Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Query 77

Prison Nation

Dear Agent,

Millie 942B has spent her entire life behind bars. Over eighty percent of what was once America is now kept incarcerated at all times. The reformed government, now simply called the Nation, discovered the easiest way to control its citizens is to take away their freedom. Including the freedom of those born inside the prison walls. But Millie believes in the Nation: in its strict laws and harsh punishments. The Nation is good, it is strong and just. That is what they are taught.

Now, at the age of eighteen, Millie is given the chance to walk free. Leaving behind her criminal parents and the only home she has ever known, Millie is thrown out into the world and left with one command: "Follow the law, or come back."

As almost every step becomes tainted with something illegal, Millie must find a balance between being loyal, and being free. Meeting Reed ignites a pull not only for his friendship and presence, but for the answers to the half-told truths Millie once believed. Fighting to stay free from the Nation's prisons and its guards who hunt her aren't Millie's only problems anymore. She now must also find freedom from her own past.

PRISON NATION is a Young Adult Dystopian, complete at 76,000 words. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Comments

YA Dystopian is, of course, the hot trend. An industry insider recently mentioned we'll be seeing a lot more of it on the shelves in the coming months. Yay! But that also means that, like paranormal-based books, the competition will be fierce and a writer will need to bring a strong voice and/or a unique idea to the table.

I love the title! What I think this query needs is more clarity about the world and plot to make that title really come alive. As it is, this query strongly reminds me of 1984, which is both good and bad.

Millie 942B has spent her entire life behind bars.

I like this hook!

Over eighty percent of what was once America is now kept incarcerated at all times.

"at all times" can pretty well be inferred from incarcerated -- unless it refers to "over 80%," in which case it isn't really clear that it does, so either way I think it can be deleted. As to whether to write out "eighty percent" or go with "80%," that's totally a style thing. I would use "80%" as I think that's easier to read and comprehend when someone's reading fast. But it's not wrong either way.

The reformed government, now simply called the Nation,

The connotation for "reformed" is that it's better. Certainly from the POV of the new government it's "reformed." But the POV here is authorial, and I'm not sure "reformed" is your best word choice.

now simply called the Nation,

The government is called the Nation? That seems odd. And is that what the rest of the world calls it too?

discovered the easiest way to control its citizens is to take away their freedom.

Well, yes. But Americans have spent a couple of centuries fighting to keep freedom for themselves and others. How far in the future does this take place? Was there something that happened that made the citizenry simply accept this? We incarcerated Japanese when war broke out, but they were a small minority. The government in Brave New World used happy drugs to keep its people compliant. Just a few words to help paint this as a believable consequence in this world should be enough to assure us it is.

Including the freedom of those born inside the prison walls.

I don't think this sentence is necessary. Especially given that Millie is freed when she turns 18.

But Millie believes in the Nation: in its strict laws and harsh punishments. The Nation is good, it is strong and just. That is what they are taught.

Now, at the age of eighteen, Millie is given the chance to walk free. Leaving behind her criminal parents and the only home she has ever known, Millie is thrown out into the world and left with one command: "Follow the law, or come back."

I'm not clear on why Millie is set free. It seems to refute what we were told in the first paragraph. And since her parents are referred to as "criminal," I'm assuming the government is trumping up charges to incarcerate folk, not just rounding up people willy-nilly and putting them into -- what? jails? compounds? Are the "bars" referred to in the first sentence real bars or metaphorical ones?

Also "given the chance" seems at odds with "thrown out into." I think the whole "Now, at the age..." sentence can be deleted.

Grammatically, pairing the "leaving behind" participial phrase with the passive clause that follows it doesn't quite work. As both sentences in this paragraph are more or less in passive voice, changing to an active structure will make the point more powerfully.

Quotes and comma in "Follow the law..." aren't needed. Not sure that command is needed at all, though. How is that different from today's world?

As almost every step becomes tainted with something illegal, Millie must find a balance between being loyal, and being free.

This is very vague. We've been told the laws are strict. Are they also not clear? If Millie believes in the laws, then why is she needing to find a balance? Can't she stay free simply by obeying what she believes in? The MC in 1984 met someone else who introduced him to subversion. What is happening here that causes Millie to have to find the free/loyal balance? What are the "something illegals?" Is she having to steal bread because she can't get food any other way? Is she talking to the wrong people?

Meeting Reed ignites a pull not only for his friendship and presence, but for the answers to the half-told truths Millie once believed.

A little more about Reed would be helpful. What half-told truths need answers upon meeting Reed?

Fighting to stay free from the Nation's prisons and its guards who hunt her aren't Millie's only problems anymore.

I'm not clear why Millie is fighting anything or why guards are hunting her. I thought all she had to do was obey the laws. Is she wantonly breaking them now?

She now must also find freedom from her own past.

Huh? I don't understand what this means. If her past was being imprisoned and she's trying to stay free from the prisons, how is this different from what was just stated?

PRISON NATION is a Young Adult Dystopian, complete at 76,000 words. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

My Version

With much license taken, of course -- but an example of how to answer most of the questions posed above in roughly the same amount of space.

Millie 942B has spent her entire life behind bars. Ever since the Barack-a-Beck Wars forced America into extreme isolationism and the government began incarcerating people for any act un-American, 80% of the population can now be found in government-controlled compounds at any given time. Millie believes in the new Nation -- in its strict laws and harsh punishments. She believes in its mantra: Freedom is a right that must be earned.

After Millie turns 18, the Nation gives her a chance to earn that freedom. What they don't give her is a home, food or companionship when they release her. Simply to survive means tempting the law. First, she steals to eat, then she flouts the rules by sheltering in an abandoned school. And when she meets Reed, an idealistic young man who's a member of the underground Revivalist group, Millie embraces his easy friendship.

But Reed offers more, telling her tantalizing stories of a democracy that once was and dangling answers to the half-told truths Millie once believed. Seduced into the Revivalists, Millie becomes an enemy of the Nation, just like them. Only Millie knows the Nation is good and just -- it's what she's been taught. These people are lawless; she isn't like them -- is she? Fighting to stay free from the Nation's prisons and its guards who now hunt her are only a small part of Millie's problems. She must also find freedom from her own beliefs.

PRISON NATION is a Young Adult Dystopian, complete at 76,000 words. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

6 comments:

Jo-Ann said...

I liked this, it's an intersting concept.

My only question is about institutionalisation: if the institution is the only life and family somebody has known, then freedom is actually terrifying/ overwhelming, particularly if (like Millie) someone has been programmed to see the system as "good". It's not uncommon for juvenile (and adult, to a lesser extent) offenders to reoffend after release (with the intent of beng returned to the only stable home they have known) if they have no or poor family supports outside. On the inside they dont have to make decisions and can count on 3 meals a day.

I'm guessing that the narrative addresses this in some way, but it hasn't come through in the query.

Sara Jane Wade said...

I like your first paragraph, though I do agree with the questions Phoenix raised. But I have to admit that you lost me on the rest. I'm not quite getting what's happening in the story, or what's going on to make your character question her beliefs. I think more details are in order there. Anyway, great concept, and good luck with your query!

AA said...

As others pointed out, this starts out with a lot of concrete details and then turns vague later in the third paragraph. We do need more details about what happens when she gets out.

It's the believability factor that is the biggest stumbling block for me. Jo-Ann mentioned the security of the known environment versus the unknown outside world. I don't see anything keeping the mc from re-offending 24 hours from being released.

Think about it: What have I got going on inside? 1. My family, employees I know, other inmates I know, 2. Security and a schedule, safety, knowing where each meal will come from and when, water, personal hygiene supplies, etc, 3. I really believe in the Nation, so it's almost a religious compound,4. From 0-18 years I've known nothing else.
Outside world? 1. It's kind of exciting (in a terrifying, disorienting kind of way), 2. I might meet a cute boy.

See how it comes across?
By even giving her the choice to go back at all, you're almost giving her an easy way out of the whole story. At least that's what I'm reading into this. The book may not be like that.

I'd like to see a new version of this query when you get it done.

Wilkins MacQueen said...

In agreement, great start and then a fizzle. Fear factor not proportionate to the release. People cry after being in the hospital for a month or two. They are scared to face what is out there. After being confined after hip surgery for a six week period I was so terrified I couldn't ride the bus alone for weeks. I was afraid the bus would take off when I was getting on or make me jump off as it rolled through the stop.
I broke out into a sweat before my escort would arrive to help me. A simple grocery run terrified me. 6 weeks turned me into a quivering coward with no confidence. Took months before I could get around without the terror.

Confinement of any sort for any length of time changes people. Repear offenders often repeat to get back in. Safe, secure. I'd rethink that aspect, missing a big opportunity to show your mc, I think anyway.

I look forward to how you handle the revision. Best,

Riley Redgate said...

Interesting premise, but I'm not quite sure on the details.

A couple things stuck out to me - first of all, if every step of Millie's becomes tainted with something illegal, how does she have the opportunity to test the line between freedom and loyalty? Wouldn't she just be thrown back in jail instantly? Doesn't seem like the Nation would condone second chances.

Secondly, I see a little bit of Never Let Me Go in that this isn't how humans act. I have more than a little difficulty believing that people would sit back and accept living in a prison, of all places. Perhaps if it wasn't /called/ prison?

Is everyone given a chance to walk free when they turn eighteen?

The closer baffles rather than intrigues me. The sudden inclusion of her past as a problem seems almost forced in the query (which is a good length, by the way).

Good luck! It sounds like a cool story that just needs some clarification.

batgirl said...

Incarceron does something like this, I think, but it's much more fantasy than dystopia (which as a sub-genre of sf, requires a fair amount of structural logic).
Nothing to add but - specifics, please!