Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Face-Lift 739


Guess the Plot

Jacks Fall and Kings Conquer

1. Cecily is the world's reigning champion at Jacks, and she's agreed to marry the first man who can beat her at her own game. King Henry dons a disguise and leaves his kingdom in the middle of a bloody civil war to give it a try.

2. His three Jacks have lost to three Kings three times, so the next time it's Harry's deal he takes out a little insurance: he declares Jacks wild.

3. Card sharp Manny Romero knew he was going to Hell for the way he treated his family. OK. That, he could handle. But playing 'Go Fish' with Stalin, Hitler & Mao for eternity wasn't part of the plan.

4. Ollie's psychic powers might be useful to law enforcement, but he has a better idea. He heads for the World Series of Poker, where his ability to telepathically see his opponents' cards should win him millions. What he doesn't count on is getting stuck at the same table with another psychic poker player who's better at it than he is.

5. In this strategic guide to poker you will learn how to spot sharks, cheaters, and new blood; how to place bets without needing a second mortgage; and which casinos have strip sessions in the back rooms. Among other things.

6. With the IRS knocking on their door, Dakota and Daphne King take their last ten grand and a Greyhound to Vegas. Dakota enters a Texas Hold’em tourney up against the likes of Jack "Sprat" Geller and Jack "Fat Daddy" Roberts. Will Dakota and Daphne lose everything, or will the Kings conquer?



Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Nineteen year-old psychic Oliver White is unemployed and on the verge of eviction just one month after moving out of his mother’s house. [Usually they don't let you move in if you're unemployed and have only a month's rent saved up.] To prolong his independence, he directs his skills where they reap instant, profitable rewards [Rewards are assumed to be profitable.] – at the poker table. What begins as a desperation move for cash evolves into a journey to the world’s largest poker tournament. What he doesn’t know is that this path was chosen for him long ago; a path that leads to a divine intervention.

This is the premise of my recently completed 103,000-word contemporary novel entitled Jacks Fall and Kings Conquer.

Beginning in Chino, California and culminating in Las Vegas, [an epic journey of about 250 miles,] Jacks Fall and Kings Conquer is the story of Oliver White, a college-aged man from humble beginnings who uses his psychic prowess to play poker at a level most only dream of. With the ability to see his opponent’s hands telepathically, he sets off for the Main Event of the World Series of Poker with his financial backer, Chuck, in hopes of taking down [taking home] the multi-million dollar prize, and dreaming of setting himself, and his recently laid-off single mother, up for life. [You may as well dump the first paragraph and start with this one. They're mostly the same information.]

The discovery of another, more experienced psychic player, [I recommend making everyone in the poker tournament psychic. Wait, some of them have other ways of cheating, like they've tapped into the television feed or bribed the dealer. But every player is cheating in some way. The best cheater of all is about to collect his winnings when armed gunmen bust in and steal it all. Nah, no one would believe that.] along with disturbing dreams that press Ollie to second-guess Chuck’s motives, [Hey, I thought you were in this just to make millions of dollars by cheating at cards. Now I discover you have ulterior motives?] threaten to derail his shot at life-changing cash and force a confrontation with himself in order to redress a tragic past. [This last part is too vague.]

My complete manuscript is ready to be sent at your request.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,


Notes

This is mostly setup. One could get the impression that most of the plot takes place at the poker table, which is not an impression you want to give. The divine intervention and the tragic past are probably worth more than a brief mention. They may be what turns this from a poker memoir into a novel.

15 comments:

Kayeleen said...

What are the stakes? (I mean, besides the poker stakes.) What makes this story more than just a guy cheating at poker? I agree with EE. I want to know about the tragedy and the ulterior motives and the stuff outside the poker game.

150 said...

I was going along, thinking the first paragraph was pretty good, and then: This is the premise...

Clunk.

Remove the second, third, and fourth paragraphs and replace them with what happens next. Stick your title and word count in the second-to-last paragraph. Make sure the stakes are laid out, in active terms: if X doesn't Y, then Z.

We'll look at another version if you put it in the comments. Good luck!

_*rachel*_ said...

This isn't the sort of bad that leaves me feeling like I just stuck my hand in recent gum under a desk (2 times today); it just doesn't quite work. You get the scenario across pretty well, but you need to give us more of the plot.

I'd call this urban fantasy.

150 is right--send in another draft and we'll take a look.

Dave F. said...

I didn't like the first and second paragraph. Those two paragraphs don't delight. They are dry. But don't worry. this is a good start.

Remember that agents get too many queries a day to read through to second and third paragraphs. This type of query makes it easy for an agent to reject the query. That's why all the advice you read says "Have a good hook."

Sorry to lecture.

I think the third and fourth paragraphs are good. However, I think they have a few two many words. (The regulars saw that one coming.) Cut by half. (and yes, I do know how disturbing that is to read...)

I've cut out the words I thought were too much and I've only replaced your word "hands" with "cards." Try starting with something more like this:

Oliver White, a college-aged man from humble beginnings uses his psychic prowess to play poker. With the ability to see his opponent’s cards telepathically. He sets off for the World Series of Poker with his financial backer, dreaming of setting himself, and his mother, up for life.

The discovery of another psychic player threatens to derail his shot at life-changing cash and force a confrontation with himself in order to redress a tragic past.


We have the setup -- a paranormal poker player in financial need -- and we have a complication -- another psychic -- you need to add the conflict and the resolution. You haven't revealed them yet and the agent who reads the query will have to feel the satisfaction of the entire book in the one or two sentences that you use to describe the climax.

Khazar-khum said...

CHINO?????

Holy Hell. Wait, no, that's Fontana.

Anyway, all I see is the setup for an old SF story about a psychic who won at cards, beating everyone until he met the world's best player: a Chinese man who only thought in Chinese.

Right now it looks like a variant of that story. There needs to be more here to keep it from sounding derivative.

ril said...

One could get the impression that most of the plot takes place at the poker table, which is not an impression you want to give.

I don't know, a card table version of My Dinner with Andre could work if one right. Not that I suspect that's what this author is going after.

Matt Ryan said...

Evil Editor & Staff -

Thank you for this opportunity and for all of the great feedback. You've been straight-up awesome.

I've attempted to take all of your advice and apply it to this next version. What do you think:

Oliver White, a college-aged man from humble beginnings uses his psychic prowess to play poker. With the ability to see his opponents' hands telepathically, he sets off for the Main Event of the World Series of Poker with his financial backer Chuck, dreaming of setting himself, and his mother, up for life.

The discovery of another psychic player who forces him to play “in the dark” and news of his mother’s layoff add pressure to the already daunting task of outlasting 5,000 of the world’s best players.

Throughout the tournament, dreams and cryptic commands from his Spirit Guide hint at ulterior motives of Chuck.

Chuck knows a lot more than he’s letting on. He recognizes the same affliction in Ollie that led to his brother’s death – alcoholism. If Chuck can get him to face reality, Ollie’s life can be saved.

Will a confrontation with Chuck and a little help from his Spirit Guide persuade Ollie to change course and do something positive with this abilities, or will he continue his excess and succumb to addiction?

Jacks Fall and Kings Conquer is a recently completed 103,000-word contemporary novel.

My manuscript is ready to be sent at your request.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

**Dave F., I realize I went a little longer than your recommendation, but I hope this works.

Thanks again everyone - I hope I can return the favor soon. -Matt

_*rachel*_ said...

We're not actually staff, you know (minus Mrs. V., of course)--just other writers and what-have-yous.

Much better, though you started losing me at the spirit guide thing. You could shorten it to: But something's telling him that Chuck has ulterior motives.

Do NOT say it was recently finished; it implies a short editing.

WV: sedan. Wow, a WV that's actually a word!

pacatrue said...

Just wanted to thank EE for a seeming reference to Maverick.

Evil Editor said...

This is better. It seems to say Chuck recognizes that Ollie is an alcoholic. Is he, or is he just addicted to gambling? I didn't get the impression he was addicted, just that he was desperate for money and had a pretty foolproof way of getting it. So foolproof that it's hard to believe he needs a financial backer. If he can scrape up one or two thousand from his local poker games he can enter one of the pre-Main Event tournaments and win his entry to the Main Event.

"His," not "this," in P.5.

Matt Ryan said...

Rachel,

Yes, I was just kidding about the "Staff" thing. I know you don't get paid for this, but I can see how the quality of comments could be mistaken for paid help. /asskissing

EE -

I'll leave it up to readers of the story to make a decision on whether he has a gambling addiction or not, but he most definitely has issues with alcohol abuse. It comes to the surface more with the surplus of money and the new lifestyle the gambling has brought - not the reason for the gambling itself.

Yes, he did have enough cash for the $10,000 buy-in, but the deal was more to train him on no-limit tournament play (he'd been playing high-stakes limit cash games). Should I change financial backer to coach/mentor? It's fairly common for professionals (even millionaires) to have backers - it's a business deal to minimize risk.

Thanks again.

Evil Editor said...

It seems unlikely he would be worried about risk if he goes into the tournament believing he will always know what cards his opponents hold. A very bad streak of bad cards at the final table would be a concern, but once he's at the last table he's won back his entry fee and a lot more.

A coach would make more sense than a backer, though it would be for show only, as he can't really believe he needs a coach.

Matthew said...

I would like a little more clarity as to what the spirit guide is.

Matt Ryan said...

EE -

It isn't the risk for Ollie, it's and preparation and knowledge.

The key to your comment is when you say "once he's at the final table."

No-limit tournament play is a whole different beast than a limit cash game. The reason for Chuck (his selling point) is to teach Ollie to factor in other elements (stack management, pot odds, table dynamics, position, how and when to bluff, etc.) crucial to surviving a large tournament regardless if he has more information than others.

This is probably an unneccessary comment, but thanks for the exercise anyway. I'll change it to say coach.

Evil Editor said...

That stuff is all useful to know, but put me up against someone who's an expert at all of it, and I still like my chances if I know what his cards are.