Logline: In THE BURNOUT GIRLS, 14-year-old Mary Whalen teams up with her best friend Anne to find the real-life Oakland County Killer as their quest takes them through the dangerous streets of Detroit, battles with rich kids, and a new threat no one would suspect.
The Burnout Girls is a 90,000-word, upmarket novel inspired by the real-life Oakland County Killer of the 1970s, in which 14-year-old Mary Whalen sets out to solve the murder of her grade-school classmate Jill Robinson.
Mary wants to escape the grief of her father’s death and her mother’s new marriage by solving the mystery that has always haunted her. When her friend Anne suggests they do it together, their quest takes them to dangerous city streets, and surrounding suburbs, where they soon learn there are many more exploitations going on than just one serial killer. When Anne, who is bi-racial, insults a local rich white boy, he vows revenge. Mary and Anne must team up to conquer their biggest threat, not from the serial killer, but from the one guy people least suspect.
The Burnout Girls is The Girls meets Ordinary Grace and reflects our sexual-predator culture, where girls are “meat” according to Anne’s mom. The novel captures the moody 1979-1980 post-riot period of Detroit, steeped in class, gender, and race conflicts that continue to fester in our current public consciousness. The book has been praised by Pam Houston, who has offered to contribute a blurb when the book is published.
My traditionally published short-story collection, The Patron Saint of Lost Girls, won the Nilsen Prize, the Foreword Review INDIE Prize (General Fiction, Gold Winner) and was listed as one of the top Kirkus Indie books of 2019. The collection received a Kirkus Star and a Foreword Star. My writing has received numerous grants and awards, including Ireland’s Fish Short Story Prize. My short stories and journalism pieces have been published in numerous journals, including Prairie Schooner, and the international anthology, The Bering Strait and Other Stories. My co-written short screenplay “Squeak” was an official selection in four film festivals and won Best Dark Comedy at the Reno Film Festival. I grew up in Detroit and teach writing at the University of Minnesota.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.
1. Story Statement
When friends 14-year-old bookworm Mary Whalen and 15-year-old Anne set on a quest to find a serial killer who murdered their grade school classmate, they discover the rampant exploitation of girls, including a perpetrator who wants to destroy them.
2. Antagonist Sketch
Tim, the 15-year-old golfer preppie, is a great stalker, because no one believes it. He flaunts his money and fuels his anger with drinking and parties. Tim has everything anyone would ever want, so why go after two girls who are beneath him in breading, cash, and power.
When Mary and Anne snub Tim, they ignore the socioeconomic and racial expectations that keep a kid like Tim in power. Anne, who is bi-racial, calls him boring, and refuses to answer his calls.
Tim’s revenge starts slowly, with phone calls at all hours, but soon, it builds into escalating predator actions. Soon, they recognize Tim as the more socially acceptable version of the serial killer they seek. Tim does massive damage before the girls know they need to take him down.
3. Breakout Title - Genre: Literary Fiction
The Burnout Girls
The Six Mile Stalker
The Girls of Detroit
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger - The death of Bobby Cole disrupts a small Minnesota town and especially impacts the narrator, Frank Drum, who with a friend tries to get to the heart of what happened.
The Girls by Emma Cline - Evie, a 14-year-old girl, gets involved with a cult commune and must confront the reality of this group to extricate herself. As in my novel, girls are often seen as easy marks for older men looking to achieve power.
White Oleander by Janet Fitch – The story of Astrid, who is pushed into foster care after her mother’s incarceration, is similar to my book in its deep connection to place, and its story of an at-risk girl forced into adulthood.
Them by Joyce Carol Oates – praised by The Nation for her “potent, life-gripping imagination,” Joyce Carol Oates tells the story of a young dreamer in Detroit, whose children, Maureen and Jules, must face the turbulent, violent streets of Detroit. This novel reflects my own focus on post-riot Detroit, and how children cope with its dangers and class/race conflicts.
Carrie by Stephen King – King’s classic book acts as a blueprint for Anne and Mary, who want to get even with the golf-addicted exploiter, Tim.
If Mary wants to let go of her father’s death, she needs to smoke a lot of weed, chase guys, and find the Oakland County Killer, who murdered their former classmate. At least, that’s what her 15-year-old friend Anne thinks: live in the moment and fear nothing.
But dreams of wild nights and freedom are quickly derailed when Anne, who is biracial, insults a rich white boy. When he attacks Anne, Anne and Mary get even, but soon learn revenge only fuels the fire of hatred. Instead, they must risk their own lives to confront the evil that is too close to home.
6. Inner Conflict and Secondary/Social Conflict
Inner Conflict 1: Mary’s profound loss of her father drives her into a personal despair, even as she starts high school. Her mother has moved on with a new husband and a new baby. She reacts by reading absurdist authors, wearing all black clothes, and tooling past abandoned buildings with her friend Anne.
But when her best friend gets in trouble, Mary musters the strength to work alongside her to fight of this predator. That action will help Mary uncover her inner strength and resolve
Secondary (Social) Conflict: In trying to find the Oakland County Killer puts Mary and Anne in harms way at a gas station, a golf course, and more than one party. They take risks to uncover who might have killed a string of children. But in looking for “who” they discover how the pervasive exploitation of girls is not just a serial killer problem. It’s pervasive in the urban streets of Detroit and its richest suburbs.
The setting is 1979-1980, post-riot Detroit. Mary and Anne are in a Nova, driving underage through the hot summer night in the city, rumbled down 6 Mile, past the gas station with the bulletproof windows, the corner store where the riot fencing wrapped around storefronts like fishnets. Here pedestrians carrying plastic bags, the glint of cigarette butts striking red on the inhale against the darkness.
The system had wronged Mary and Anne, just as it had wronged everyone in our view, the gas station managers, the corner store owners, and the rib shack vendors. They had moved into the shells of storefronts abandoned by post-riot malaise. People had hand-painted signs above their doors, and sat behind counters, with nervous, hopeful eyes, believing that time and need was on their side.
A guy on the street says, “You wanna suck my dick, bitch?” in the middle of the day, like he was saying good morning. In doing this he had stolen something, some energy or power. Even people in the suburbs were murdered. Jill Robinson went to grade school with Mary and Anne, then she moved to Royal Oak, then she was killed by The Oakland County Killer. No adult could find the guy. So now, it’s up to Mary and Anne to uncover the truth.