Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Agent's Inbox #15

Dear Agent:

Ash has landed in Southeast Asia to begin an exciting, high-stakes job. He’s young and inexperienced, but his new employer sought out and recruited him because of one important qualification--Ash is suicidal.

As it was explained to him, Ash will be the real driver of an armed robotic vehicle that’s supposed to be completely unmanned and autonomous. His new employer, the company that makes and operates the robots, oversold their abilities to a foreign military customer, and now they need a little supplemental intelligence for their artificial intelligence.

Robots do the jobs people shouldn’t. In warfare, that means the jobs that’ll get you killed. This will be Ash’s last suicide attempt. He’s committed and literally locked into it. It’s too late for second-guessing. Ash doesn’t want to feel hope, especially not because of Zephyr, another doomed driver.

But Ash just isn’t any good at dying. He feels worse than ever after surviving his first op while the other drivers died.

Then Zephyr also survives, and things start to change. As Ash gets to know her, he decides if anyone comes out alive, it should be her.

She feels differently. Just the opposite, in fact. She wants Ash to live. She understands him. She really cares, even though she doesn’t have to. There were so many reasons to die, but one reason to live might overrule them all.

Unfortunately, their employer won’t let either of them walk away. He’d rather see them die than lose his job. They know too much.

One reason to live is all Ash needs. Actually escaping is a lot more complicated.

DRIVERS is a psychological thriller, complete at 79,000 words.



I don’t exist anymore. Not as a real person, anyway. I’m more like cargo. Expensive cargo, with my own guard and a corporate jet. The steps down to the tarmac are steep but sturdy. The sky arches overhead, splashed with clouds. A city squats nearby, skyscrapers reaching. And the air smells foreign.

I’m not a prisoner, exactly. I’m an employee. My first day on the job has been everything they promised--exciting, new, well-paying. My last day on the job is less than a week away, though they’re not certain exactly when. That’s too bad, because I’d really like to know when I’m going to die. Mostly, I just want to get through the days until then.

My guard hands a passport to another man who must be airport security. “Ash Palmer,” he mutters, glancing up at me. I guess it’s my passport. This ain’t normal airport security. There’s no metal detector, no customs, not even a desk. Just the one guy who writes something in a book and doesn’t bother stamping passports.

There were four of us on the plane, each with his--or her--own guard. Mine looks like Yul Brynner. Bald, sharp jaw line, intense manner. He collects the passports of the two recruits who went through security first, drops them into a small vinyl pouch with mine, and waits for the girl behind me.

She’s the only girl. The guards, security guy, and the other recruits are all men. I suppose that applies to me as well, though I’m still more comfortable with “boy.” And she looks about my age--college dropout age. Old enough to buy a drink or die for her country, but too young to be taken seriously.


AllieS said...

First off, I love the concept of suicidal people manning robotic vehicles. This being said, it took you a while in your query to sum up that idea. I don't think you need the first sentence at all, and you could probably combine the first three paragraphs into something more succinct. Once you get to the part with Zephyr (who you should probably acknowledge as a girl sooner), I love the query. And you don't need the line "Robots do the jobs people shouldn't." We know that. In all, the query just needs to be tightened. Otherwise, it's a great concept.

The voice in the 250 words is also good. But like in the query, I think the first two paragraphs could be more compact. I love the description of the guard as Yul Brynner and description of the girl.

An Agent Intern said...

This is pretty good, but your query needs some more focus. Your genre is psych thiller, but your query reads like a sci-fi romance. The first paragraph of your query is great, but the second is way too long. Sum these army robots in one sentence. Then what's the conflict and the stakes after that? Make it feel like a psych thriller.

As for your pages, great voice. I'd read on.

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

This one really caught my eye and I loved the writing sample. I'd keep reading for sure!

Julia K said...

I really like the voice in your first page but felt like it was kind of lost in your query. If you could maybe bring some of that personalization to your query I think you've got something great :)

staceylee said...

Interesting premise. I have to admit I'm a little put off by the whole suicidal thing - kind of depressing/gloomy; I know it's just the first 250 words and perhaps it's hard to do much, but what if you gave him one more line to makes want to root for him (and read on). Who cares if the job's well paying if he's going to die? Actually, is there a financial reason - maybe he needs the money to pay or his mother's kidney transplant? There, I would care about that. Thanks for letting us read.

Anonymous said...

Confession: I loved the first para of the query so much that instead of reading the rest, I skipped down to the actual story, which also grabbed my attention. Sounds like you just need to cut and refine the rest of the query.

The Agent said...

I loved your query's first paragraph. It sucked me right in! Now, let's see if we can tweak the rest of your query to make it just as exciting.

It is unclear why being suicidal is a prerequisite for operating a military robot. First, wouldn't the employer want the robots to succeed in their missions? Or are they supposed to be like intelligent bombs? Second, isn't it a big risk to entrust someone with nothing to lose with this responsibility? What's to ensure that all these would-be suicides act according to plan? Are their families taken care of, or some other incentive?

Your opening paragraphs do a great job of walking the line between mysterious and compelling. I would be tempted to read a little further, but a more focused query would certainly help convince me.

Patrick O'Leary said...

Interesting concept, though I'll agree I'm wondering why they'd trust suicidal people with such an important job. I get that you want people willing to be expendable, but I think they also need a good reason to be willing to finish the job. Remember, even suicide bombers expect some sort of reward for their sacrifice. I mean there have to be easier ways to kill yourself than volunteering to get shot at in a robot tank.

But I really like the idea of a company using human pilots to hide the fact that the AI doesn't actually work. I've worked for too many companies, including government contractors, to not find that idea totally plausible. I've seen things about as equally crazy, so I love the concept.

Also, I find it realistic that the man behind the operation would want to make sure they aren't around afterward. But I'll agree if this is a thriller, I want to see more focus on that aspect and less on what seems to be a romance plot. Romance in a thriller is fine, I've seen some authors do it very well. But it should be a subplot, and the query should focus on the main plot.

But in the end, I love the idea, and the sample has a promising voice to it. I hope you get it all ironed out and we get to see it on the shelves.

Best of luck.