Help with Article
April 2, 2008 3:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm a freelance writer and I am trying to find instances related to the letter of inquiry below I sent to a Virginia magazine. This is a real-life situation of an acquaintence in the state of Utah. I'm looking for contacts, primary sources and attributable anecdotes. I've left calls with appropriate offices and have received no response. Meanwhile, my deadline is looming. Any help would be appreciated.

Dear Publication:

Real-life mother and daughter Cora and Jayne have issues. Jayne, who turned sixteen in October, has a six month old, meaning Jayne got pregnant at fourteen. Cora, as a single, full-time mother, has tried to raise her daughter right. But in the heat of adolescence, Jayne now defies her mother in every way she can think of, to include issues of chastity.

Cora couldn’t control Jayne's behavior before her pregnancy. But it seemed after the baby was born, my state government made that control even more difficult to assume. As the mother, Jayne has authority over her baby. But since she herself is still a minor, the courts in my state say that Cora was ultimately responsible for the infant. So the mother's dilemma is she can't control her daughter, she has no rights over her granddaughter, but in the eyes of the law, she is ultimately responsible for them both.

In fact, during an incident when Cora and Jayne got into a shouting match, the daughter called the police who told the mother that she was in danger of being arrested for abuse to both daughter and granddaughter.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 750,000 females between 15 and 19 become pregnant each year with 57% of them eventually giving birth. And the U.S. Census Bureau says that in 1970, 2.2 million or 3.2 percent of American children lived in a household maintained by a grandparent. By 1997, this number had risen to 3.9 million or 5.5 percent, representing a 76 percent increase over the 27 year period. The number of grandchildren living in households maintained by grandparents with just their mothers present increased by 118 percent from 1970 to 1997.

This in itself can cause enormous strain on older parents who were preparing for retirement and probably thought their child-rearing years were over. But how to deal with confusing and contradictory state laws that seem to undermine parental authority in the midst of trying to deal with it all? I’d like to write a story about that for your publication. Are grandparents in your state who care for grandchildren while trying to manage their own minor children supported or hindered by the state? And how do issues of authority, autonomy and responsibility, as seen through the eyes of the state, affect those turbulent families?

I’m a freelance writer who has written for commercial, non-profit and governmental publications for many years. If you would like to see my work, please visit my website. Thank you for your consideration.

posted by CollectiveMind to Law & Government (7 answers total)
Sorry if this isn't answering your question, but it strikes me that your letter doesn't have a very strong "ask." From the first 3/4, I would assume that you are soliciting money for some sort of PAC or charitable organization -- flip your letter.
posted by desuetude at 4:04 PM on April 2, 2008

You say you have a deadline. Does this mean the publication is interested in your proposed article? If you are expected to submit an article, then, you need to contact local churches, women's shelters, non-profit aid groups, government communications shops, high school counselors. Probably a day of cold-calling should get you the sources. There also may be Yahoo groups and forums devoted to the subject.

In the future, you might want to revise your letter of inquiry. You need to tighten up the writing, and limit it to three or four paragraphs. The first paragraph should be taken right from the article itself; second paragraph provides context; third paragraph outlines your proposal and what article will look like; fourth paragraph describes your expertise and a promise to follow-up. Total: 350 words.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:24 PM on April 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've read this several times and I'm still not clear on what you're proposing to the publications you're soliciting, or what your question for AskMeFi is.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:58 PM on April 2, 2008

You might try the state CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates, I think). They might have leads on families in that situation who would be willing to talk with you.
posted by PatoPata at 7:35 PM on April 2, 2008

Jayne got pregnant at fourteen... Jayne now defies her mother in every way she can think of, to include issues of chastity.

This is excessively nit-picky, but isn't her chastity-defiance already clear from her teenage pregnancy? Certainly, it's not a surprising enough defiance to be used as the "big reveal" in the final clause of the sentence.

Not sure what you're looking for, either... Advice on the letter? Or are you looking for us to find you other teenage mothers? It sounds like you've already started the article, but just included the letter here rather than take the effort to retype what your article is about.
posted by prophetsearcher at 11:19 PM on April 2, 2008

I've left calls with appropriate offices and have received no response.

I'm a reporter. My desktop background shows a big phone. This reminds me that when I've "left calls" with "appropriate offices" and nobody's responding, I should pick up the phone again to make more calls. And then, make some more calls. And if you find someone willing to help you, ask them to make some calls for you as well. If someone says they'll "ask around", call them the day after to ask if they already found something.

Also, I agree with above posters that your letter is a bit confusing and needs tightening up. You can tease your readers if you want, but editors are busy people: I would get to the point in the first paragraph.

"Mothers of teenage mothers are in a terrible bind: they are legally responsible for their child and grandchild, but by law they cannot exercise any authority over their children or grandchildren anymore.

Cora XXX is 56 years old, mother of Jayne (16) and grandmother of XXX. Since Jayne gave birth, the situation in the home has deteriorated. In one incident, Jayne called the police to file a complaint against Cora (blablabla)....

Through actual cases like Cora's and Jayne's and with the expertise of legal professionals and child protection services workers, I want to tell the story of blablabla"

(forgive the trite wording, English is not my first language)

Good luck with the article, it does sound like an interesting subject.
posted by NekulturnY at 3:26 AM on April 3, 2008

If this is a pitch letter, I think it is too long and doesn't have a strong enough hook. I'm not a journalist, but I am a writer of fiction and have written plenty of queries in my time. Shorter is better. If you want to try to work SCOOD into it, that might help... Situation, Character, Objective, Opponent, Disaster.

You get ONE line per, and the idea is to write the model as you would a sentence.

Situation: When Auralyne is murdered by the cult of the goddess Llyn'Morica,
Character: Kendall (her widower) and Bran (her brother)
Objective: seek vengeance, but
Opponent: Llyn'Morica steps into the picture and
Disaster: attempts to corrupt Bran and lure him to her side.

More info here. Anyway, it might help tighten things up so you could get to the point sooner... you know as well or better than I that editors (or anyone sitting at a desk reading reams of email) will give you like 5 seconds. So you better hook 'em. SCOOD is obviously aimed at fictioneers, but it might be adaptable.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:42 AM on April 3, 2008

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