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BARREN (dystopian w/ light sf)Latest on PAGE 4, POST #79


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#1 michaelmonson84

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 05:01 PM

SCROLL TO POST 79 (everything else is just the sweat it took to get there--and trust me, you don't want to stick your nose in that)

Any comments would be great. Thanks in advance.


I’m seeking representation for my 107,000 word, dystopian novel, BARREN.

Noah Barson is just a normal guy. He went to college, fell in love, and mapped out the rest of his life: plum job at NASA, wife, kids, maybe a dog. But when his mother starts chemotherapy, Noah is forced to leave school before finishing his degree, his girl friend leaves for Europe with someone else, and the job offer is retracted.

Stuck in Cheyenne, Wyoming, working as a garbage truck repairman just to make ends meet, Noah’s life is thrown off course again when NASA officials show up unannounced on the doorstep of his singlewide trailer. But NASA doesn’t hire college dropouts for their intellect, and soon Noah finds himself strapped into a rocket, pumped full of experimental drugs. When he returns from space two hundred years later, Noah struggles to survive in a future where trying to live as a normal guy again could get him killed—or worse.

Before law school, I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in English. My mentor for creative writing both before and after graduation has been Peter MaKuck, Pulitzer Prize nominated poet, author, and founder of Tar River Poetry at East Carolina University. I’ve published a flash fiction piece online (Blue Lake Review), a personal essay in print (in Portuguese), and several legal articles (boring stuff).

My novel is complete and ready for your review if you’d like to see a copy.

P.S., I’m currently living in American Samoa on a two year contract, so email is the best way to correspond with me. Phones are pretty good. Snail mail is…well you take your chances.
Michael
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#2 EddieTol

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 05:42 PM

Any comments would be great. Thanks in advance.


I’m seeking representation for my 107,000 word, dystopian novel, BARREN.

Noah Barson is just a normal guy. He went to college, fell in love, and mapped out the rest of his life: plum job at NASA, wife, kids, maybe a dog. But when his mother starts chemotherapy, Noah is forced to leave school before finishing his degree, his girl friend leaves for Europe with someone else, and the job offer is retracted.

Stuck in Cheyenne, Wyoming, working as a garbage truck repairman just to make ends meet, Noah’s life is thrown off course again when NASA officials show up unannounced on the doorstep of his singlewide trailer. But NASA doesn’t hire college dropouts for their intellect, and soon Noah finds himself strapped into a rocket, pumped full of experimental drugs. When he returns from space two hundred years later, Noah struggles to survive in a future where trying to live as a normal guy again could get him killed—or worse.

Before law school, I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in English. My mentor for creative writing both before and after graduation has been Peter MaKuck, Pulitzer Prize nominated poet, author, and founder of Tar River Poetry at East Carolina University. I’ve published a flash fiction piece online (Blue Lake Review), a personal essay in print (in Portuguese), and several legal articles (boring stuff).

My novel is complete and ready for your review if you’d like to see a copy.

P.S., I’m currently living in American Samoa on a two year contract, so email is the best way to correspond with me. Phones are pretty good. Snail mail is…well you take your chances.


I love the idea and the setup. The hook is there but it could be punched up some. 'Noah struggles to survive in a future where trying to live as a normal guy again could get him killed—or worse.' This is vague. Is this the conflict he faces? What is it about this future that threatens him, and how can a guy from 200 years in the past live the life of a normal guy? Just struggling to adapt would be a challenge worth writing about, but I don't sense that is the theme of your story here. What is the main conflict and how does he plan on dealing with it?

The creds are interesting, but are they relevant? You're a lawyer, but this is not a legal thriller, is it? You studied under Peter MaKuck. Is your writing similar? The Flash Fiction stuff is good but the legal articles? I wouldn't mention it. Most legal articles I've written reinforce the fact that lawyers have no imagination (which you obviously do).

The personal interjections are nice (the 'boring stuff' and 'snail mail' references) but what I'd rather see is this come through in your story and not your personal life. I'm not buying into your memoir so, unless it is relevant, less of 'you' and more of your story. Show me your voice in this query. Give me a better sense of your main character. Queries are short but extremely important so you need to make every word count.

Good luck,

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In the real world, as in dreams, nothing is quite as it seems.

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#3 S Jenan

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 05:44 PM

Welcome to AQC, Michael. One of the first things I'd suggest is getting the courage up to critique a few other queries. I think you'll find the learning curve will end up helping your own query immeasurably.

Overall, you're giving me all what appears to be backstory, and only one snip about your actual novel:

"When he returns from space two hundred years later, Noah struggles to survive in a future where trying to live as a normal guy again could get him killed—or worse."

But I don't know what this future is like, what makes it unique, what makes it dangerous, or what Noah brings to it that makes me want to spend 107,000 words with him. I speak from experience here: I'm fairly normal, and I certainly don't want to spend 107,000 words with myself.

What does Noah want?
What/who prevents him from getting it?
What are the stakes?

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#4 E.B. Black

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 05:58 PM

Do not write under your credentials "(boring stuff)". A query letter is very similar to a job application and resume and I'm pretty sure you wouldn't write under any of those: "Yea, I study law and it's incredibly boring. I'm a pretty dull person." You want to make your credentials sound nice. You're trying to sell yourself.

Let's say I worked as an English tutor for the last few years and that was a credential of mine. If I said,"Yea, I'm an English tutor, but I've only tutored, like, one student in total." You're basically negating your own credential by saying it doesn't matter. You just say,"I'm an English tutor."

It doesn't matter if your law articles were boring or not. At least let them decide for themselves what they think of it. And if it's really so boring that no one would care about them (which is what you imply by saying they are "boring"), then you shouldn't have them listed at all. But if you believe in the articles you've written and believe that you've educated people through it, then you should stand behind that attitude.

You should also link to or list what your flash fiction piece was directly and if it will help at all, also list where these articles you've written are published at. You have more credentials than most people trying to sell their novel do, so be proud of them and play them up.

It doesn't mean you're bragging or saying,"Yea, I'm so much better than everyone else." You're just not selling yourself short if you do these things.

I'm pretty positive that agents care more about credentials than they admit they do and they care more about publishing than who mentored you and what degree you have (there are a ton of people with English degrees who look up to certain writers is all I'm saying.) There is NOT a ton of people who have been published. So you focus on the wrong things when you list your credentials.

The woman I know in person who has been published and also works as an editor for a publishing company got where she is today by publishing "boring" non-fiction articles.

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#5 Dano3000

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 06:23 PM

Credentials aside, the query seems like back story. I think it would carry a lot more weight if it started with NASA ****ing your main character up, telling us a bit about cryosleep, hyper sleep, or whatever type of sleep he was put into to survive 200 years, and then describing the world in which the story takes place.

#6 ajuddwriter

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 06:29 PM

I agree with the comments above. I think it is a lot of backstory and needs some excitement. I love the premise, but grab me a bit more. Why is it a struggle to live in the future as a "normal guy"?

Also, I agree to take out most of your bio. I think the flash fiction line is okay, but don't feel the need to beef it up any. It is what it is.

The line about your novel being ready if they'd like to see a copy seems a bit passive. I would just say that you look forward to hearing from them. Or simply thank them for their consideration.

I would take out the PS. Most agents seem to take emailed queries so, of course, they'll email you back (assuming they make contact). I don't think they'll contact most of us any other way.

Just some thought. Hope it helps!

#7 michaelmonson84

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 07:58 PM

Cool. Thanks everyone for your thoughts. Stay tuned for round two.
Michael
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#8 michaelmonson84

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 09:05 PM

Okay all, here is draft #2. Thanks for the good comments. Let me know if I'm getting closer. (I'm still thinking about the bio comments, so just focus on the plot summary for now). And let me know if you want me to look at yours.


I’m seeking representation for my 107,000 word, dystopian novel, BARREN.

Most women who are randomly selected to perform their “necessary civic duty” view it as a nine-month death sentence, but not Hannah—she wants a baby, and she wants to keep it.

Two hundred years earlier, NASA officials show up at Noah Barson’s singlewide trailer with a job offer. But NASA doesn’t hire college dropouts for their intellect, and soon Noah finds himself strapped into a rocket, pumped full of experimental drugs, racing unconscious into the future. When Noah, perhaps the only man left who hasn’t been sterilized, arrives and meets Hannah, a women desperate for a baby, they discover that fertility is a government-imposed duty, but not a personal right, and those in power are willing to kill to keep it that way.
Michael
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#9 Granite Mark

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 09:33 PM

Okay all, here is draft #2. Thanks for the good comments. Let me know if I'm getting closer. (I'm still thinking about the bio comments, so just focus on the plot summary for now). And let me know if you want me to look at yours.


I’m seeking representation for my 107,000 word, dystopian novel, BARREN. I would put this sentence at the end of your query.

Most women who are randomly selected to perform their “necessary civic duty” view it as a nine-month death sentence, but not Hannah—she wants a baby, and she wants to keep it. Pretty good. You could replace "it" with "pregnancy" but I don't think it's required.

Two hundred years earlier, NASA officials show up at Noah Barson’s singlewide trailer with a job offer. But NASA doesn’t hire college dropouts for their intellect, and soon Noah finds himself strapped into a rocket, pumped full of experimental drugs, racing unconscious into the future. (Perhaps a little something special about Noah that would cause NASA to show up at a loser's doorstep)When Noah, perhaps the only man left who hasn’t been sterilized, arrives and meets Hannah, a women desperate for a baby, they (probably just "he", not "they" - Hannah probably knows everthing already.) discover that fertility (is being merely fertile the "duty" or getting pregnant?)is a government-imposed duty, but not a personal right, and those in power are willing to kill to keep it that way.


Good idea for a story. You cut out some of your previous biography, which in this case I believe is relevant to use. Right now I think of Noah as nothing more than a glorified space chimp. I'm sure you can hint something special about him.

a line break with the beginning "When Noah..." It's a totally separate thought, you need some kind of bridge between the rocket ride and when he catches up with Hannah. Also I think "When" here sounds awkward. I think you should have Noah meeting Hannah as meeting the girl of his dreams - like his desire in your first query, but his fantasy unravels as the ugly truth about the brave new world dawns on him and perhaps Hannah is merely using him, or he's unsure of her motivations, or he is a marked man because he's not shooting blanks, etc. :cool: Good Luck!

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#10 MBabroad

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 09:38 PM

Hey Michael,

Im assuming that the story centers around the Noah and Hannah's relationship. Presumably they are in love. So, I think the query should focus on their love and forces trying to keep them apart.

Save the "Im seeking representation for..." line for the end. Start with a strong hook. (This is not it but something like, Having lost it all Noah agrees to an experimental NASA program that sends him 200 years into the future, where he finds Hannah the love of his life, only to face dystopian horrors to keep her)

In the second paragraph jump quickly to the future setting. How do Noah and Hannah meet? Do they fall in love quickly? Are they forced together? Make the relationship something to root for.

#11 michaelmonson84

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 04:16 AM

Here is draft No. 3 based on the very helpful advice above. Thanks again everyone. Now, let me have it.


I’m seeking representation for my dystopian novel, BARREN.

Most of the women who are randomly selected to perform their “necessary civic duty” view it as a nine-month death sentence, but not Hannah. After the state-sanctioned theft of her first child, she’s willing to risk whatever it takes to have a baby she can keep, that is if she can find a man who hasn’t been sterilized.

Two hundred years earlier, NASA officials show up at Noah Barson’s singlewide trailer with a job offer. But NASA doesn’t hire college dropouts for their intellect, not even dropouts who were only one semester away from graduating from MIT, and soon Noah finds himself strapped into a rocket, pumped full of experimental drugs, racing unconscious into the future.

When Noah lands, he’s taken in by Hannah. But his relief at finally being with someone who seems normal in an otherwise bizarre world is marred by suspicion when he discovers that he’s the only man left who can give her the child she wants. While struggling to understand her motivations and the feelings he’s developing for her, Noah learns that even though bearing children is a government-imposed duty, it’s not a personal right, and there are certain officials who are willing to kill to keep it that way. Noah must then decide whether to risk his life and that of a future child by accepting his feelings for Hannah or set off on his own in an indifferent world, leaving her forever hopeless and barren.

As far as credentials, I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in English and was fortunate to study creative writing with Pulitzer Prize nominated poet and author Peter MaKuck. I’ve published a flash fiction piece titled Over in the Blue Lake Review, a personal essay in a Portuguese journal (in Portuguese), and five legal articles. I also write a creative non-fiction blog <ravallaver.blogspot.com>.

My novel is complete at 107,000 words and ready for your review. Thank you for your consideration.
Michael
blog: ravallavar.blogspot.com (writing, photos, travel, random stuff)

#12 michaelmonson84

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 04:55 PM

Revision #4. A little leaner and hopefully a little meaner. If you comment on it, I'll return the favor and blow kisses at your name on the computer screen.

I’m seeking representation for my dystopian novel, BARREN.

The women selected to perform a “necessary civic duty” view it as a nine-month death sentence, but not Hannah. After the state-sanctioned theft of her first child, she’s willing to risk jail time to have a baby she can keep, that is if she can find a man who hasn’t been sterilized.

Two hundred years earlier, NASA officials show up at Noah Barson’s singlewide trailer with a job offer. But NASA doesn’t hire college dropouts for their intellect, not even dropouts only one semester away from graduating from MIT, and soon Noah finds himself strapped into a rocket, pumped full of experimental drugs, racing unconscious into the future.

When Noah lands, Hannah finds him. But his initial relief at finally being with someone who seems normal turns into fear when he discovers that bearing children is a government-imposed duty, but not a personal right, and there are certain officials who are willing to kill him, the only fertile male, to keep it that way. Noah must then decide whether to risk his life and that of a future child by accepting his feelings for Hannah or set off on his own in an indifferent world, leaving her forever hopeless and barren.

I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in English and was fortunate to study creative writing with Pulitzer Prize nominated poet and author Peter MaKuck. I’ve published a flash fiction piece titled Over in the Blue Lake Review and write a creative non-fiction blog <ravallaver.blogspot.com>.

My novel is complete at 107,000 words and ready for your review. Thank you for your consideration.
Michael
blog: ravallavar.blogspot.com (writing, photos, travel, random stuff)

#13 Jamber

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 10:02 PM

Hi Michael, I haven't read through all the previous drafts and comments, but I hope I'm able to be helpful with this latest draft.

The women selected to perform a “necessary civic duty” view it as a nine-month death sentence, but not Hannah. After the state-sanctioned theft of her first child, she’s willing to risk jail time to have a baby she can keep, that is if she can find a man who hasn’t been sterilized. It's almost a great hook, but I got stuck at 'death sentence', and wasn't sure whether that was something that would be imposed, or whether women just don't like falling pregnant, in other words, what are the implications of pregnancy in this world? Death and jail time are not the same; it would be fine if there was more about the death sentence later on, but there doesn't appear to be.

Two hundred years earlier, NASA officials show up at Noah Barson’s singlewide trailer with a job offer. But NASA doesn’t hire college dropouts for their intellect, not even dropouts only one semester away from graduating from MIT, and soon Noah finds himself strapped into a rocket, pumped full of experimental drugs, racing unconscious into the future. Why him? Could you add something after 'graduating from MIT'? Noah has something they want (and if you want to specify what that is, that may be a good idea; goes to what's at stake for NASA).

When Noah lands (some indication of when, if not the year then 200 years later), Hannah finds him (Perhaps stay with Noah--when Noah wakes, he finds Hannah standing over him in a laboratory/wherever, and the two become lovers.). But his initial relief at finally being with someone who seems normal (we don't know who he's met before, so 'normal' comes across as too weak to describe her) turns into fear when he discovers that bearing children is a government-imposed duty, but not a personal right, and there are certain officials who are willing to kill him, the only fertile male, to keep it that way. (So, I'm lost--they sent him off into the future, only to want to kill him? Who are the officials? It would be enough to indicate that things have changed in the future, and the very reason for Noah's preservation is the one thing that will bring about his demise, type thing.) Noah must then decide whether to risk his life and that of a future child by accepting his feelings for Hannah or set off on his own in an indifferent world, leaving her forever hopeless and barren.

Michael, I'm rethinking staying with Noah--you have Hannah as protagonist in the hook, and I wonder if it wouldn't be more effective to stay with her and her motivation. It would save you having to go into back story--she meets Noah, a college dropout from MIT (it doesn't matter when he dropped out) propelled by NASA two hundred years ago into the future, who is the only fertile male left capable of fulfilling her dangerous wish. In a world where bearing children is a government-imposed duty but not a personal right, there...

I'm thinking you could raise the conflict and stakes a bit, to give the story more of an edge. I don't know why there's such rigid control over breeding, or what this new world looks like. You don't want the query to look like a synopsis, which is why you choose the most dramatic facets of your story--and you also want it to stand out as high concept.

I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in English and was fortunate to study creative writing with Pulitzer Prize nominated poet and author Peter MaKuck. I’ve published a flash fiction piece titled Over in the Blue Lake Review and write a creative non-fiction blog <ravallaver.blogspot.com>.</ravallaver.blogspot.com>

#14 michaelmonson84

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 02:09 PM

Jamber, thank you, thank you. You're comments are very helpful. I hope you'll come back and take a look at a revised draft.
Michael
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#15 CJ Brassington

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 02:36 PM

I think your draft has come a long way from the first attempt. I get a better sense of the dystopian vibe from the beginning now, very nice. I agree that jumping back and forth from Hannah (who, biblically, was barren, too. Nice touch) to Noah was a little jarring the way it was written. You've gotten some good advice on fixing that, I think. Also, bringing Hannah into the picture gives a better feel for the title of the ms.
I'm glad you took out the bit about Noah being a normal guy-- who wants to read about normal? :smile: Let the details fill us in on extraordinary things happening to an otherwise "normal" guy... except in the end, he should be able to rise to the extraordinary circumstances, which, of course makes him anything but normal. And this might cause the reader not to trust the author if they've been told that he's just normal.
A mention of time and place would help when Noah "lands" after being sent off into space two hundred years ago because it could give the sense that he's just now landing on some planet out in space, rather than back on earth after a span of 200 years.

Hope that helps. Looking forward to seeing more.
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#16 michaelmonson84

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 07:36 PM

Thanks CJ. Great comments. I'll hopefully have a new draft up shortly. (Glad you caught the Hannah reference by the way).
Michael
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#17 michaelmonson84

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 02:36 PM

Revisions #5.

All right all you query letter rock stars, here's version #5. Thanks everyone for your help so far.

Dear ___________,

I’m seeking representation for my dystopian novel, BARREN.


Hannah Greenhill named her first child before he was even born, which made things much harder when the baby was taken to fulfill a government quota; now she wants a child to keep, but society isn’t set up to handle that arrangement any more.

As it turns out, it wasn’t some militant regime that nearly ended the world, people just stopped having babies—not all at once of course, but over time, and then one day a new male contraceptive simply called “the shot” hit the market, and it was nearly lights out for humanity. Children became a natural resource too vital to the nation’s economic and military stability to be left in the hands of ordinary citizens. The State took jurisdiction over all pregnancy, imposing it as a “necessary civic duty” on randomly selected girls. And for the boys, well they were just easier to manage if everyone got “the shot.” After all, he who controls the children, controls the world, or will eventually.

When Hannah returns from fulfilling her civic duty, she realizes that a barren life is no longer one she can endure. Hopeless and nearly ready to end the pain, Hannah discovers a man dressed in a dirty green jumpsuit sleeping in her apartment lobby, a man who’s never received the shots. An idea hatches, hope is born. But getting what she needs from this stranger may be impossible if she can’t figure out the customs and expectations he’s brought with him from over two hundred years in the past. And then there’s the problem of figuring out how to keep a pregnancy hidden from the Propagation and Perpetuation Commission. If she can’t, a second child will be lost together with her will to live.

I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in English and was fortunate to study creative writing with Pulitzer Prize nominated poet and author Peter MaKuck. I’ve published a flash fiction piece titled "Over" in the Blue Lake Review and write a creative non-fiction blog <ravallaver.blogspot.com>.

My novel is complete at 107,000 words and ready for your review. Thank you for your consideration.
Michael
blog: ravallavar.blogspot.com (writing, photos, travel, random stuff)

#18 Jamber

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 07:56 PM

Hey Michael, this looks like it's almost there. So much tighter and clearer. Some of it still reads as back story--I think it would benefit from being written in the present tense so that it's more immediate. All the back story still applies today in terms of what the government does, right?
Revisions #5.

All right all you query letter rock stars, here's version #5. Thanks everyone for your help so far.

Dear ___________,

I’m seeking representation for my dystopian novel, BARREN.


Hannah Greenhill named her first child before he was even born, which made things much harder when the baby was taken to fulfill a government quota; now she wants a child to keep, but society (isn’t set up to) handle that arrangement any more. Love this hook. Perhaps you could just amend it a teensy bit to up the stakes: society doesn't permit/allow that...

As it turns out, it wasn’t some militant regime that nearly ended the world, people just stopped having babies—not all at once of course, but over time, and then one day a new male contraceptive simply called “the shot” hit the market, (and it was nearly) heralding lights out for humanity. Children became a natural resource too vital to the nation’s economic and military stability to be left in the hands of ordinary citizens. The State took jurisdiction over all pregnancy, imposing it as a “necessary civic duty” on randomly selected girls. And for the boys, well they were just easier to manage if everyone got “the shot.” After all, he who controls the children, controls the world, or will eventually.

Children have become a natural resource too vital....citizens. The State has jurisdiction over all pregnancy, imposing it...girls. As for the boys, well, they're easier to manage if they get 'the shot'. After all...eventually.

When Hannah returns from fulfilling her civic duty, she realizes that a barren life is no longer one she can endure. Hopeless and nearly ready to end the pain (suicidal?), Hannah discovers a man dressed in a dirty green jumpsuit sleeping in her apartment lobby, a man who’s never received the shots (how does she know this?) She takes him up to her apartment, and discovers that he's come from another time, propelled forward 200 years from the time when the shot hadn't been invented (ok, not like that but you know what I'm getting at). An idea hatches, hope is born. But getting what she needs from this stranger may be impossible if she can’t figure out the customs and expectations he’s brought with him from over two hundred years in the past (like? I know what you mean, but it's a little general: zoom in on something quirky and unusual) . And then there’s the problem of figuring out how to keep a pregnancy hidden from the Propagation and Perpetuation Commission. If she can’t, a second child will be lost together with her will to live. (Up the stakes a bit, or just phrase differently--something like, she won't survive the loss of another child.)

I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in English and was fortunate to study creative writing with Pulitzer Prize nominated poet and author Peter MaKuck. I’ve published a flash fiction piece titled "Over" in the Blue Lake Review and write a creative non-fiction blog <ravallaver.blogspot.com>.

My novel is complete at 107,000 words and ready for your review. Thank you for your consideration.
It's looking good, I think you made a good choice when you decided to go with Hannah.



#19 michaelmonson84

michaelmonson84

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 08:42 PM

Jamber, once again thanks for the comments. Right on as usual. Let me know when your book is published and I'll buy ten copies.
Michael
blog: ravallavar.blogspot.com (writing, photos, travel, random stuff)

#20 CJ Brassington

CJ Brassington

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 08:51 PM

Wow. So Much Improved!!! Bravo. This is fantastic, and gives a clear consistent thread following Hannah.

I think your word choice is well done to convey the different degrees of barrenness throughout the story, and the very attractive idea of hope born, an idea hatching (or conceived, even :wink: ), etc.

I think an extra sentence added about how the man (give his name here) in her lobby has survived for two hundred years, would be helpful.

I love that you have given a name to the Propagation and Perpetuation Commission. Excellent.

I would totally read this book.
CJ Brassington
"My heart overflows with a good theme;
I address my verses to the King;
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer
." Psalm 45:1




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