe isn't necessary, but I don't mind it either. The emotion throughout feels very authentic, which is hard to do. Fantastic entry!

  4. From the top!

    Genre: Yup!

    Pitch: This is SO TIGHT, I adore it. My only suggestion is drop Ezra's name and put in Eleanor's age because I can't leave well enough alone!

    Text: This writing style isn't going to be my strong point so I'll defer to the other commenters. However, I love it and am practically no use to you here.

    I'm sorry, I tried really hard to find some things to push you stronger, but I just can't do it. I regret having failed you. Congrats on a lovely piece!

    Best of luck!

    -Lana (@muliebris)

  5. It works for me too. I don't particularly love the first section with the Head Doctor, although I do love the dialogue. I think it's because there's too many sentences in a section that start with And But or So. I'm all for adding to the voice, but it kind of trips me up. I suggest ditching one or two. But I really like this.

  6. Oh, Nicole… I read this pitch before noticing it was yours and thought, "day-um." This is coming together really well. Nicely done :)

    My two cents about the opening part. I really like it--it makes the form of the book transparent for the reader without being gimmicky. I'm not looking at it as a separate part, but rather the first entry we get to see in her journal…right? One quick thing you could try to clarify this would be to make a couple more entry headings non-date-specific, so that "The Head Doctor" just feels like one of many. Does that make sense?

    A small thing: "don't want nowhere near" -- I'm guessing this is to catch the voice of the mother? Or is it hers? I think it's the only moment like this so far so it jumps out a little.

    Unfortunately this is a subject I'm fairly close to and I think you're handling it really well. I kind of can't stand it when writers make suicide this sexy, epic, mysterious grand gesture. I'm not getting that at all from this, which I appreciate. And I'm totally feeling that weird, quiet numbness that comes for the people left behind. It rings very true. Anyway... another cheerful book by Nicole! haha. Excited to see more.


  7. Hey Nicole!

    Contemporary FOR THE WIN. What’s with all you secret friends Contemporary writers with dang strong entries who don’t have Twitter?? (unless you do…?) If you’re not on Twitter, you should be so I can keep updated on your lovely writing :)

    (Maybe I like this so much because my entry also features a dead brother…hmmmm)

    Things I love:

    1) Please don’t change “Shut up”. It was my favorite line. I read that part out loud to my husband over breakfast because I thought it was powerful. That’s how much I like it :}

    2) Details. Descriptions. Gosh dang. I love the specificity of details like the Who’s Your Rocker Soulmate quiz, and a Memorial Day barbeque.

    3) Dialogue. I love how minimalist and sarcastic it is. Like she doesn’t want to talk, but she does anyway. I am feeling the feels just based on how little she’s writing.

    Things to think about while revising:

    1) I’m not sure it’s a good idea to have a Contemporary YA protagonist named Eleanor after the explosive popularity of Eleanor & Park. Something to consider.

    2) If you end up keeping the “The Head Doctor” introduction, I’d just incorporate it in with the other entries, instead of giving it its own title. I think that would feel more consistent.

    Anyway, I’m loving you’re style, if you can’t tell by my creepily over-invested praise.

    -Molly (@mollycluff)

  8. You have a a very strong pitch. One of the best ones I've ever read. I immediately knew what your story was about.

    Your first 500? Great. Is the whole story told through diary entries? If so, I think that's a wonderfully creative concept. All of your writing was very emotional and grounded, and made me want to know about the circumstances that contributed to her brother's death. Great job!

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  10. Hi - Not sure if we're supposed/allowed to respond, but just to answer Molly's Q, I do have Twitter (not sure why my handle didn't end up on here; I could've sword I put it in my email entry but must've forgotten). Anyway, it's NicElizP. Thanks!

  11. I loved it from start to finish, even the opening passage. If anything you could even switch it so instead of

    So I said, “I already keep a journal.”
    And she asked, “Where do you keep it?”
    And I answered “None of your business.”
    So I guess that’s kind of a theme with me.

    it went

    So I said, “I already keep a journal.”
    “Where do you keep it?” She asked.
    “None of your business.” I answered
    So I guess that’s kind of a theme with me.

    just to break up to so, and, and, so :) But I liked reading that entry because it gives you a hint of her personality right from the get go.

    Loved your pitch as well.
    I wanted to keep reading after the first 500 so I really don't have too much to critique about :)

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  13. Hi Nicole!!

    I'm going to crit your entry thoroughly, but remember that all advice is subjective in the art world and you are more than welcome to burn mine if it's totally opposite of what you think is best for YOUR story! :D

    Your pitch is fantastic.

    Okay, first 500. The format really took me aback, to be entirely honest. Now let me first mention that I don't tend to read much contemporary. Okay, moving on. The format sort of reminded me of The One and Only Ivan, or of Death's interruptions in The Book Thief. That being the case, for both books it just took me a while to get used to the format before settling into the story. It's probably just the same for me.

    Your prose is really beautiful. That said, I wish I could see more of it. I also wish I could see more of your MC's attachment to her brother. Because as far as I can see in this bit, there really isn't much. She ignores him, and I have nothing to go off of as far as their relationship beyond that she has to grieve him afterward. But I want to be able to grieve him with her, and while I empathize I can't connect because I have no attachment to her brother or their relationship whatsoever.

    Anyways, I'm sure that is all explained later anyways :D You obviously have a masterful hand on how you use your words. I just wish I could see more of that showed off, if you will XD

  14. Voice is consistent. Fits the theme. Works. I can't comment too much, it's not my coffee shop.

  15. Your pitch is amazing! Can you please give me lessons? It has everything I need to know and it begs me to go on.

    First 500:
    I like the bit about the head doctor but I would maybe put a date in there if its part of her journal. If its not, then it might need some rewording, just so its clear.

    I love her sarcasm. I get a strong sense of her personality right away and I don't sense that her choice of words is solely related to her brothers death. She is a sarcastic person. Maybe her apathy comes with his death, which is also perfect.
    Question-- "...Mom said she’d never seen before and didn’t want nowhere around her baby’s last goodbye." I read this and think that maybe, either her or her mom (or both) have a lower level of education. Am I reading this right?

    Not a lot to say really. I wish I could offer more, but its fabulous!

  16. PITCH: Ooh, I like your pitch. One small consideration? That last line—I wanted to read it as His choice, but her fault. I think I’m just overthinking things though b/c that’s what we do with a critique contest, right? It’s great!

    First 500: I read through this really quickly. I think because 1) you’re a great writer 2) your protagonist has a GREAT voice and 3) you’re going with an epistolary format here, and those kinds of books ALWAYS intrigue me (matter of fact, my book incorporates writing prompts from my protagonist much the way of a journal). I’ve got nothing to add here that others haven’t already (to address a few minor things). Also, really digging Molly’s comments. She leaves SUCH NICE COMMENTS!!! :)