#68 Crapomenter

Forgottonia's Soldier
Crime Fiction

Forgottonia's Soldier is a multiple-point-of-view crime novel that focuses on three characters: Lucinda "Lucy" Cole, a twenty-six-year-old part-time gas station clerk who is finishing up her bachelor's degree at Western Illinois University; Tom Barger, a thirty-two-year-old employee at Illinois Pork Products (IPP), a slaughterhouse; and Quince Thoroughgood, a twenty-one-year-old journalism student at Western.

The novel is set in the spring of 2003, at the beginning of the second war in Iraq. Lucy, who still lives at home with her parents, is going to graduate at the end of the semester, and her father, the purchasing director at IPP, has plans for her to join him at the slaughterhouse and work in human resources. She doesn't want the job and wants out of Macomb, a desolate region of west-central Illinois that was once dubbed Forgottonia.

At the beginning of the novel Lucy bumps into Quince Thoroughgood at a bar. She knows his face from the school newspaper, The Daily Leatherneck , where he writes a weekly column. Several reservists are drinking at the bar, talking about their impending deployment, and Lucy, lonely and desperate, buys Quince a drink and tells him she has a story he could use for his column: the deployment of her friend, Tom Barger. Lucy tells Quince that Tom is a single parent and his nine-year-old daughter, Jules, is going to live with her. None of this is true—Tom isn't a reservist and doesn't have a daughter—but Lucy likes the attention from Quince the story gets her.

Quince, who has high hopes for his journalism career and thinks Lucy's story could be a strong one, follows up with Lucy a few days later about the soldier. Lucy then manages to stage a meeting with Tom and Jules. She tells her friend Tom that she is making a documentary about the life of a soldier. She also borrows Jules, a home-schooled nine-year-old, from a neighbor, and tells the girl's parents that Jules is going to play the daughter of a soldier in her documentary. At the first meeting, Tom and Jules pose for photographs, and Quince interviews them. The story runs in the campus newspaper and several students write in comments about poor Tom and Jules.

Tom notices that there aren't any cameras around at the meeting, but he thinks there must be something legitimate about the whole ordeal, since there is a reporter present. He doesn't confront Jules about the lack of cameras.

Lucy likes the effects of her staging. She feels like she is accomplishing something, affecting people's lives, and she stays in touch with Quince. She suggests that he publish some of Jules' letters to her "Dad" and when Quince says it's a good idea, she writes the letters -- full of heartbreak and misspellings -- herself. The paper publishes them, and the reaction, again, is huge. Letters to the editor start bickering about Bush's policy in Iraq, about weapons of mass destruction, and about this poor girl Jules who could end up parentless.

As the next month progresses, Lucy sends e-mails to Quince, pretending to be Jules. Quince is touched by the girl's e-mails, even if he wants to use them to further his career. He ends up publishing a weekly column by nine-year-old Jules about the life of a soldier's daughter.

Because her fictional soldier is now supposedly in Iraq, Jules eventually feels a little trapped by her own story. She enjoys sending the e-mails, but with Tom deployed, there aren't any chances for photo ops and feature stories. So she decides that Tom is going to get a leave of absence to come home and visit his daughter. Quince brings along a cameraman, and Tom and Jules celebrate her tenth birthday together. Tom and Jules are still under the assumption that this is a movie, but don't see any cameramen. Lucy tells Jules that everyone -- all of the students walking by, the employees of the pizza joint where they go to eat -- is an actor, and that the cameras are everywhere. Tom is pretty certain that Lucy is making all of this up, but he doesn't know what the hoax would be, what Lucy could stand to gain. Quince writes an amazing piece and begins sending out his clips to prospective employers.

Summer, and Quince has landed a job in Peoria at The Journal Star. Lucy has graduated, but she is still working at the gas station, uncertain about what she's going to do next. Amid pressure from her father about beginning work at IPP, Lucy decides that the soldier Tom needs to die. She contacts Quince and tells him the heartbreaking news. Then she plans a funeral. Quince comes from Peoria, but reporters also come from the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune's reporters start to dig and find out there is no soldier named Tom Barger. Lucy's plan blows up. Jules' parents find out what Lucy has been using their daughter for. And Tom learns just what Lucy has been up to.

The sorting-out of events is a little rocky. People accuse Quince of being a co-conspirator. They also accuse Tom of being in on the hoax with Lucy. Jules, in the eyes of most of the media, appears to be the only true victim.

Ultimately, Lucy's caper, at the heart of Forgottonia's Soldier, examines the loneliness and ambition of a small group of Midwesterners amid the patriotic tumult of the spring of 2003.

Technically this isn’t crime fiction but that’s about the only thing wrong here.

Ths is a well executed synopis, with enough dtail to get a sense of the story. Given the rash of Jayson Blair like events this is probably topical enough to get some interest.


Bonnie Calhoun said...

Question for the author: Why would Tom confront Jules about the lack of cameras at the meeting? Isn't she the nine-year old?

Farther down you've also got Jules feeling trapped by her own story.

I think in both cases, you meant to say Lucy!

Anonymous said...


Very nice. I'd read it.

Sonarbabe said...

Though this isn't something I would prolly pick up in the bookstore, this is a really good synopsis with a good premise. I wish you the very best of luck in finding it a home.

Anonymous said...

The writer should probably acknowledge her debt to the real-life hoax involving a (nonexistent) soldier deployed to Iraq and his (nonexistent) daughter: http://www.dailyegyptian.com/fall05/kodeehoax.html

Kate said...

This exact story really happened, for the most part. I remember reading about it in the paper when the fraud was revealed. A woman wrote letters supposedly from a little girl whose dad was in Iraq and got them published in a local student paper, even going so far as to pretend to be that little girl on the phone and finding a girl to play her during a visit to the newsroom. If I can find a link to the story I'll post it here. I think the synopsis is great, but what is the protocol for writing a fictionalized story so clearly based on real people?

Miss Snark said...

you say "this is a novel. Any resemblence to people living, dead or in the zombie zone is purely a lack of faith in my ability to make things up. Get a grip, and put down the subpoena". Or something like that.

Sherry Decker said...

Well written synopsis, but I'm not sure it needs to be 'multiple point of view.' It could easily be all in Lucy's POV. The thoughts of the other people could be revealed through dialogue. Good story, though.

Anonymous said...

Cynthia writes:

As a former journalist (12 years experience) no way in hell would I write a story without corroboration. If a person approached me about a story idea, I'd ask for contact info, then I'd double check everything. I would NOT go with one source. Maybe I'm just the paranoid cynical type, but your Hero is on the verge of being TSTL (too stupid to live).

Maybe there are a few (highly-publicized, unfortunately) cases of hoaxes and made up stories by reporters, but in real life (at least in my experience) a good reporter is going to double check ... and if the reporter's green, an editor is going to check. I know. I've been both. In the newspaper business, you do not assume. Ever.

Still, it's a nicely written synopsis, and if the Hero were involved from the start, it's plausible.