Son of a Pitch

Okay, so third edit here. The structure of the book makes the normal query problematic, so I’m bringing the structure in to see if that helps.

I’m participating in a pitch party. If you have an interest in participating (or are just wondering what the heck that is), check out this link.


Title: On Leave From Perdition

Genre: Literary Historical Fiction

Word Count: 95,000

Jim Aurbach traded ambition and academia for mediocrity and joy. He may well have died fat and old, after decades of happy marriage, if his draft number hadn’t come up.

Instead, he returns from Vietnam a drug addict and an emotional wreck.

The novel moves in both directions from his return. Travelling backwards through his tour, it peels away the coping mechanisms he developed in the war, to arrive at the core of what destroyed his identity. Moving forwards from his arrival home, his problems pile up, and he increasingly breaks down.

In Vietnam, it’s a mystery in reverse. Knowing Jim’s the criminal, the reader has to follow the clues back to the crime to find out what could destroy the mind of a man who used to be calm, witty, and kind.

At home in Los Angeles, Jim falls deeper into addiction. As his mind increasingly slips from his control, his vulgar outbursts cost him his job, and are slowly costing him his wife and daughter.

He knows where the razor’s edge lies: keeping the things he did in Vietnam a secret is destroying his sanity, but if he lets those stories out, they will destroy everything else.

ON LEAVE FROM PERDITION, a 96,000 word literary historical novel, captures the confluence of the anti-war movement in America, the criminality of the US Occupation of Vietnam, the open rebellion of US soldiers at the end of the war, and the impact of that maelstrom on the human mind. The novel combines the gritty reality of Full Metal Jacket with the soldier’s postwar angst from A Hard and Heavy Thing as well as both the emotional depth and non-linear artistry of The God of Small Things.



First 250 Words

Zero days left.

Freedom Bird.

Whatever got a soldier out of ‘Nam had the word Freedom emblazoned on it, and whether he had a seat on Air Singapore or grabbed the tail feathers of an albatross, the flight was supposed to bring him back to the world, back to life, liberty, happiness, and all that.

One more false promise.

Travis Air Base, minutes ahead, is our gateway back to the world, but instead of the sensation of freedom, it feels like I’m drowning. The world is closing around my throat, and the looming silence terrifies me; I’m about to spend the rest of my life behind a wall painted with the words, “If you weren’t there, you won’t understand.”

My forward momentum strains against the belt, the wing flaps bend to increase the lift as the engines slow, and the plane pulls backwards as if it too is reluctant to land. The ground approaches, and I find myself wondering if I should have stayed in Vietnam.

The squeal of the rubber hitting the tarmac strikes my ears and I take in a startled breath. My arms search for something to grasp.

Elm looks over at me and asks, “You okay?”

My fury, as if tied down by an aged and cracking rubber band, explodes at Elm’s gentle touch. “You don’t even have a fucking phone? How the fuck am I going to get ahold of you?”

Leaning toward me, as if his response calls for secrecy, he says, “Jim, I have your number. You have my Aunt Janelle’s number. We be able to talk.”


Thank you for reading and responding. I intend to reciprocate for everyone who leaves feedback, so please leave a link to your blog. Good luck in the contest!

6 thoughts on “Son of a Pitch

  1. Hey there, fellow writers. I’m also a son of a pitch participant. I really enjoyed the 250 words. They are both lyrical and gritty and I can tell there is character in the writing. The query is not as good. I wasn’t really sure I could see what would be different about this novel from the usual PTSD narratives that we get all the time until you hit the last two lines. I think there should be more about what he’s trying to hide, and less about how war changes your personality. All that could be condensed, since it’s something we know about, unless you can give something more specific that’s at stake. Also, although it’s only 250 words, I am guessing editors expect to see something leading into trouble. I’ll stop here because I could do more damage then good, since I haven’t yet published a novel myself. Good luck with the contest. If you want to reciprocate (and you’re under no obligation to do so) my blog is: Thanks and best of luck to you.


  2. Thanks for your comments on my post earlier. The detail will be of immense help I’m sure. You’ll find my feedback on your query and first 250 below:


    The first thing that stands out to me is tense. Unless I’m mistaken, queries are almost always (maybe always always) written in the present tense. When put in the past tense, it makes it seem like the events have already happened (and even though they have, technically, they haven’t yet for your reader, which I believe is the purpose behind present tense). I would definitely consider a rewrite in the present tense.

    I think you paint a good picture of Jim, but as another commenter has suggested, I think the key to making this stand out is to clue readers into what will make your protagonist and his story different than other novels published in a similar vein. The argument you need to make is essentially why someone should read your character’s story as opposed to a similar piece they could find on the shelf at their local retailer. The advantage you do have here is that period pieces, particularly those surrounding this era, do have a lot of interest among readers of historical fiction–but that means you’re doing battle with many other writers who enjoy working with this sort of story, too.

    First 250:

    You have a really good voice going here. The style in which the manuscript is written stands out right away. That’s something that can keep a reader turning pages.

    I did get a bit confused by Jim’s outburst regarding the phone. After a couple of reads, I understood that Elm must have said something to make Jim think he didn’t have a phone just before this conversation got started, but without that context, it reads right away like Jim is someone who will fly off the handle at anything. That may be something he does in light of his experiences in Vietnam, but I think readers will need something with which they can identify more strongly (or at least more neutrally) for their first introduction to him through dialogue.

    If I were an editor or agent looking for historical fiction from this era, I would probably keep reading through your first chapter at least. I think the real trick for you will be to make sure you give prospective editors and agents a taste of what will set your work apart in that query (and hopefully your first 250 words, too). That’s much easier said than done, I know, but you know your book better than anyone. I’m sure you can find a way to slip in that hook that much sooner.

    Thanks again for your feedback on my work and happy writing!


  3. I really enjoyed your first 250 words. There was a distinct voice for your character right off the bat, well done 🙂

    In the query, I felt like his actions and consequences after his return were a bit vague. Does his rage and guilt lead to an outburst at his family, or at the kid’s school? Does he have a flashback while they are driving and almost swerves off the road? What really are the outward effects of his PTSD on the people around him? As far as I can tell from the query, those are the stakes of your book, not the events that gave him PTSD, and “they don’t know what to do with him” doesn’t tell me enough.

    Or, is there actually physical danger threatening his family because of what he did/saw in Vietnam? If there is, this is not clear enough in the query. The last line suggests it, but I’d want to know the scope of the threat. If the stakes truly are his sanity and relationships, then you definitely must make it explicit how he/his actions are the threat to his own happiness.

    In the second paragraph, you’ve got a few extraneous details that are slowing down the pace. You could start the paragraph with “Jim came home vulgar and explosive” and get right to it. I would also cut “eleven-year-old”, her age is irrelevant to his PTSD and next to step-daughter it was hyphen-palooza 😉

    Good work and good luck!


  4. Hi Cesar,
    I was looking into I&I & saw your info from last year. I’m an audio book narrator & if you have On Leave for Perdition ready for publication, I’d be interested in producing the audio version of it for you. You can hear a sample of some of my stuff on ACX here:

    On a completely different note – I’ve read several of your additional posts. It’s nice to see there are others out there who recognize how completely broken the education system is. My wife & I plant our selves as radical independents. Your take on the NFL protests, public school, Black Lives matter. That’s where I’m at.

    Email me or call me with questions 208.680.6052

    Benjamin Fife


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