Friday, June 23, 2017

2017 #YayYA Entry #10: Saving Grace

Karis Rogerson (@KarisRogerson)
YA Contemporary

35-word pitch:

Grace needs to be saved—from herself and the self-loathing that coats her. When a family tragedy sends her spiraling, it takes a new friend and a laugh-filled road trip to show her life’s potential.

First 500:

I’ve stumbled into this porta potty that smells of sewage death in the baking summer heat of Tennessee for one express purpose: to take pill after pill after pill. To wait for my sight to fade and the world to go black. To let my breathing slow, slow, slow, stop.
To die, in short. To erase all mention and memory of myself from this earth. To leave behind the pain and the gaping hole he left in my life.
Crouched in the smelly box, not really trying to avoid the puddles of surely urine and poop, I rifle through the duffel bag, past my phone, lit up with messages from Mason — my heart clenches at the thought of him — and my fingers close around one of Michael’s pill bottles. 
This will do. 
I pull the bottle out and unscrew the cap, shake some pills into my hand.
They are pink and peach and purple. They are chalky and shaped like dinosaurs. They’re a flashback to my childhood — to early mornings crunching on them and wrinkling my nose at their slightly bitter taste.
A laugh, disbelieving and loud, bursts from my lips. It fills and ricochets in the tiny porta potty space and the sound of it, the ridiculousness of it all, overcomes me and I laugh harder. I bend over and clutch my knees with white knuckles as hysterical laughter envelopes me, the reverberations of sound chasing away the darkness.
When I can breathe again, I look at the bottle in my hand. The label tells me it’s a bottle of dinosaur vitamins.
That’s right.
I came here to overdose and was going to kill myself with vitamins for kids, shaped like dinosaurs. Freaking heck.
The hilarity overtakes me again and I’m cracking up some more, sliding down so my butt hovers over the dirty floor and my back is wedged against the side of the box.
And when I’m done laughing, I feel…better. Lighter, as though somehow laughter is a brand of magic that releases all the sorrow and the hurt and suddenly, I think tomorrow will be better. 
I mean, obviously there’s a reason the pill bottle I pulled out was full of vitamins and not real drugs.
Maybe the universe is saying it’s not my time to die yet.
Maybe it’s saying I do get a second chance.
Someone knocks on the door. “Hello?” a female voice calls, and I push myself to my feet.
“Just a second,” I respond. I stuff everything back in the duffel bag, run my fingers through my hair to try and make it semi-presentable, and turn to leave.
It’s time for Grace Hamrit’s life to start over.
I step out of the bathroom and am temporarily blinded by the amount of bedazzle on the shirt in front of me.
"Crap, you're sparkling!" I say, then clamp my mouth shut.


  1. Hey Karis!

    I've been putting a warning on everyone's entries so far that their entries aren't in my genre, but yours is! So I'm very excited!

    The pitch:
    I like the pitch, but the first part isn’t specific enough or deep enough for me. Why does Grace hate herself? Was it an event, or is it a deep-seeded part of her? And, why does she need saving? I get that anyone would need saving from self-loathing, but what are the stakes? What happens if she doesn’t? I can guess, but you should be really upfront with the stakes.

    The words:
    Your first sentence is a great hook, but you start passively. “I stumble into this port-a-potty that smells of sewage death in the baking summer heat of Tennessee for the express purpose of taking pill after pill after pill.”
    Also, why stumble? Stumbling implies something more lighthearted to me, or someone who’s trashed. Is she drunk? She seems pretty single-minded.
    For more impact, shorten the second and third sentences in your first paragraph.
    “The” duffel bag or “my” duffel bag? “The” implies she just found it, or it isn’t her’s. So, if it isn’t her’s, don’t change it, but if it is, it’s a little confusing.
    Your third paragraph is one sentence, and it’s too complex. I had to read it several times and I’m still not convinced it works.
    It’s hard diving into a scene like this with no reference to the character, and it’s hard to worry about what she’s about to do. We don’t really understand why she’s doing it, or even who she is. There’s some good hints – the gaping hole he left in her life, Mason’s messages on the phone – and I’d definitely keep in that vein. You might just reconsider starting where you are. Maybe it’s just a matter of a little earlier, so we get a feel for the character, and therefore a chance to get attached before risking losing her!
    I really like how she laughs at the situation – it’s funny! – but her change of heart is really sudden. It’s not that I don’t think it’s possible – those feelings of suicidality can be surprisingly fleeting – but I think you need to sit in that turnaround longer, really get at the thoughts that made her want to take the pills, then the thoughts that make her think tomorrow will be a better day. It’s a huge jump!

    All that said, I really liked it! I think your writing is good, and you have a good premise. Road trip books are always fun. And I like your title! It’s very appropriate for the genre. I would definitely keep reading this. I like that the beginning is hooky, so I don’t think much has to change. Just enough so we can fear for her.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Averill (#11)

  2. Hi Karis:

    Enjoyed reading your sample - here are my thoughts:

    I actually really like this pitch. NOt sure if "family tragedy" can be further explained in 35 words.

    FIRST 500:
    Let me start with the caveat that I REALLY HATE PORTA-POTTIES. Like A LOT. So the image of her wanting to end her life in a porta potty was really tragic to me.

    You could make the opening sentence more immediate first person to "I stumble into the porta potty that smells of sewage death in the baking summer heat"

    this read oddly: "surely urine and poop"

    Maybe shorten "The label tells me it’s a bottle of dinosaur vitamins." to just "A bottle of dinosaur vitamins."

    "Freaking heck" doesn't seem like something someone trying to commit suicide would say. Esp a teenager.

    I love this phrasing "Lighter, as though somehow laughter is a brand of magic that releases all the sorrow and the hurt and suddenly, I think tomorrow will be better." but you might end it at hurt. It's a big turning around in this space to go from killing yourself in a porta potty to having hope about tomorrow.

    I like the bedazzle image - suggestion for final sentence
    "Crap, you're sparkling!" I say without thinking, clapping my hand to my mouth.

    I really like the double entendre of the title - good stuff here. Good luck in PitchWars!

    Keli (#8)

  3. Hey Karis,

    Thanks for sharing! I like your pitch and I'm impressed that you managed to infuse a suicide attempt with humor in a way that still comes across as touching, not dismissive. Not an easy task, but the dino vitamins were funny!

    Pitch: It's a strong pitch, but the phrase "that coats her" isn't quite working for me. It's a neat visual but it seems to me that self-loathing is more a thing that pervades someone, rather than coats them. You can trim it to "from herself and her self-loathing" which buys you more space for other information in the pitch.

    Words: This is quite an opening image, and I am definitely cringing at the thought of this poor girl potentially dying in a porta-potty. Yuck. It definitely leaves me with questions, especially "why there?" which I assume gets answered in the pages that follow? I'd like more hints about why she is so distraught. A broken heart sucks, granted, but I have to imagine there's more going on than just a breakup to make her try to commit suicide, especially in such an awful location.

    It's a memorable start to a story! Nice work!

    -Emily #15

  4. Hi Karis!

    I love this pitch (partly because I love road trip stories!), but I'd definitely love to see some more specificity regarding the stakes and conflict. As Emily suggested, trimming the first sentence could give you some room to do that.

    FIRST 500:
    This is a great opening! You've taken a serious issue and made us laugh about it without being insensitive or reducing its gravity. And that's not easy to do, so well done!

    I like that it takes so little to push her away from suicide. That's often the way, as many people who try to end their lives have only put one foot over the fine line between wanting to die and deciding to live. However, as others have said, I think the sudden "I think tomorrow will be better" makes the turnaround seem too quick. Cutting out those lines that reference her changed state of mind, in my opinion, would make the opening stronger. Often, we act on a new perspective before we realise we have it, so showing us she's starting over without her openly saying she's doing so would be great and even more realistic.

    I also agree with what Averill said about having little reference to the character. Given that she's having a change of heart so early in the story, I'd love to get a few more inklings as to who she is and why she's making this decision so I can really empathise with Grace immediately.

    Other than that, I think this is a really good opening. Great mix of action and interiority!

  5. Hi Karis! Thanks for sharing SAVING GRACE with us! I’m a huge fan of the road trip story, especially in YA where there are so many fun situations to put the characters in.

    I like the content of the pitch and think it highlights well the character and the stakes. However, I think some elements could be worded more strongly to have the most impact. For example, the sentence “Grace needs to be saved” is passive voice. Rewording that into an active sentence gives more emphasis. What’s the tragedy that sends her spiraling? Tragedy could mean death or divorce, getting more specific lets agents and editors know what they’re getting into. Other places to get more specific ae the phrase “new friend” and “laugh-filled road trip.” Who is this friend and where are the two going?

    I love the imagery in the first line of Grace crouching in the porta-potty. It really throws us into the moment. I think the “To” structure gets repetitive and the fragments start to feel like a run-on. Cutting them down would make the ones you keep more significant.
    The sentences in the paragraph that begins “They are pink and peach and purple” could be combined into one or two flowing sentences so it feels a little less choppy. I also think you can delete the phrase “disbelieving and loud” in the next paragraph since burst already implies that.

    I agree with what was said earlier that Grace’s reaction to the drug mix-up is hard to believe. It’s hard ot believe someone this deep into suicidal thoughts would feel better from something so minor. In fact, it’s probably more realistic she’s angry or upset or numb at having the universe foil her plan like that. I think really digging into her reaction here and making it more complex and layered could really go a long way. Also, why is there a scene break when the next moment happens directly after?

    Overall, good start on a powerful topic! Best of luck with Pitch Wars! :D

    -Rosie (#12)

  6. Hello!! Thank you so much for entering #YayYA!! :D

    Pitch: I think this needs some cleaning up and stronger stakes. I'd maybe mention the trigger (family tragedy) first, and then the fact she needs saving. I love the idea of road trip stories, but maybe if possible give us a little more details? I know it's really hard to do in 35 words, but you can do it!

    First 500: To be completely honest, Grace comes off as a little crazy. I have friends who went through suicidal instances and none of them were laughing. They were terrified and miserable. So this opening scene, while evocative and impactful, just seems awfully off to me without more context. Even just a sentence or two could give us more of Grace's emotional reasons beyond the break up to commit suicide. I'm trying to be careful because I don't know if this scene is based on your own or a friend's personal experience, but I would consider either consulting someone who's been in this place on what it's like, or maybe explaining why Grace is acting the way she is.

    That said, this is the kind of scene that people will remember. It's unique and unusual, and will definitely prick people's curiosity when reading these first paragraphs.

  7. Hi Karis,

    Pitch: At first when I read the first line in your pitch, I thought that you might need to cut it down. But after reading your first 500, I had the impression that it was meant to be more tongue in cheek, in that it's not meant to be taken at face value. But, I could be completely off on this. I think if you're going for the humor, you need to be clearer about your intentions.

    All that aside, you still need to show what's at stake for Grace.

    Word: I must admit I laughed along with Grace. Choosing a porta potty for a suicide automatically clued me into something that wasn't the usual "I'm going to kill myself" kind of scene. Suicide is serious, so anyone choosing to end their life in such conditions has to be a kooky kind of character. Of course there is the metaphor the porta potty brings to mind, "life is shitty".

    Of course, I could be all wrong in your intentions, but this is what this reader surmised.

    Also, there are two mentions of names in one sentence, Mason and Michael. It made me stop reading. Perhaps, clue the reader who is who.

    I would like to see a deeper response when Grace says she feels...better. How better? Has the gaping hole been filled? Does she Mason's words differently. Or is a temporary fix? How does her body feel? Does she now realized how yucky the floor is? The sentiment about feeling lighter is wonderful, but it's telling me how she's feeling from a distance. To make the laughter fulfill its purpose, you must give a bigger bang at the end.

    Overall, I was very impressed by your originality by not taking the tried and true route. Good job!!

  8. Pitch:
    Love the first sentence. The use of self-loathing is very relevant to teens and many could probably relate to it. The second sentence however, makes me feel like you have already told me that she makes it through it all and has a good life. It’s like there is not mystery of whether or not she’ll pull herself out of the effects of the family tragedy.

    500 words:
    I really like your opening. You show your MC’s despair so well. It’s almost as if you can feel her pain. I mean, she must be at a very low point to not only want to kill herself but to venture into a smelly porta potty to make it happen. So I like the opening. However, she seems to make quite the quick turnaround on life simply because vitamins were in the bottle instead of pills. I understand her laughter and the absurdity of it all. Her attempt to die has failed so miserably that it is laughable. I don’t quite see someone in that situation (ready to die, to kill themselves) so quickly chalking it up to a sign that it’s not her time to go and then brushing herself off and exiting the porta potty to start a brand new life. It just doesn’t seem entirely realistic to me. Like she’s a bit too chipper when only moments ago she was ready to legitimately kill herself.

    I do think you write very well. Your ideas and words flow smoothly and you make me want to keep reading. I am curious to know more about what has fully pushed her to this point in her life so I would definitely keep reading to find out.

    Jackie (#5)

  9. Hey, Karis. First of all, I'm not at all good at line editing and critiquing so I'm refraining myself from line critiquing. My feedback will be on the overall excerpt.

    Starts off with passive voice. Red alert, cause agents hate them. Also, the pitch has me thinking "Did the tragedy happen to Grace before her depression or the depression started from the tragedy?" Also, family tragedy is vague, so maybe hint at what the tragedy was if it isn't too long.

    500 words:
    I cannot relate to Grace at all. If she can laugh off her failed attempts of suicide due to minor hilarious situations, it isn't the right portrayal. Whenever a person attempting suicide is thwarted from their efforts, they don't take it as a sign from the universe that they should live or that it's funny. Rather they become more depressed, thinking even at killing themselves they fail and suck (this thought haunts mostly those who thinks of themselves as losers and thus worthless to live). She should be more slumped, depressed, angry, upset, crying. She's instead laughing. Depression is a long rooted leech. It doesn't go away just like that. I've been depressed severely, twice, and it took me months to get over it, and only because I found my passion in writing. Depression takes a long time to heal and dispel. Depressed people who're contemplating suicide don't just give up on their attempts. And since Grace learns that life is worth living, this reaction of hers is out of the place and too early.

    Anyway, the story has promises. Road trip stories are often about just fun. Using it to help a depressed person is very touching.

    Best of luck in PitchWars.

  10. Hi Karis,

    Pitch: I think you could probably ditch the first line and expand the second one to include the appropriate stakes. Something like: When a family tragedy sends x-year-old Grace spiraling, it takes a failed suicide attempt and a new friend ...

    500 words:
    Like some of the other commenters, I'm struggling, not because of your writing, but because of the content. To be clear, your writing is fabulous for contemporary YA, IMO – it's voic-y and tight, and aside from a few nitpicks, there's not much I'd address there. Rather, it's how realistic the situation is and whether it is relatable to readers. (And I'm speaking from a perspective that is decades away from a teenager, and very thankfully has never been touched by suicide, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.) Perhaps this is regional, but where I live, there are only porta potties where there's new construction or there's some kind of festival. So as I was reading I was wondering where she could've been to stumble onto a porta potty. If she was at a festival there would be all kinds of noise and lines and people yelling if she took too long, but if she went to one at a construction site, what were the chances anyone would have needed to use it after her? That's probably something to address early, as I'd think other readers would be wondering the same thing. And then there's the suicide attempt itself, which I want to be cautious about because this is not an experience I'm familiar with, but a nasty, hot porta potty is the absolute last place I would go. I would want to be somewhere nice and quiet. I wonder if perhaps there is some mental illness deeper in the story that isn't addressed in the pitch or the first two pages. The setting is both tragic and hilarious, but I'm worried it may put off certain readers who may find suicide laughed off in these pages.

    The story seems like it will be a lot of fun and your writing is very engaging. Good job!

    Julie (#3)