3rd SR Crapometer #31

Dear Miss Snark,

I would like to present my literary fiction novel (fiction novel!!! Achhhh!!) for your consideration. At about 90,000 words, 'title' (I redacted the title but it's pretty good) tells the story of an Indian programmer's quest for meaning and identity as he embarks on a project that will rescue his outsourcing company from bankruptcy.

Walloped by the murky reality of the software outsourcing industry – from 90-hour workweeks to fixing code written before his birth - young programmer Vinod Dhote has only one month to prevent a layoff from his company in Bangalore. His last opportunity to save his fledgling career is to deliver an unrealistic, crucial project for an US client that must succeed if his company has to survive the 2000-01 dot-com burst. Can he combat his ex-managers determined on ruining him, conquer his self-doubts, and recover from the trauma of a failed love affair to salvage the project? Can he make sense of the contrasts around him, and build an identity in an environment that thrives in providing cheap labor for menial tasks?

Though 'title' is my first novel, my essays have appeared in Indian magazines and local newspapers. I am a software developer in Mumbai working for a global IT company. Given the concerns and furor about outsourcing, this first fictional work based on that setting might appeal to an international readership.

I would be happy to send sample chapters or the complete manuscript on an exclusive basis.

I thank you for your time, and look forward towards your response.

Yours sincerely,

First Page of title

Bugs, Vinod rued, creep when you expect them to, like when you are in a hurry to catch the last train home after an 18-hour shift. Staring at the frozen cursor, he asked Sugar, 'When did your ARM crash?'

'2:30 PM PST,' Sugar replied. 'After midnight our time,' he added, almost as an afterthought. Pointing at the Speakerphone, he said, 'Guha sighted it first.'

'We are in deep shit,' Guha's voice quivered from the speaker. 'The order shipment has stopped. Mrs. Travers demanded an Accounts Receivables calculation when we were shutting down for the weekend. I wouldn't agree, not once the file backup starts, but you don't say no to the client manager. I restarted ARM. It hung. What a disaster!'

Vinod grunted, glancing at the screen's bottom-right corner. The clock displayed 1:05 AM. Was he to miss the train? Flinching, he input values that he thought might persuade ARM to spit some data, and jabbed Enter. Damn! No effect. He prodded the key. The keyboard juddered. The screen lay numb.

'Make it move,' Sugar said, shifting on his chair, 'now.'

Vinod glared at Sugar. Irritated, he asked Guha, 'Did you try restarting ARM?'

'Thrice. It refuses to budge.'

'I expected a more professional approach,' a woman's voice boomed from the speaker, 'not hocus-pocus or trial and error. I suppose that's the best you can offer?'

'When did you arrive, Mrs. Travers?' Sugar asked, clutching the knot of his tie. 'Please permit to remind you that the failure is the first critical situation this July.'

'Delighted to hear you speaking sense for once,' Mrs. Travers said. Her voice rose. 'You bet this is a crisis! ARM is our central package. And it's been failing every time we use it!'

'Today's incident -'

'Today's screw-up,' Mrs. Travers hissed, 'again demonstrates your off-shore team's incompetence. What does Ashworth have after outsourcing our inventory maintenance to you? Crippling production failures! System shutdowns! Red-flag emergencies!'

Sugar hit the 'mute' button and cussed. Mrs. Travers continued.

'Unless you compute the account receivables, we can't ship the order. A two hundred thousand USD order, no less! I want ARM to run ASAP!'

'You can start other shipment activities in parallel,' Vinod said.

'I don't need Indians to preach me on how to run our business!' Mrs. Travers thundered. 'The inventory check is running. But it's useless if ARM fails! If I don't have a fix before end of the day – my day -'

'That's only two more hours!' Sugar gasped.

ok, a couple things here. First, I'm looking very closely at anything with exotic location, in a voice that isn't over represented. This qualifies. Second, this sound like reverse chick lit...the protaganist is a guy but the situation is "can he save his job before the world comes crashing down" is pure chick lit set up.

I'd read the rest of the pages and hope it was going to be very very funny.

Now, for all of you who are ready to scream "but wait Miss Snark you xenophobic beast, you said no clients offshore..or even off continent". Well, I didn't say that. I said the bar was higher. That's still the case, but Indian lit is hot, this looks like it might be a nice fresh voice, so I'd read this without my usual X-vision.


Anonymous said...

I liked this too, although the geek-speak was losing me a bit. Still, there was great tension and the characters' personalities were jumping out nicely. Excellent writing!

The query was good also, snappy and it gets the plot and tension across nicely.

Rick said...

I cut slack to "literary fiction novel" in this case, because literary fiction is the name of a genre (though "literary novel" would be quite sufficient).

The character's voice doesn't sound distinctively Indian to me, but that may be just my stereotype of what Indians are supposed to sound like - if the author is in India, the voice is surely authentic.

I'm intrigued by the setup, but like Miss Snark I'd expect funny. The situation might be serious for Dhote, but an Indian programmer's experience of dealing with American companies just cries out for irony and humor.

Anonymous said...

Indian fiction is hot these days, that's true. The setting here seems an interesting one. The dialogue so far is way too on the money. It's screenplay dialogue, question answer, question answer. This writer could muss up the dialogue and in just that way begin to get the humor you're looking for. Have the characters speak from their own agendas and not directly answer everything put to them.

Anonymous said...

IMHO, this author's voice sounds too much like work jargon.

Greg said...

This is actually one of the best of the bunch, IMHO, along with the superheroes thing (#3, I believe?) I'd read more.

Sal said...

This is the first setup that really caught my interest. I'd read this.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark - thanks again for another crapometer! You really are my hero.

One tiny question...I understand why you don't like "fiction novel"... but in this context, I can understand why it's used. Is there a smoother way to state that it's a novel, and literary fiction? Literary Novel? Or do you have to separate the phrases out "This novel, which is literary fiction," etc? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Since when are hissed, quivered, boomed, gasped, and thundered acceptable verbs in good fiction? I agree Indian fiction is hot now, and there has been some great stuff, but just because you're "exotic", are you cut a lot of slack on writing craft?

Anonymous said...

Different people have different ideas about qualifiers. Two of the editors at the magazine where I work could not be more different; one can't stand it if the story has so much as a single 'said' in it, while the other thinks even 'asked' distracts from the story too much.

Anonymous said...

The geek-speak lost me. I have no interest in computer talk. Stopped reading fairly soon.

Chris Knight said...

Rue the day? Who talks like that?

BradyDale said...

I definitely want to work "wallopped" into my query letter. That grabbed teh bejeezus out of me!

Katrina Stonoff said...

How did you decide which titles to redact and which to include?

Wabi Sabi said...

Strongly agree with other comments: add humour, definitely add irony, lose the IT jargon, make dialogue less rote (add few deft strokes of description, perhaps - this doesn't feel very grounded in its setting). At the moment it reads like bad day at the office darling, just somebody's account of something that really matters to them, but really doesn't matter to me. Make it matter.

Wabi Sabi said...

I would be interested to know what Miss Snark would say if this were not written by a writer from an 'exotic' location and M S was using her 'X vision'. Is positive discrimination going on here?

McKoala said...

I found the number of characters and acronyms hard to follow. I liked the plot, though, so if I'd been lured by the blurb I'd probably keep going and hope that my brain caught up fast.

Anonymous said...

I liked this a lot. One tiny niggle, though: I found the use of the word "rued" in the first sentence very odd. I'm entirely prepared to believe that this is just me, but I had to read the first few words of that sentence a couple of times before I got my head round them. I dunno if it's the context or just that it's a weird-looking word.

River Falls said...

This is a textbook-perfect query letter -- but speaking only for myself, I thought the jargon overwhelmed the story. I found myself skimming the text for the "good stuff" -- character, humor, local flavor. This definitely has potential, though.

The other Cathy said...

I work on the other side of this story. I manage a software engineering group for a large company and I work with engineers in India as well as Indian immigrants. The language of the Indians in this excerpt sounds exactly like what I hear and read every day. There's a semi-British feel to their English which is portrayed accurately. They do indeed use words like rued and thrice. Also, the incorrect grammar like "please permit to remind you" is very realistic.

The part that falls down is the portrayal of the American client. The language there is just not right. Americans don't talk about USD. We just say dollars and expect everyone else to know that of course we don't mean Canadian or Australian. Other phrases like "central package" and "account receivables" are either incorrect English or don't ring true. If you're a foreigner writing characters who speak American English and you want to sell your book in the American market, you must get this exactly correct. Maybe an editor or an online writing group with Americans could help.

There's also something "off" about the Mrs. Travers character. Maybe once her English is fixed she'll be o.k; but I think it might be that she's too masculine. If it doesn't matter to the story, you might try making her into Mr. Travers.

I'd keep reading, but mainly because I have a close interest in the subject and I don't have any problem with the jargon.

overdog said...

Art is subjective. My personal taste says "too much jargon I don't understand." I wouldn't read past the first page. That's also because of the cartoonish portrayal of the Travers character.

I did like the query, though.

thraesja said...

I liked this one. I thought the dialogue was fairly good, apart from Mrs. Travers' out of place vocabulary. The Indian characters speak with the slightly odd (to North Americans) word phrasing and vocabulary that I've come to expect from my Indian colleagues. I'm hoping Mrs. T has good reason to be so demanding and upset. If she doesn't, you have a problem. She does indeed come off as a bit of a cartoon. I agree with the suggestion that you change USD to dollars when it comes from her. Americans (at least those as, uh, diplomatically challanged as she is) would not often specify when talking to a Canadian company, never mind a country that doesn't even use a dollar.
This line of hers also does not ring true as American: "I don't need Indians to preach me on how to run our business! The inventory check is running. But it's useless if ARM fails! If I don't have a fix before end of the day – my day -" Try "I don't need Indians preaching to me on how to run our business! The check on the inventory is running. But it's useless if ARM fails! If it isn't fixed by the end of the day - my day-"
If you have any American friends, I suggest you get their help for the American characters. Try to be as regionally specific as possible. Don't get a New Yorker to help with the dialogue of a Texan, unless (s)he has spent some time down south.
Although all your characters no doubt know what ARM stands for, you might want to slip it in somewhere in the first couple of paragraphs. It was the only jargon I didn't get.
Best of luck!