Tuesday, July 8, 2008

#54

Dear Query Shark:

"My name is Bartholomew Benson, and I just killed twenty-one people."

Clearly, Mr. Benson is a man with a problem.

At first pass, Bart seems like a normal guy. He's a farmer in the year 2017, trying to make ends meet in his small Midwestern American town. He struggles with mundane problems like a stormy marriage, feuding neighbors, and a meddlesome ex-wife.

But Bart is far from normal. He's an ex-soldier who served extensively in the Middle East, and after military service, he was recruited for a much more difficult task: hunting humanity's worst enemy.

Bart has been entrusted with some very dark secrets. He knows about the world's first fully functioning quantum computer. He knows that this new quantum environment spawned life: sentient artificial intelligences. They've stayed quiet so far, hiding in the deep crevices of the technological jungle, so virtually no one even knows they exist. But Bart knows that, unless they're stopped, these new AIs will inevitably take control. Of everything.

That's something that he's not going to let happen.

The Emancipation of Bartholomew Benson is a 50,000-word science fiction novel that tells Bart's story through a series of journal entries, flashbacks, and first-person narration. The story is character-driven, focusing on Bart's ever-increasing difficulties of maintaining a normal life, all while handling the daunting responsibility of saving mankind.

I currently reside in (town) where I teach (subject) in the (univ) Business School. This is my first novel, and I'd really appreciate the opportunity to share more of this story with you.

Sincerely,

You had me right up to series of journal entries, flashbacks and first-person narration. I'm not sure why you want to use those devices in what is essentially a very short novel.

I'd read the pages but for something like this, I'm really in favor of straightforward story telling.

40 comments:

JL Riffe said...

Great premise, I would read this story.

Susan said...

It sounds interesting, but I can't see "50000 words" without being pretty sure that NaNoWriMo is involved, and I'm not sure it should be that obvious, even if 50k was really normal for a novel.

bish said...

Pretty darn short. I thought 65,000was the minimum for a novel.

As for content, you had me up until the sci-fi stuff.

The only sci-fi I do is Jeff Somers, but that is because I respected him as a writer before I knew he had a second home on nerd street.

You seem like you might be a good writer. you had me at hello...

Julia said...

Premise is fascinating. Query doesn't do it justice, though, in my opinion. And 50K is awfully short for anything but a category romance.

Still, I'd probably buy a 65,000-100,000-word book with a back-cover blurb that was pretty much the first five paragraphs of this query.

Lehcarjt said...

This is not my kind of book, however I did think the query was well done. I feel like I have a good sense of the scope of the story.

I rather like the idea of reading a Sci-Fi only nine years in the future. It would be interesting to see how you handle current events. What happens with the Iraq war? And gas prices? Etc. Etc.

The downside is that unless you nail the future as the way it actually happens, the book is going to be obsolete rather quickly.

Also, a midwest farmer who saves the world while dealing with an ex-wife and difficult neighbor comes off as humorous to me.

Still. An excellent query, IMHO.

talpianna said...

I still want to know just why he killed twenty-one people.

John said...

Talpianna: just why he killed twenty-one people

At first I read that as "why he killed just twenty-one people" and thought, Yeah, I want to know why he stopped there, too!

The query hooked me, but apparently like most others, I question the length. 50K words of JUST journal entries I can see, fleshed out with (say) about that many words of classic dialogue, exposition, narration. If I saw a novel that short in a bookstore, I'd assume it was mistakenly shelved somewhere besides Poetry.

Sindee said...

50,000 is the minimum. Then it gets classified as a novella.

I agree with everyone else. It should be longer.

But the premise has me intrigued, nonetheless.

Sindee

Crittias said...

Thanks for all the comments! I know the length of the story is an issue, and I'm still thinking of ways to extend the storyline a bit without any unnecessary padding.

As for the journal/narration style, I really believe it works well, even in a short novel format. If anyone is particularly curious, I'd be willing to share the current draft for some feedback.

Thanks again!

Just_Me said...

I really like the opening line.

I really like the premise.

I'm not entirely in love with the idea of ex-military. I'm to closely related to military to be unbiased and I get snippy if authors don't show respect or haven't done research. That makes the book iffy for me.

I think you probably tell a good story, but maybe don't show the list of plot devices.

And.... isn't there anyway to expand the book? 100 pages/50,000 words is short! I prefer reading something 75k or over. That's just me, if you can talk an agent and an editor into this than more power to you.

benwah said...

I like the opening line...which seems somehow unrelateed to the rest of the query.

Putting a SF story in the near future does run the risk of obsolescence, but I don't think that matters hugely.

The style of using collected journal entries, etc., may create an even shorter book. Or at least a very fast reading one, since I'd imagine there is a lot of white space.

This is more a question for The Shark, but what's the feeling about using an opening line or a quote in a query? I've got one I'd like to use, but I've read more negatives about that approach than positives.

beth said...

I thought the story description was interesting, and I have no problem with the journal entries, etc. However, I was also thrown off by the word count, and Susan has a great reminder of how damaging even a possible reference to NaNoWriMo could be...

Jill Myles said...

Had me up until the flash-backs/narrative part too.

But then again, the description reminds me a little of DAY BY DAY ARMAGEDDON by JL Bourne. It's a small press zombie novel, but I think a lot of it is written in diary format with a bunch of asides.

Margaret Yang said...

An AI that is a threat to humanity is an old idea that can always be made new. Heck, I'm scared of my computer sometimes... The quantum computing idea is cool too. I think you have a good thing here. Don't give up.

Heidi the Hick said...

interesting! I want to know more about his life as a farmer- what does he grow? Cash crop? Livestock? Hemp for biofuel? And most importantly, how does this tie into what he knows, and what he'll have to do?

I LOVE it that he's got this "normal life" to maintain... especially since he's got a career that so many people have but those who aren't involved know little about, even though we all eat every day.

This could be a fascinating character because he straddles so many worlds. Keep up the good work.

ChrisEldin said...

I like the premise, but I'm not sure I'd read something that was so short yet had a bunch of flashbacks.

philologia said...

Crittias, if you'd like some input I'd love to read it. I'm intrigued.

And you know, about the word count and oddity of journals/flashbacks, well, rules are meant to be broken. Just so long as you know what the rules are, and you break 'em damn well.

bish said...
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Crittias said...

philologia, if you email me (ted.boone at gmail.com) I'll be happy to share a copy with you.

Bad Author said...

If he is a farmer in 2017, then in what period are the flashbacks set?

I'd like to see a novel where the flashbacks are set in the future (Kind of like the terminator movies)

Ex-soldier that served in the Middle East? How about ex-soldier who toured in (Name faraway land) while the rest of the world was distracted by the Middle East.

Did you post this query at Evil Editor? It looks familiar.

Crittias said...

To answer bad author's questions:

The flashbacks range from the late 90's to the near future (2011, 2012ish). I do not spend much time in the story talking about Bart's military life, but he did spend some time in Iraq and Afghanistan before being tasked with more clandestine activities.

Yes, I posted this query at Evil Editor. It's met with a much more positive response here :-) That said, I'm still planning on tweaking the letter quite a bit before I send anything out. I've received some very constructive criticism from both sites.

Jessica said...

He had me too, until I read about journal entries and flashbacks. Definitely something that cooled my ardor. Otherwise it was a great query. I don't read stuff like that but I was sooooo interested.

bish said...
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Crittias said...

bish,

I have a manuscript that is in the correct format. I sent you a copy that, in my opinion, is a bit easier on the eyes (I find standard manuscript format has too much whitespace).

I have to give some thought to punching up chapter one. I kinda liked the idea of a slow start after a startling prologue, but you're not the first person that's commented on Chapter One being slow. I'll figure something out.

I hope you'll keep reading more of it!

josh said...

I was wondering if the phrase "[science] fiction novel" was forgiven in this case, with this query? Or if it was just passed over? Just curious if it's forgivable in some circumstances and not others?

bish said...
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Crittias said...

Perhaps "slow" isn't the word I should've used. I like contrasting the prologue with a chapter that emphasizes that Bart struggles with mundane things as well. I like the duality aspects of the story (farmer during the day, AI-fighting superhero at night), and based on most people's reactions to the query letter, I think that's my most important hook.

How do I write a story that lets me emphasize Bart's normal life AND his secret life? (This is probably a rhetorical question that I need to answer, but if someone has suggestions, I'm all ears).

Bish, I really hope you'll continue reading. Your insight so far has really gotten me thinking about things. Perhaps once you've gotten further into the story (or even finished it, it's a quick read) you'll be able to provide even more direction for me. I really appreciate it!

bish said...
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Julia said...

Josh, "science fiction novel" is OK, because it's /science fiction/ /novel/.

I prefer "work of science fiction" and "work of women's fiction" just to avoid the similarity to the dreaded "fiction novel" solecism, but "science fiction" is the name of the genre.

Crittias, nobody likes a slow start after an exciting prologue.

sharron said...

Sounds interesting.

drgnwrtr said...

I like the first sentence it really grabbed me but then nothing in the rest of the query mentioned why. Being the curious type I'd just have to read it to find out so I guess the hook did it's trick. I think 50k is a little short for a novel too so maybe you can go back in and stretch the journal entries.

It sounds interesting, good luck with it.

Southern Writer said...

Not really my kind of story, but damn, that's a good query.

Bad Author said...

The count is up to 22.
Anyone notice that Janet is MIA? Someone dial 311- A crime has been committed.

Better yet: Someone call Max and his posse.

talpianna said...

I just got an e-mail from Janet in response to an LOLcat I had sent her.

She's not dead, she's just left the building.

bish said...
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bish said...
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austexgrl said...

Where is the Query Shark? I am missing it..or is something wrong with my computer?

I loved the opening line! I, too, am not much into this type of story, but thought it was an excellent query.

bish said...

she's watching the wire.

talpianna said...

Perhaps we should start to chant...

bish said...

she is so stubborn.