3rd SR Crapometer #5

Dear Miss Snark:

I read of your agency in the Writers' and Artists' Handbook 2006, and I would like to enquire whether I may submit a manuscript for your consideration.

I am a professional writer living in Karachi, Pakistan. I have gained quite some success as a columnist and features writer for various local magazines and newspapers, as well as the famous South Asian Web site Chowk ( www.chowk.com). My first book of short stories for children, entitled X, was published in 1999 by OUP. Two subsequent novels –Y and Z - were published by Alhamra in Islamabad, Pakistan in 2001 and 2004 respectively. A forthcoming book of short stories called ZZ will be published this fall by Alhamra.

My novel is called X. It is set in Shah Colony, a fictional slum in the southern port city of Karachi, Pakistan, and chronicles the life of Laila, a Punjabi Christian girl growing up and learning to survive in the most dire of circumstances.

I can send you the first few chapters and a more complete synopsis for your perusal and if it seems to speak to you, I would be happy to share more of my work with you. Thanks you for your time and consideration and I am very appreciative of your encouragement and support.


is there a plot?
what's the word count?
are you writing in English or Urdu?
Are your publications in English or Urdu?


The first time I saw a man injecting himself with heroin, I was nine years old. Of course, at that age I didn't know what heroin was; I hardly knew what syringes were, or what injections were for. But my mind's eye took a photograph of it all anyway, like a camera, and stored the negative somewhere deep inside, to be taken out later at a time when my youthful brain had accumulated enough information and experience – had caught up enough with my environment, my surroundings – to be able to understand the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations around me.

Swinging my braid back over my shoulder – I liked to do this ten times an hour, its weight and thickness at my young age pleasing me greatly – I picked my way carefully across the stones. I didn't intend to end up in the filthy water, which stank of urine and shit and chemicals. The whole slum smelled like that anyway, and I didn't want it on my skin as well. And with the water not coming again until Friday, I wouldn't be able to wash it off myself or my clothes if I fell in.

As I jumped, I pretended I was a giant flea, able to leap many miles into the sky with each jump, and able to land perfectly on my target with my feet not even an inch out of place. My braid bobbed from side to side, and I hummed a little song as I cleared the last stone and made it to the dry land on the other side. I wondered what food there might be left at home for me; my mother cooked the way I attended school – as and when she felt like it – and finding something fresh to eat was not always a guaranteed event in my home. Still, I dreamed of hot, fresh daal, with a steaming puffy roti to go with it. My stomach squeaked expectantly at the thought.

I turned the corner at the church, and that was where I saw him: A strange man I didn't recognize, clad in a filthy grey shalwar kameez whose folds were stiff with dirt and sweat. His black curly hair was coated with a film the same color as his clothes, and even from the distance I stood from him, I could smell him, rank and odious, like rotting garbage and dying things. He paid no attention to me, squatting on his haunches against the steel shutters of the church door, swaying back and forth so that the shutters banged and echoed with his movements.

He held his left arm extended out in front of him, and there was a black cord tied around his upper arm, which was skinny as a kitten's leg. In his right hand he clutched a dirty syringe, and the syringe was filled with a golden brown liquid I didn't recognize. An image flashed in my head of three or four men, just like this one, scrabbling through the garbage piles in front of the Colony Dispensary. I always thought they were looking for food. I knew now that I had been wrong.

It's VERY very very hard to write in the first person voice of a child. What happens is that things kids take for granted (leading them to say years later 'we were poor but didn't know it') adults notice. I see that here.

I'd be interested in this for the not-usual setting and perspective but I'm not getting my hopes up that it's marketable.


Anonymous said...

Miss Snark,
You are cranking! (Yes, I realize I'm saying that in the comment thread of a story that starts with heroin.)

Really, 5 submissions already reviewed. I'm impressed. Also your comments are short, to-the-point, and filled with industry know-how. Thanks again for running the crap-o-meter.

a devoted snarkling (with nothing in the crap-o-meter)

Bina said...

thank you so much miss snark for your comments on my work. My proper query letter has a very complete plot description. but I'll be sure to add that all my work is in English. Yay, I survived the Crapometer!

Anonymous said...


The writing certainly hooked me, although occasionally things sound a bit stilted. That may be a conscious choice to set the tone, or it may be a symptom of English not being your first language (I don't know if it is, of course, but if you live in Pakistan, it might not be).

I loved this line:
My stomach squeaked expectantly at the thought.

I also really liked the momentary daydream about the girl being a flea. That not only gives the reader an idea of who she is as a person, it also says a lot about the kind of surroundings she has grown up in.

I liked this piece and also probably would have read on. You obviously have talent! Good luck with it. :)

Bina said...

Thank you, reader.

English is my first language - my Urdu really, really sucks, even though I live here and am based here and all that good stuff. But I wanted a tone that put a little distance between Laila at nine and Laila at 30, which is how old she is as she narrates the story you're reading today...

I feel bad about screwing up the query letter and not putting in more about the plot, but I'm suffering from a raging throat infection and I'm having a hard time remembering my own name today.

Anonymous said...

I want more - good writer!

RainSplats said...

It's not the type of book I'd normally read, but I want to read more...

Bernita said...

Do get rid of the intrusions "I didn't recognize"
They are repetative and unnecessary reminders.

picaxe said...

Iwould want to read more. Some very vivid writing here.

Corn Dog said...

Bina - I would definitely buy and read. Miss Snark knows the biz though and I may be an oddity. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

The writing is lovely. I certainly hope this gets published.

Anonymous said...

Not something I'd normally read, but if I happened to pick it up and read this, I'd want to read more.

BuffySquirrel said...

I think you did better with the child describing what she sees and what she understands of the man injecting himself than with the redacted version. Trust the reader to be able to give an adult's understanding to what the child sees.

For evocation of childhood, I recommend A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Joyce) and David Copperfield (Dickens).

Crystal said...

I like the acknowledgement of seeing something when you're young and not recognizing what it really was, until you're older. I also like the thick braid part, and the flea part. The description of the water not coming until Friday (and wanting to stay clean) is great, as it gives an idea of the setting at the same time it makes a commentary on the kind of life the character has.

It's a little startling to go from reading that she saw someone shooting up when she was a kid as an intro, and the next paragraph describes the joy of her hair. Then we catch up to her seeing the junky. I'd start with the second paragraph and work the first paragraph into the fourth one. All of the observations are good ones; they just need to be in the right order.

Some of the description is redundant, though. Make sure you're not too in love with your keen observation of human nature.

Anonymous said...

I am a professional writer living in Karachi, Pakistan.

Please keep this out. Tell them you live in Pakistan if you must, but they'll figure you're a professional writer when they see your credits. Telling it like this makes you sound like (as Miss Snark would say) a nitwit - not a huge one, but a nitwit nonetheless.

Shani said...

I'm completely unqualified... but I agree about the intrusions too. A strange man I didn't recognize -> 'A stranger', perhaps?

Natalia said...

I another fan of the flea image. I want to see more stuff that, odd, and whimsical, and jarring.

Buffysquirrel is spot on with trusting the reader more (I have the same sort of problem when it comes to my own writing).

I definitely have the urge to read more.

Congratulations on surviving. :)

~Nancy said...

I don't normally go for this sort of story...but I really liked this. The voice and the descriptions just brought me along.

The only thing I'd change is I'd delete "I didn't recognize" and just leave "The strange man." Then you can go into what he was wearing, etc.

The last line made me want to read more. Good job!