Monday, May 2, 2016

Mixing Science and Fiction

As I've mentioned a few times on here, I've been working on a YA science fiction novel.

For the traditional path to publishing, you need an agent. Part of getting an agent involves sending out query letters. A lot of query letters. And trying to quickly explain a true science element in my story when most of the other science in my story is (currently) speculative fiction has been a challenge.

My story takes place in 2058 when things like cyborgs, genetically engineered humans, automated cars and planes, and virtual reality in a wearable contact lens are a normal part of everyday life.

My main character, Mark, is a high school student who carries a genetic disease called Fatal Familial Insomnia. Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI) is a real albeit rare prion disease like "mad cow" disease. FFI typically strikes people later in life with debilitating insomnia that progressively worsens until the person can no longer sleep at all and eventually dies. It isn't contagious, and it has no known cure. FFI is real science.

In my story, Mark's father is a scientist looking for a cure to FFI, and his experiments may have caused a deadly outbreak. That's the science fiction part. My story also explores our understanding (or lack thereof) of the nature of sleep.

Back to real science and our time circa 2016. Scientists still don't know why humans (or other creatures) have to sleep. Sleep takes up a third of our lives, but scientists still know very little about why we need it—other than it is essential. If we don't sleep, we die. Why is that? My science fiction story provides a possible answer to that question with disturbing implications.

A query letter has to get a lot of information across in a very limited amount of words. And most of those words (200 or so) are spent on the hook. The first part of the hook is pretty straight-forwarded. "I have a completed [word count] [genre] novel titled [TITLE HERE] about [protagonist name] who [description of conflict]." The trickier part in a limited space can be explaining what your character wants, why he wants it, and what keeps him from getting it. Setting up my story hook plus explaining the conflicts and choices my main character is facing doesn't leave a lot of room. So, I'm struggling on how to or if I should try to eloquently insert commentary about "real" versus "fiction" science in my story.

I hope my quest to find an agent has a happy ending...I'll keep you posted.

I'm Julie Tuttle Davis, and I'm trying to get an agent to pick me out of the "slush pile" and guide me through the journey to published author.