12.16.2006

HH Com 99

When my family arrived in Saigon in January of 1963, Vietnam was a country poised on the edge of disaster. Turmoil, violent demonstrations and political intrigue ruled the day. While my father established the first Armed Forces Radio Station in Southeast Asia (as featured in "Good Morning, Vietnam!"), I set about finding friends within the American community. The
sons and daughters of soldiers and diplomats became my new pals, bound together by our mutual experience. As teenagers thrust into the delirium of pre-war Saigon, we adapted in the only way we knew how––we embraced it as if it were the only home we would ever know. Late at night we haunted the streets and discovered that in Saigon, dreams and nightmares can exist side by side, separated only by the thin veil of civilization.
We were witnesses to a chaotic world of Viet Cong terror bombings, Buddhists burning themselves in protest and a coup d'etat that toppled the government in a blaze of violence. Through it all we maintained the teenage rituals of school, parties and dating. We also indulged in the sleazy side of Saigon––prostitution, booze and cigarettes, the black market, a run-in with a pedophile; Saigon was a dangerous place for a thirteen-year-old boy.
Hell, in those days Saigon was a dangerous place for anyone.
Once Upon A Time in Saigon recounts one military brat's journey from childhood to adolescence and the realization that home is where you find it.


Your challenge here is that you are dealing with something anyone alive in the 50's and forward has seen/heard one gazillion times. You're going to have to come up with things we haven't seen for this to be compelling. You haven't done that here.

Memoir is very very tricky because what is literally life altering for you the subject may not be very interesting on the page. That's pretty tough to say to people which is why the person universally loathed by agents at writinig conferences by agents is the nice sweet lady who wants to write about fire saftey cause her eleven multiply-handicapped adopted tri-racial, born again children perished in a fire.

22 comments:

Kate said...

I think this could be interesting. I'd at least pick it up and skim through it. It doesn't make it immediately jump off the shelf and thieve the money from my pocket, but it stands a fairly good chance of at least getting started.

Kate said...

I think this is interesting, if a little confusing-sounding. I think it'd be a good read, though.

nbevilaqua said...

I don't know--wouldn't you say that it really depends on the quality of the writing, and how the writer presents the material? A person's perceptions, ways of remembering (or not), motives in writing, attention to certain details, misgivings about what to reveal (again, or not), and many other things determine how "familiar" stories can be made into something moving, fascinating, funny, or intriguing (or not). This sounds interesting to me, but I'm sure that there's a very good reason that you're a literary agent (doing a very cool thing, I must say), and I'm not.

Anonymous said...

I'd pick this up. I don't tend to read memoirs for their events, anyways. Hell, "The Shark Net", a vaguely famous Australian memoir is 90% a recitation of events from the point of view of an average suburban kid. Sure, a serial killer is rampant in the background and turns out to be someone he knows, but most of it is kid at school, kid on holday stuff. But the style is killer.
If this author writes half as well as he's set up his hook (which I read every word of - unlike many of the other hooks) then that's reason enough for me. And 'kids in a warzone trying to be decadent' isn't the worst setting in the world...

Brutus said...

Fair enough. I think I may have given the impression that my memoir is about the Vietnam war, but the events occur before the war really got underway. There's no foxholes, no Charlie and no choppers here. Just military brats running wild in Saigon and all that that implies....
Back to the drawing board!
Yapp! Saddle up my favorite keyboard!

Chumplet said...

Don't panic, brutus. Your hook grabbed me because I have two teenage friends who lived in Saigon during the pull-out. I am interested in the day-to-day events during that tumultuous time, and I'd read the book.

Just punch up the hook, not the book! Lose the political preachiness and focus on the kids and what they did and felt.

Sonarbabe said...

I agree with Chumplet. If you focus more on the kids in the hook, it your intent (I presume) will come across more clearly. I've read to memoirs in my entire life and one was mandatory reading, but this one (since my father is a Vietnam vet) struck my interest.

Brutus said...

There ain't no politics in this book 'cause we kids were too young to know or care. We were just reacting to events and trying to have fun. Boy, did we have fun....

Anonymous said...

This could be wonderful, just not as a memoir (for reasons MS mentioned). Keep everything you have and tell a story inside of it. What you've written sounds like terrific framework for a story. You'll just need to think up something for the inside. Maybe the father's job could present danger for him or for his son.

HawkOwl said...

I don't watch the markets like Miss Snark does, but I thought this was one of the least already-done plots so far. Plus my grandparents were married in Saigon, though it was during WWII, so it's interesting to me personally. I'd look at this for sure.

Anonymous said...

The hook isn't well-written, but with some good writing, the memoir could be terrific. My generation was hugely impacted by the Vietnam conflict and I'd read it.

Anonymous said...

Hey Brutus, I too would read this! I was also an adolescent during that time, and while the Vietnam era has been written about endlessly, I don't know that there's a lot written from the particular perspective you describe.

Have to say I'm very happy to see some memoir represented here--and also to see Miss Snark lay out the hard reality for those of us who write directly about our personal experiences.

I felt very lucky when I signed with a NY agent a couple of months ago, after querying for about 6 months. (My book is currently being sent around to editors.) I sensed it was an uphill climb to find an agent--glad I didn't know I was someone who would have been "universally loathed" by agents at writing conferences! (Good thing I never attended one, I guess :-)

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I would read it. I am curious about the setting and the kids.

I guess your hook could use some hint of any tension going on with you or one of your friends. I'm sure there are major themse and tension in your manuscript. That's what's missing IMO.

Xiqay said...

I lived through protests in the states (and joined in them) against the Viet Nam war. Yet I disagree with Miss Snark that this is old hat.

The voice of an American teenager trying to live a "normal" American life in a foreign city at war and in the midst of violent upheaval has meaning in today's world, too.

I'm hooked.

Ski said...

I like this - really - and I'm interested in more. A 13 year old growing up in the 50/60's coming face to face with Saigon during that period is a must read. The bad news is that it seems my taste is awful with regard to getting published. I adore Miss Snark - but if history repeats - I'd bet that our taste remains perpendicular. You'd be far better off if I hated this and she loved it. Sorry...

Rgds.........Ski

The Gambino Crime Family said...

Triple ditto (or whatever). You're always reading about soldiers who were combat veterans in the Vietnam war (who actually only made up something like 10 percent of the soldiers stationed over there). I'd love to read about military brats in the Saigon of the early 1960s.

Heatheness said...

I am a sucker for ex-pat authors and characters, so I'd also read this one. But, for what it's worth, all the time I would be wondering, what sort of novel might it have made? I don't think this is necessarily a sign of weakness in the memoir. It's just that this is my usual reaction to a cool memoirist. I always, always, always want them to kill their non-fiction and grind it up for a novel.

So, 99, please, before you send queries off to a hundred agents, or spend a year polishing the MS, take a month or two and just SEE if you can tap into the potential noveliciousness of your albeit true stories.

shannon said...

People are making some really good comments here.

I did not grow up in the 50s, and my knowledge of the era is confined to a few movies, documentaries and the general bits of history that you pick up - I have never studied the vietnam war - so there I think is a new market: the younger generations who don't want to read the musty old tomes!

I agree with Heatheness: can you make a fictional story out of this? Based on your own experiences, of course. I rarely ever read biographys, and what with the fuss around memoirs being made up these days, I instinctively avoid those too.

But I thought your hook was very smooth and well-written, it flowed really well, though I too was a little unclear about when it was all happening, and even, at first, where!

Oh, could you rethink the title? It's a bit a cliche don't you think?

Lisa Hunter said...

Sorry to disagree, Miss Snark. I'd plunk down $29.95 right this second to read such a book.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with most of the bloggers here - this sounded fascinating to me, as I'm always interested in unusual childhoods, especially if they're set in another culture, especially one in turmoil!

too young to know Vietnam myself said...

Have to admit, amongst the others here, this is one of the more compelling stories to ME. I know little of Vietnam, and military books per se bore me. I'd like to learn of the people, the school US kids attended, the human aspect of it all. I can follow your writing, also.

Anonymous said...

Hey Brutus,

I find your account intriguing in a general sense. Once you tighten up your storyline and spice up your synopsis, you'll draw us in.

Ms. Snark is off-base (no pun intended) about the subject being overdone. Experiencing Saigon at the war's outset as a preteen would make for some unique takes on life. Thing is to focus on that which is universal, life-changing and/or just plain ol' compellng. Good luck!

ECM