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  1. #1
    Senior Member Cheryl Morton's Avatar
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    Escaping the Water's Edge - Take Two

    I've revisited my query letter with some of the suggestions I received after posting my first. Here is my second draft. All critique is welcome.

    Dear *****,

    I am of the opinion that what we believe is of far less importance than having the freedom to choose those beliefs for ourselves. This 85,000-word memoir, Escaping the Water’s Edge, details my personal battle for intellectual freedom.

    I was raised in a very conservative Jehovah’s Witness family with an apocalyptic worldview. As a child, I didn’t anticipate going to school, driving a car, graduating, dating, going to college, getting married, or having children as most people do. For me, obedience to my parents and religion were all that mattered. I engaged in regular door-to-door preaching, rejected social customs like birthdays and holidays, and was willing to sacrifice my life rather than consent to a blood transfusion if needed. As a young woman, I embraced my submissive role within the male-dominated organization, even wearing a head-covering to show my respect for their authority.

    As a young adult, I began to question my entire foundation of truth. Questions led to doubts, and my doubts led to the realization that I stood to lose everything that was important to me. I faced the most difficult choice of my life: maintain a relationship with the family I loved or sacrifice it all for the freedom to be authentic and intellectually honest. This is my story of how I escaped the manacles of a high-control religion to find my own way in life. Thank you for your consideration.

    Cheryl Morton



  2. #2
    Senior Member Diane Theron's Avatar
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    Hi Cheryl,

    I am intrigued to see how your life evolved but some things do not ring real for me and not sure that I would include them in the query.
    Please note that I am simply a fellow writer trying to make it in the same world so this is my 5c and you are welcome to discard it, my intention is to help if I can and not to break your spirit.

    For example,
    1. Your first sentence is not a shocking opinion - it is actually pretty run-of-the-mill.
    2. Do Jehovah Witness family not educate their children? I would assume at the very least that they are home schooled if public schooling is unacceptable.
    3. Getting married, having children - is not a norm for JW? If that was true then surely there would be no JW left!
    4. Also, I was not moved by the head cover, as many religions don hats or covers as part of their worship and I am not sure that it conveys what you are hoping to.
    5. "As a child" - most children do not think past their school week or vacation - I certainly did not anticipate my future until I was in high school.
    6. Most teenagers/ young adults question their background: religion/ culture/ values which is why rebellion is so common. (enter experimentation with sex, drugs, drinking, piercings, testing boundaries etc) It is simply a stage in life that kids start to think for themselves and question things that they had taken for granted their entire childhood.
    7. Was there a catalyst or was it simply you growing up that caused the discontent?

    That being said, from your other postings I know that your life changed dramatically and possibly you feel betrayed and want to gain vindication by proving the fallacy of the religion. But (IMO) you are not portraying that here. The only emotion that I could feel was your resentment seeping through and for this reason I do not think that this query will be successful.

    I would change a couple of things in this vein:

    I faced the devastating loss of my beloved family - the price to escape the manacles of a high-control religion and gain my intellectual freedom.

    As a child, I was raised in a very conservative Jehovah’s Witness family with an apocalyptic worldview. As a teenager, I didn’t anticipate driving a car, dating and going to college. Instead, I engaged in regular door-to-door preaching; rejected social traditions and was willing to sacrifice my life rather than consent to a blood transfusion if needed. Obedience to my parents and religion were all that mattered. As a young adult, I began to question my entire foundation of truth and found it wanting.

    Escaping The Water’s Edge, is a 85,000-word memoir. Thank you for your consideration.

    Again, just my 5c, I applaud your courage and wish you luck!

  3. #3
    Senior Member C Bets's Avatar
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    This sortof reminded me of "Escape" a memoir by Carolyn Jessop, the wife of a polygamist before she was able to leave the compound. Yet, unlike her story, I get no indication from your query letter that, as Diane said, you are leaving for reasons other than a strong belief that the life you were raised in is no longer for you. Is there more to it than that? If so, I believe you need to bring that to the surface in order to get an agent's attention. There doesn't seem to be any real conflict in this story that would make it particularly interesting.

    That said, I'm sure there IS more to your ordeal than you're letting on. If so, you need to find a way to incorporate it into your QL and insure those agents are begging for more. Think about it - see what pops into your head.

    I also applaud your decision to find your own truth and be happy. My best wishes to you.

    Cindy

  4. #4
    Senior Member Cheryl Morton's Avatar
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    Diane and Cindy,

    Thank you both for those critiques. It's very helpful to know how my writing comes off to others who are detached from the situation, unbiased. Since I posted this query, I've received a lot of helpful criticism on my MS. I bought a few books last week. I'm currently working my way through a writing skills workbook to refresh my understanding of grammar and punctuation. A lot of times I make the grammatically correct choices in writing just because they look right, but I don't understand the underlying rules or why I'm writing the way I do. So I'm reworking my foundation. I'm hoping that if I understand my writing tools a bit better, I'll make more efficient use of them.

    I've also ordered a couple memoirs to read. This is my greatest weakness in writing. I've never read a memoir, and I've read so few novels. I need to take a look at how successful memoirs are crafted. When I posted this query letter for critique, I thought my MS was solid enough to entice an agent. After receiving a lot of the critique that I have, I believe it's merely another draft. It's a good, solid start, but it still needs a lot of work. And that's on hold until I feel sufficiently ready to make the improvements that are needed.

    To answer your questions, Diane, yes JW's do those things, but they don't anticipate doing them. You said: "As a child" - most children do not think past their school week or vacation - I certainly did not anticipate my future until I was in high school.

    That's one of the points I attempt to make in the book; JW children do not think like most western children. How many five-year-olds are out preaching to adults that the end of the world is coming? For the most part, they are cut off from contact with non-JW family. They are raised with a sense of intellectual and moral elitism, and they are also convinced that the end of the world is coming at any moment. When you alone know the truth, you and your group, and you're immersed in that environment every day, and when you're constantly out warning people that they are going to die soon if they don't join your group, even at a very early age you're thinking well beyond the scope of school and vacations.

    I know that many teenagers do rebel against religion and authority. I had some friends who did. With JW's, the penalty for that rebellion is more significant, because the religion requires its members to shun those who rebel. One experience mentioned in the memoir is of my best friend who decided to leave the religion as a teenager. Her family kicked her out of the house and cut off contact with her. I refused to speak to her as well. A few years later, she showed up at her brother's funeral. Everyone comforted her parents and siblings, but completely ignored her. I hated her for being there. I thought her tears were fake. She left alone, not because she was a bad person or didn't care about her family, but because we no longer accepted her as part of our group.

    I didn't rebel. I assimilated. I shunned my friends who rebelled. It wasn't until I was an adult, married and very happy within the religion, that I began to question my foundation for truth.

    Diane said: That being said, from your other postings I know that your life changed dramatically and possibly you feel betrayed and want to gain vindication by proving the fallacy of the religion. But (IMO) you are not portraying that here. The only emotion that I could feel was your resentment seeping through and for this reason I do not think that this query will be successful.

    Hmm. That's good to know. Vindication is definitely not my intent with this book, nor is resentment. It's written from an experiential point of view, not with the desire to prove or disprove the validity of anyone's doctrinal belief. I discuss doctrine very little in it. The main thing I'm trying to convey is the psychological dangers associated with sacrificing your independent thinking and judgment for the group. For example, my parents, who were not raised JW's, were willing to allow my infant sister to die rather than consent to a blood transfusion just 2 months after they began studying the religion. My mother, who was a very loving and affectionate mother, looked me in the eye and told me that I was dead to her, and when I said goodbye to my brother, I knew I was speaking to him for the last time.

    This goes beyond rebellion and betrayal in my mind. Kids rebel every day. Parents get upset when their children don't choose the path in life that they want for them. But how many families, families that are extremely close, abandon a child completely for choosing a different course in life? How many nurturing parents will let an infant die because their religion tells them to? No matter how devout you might be, that's not normal within mainstream religion. There is a contradictory nature assumed by devout adherents of high control religions.

    It wasn't anger that motivated me to write this book. On the contrary, my biggest deterrent in even attempting to publish this book has been concern that it will devastate my family. Even though I haven't had a relationship with them in nearly a decade, I don't want to hurt them. I don't think they've acted maliciously; they've simply done what they've been instructed to do. Without question.

    In the book, I express my thoughts on why people choose this course in life. I don't believe that their choices are evil or malicious or even wrong in any absolute sense, but in many instances they are harmful to their families, to the children. Freedom of religion is an important value in our society, but there are too many children who grow up never realizing they have that freedom.

    Cindy said: I get no indication from your query letter that, as Diane said, you are leaving for reasons other than a strong belief that the life you were raised in is no longer for you.

    Yes, I see what you mean, Cindy. For me there was no major catalyst. It wasn't teenage rebellion or another man or any other emotional reason that caused me to leave. It was an intellectual journey out. The conflict was largely internal. For a child who is immersed in an elitist, apocalyptic mindset, it's very difficult for them to even realize that they are capable of thinking differently. For those who do realize other possibilities, fear often keeps them from pursuing them - fear of the End, fear of being disowned by their family. For someone who is taught throughout life that independent thinking is dangerous, who is taught only to trust the leaders of her religion, reaching the point where she will allow herself to question, and then making the decision to break free, is very difficult. Most people's beliefs don't change this drastically during life even if they do rebel when they're young. And most people don't have to give up everything to allow their beliefs to change. My goal, if I can write this memoir well enough, is to take the reader through that mental transformation, and through the psychological trauma that occurs with those realizations. If I've written the ending the way I hope, it's not one of anger and vindication, but one of acceptance and advocacy.

    Again, I really appreciate the feedback. Most of this was just FYI in response to your questions. It's not meant to be argumentative or anything. When I get back to the query letter, I'll definitely take your thoughts into consideration.

    Cheryl

  5. #5
    Senior Member Diane Theron's Avatar
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    Well for sure you have a story to tell!

    I would encourage you to read as much as you can - you will see the different styles and you will also see what makes a book readable and unacceptable to you. Just one thing - how would the JW feel about you publishing this book.. do you foresee any legal issues?

  6. #6
    Senior Member Cheryl Morton's Avatar
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    Thank you, Diane.

    The JW's already see me as the most evil of the evil. Anyone who leaves and then speaks out against the organization in any way is labeled an apostate. An apostate is a servant of Satan. They believe I have committed an unforgiveable sin. My parents aren't even allowed to pray for me. I'm completely dead to them, all of them.

    If I publish a book like this it will reaffirm everything they already believe about me. I'm not worried about that, and if I write it from a purely experiential point of view, especially if I don't use actual names, I'm hoping there won't be any legal repercussions, although I'm not sure of that. My biggest concern is that my parents are getting old, and neither are in good health. I know that they have both gone through some major depression since I left their religion. I want their final decades to be as happy as possible. I don't want to reopen old wounds for them. However, I've told my story to many who are trying to break free from the religion, and it has helped them greatly. I think that there are other people who would benefit from it, both those who have walked in my shoes and those who are thinking about joining a high control religion or trying to keep someone out.

    I don't know. I've vacillated for years over whether or not to try to publish. I'm still not entirely decided, but lean toward wanting to if I can.

    Cheryl

  7. #7
    Senior Member C Bets's Avatar
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    By the way, I really like the title. Again, my best wishes to you -- you have a really good base to work with and I'm confident your final draft will be very well done! Just keep plugging away.

    Cindy

  8. #8
    Belinda T.
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    You'll need to add some raw emotions. What was the pivotal moment when you first realized you could escape? Try to recall the details and incorporate them in your story. Did something happen to you physically? I need action/drama/conflict...

  9. #9
    Senior Member Cheryl Morton's Avatar
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    Thank you, Cindy.

    *******,

    The manuscript includes a lot of raw emotions. There were several pivotal moments with a lot of traumatic realizations in between, and I didn't think in terms of "escape" until I was ready to leave. I hesitate to post too much right now, because I know that the writing needs a lot of work. I'll post one short piece to give an example of what I think of as raw emotion and conflict. As always, critique is welcome.

    From chapter 26:

    The escalating deception between us only heightened my guilt and isolation. I struggled to get out of bed each day, but I couldn't sleep at night. I spent hours in bed thinking and wondering. I didn’t know how to make sense of things. My own belief in the existence of a god began to vacillate. At times I knew that there was a god and that Jehovah’s Witnesses had the truth, and at other times my doubts were so strong I was sure I was merely deluding myself.

    I was driving down a quiet country road alone one sunny afternoon looking at the beautiful green trees in full bloom against the backdrop of the bright blue summer sky. 'How could all of this exist without a god?' I thought. 'There has to be a god.’

    “There has to be a god," I said. "There has to be. Where are you? I need to know that you exist. Show yourself to me! Stop hiding in the shadows. Please, God, give me something. Make me know that you are real. You know my heart. You know my mind. You know my doubts. Please don’t let them consume me. You can stop them. Let me see you! Somehow, please, let me know that you are there.”

    When I arrived home, I ran upstairs to take a shower. I was so angry with myself, so ashamed. My family had warned me for years that entertaining doubts could result in a loss of faith. That’s why I had been forbidden from reading such things, from questioning, from thinking independently. What god would want to hear my prayers now?

    Sitting in the floor of the tub, water poured over my head and ran down my face, diluting the tears that ruptured from my eyes. “Please, God, please help me.” My hands were trembling and my body was shaking. “I need your help. I need you to guide me. I don’t know what is real and true anymore. I’ve lost my way. Please show me your path. Please, God, help me. I need your help.”

    I had never prayed like that before. I wasn’t simply asking God to help me pass a test or thanking him for the meal I was about to eat. I was beseeching him for guidance in life, some sort of direction. I was drowning. It was my last hope. I could feel my faith's anemic frame drawing its final breath, but I was clinging to it with everything I had. Logical reasons for belief in God were dismounting and deconstructing, but the desire to believe was stronger than ever. My life, my family, and everything that was familiar to me depended on it. I hoped for an answer to my prayer.



    Feel free to let me know how this comes off. I feel like it's very honest, and I don't believe that I am holding back emotionally. I do think that my writing style is too simple though. That may be because I'm used to reading so much nonfiction, so I tend to be matter-of-fact (which is fine if you're reading about the chemical composition of Titan's atmosphere, but not so much with a memoir). I want readers to emotionally connect to this though, so I'm open to suggestions on how to improve my prose.

    Thanks,

    Cheryl

  10. #10
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    Cheryl said, "I was driving down a quiet country road alone one sunny afternoon looking at the beautiful green trees in full bloom against the backdrop of the bright blue summer sky. 'How could all of this exist without a god?' I thought. There has to be a god.’

    “There has to be a god,
    " I said. "There has to be. Where are you?"

    Seems to me one of those sentences should be zapped. No need to repeat it.

    I guess later on "God" finally gave you the answer you were looking for. I know for sure "God" or whatever worked through my precious kitten Orange Peel to give me an answer. I was open to accepting it -- however it came out.

    *_*

    P.S. I'd zap the first one.
    Last edited by Kitty Foyle; 06-16-2011 at 04:06 PM.

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