Wednesday, October 20, 2021

October 2021 Pass or Pages Entry #3

It's time for the Pass or Pages feedback reveal!  We're so thankful for our awesome agents Kaitlyn Johnson, Hilary Harwell, Michelle Hauck, Beth Marshea, Carlisle Webber, Cortney Radocaj, for taking the time to critique these entries.  And a shout out to the brave authors whose work will be on the blog this week.  You are awesome!

Entry 3: Vida Futura

Genre: Speculative Fiction


If you had the option to live again after dying, would you[BM1][CW1]? What if you couldn’t pick your name, your job, or even the memories you could keep[KJ1][CR1]? In Vida Futura, everyone has a second chance, but never a choice[MH1][CW2].

The story follows[KJ2][CW3] Miss Shenhao, a young woman who wakes up in an unfamiliar house, unsure of what country or even what year it is. She is told by her new Life Counselor that she died a month earlier in a train accident but has been deemed Fit and selected for Life Reassignment in Vida Futura[CR2][BM2].

Unable to prove[KJ3] otherwise[CR3][BM3], she begins her new life with a new job and new friends who have all found themselves in the same situation, each with their own gruesome death story. Unlike her peers, however, she secretly suffers from what the Counselors in Vida Futura call PEM (persistent expired memories), a defect where the memories of one’s previous life have not been fully wiped out and can lead to permanent termination if discovered[CW3].

After her boss, a fellow PEM sufferer, disappears, she soon finds herself navigating the unseen side of her small town in search of answers and a possible escape[BM4], leading her to a fox mask-wearing man who “collects and sells stories,”[BM5] a shop owner who promises her a ticket out if she can offer something irreplaceable, a waitress obsessed with memory-eating monsters that no one has ever seen, and the “happiness researchers” who say they can cure her PEM[KJ4][CR4][MH2]. As she draws closer to the truth of what Vida Futura is and why she has been brought here, she begins to question: in a world where memories can be erased, how do you know what is real and what isn't[CW4]?

VIDA FUTURA is a 120,000 word[CW5] book[KJ5] of speculative fiction that would find its primary audience among Haruki Murakami and David Mitchell fans—readers who love to get lost in everyday worlds that have been twisted by the surreal.[CW6]

Thank you for your consideration[CR5].


Kaitlyn's comments:
[KJ1] Avoid rhetorical questions in queries. Instead, start of strong with your third line here: In Vida Futura, everyone has a second chance—but never a choice.
[KJ2] Start right with your character, not an intro. ex: When Miss Shenhao wakes in an unfamiliar house, she meets her Life Counselor—the one tasked with informing her that she died a month earlier in a train accident. However, she has been deemed Fit and selected for Life Reassignment in Vida Futura.
[KJ3] To prove what otherwise? That she's not dead?
[KJ4] Giving a list of "happenings" doesn't quite help us understand the plot itself. We need to know how her boss' disappearance puts her on the trail of something and what she must do about whatever it is she learns/finds. What is her ultimate goal or what is she uncovering? It's a bit too vague. 
[KJ5] This feels like it should be called an adult sci fi.

Hilary's comments: None

Michelle's comments:
[MH1] Consider cutting the questions and just going straight to this sentence. It’s a great sentence!
[MH2] Rather than a list of characters focus on what Miss Shenhao does to struggle against her situation and how her situation gets worse. Before the stakes share what is her character arc and how does she need to change over her journey? What choice must she make?

Beth's comments:
[BM1] Not an issue at large with this premise. But something you wouldn’t know about me… I am terrified of anything involving eternal life. The greatest gift of life, in my opinion is the sweet oblivion of death (don’t worry, its not depressing to me). So, my immediate answer to this question is “No.” and it stops be from engaging in the next lines.
[BM2] Is this something that happens secretly, or is this something the society knows about. I want that information in the query. 
[BM3] Unable to prove what? Does she think she didn’t die? Is that part of the plot we should know about? This could use a little clarification. 
[BM4] I’m unclear about why she wants to escape. What are the stakes?
[BM5] Book dealer? 

Carlisle's comments:
[CW1] I always recommend against rhetorical questions of any kind in a query letter. My immediate internal response to this question is no. Because of this, I would immediately pass on this query because clearly, the world it builds is not for me.
[CW2] Move this sentence to the end of the second paragraph. Even for speculative fiction, I feel it’s best to open by introducing the main character rather than the world. People are always more interesting than settings. Also, what does "never a choice" mean?
[CW3] This is a good explanation of the world and the main character’s stakes.
[CW4] Two things aren’t working for me here: 1. The stakes aren’t high enough for the main character. What decision will she be forced to make that will change her life? 2. Ending on a rhetorical question doesn’t work either. The agent can’t know the answer because we haven’t read the book, so it’s hard for us to get invested. For a closing in a query, try a form of an If/then statement: “If [character] can/can’t accomplish X, then [consequence] will happen.” 
[CW5] This is too long for a debut, even for speculative fiction. I recommend that it be no longer than 100K, maybe 110K.
[CW6] Delete this.

Cortney's comments:
[CR1] Opening a query with rhetorical questions is risky, as it tends not to be received well; I feel like this would be a lot stronger with just the next sentence in this first paragraph.
[CR2] What is this? Is it virtual reality? Or is it a physical place? This can severely alter what I anticipate the tone of the book being, and potential tension/conflicts that would make sense within the query. I can see from later in the query there’s something up with what Vida Futura actually is, so this answer here doesn’t have to be the “real” answer—just what people THINK it is, what people are told it is (or at least what Shenhao is told it is). 
[CR3] Prove what otherwise? That she died? That she’s “Fit” for this second life? Why would she want to prove either of those things wrong?
[CR4] This list of things doesn’t quite work; from a structural standpoint, it’s difficult to see the overarching thread connecting all of these, and what Shenhao’s driving motivation is. It makes me worry about the story’s arc—this feels less like each encounter leads into the next and are intertwined with one another, and more like “this happened, then this happened” without one event bearing any weight on another.
[CR5] I think there’s potential in this premise, but there are definitely a few pieces of internal motivation missing throughout this query; we need to have a little bit of detail about Shenhao’s feelings and drivers, because right now we have very little (if any) indication of why any of these events matter to her. Obviously someone with the same issues as you disappearing is a problem—but was she happy to be in Vida Futura before? What’s stopping her from dropping everything and pretending she’s fine and just going along with it, when it feels like this is not a safe place to ask questions or prod for answers?

First 250 Words

I died on July 22nd, 2016.

My mother cried and cried, and then she just stopped talking altogether.

My father spent two hours searching forum posts on how to arrange an international corpse transport and last-minute funerals in New York. He then spent the next five hours marathoning through NHK videos about Japan from robot restaurants to the train suicide rates.

My brother had a beer in a bar he’d never been to. There, he went through our intermittent text messages throughout the years and then deleted my contact information from his phone.

They each coped in their own way, as always[BM6][CW7].

The alpaca plush doll I’d given my mom my senior year of college sat on my old piano in the living room like a reminder that I had once been there playing for them, that I hadn’t been forgotten[CR6].

I woke up on August 22nd, 2016[MH3].

But[BM7] it wasn’t in my bed in Queens. Or huddled in my futon in a cramped apartment in Tokyo. I was in a small, single room cabin, sitting at a square oak table. There was a window facing an endless green field like the one from Sound of Music. In the distance were snow-peaked mountains and the computer blue of a massive lake[CW8].

This was Vida Futura. Or at least that’s what it said on the welcome pamphlet on the table. In a cream-colored envelope was a ‘REASSIGNMENT CARD’ with an awful photo of me I didn’t remember taking[KJ6][CR7][BM8][MH4].


Kaitlyn's comments:
[KJ6] I do like these pages. You've got a very interesting, subdued voice that works well for the "waking with no memory" aspect of your story. It's good you don't immediately start with the waking up, so your opening draws us in. Well done. Unfortunately, I’m not currently looking for Sci Fi on my list.

Hilary's comments: The opening line of your query is intriguing, as is the premise here. I’m a little concerned about the wordcount, which is a bit high, but I’d like to see the first five chapters and a complete synopsis (1-2 pgs) as a word doc attachment, please, with Query: Pass or Pages in the subject field. Thanks!
Michelle's comments:
[MH3] The family sounds interesting. But it is unclear how she knows how her family reacted, but I’m more interested in how she reacted to her death. A little more focus on the MC.
[MH4] I will pass on this entry as the character voice didn’t hook me. 

Beth's comments:
[BM6] Delete.
[BM7] Delete. 
[BM8] This one isn’t for me, but it has potential. Work on really clarifying what the situation is and what the stakes are for her. Why doesn’t she want to awake in this small town? What happens if she can’t get out.

Carlisle's comments:
[CW7] This makes it sound like they’ve experienced lots of death. Is that the case? If so, elaborate.
[CW8] Who is the narrator? I feel like if we got to know them a little bit more, we as readers would be more invested in how they navigate their post-wakeup world. While I appreciate the fact that the inciting event happens on page 1, the person to whom the event happens is even more important.

Cortney's comments:
[CR6] How does Shinhao know all of this? It feels like she’s observing her family, but how?
[CR7] This opening is a lot more retrospective than I prefer books to be. I like being dropped into their immediate perspective, with details such as all of these being woven in later—so for me, I’m not hooked. But there are books that work like this; someone else might like it just fine. There’s potential in the overall concept, but unfortunately I’m not intrigued enough to want to read further.

Results:  [If you receive a "Pages!", click on the agent's name here or at the top of this post for submission instructions.]

Kaitlyn: Pass
Hilary: Pages!
Michelle: Pass
Beth: Pass
Carlisle: Pass
Cortney: Pass


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