Here's My Pitch
Does This Quest Have a Happy Ending?
To Readers of This
If you’ve ever pitched literary agents, especially for fiction, you know it’s pretty much a hopeless task. As this page tells you:
There is a 1 in 3,000 to 1 in 6,000 chance of authors getting picked up by a literary agent over the year, depending on the number of new writers an agent can assign in 12 months.
Maybe if you have a romance, cozy mystery, or espionage / crime thriller, or you’re from a “historically underrepresented” group, you have more of a chance; I don’t know. I’m not any of those.
I was well aware of this situation, of course, but decided to just stand outside and kick on the door anyway.
I set a goal of 50 rejections, and blew right past it; I now have 68 queries out, and 20 actual rejections.
Of course, their websites all tell you, “we’re so rude that we won’t even respond to your submission, unless we like it” (without using those exact words). So some of those 48 are actually rejections, but I have no way of knowing.
So before I go for 100: can you improve on this? If you’re one of the innumerable people trying to make money off struggling authors, don’t bother offering to do it for a fee. I don’t doubt there are things you could tweak, but would it make any difference?
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This New Internet Thing: How Janet, Her Dad, and His Dog Conquered It (79,000 words).
Genres: California & humor. Contemporary / historical fiction.
Light adult fiction, set in Detroit, the Sierras near Placerville, and Silicon Valley.
Closest in market appeal:
Cryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson) William Morrow (March 17, 2009) ISBN 9780380788620
The Soul of a New Machine (Tracy Kidder) orig. Little, Brown (Jan 1, 1981) ISBN 9780316491976
More recent books:
The Martian (Andy Weir) Random House, 10/28/2014. ISBN: 9780553418026
Legends & Lattes: A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes (Travis Baldree). Tor Publishing Group, 11/08/2022. ISBN 9781250886088
The work’s closest matches are Cryptonomicon and Stephenson’s earlier Snow Crash. When I worked at Google, it seemed that virtually everyone had read those books. Cryptonomicon is one of the very few books that you could call “Computer Science fiction.”
The Soul of a New Machine is not fiction, but almost all my readers seem to think my work resemblers it (one review of Inventing the Future even said that). It’s one of the few books that treat engineers with any degree of realism.
• The design of Star's Records Processing: Data processing for non-computer professionals (1982). https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/800210.806469
• RFC 1697: An Internet Engineering Task Force "proposed standard (1994)
• Software Obviousness: The Disconnect between Engineers and the Patent System (in SSRN. 2014) This paper was cited in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court. 13-298 Brief for Checkpoint Software, Inc., for the CLS Bank v. Alice case.
• Inventing the Future and The Big Bucks (self-published under pen name Albert Cory)
* You Have My Data; Now Where's My Check? (in Stanford Chappal humor magazine 2017, https://issuu.com/stanfordchaparral/docs/parody_119_3-4/17)
• Videos and interviews can be found on my website. albertcory.io
=========== Summary ============
An aging Len Saunders retires from his career in finance at Chrysler in 1990. When he was 17, he’d gone to New York by himself during the war to track down his missing brother. Then in the Army and afterwards, he caught fraudsters. Since then, he’s raised a daughter, Janet, who’s a successful Silicon Valley executive, but now what’s Len going to do with the rest of his life?
Janet moves him out to California to fish every day, but Len’s got a better idea. He gets involved in the online world even before the Web comes along, and attracts attention as an investing guru. A local pastor asks him to look into a possible embezzlement, and Len enlists Janet’s friends to help him crack the case. The comical climax lands him an interview on a local TV show, which he uses to get what he really wants: a sweet ride on the Internet train!
This New Internet Thing: How Janet, Her Dad, and His Dog Conquered It is a warm tale of a man not ready to give up on his dreams just because he’s 70. Janet’s friends pitch in and help him, one even asking him to be godfather to her adopted child.
Interwoven with Len’s story is the Silicon Valley of the early 90’s, where nostalgia for the 80’s has everyone frantically searching for the Next Big Thing. Titanic egos and greed cause everyone to ignore what’s right in front of them: the Internet! But not Len and Janet.
If you want to be notified when this is finally published:
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========== First chapter ============
It was spring, 1992. Len was finally ready to get out of the frigid Midwest and move to California. His old friend Stan down the street had sold his house and moved to Miami with his son, leaving his (apparently) estranged wife behind, and that was the last straw for Len. That, plus the fact that the lawn mowing service raised its prices yet again, and there were rumors of another property tax increase in Bloomfield Hills. He was finally sick of it. He figured no one was going to buy a house in the winter, so he might as well dump it while the weather was good and the kids would be out of school soon.
Len was 67. He’d retired from Chrysler almost two years ago, and hadn’t really latched onto anything in his retirement that grabbed him. Detroit was going down the toilet and had been for 30 years, and no one was doing anything to stop it. His daughter Janet was making it big in Silicon Valley, he was divorced, and she was his only kid. Her new husband Walt had offered to let him live on his property in the Sierra. He could fish every day, go for hikes and have a dog to hike with him, and best of all, see her and Walt all the time! In fact, he’d already tried living there for a couple weeks and he loved it.
Janet was ecstatic, and also relieved. Now she wouldn’t have to worry about him taking care of that gigantic house and going up the stairs in his old age, and he’d be only three hours away. Walt started the process of getting permits for the father-in-law house he, Len, and Janet were going to build for him.
Len had a giant garage sale one Saturday, and everyone in the neighborhood knew that meant yet another long-time Detroiter was leaving. Pretty soon there’d be no one left that they knew anymore. This whole corner of Michigan was a one-industry town, and now that autos were a dying industry, everyone was bailing. No one’s kids wanted to live here after they finished college. They moved to Chicago, or New York, or California, and the parents moved to Florida.
Jamie, a 16-year-old kid from the next block, came over and shook hands with him. He called him “Mr. Saunders” and said he was going to be studying World War II in his history class next year, and his father told him Len had some stories he really should hear. Len was busy dealing with buyers and told him to come back towards the end of the day when things quieted down.
Around 3:30 Jamie came back with his dad. Len had gotten a couple lawn chairs and invited them to sit down.
Jamie’s dad Harry was someone Len had helped out on some project or other many years ago. He didn’t even remember what he’d told Harry about his time in the war, but apparently Harry did.
“So Jamie, you wanted to hear about the Big War, huh? Well, I’ll tell you what I can. I’m afraid I didn’t have a very exciting war, unlike your dad here!”
Harry smiled self-deprecatingly. “He’s sick of all my war stories!”
Jamie looked embarrassed. “You always tell the same ones, Dad! I bet there’s a lot more you haven’t told us yet!”
“You’re too young for those!” said Harry.
“Anyway, Jamie, your dad is probably remembering my older brother Jack’s experiences more than mine.”
“ ‘Jack’, that’s the name I couldn’t remember. This is important, Jamie. Listen up! I’ve forgotten most of this myself.”
Len grabbed a can of Bud out of his cooler and passed one to Harry. He gave Jamie a Coke. This was going to be a long story.
“So, does the name ‘Albert Kahn’ ring any bells for you, Jamie?” He shook his head.
“Well, Albert Kahn was the most famous architect in Detroit, or maybe in the whole country or even the world, if you just look at industrial buildings. He built the River Rouge plant for Ford, and almost all the car factories in Detroit, including Chrysler’s where I worked.”
“OK..” said Jamie, not sure where this was going.
“In the late 20’s, the new Communist government in Russia needed to build factories fast, but they didn’t know how. Who do you think they turned to?”
“Let me guess: Albert Kahn?”
“You’ve raised a smart boy here, Harry. Right, Albert Kahn. Now, does the name ‘Stalingrad’ mean anything to you?”
“I think we get to that second semester. Wasn’t there a big battle there or something?”
“A big battle!” laughed Len. “Yeah, I’d say it was a big battle. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.”
“One of the things that Kahn’s company built was a big tractor factory in Stalingrad, in about 1930.”
Harry interjected, “That’s the part that blows my mind. Americans helping the Communists! And you said Henry Ford was behind it, too, right?”
“Yeah, the Commies weren’t the bad guys yet. They even sent some of their engineers over to Detroit!”
Harry just shook his head. “Pay attention here, Jamie.”
Len continued, “I was only five when the deal first started, but Jack was eighteen, and he got a job with the Kahn company.”
“They sent him to Russia to work on the Stalingrad tractor factory. He was gone for over a year, and when he came back he didn’t want to talk about it much, or even tell us where he went.”
“Well, I guess the Russians were pretty secretive even then. You could be shot if you talked too much. Over time that attitude seeps into you.”
“Wow. Did he ever tell you any more?”
“Yeah, over time I managed to worm it out of him. He was pretty proud of that gigantic factory! He said he learned more from the Americans than the Russians, though.”
“Oh, yeah? Why’s that?”
“Well, he said the Russians had studied and memorized and always wanted to do everything exactly the way the books said. The Americans were more seat-of-the-pants, practical guys. They always used to argue with the Russians about that. I’m like Jack. He taught me everything I know about mechanics.”
Len continued, “So of course we got into the war in December 1941. I was too young to go, and Jack was too old, at least at first. Later on, the draft board got more desperate.”
Jamie was looking impatient. “So if Jack was too old, how is this about him?”
Harry said, “Be patient, boy. He’s getting there.”
“We were both sitting around at home while all the other guys were going off to war. You might not get to study this part, but the war was not going well for us at all in 1942. It was torture for Jack and me not to be part of it. At least I knew I could join up when I turned 18.”
“Are we almost to the good part?” Harry elbowed him hard.
“So they had the battle of Stalingrad, the Germans and the Russians, in late 1942, and Jack was obsessed with it. They were actually fighting in his factory! He knew every inch of it. It killed him that they were destroying it.”
“And so…?” prompted Jamie.
“And so he got it in his head that he wanted to go over there and help out! That was all he talked about.”
Harry interrupted. “That’s the part that gets me: actually wanting to be part of that meat grinder! If they even let him near it.”
“That’s what everyone told him. My parents, the guys at Kahn, everyone. But he wouldn’t listen. One day in October he disappeared.”
“So did he get to Stalingrad?”
Len looked like he’d just pulled a shade down over his eyes. His words came more slowly.
“We never saw him again. That was the worst thing for me and my parents.”
“Did you ever find out what happened?”
Len took even longer to answer.
“I finally couldn’t stand it. I figured I had maybe six months until my 18th birthday when I’d get drafted, and I was going to use the time to find out.”
“So what’d you do?”
“Well… I knew he couldn’t fly to Russia, so he must have taken a ship. I went to New York, and started asking around. Long story short, I ended up at the Merchant Marine hiring office. And they had his records!”
Jamie interrupted him. “Excuse me, Mr. Saunders, back up: you went to New York, by yourself?”
“Yep, I sure did.”
“How did you get by there?”
“Oh, it wasn’t that hard. All the men were off fighting the war, so there was lots of work.”
Jamie was seriously impressed. Len was on a roll. He thought maybe he had a reference Jamie would get:
“Hey, have you heard of that new Disney movie, ‘Newsies’?”
Jamie had. “Yeah, it’s kind of a flop, though, isn’t it?”
“I guess so. Anyhow, it’s about a newsboys strike in 1899, long before I went there, but selling papers on the streets was one of the things I did to make money.”
Jamie hadn’t seen the movie, so he let that pass.
“Anyhow: what’s ‘Merchant Marine’?”
“That’s the civilians who sail the cargo ships. Jack signed on to one of those ships headed for Russia.”
Jamie just waited for the rest of the story.
“Well, maybe you’ve heard of the U-Boats? Those were German submarines who hunted cargo ships like Jack’s.”
“Like in the movie Das Boot?”
Harry elbowed him again.
“Just like that movie, Jamie. Jack’s ship went down. Some survivors were rescued, but not Jack.”
Jamie didn’t know what to say, but this time he had more restraint and just waited.
“I figured maybe I could find some of his shipmates, so I hung around New York a few more months.”
“And did you find any?”
“I did. They all told me Jack was a great guy, did his job well, never fought with anyone. He really wanted to jump ship in Murmansk and get to Stalingrad, and they always told him he was nuts. He thought he could just go to the train station and buy a ticket!”
Len was tearing up, but he wiped his eyes and continued.
“I knew Mom and Dad would want to hear any little details about him, so I kept pressing. Finally, one of them, ‘Tom,’ I think his name was, told me a story that I can still remember word for word. I don’t even know if it was all true or not, but I knew my folks would want to hear it that way.”
“One night they were playing poker. Jack was losing, but he never complained. Suddenly the ship just exploded when the torpedo hit. It caught fire right away, the sirens sounded, the loudspeaker told them to abandon ship, and they all ran for the lifeboats.”
“All of them but Jack got into a boat. Someone noticed he was missing and ran back to look for him. There were flames and oily smoke everywhere.”
Harry and Jamie were transfixed.
“He came back dragging Jack. Apparently he’d tried to go down below to look for anyone who was trapped, and the fire and smoke just got him.”
“Was he still alive?”
Len just shook his head. “He wasn’t sure, but the other guys could tell he was dead. They put him in the lifeboat anyway so he could have a proper burial.”
“At that point, Tom put his hand on my arm, and said, ‘Your brother was a hero, Len.’ We were both crying.”
Harry wanted to pause for a few minutes, but Jamie was dying to hear the rest of the story.
“So they all got rescued?”
“Yeah, it was freezing cold, but they survived. Not Jack, of course.”
Jamie didn’t know what to say. Finally, “Thanks, Mr. Saunders.”
Len wiped his eyes again and said, “Well, Jamie, war’s not like in the movies. The rescue ship didn’t have facilities to keep dead bodies, so they gave him a burial at sea. Tom and all the other guys in the lifeboat stood next to the body as the chaplain read the service and they slid him over the side.”
“When I got back home, my own draft notice was waiting for me.”
Harry put a hand on Len’s arm. “That’s enough for today, Len. Jamie, I guess you’ve got a good story to tell your history class next year!”
Harry shook Len’s hand. “Len, if I don’t see you again before you move…”
Len said, “Yeah, good luck to you too, Harry. And especially you, Jamie!”
Jamie shook his hand. “Thanks again, Mr. Saunders! Good luck in California.”
The crowds were all gone, and Len figured that was it. He’d have to take the rest of the stuff to the dump. Janet’s old Schwinn — he couldn’t imagine anyone wanted that heavy old thing, but someone gave him $10 for it. Some of the stuff had belonged to Betty, but if she hadn’t asked for it in the twenty or so years since the divorce, well, too late now.
He thought, “I’ve gotta tell Janet about that bike!” and called her. She couldn’t believe anyone wanted her old bike. Then he told her about the conversation with Jamie and Harry:
“Hey, you remember the story about your Uncle Jack?”
“Vaguely. Wasn’t he killed in the war?”
“More or less. He was on a cargo ship that got sunk by a U-Boat.”
“Oh yeah, now I remember. Why, what happened?”
He told her about how Jamie came over to hear his old war stories. She said,
“But you didn’t even leave the States!”
“Shhh! He didn’t get time to ask about that!”
She laughed, “What did you do again? Monitor aircraft production for the Army or something?”
“Hey, logistics won the war as much as the guys firing the guns!”
“And you must have done a great job at it! After all, we won.”
Len laughed and updated her on his progress in moving. She told him Walt was submitting his house plans to the county for approval tomorrow.
The rest of the night, he thought about his big move. Did he really want to spend the rest of his life fishing and visiting with Janet and Walt? It might get boring, but it wasn’t a bad life, all in all. Detroit was sure as hell no place to retire, and Florida didn’t appeal to him. California was expensive, but he was going to have a place to live that was almost free, and he’d have all the proceeds from selling his house, too.
Jack didn’t get to live this long; he barely reached his thirtieth birthday. What would he have done, if he’d survived the war? He might have gone to college and become a full-fledged architect for the Kahn outfit. Maybe eventually the draft would have caught up with him, and he’d have the GI Bill to fall back on, like Len did. If he survived.
Len thought about his own college experiences in Ann Arbor. He’d always been good with numbers, and in the war he found he really liked the accounting part of his job! The auto companies were actually building the airplanes and tanks and generally knew what they were doing, but the government was paying them. They got a lot of money for it, and someone had to keep them on the up-and-up. Len found that he actually liked doing that!
The civilians made fun of him as a “bean counter,” but the Army really appreciated what he did. So in college he got his degree in Accountancy. “You’ll always have a job in Accounting,” his dad used to say.
After college he got a job with Arthur Andersen, the big accounting firm. They put him on a few “fraud audits,” which meant swooping down on a company where they suspected embezzlement, and questioning every single piece of paper and every financial transaction. He absolutely loved it, especially when he found something and the bad guys got caught. They noticed his enthusiasm and the partners started asking for Len Saunders when they had a fraud audit coming up.
He remembered one big case, where a bunch of war profiteers kept up their thievery even after the war was over. Len ferreted out the phony invoices that sunk their case. They paid themselves, in a devious way they thought was safe, and Len figured out how their scheme worked. They went to prison. He’d seen some shady stuff during the war, where invoices were padded and non-existent employees drew paychecks, but he’d never quite managed to nab anyone.
It still rankled him that he wasn’t made a partner after that. He got an award, but that was it. When he came up for his “make partner or leave” review after eight years or so, he left and went to work at Chrysler. It turned out that no matter how great a job you did, if you didn’t bring in a lot of new business, you had no chance of being a partner. Being the guy who sends people to prison was not exactly the best way of selling your services!
Now at least Janet did seem to have that smoothness he lacked. He remembered one epic run-in he had with a VP, Harold Townsend was his name, and Mr. Townsend wanted him to include some revenue in one quarter that really belonged in the next, and Len just refused. He was sure that Townsend held a grudge and kept him from ever getting promoted again. He’d thought of leaving Chrysler, but hey, he had a family to support.
Judging by her steady rise up the corporate ladder, Janet must not be shooting herself in the foot like that. He must have done something right with her! She didn’t have kids, though. His brother was dead, so the two of them were the last Saunders left, “Well, too late to do anything about that,” he thought. “Maybe Janet will make it to CEO someday!”
Janet. He thought back to Retirement Day and all the stuff that happened since then, and how he came to be leaving the state he’d lived in all his life