Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Feedback Request

The author of Antonov's Diamonds (most recently seen here) would like comments on this new version.

Former FBI consultant Flynn Christopher is asked by a friend at the bureau for a favor ; let the FBI use Flynn’s pawn shop for a sting involving fake credit cards. Their target is Alexei Antonov a former Russian Colonel.

It’s supposed to be simple, do a meet and greet and turn the operation back over to the FBI. Antonov checks Flynn out prior to the meeting and learns about his close ties to the over 5000 members of the American Pawnbrokers Association. [Are his ties to these 5000 members closer than other members' ties?]

He’s just what Antonov needs.

Unscrupulous land bosses in Russia, associates of Antonov, have conned the government into defunding a diamond mine deep in the Ural mountain wilderness. It’s been shut down as unprofitable and abandoned. However, the mine was out producing expectations and is secretly reopened. Criminals are running the mine now, complete with their own diamond cutters.

Antonov double crosses his partners in a brutal assault on the mine and makes off with untold millions in diamonds. [If the mine is outproducing expectations, and Antonov is a partner in the operation, I don't see why he's better off double-crossing his partners than just continuing to take his share over time. For purposes of the query (if not the book) Antonov could just be the part of the operation charged with finding buyers for the diamonds. You can just say Antonov's men are running the mine now, complete with their own diamond cutters. And leave out the brutal assault. It saves us wondering why he's giving up a sweet racket for a one-time score.]

Flynn is in way over his head when the unpredictable Antonov shows back up in [returns to] Baltimore. [We didn't know he was in Baltimore to begin with. Call it Flynn's Baltimore pawn shop back in sentence 1.] He wants Flynn to set up a network to sell the stolen diamonds through his fellow pawnbrokers. [He wants Flynn to contact 5000 pawnbrokers and invite them to sell stolen diamonds?]

Caught in the middle, he agrees to lure Antonov into an FBI trap. The plan calls for Flynn to double cross an increasingly psychotic Antonov. Cheated out of over five million in diamonds, Antonov [Wait, I missed that. How did he get cheated?] is set on vengeance, and Flynn. [He's set on Flynn? We assume you're talking about Flynn when you say he's set on vengeance.]


So as part of the sting, Flynn tells Antonov he'll distribute the diamonds to thousands of pawn shops, and Antonov says, "Great," and just gives him the diamonds? And at that point the FBI doesn't swoop in and take Antonov into custody, but leaves him free to seek vengeance on Flynn?

If Antonov gives the diamonds to Flynn and walks out, how does he find out he's been cheated? He can't expect the money to start rolling in immediately.

If Antonov wants to sell diamonds to pawn shops instead of jewelry wholesalers, it's probably because pawnbrokers have a reputation for questionable business practices, like dealing with stolen goods. But wouldn't that also mean they'd be more likely to give him a raw deal or even swindle him?
I don't think any of the versions has explained this. Why pawn shops?


InkAndPixelClub said...

Four sentences of your query have Flynn as the subject. That's one less than the number featuring Antonov as the subject and the same amount you spend explaining the diamond mine scheme in Russia and how Antinov took it over. That on its own might not be a big problem, but it's contributing to an issue I've had since the first draft: why is this story about Flynn? He's the guy with the pawn shop the FBI needs, the ordinary citizen pulled into a dangerous international criminal enterprise. But he doesn't really do anything. There's no point in the query where Flynn becomes likable, interesting, or active. You're spending far more words on Antonov and the diamond mine. It makes those elements sound interesting, but why would I want to spend pages and pages reading about a protagonist who's not very interesting and isn't doing anything just to get to the villain who is? Why should this story be about Flynn and not the FBI agent or Antonov?

Most of the explanation of the diamond mine can go. All we need to know for the query is that Antonov is looking to smuggle Russian diamonds from a mining and cutting operation he controls through US pawn shops. It seems like you're falling into the query trap of trying to carefully answer every question your previous draft raised instead of writing a version that doesn't raise so many questions.

You describe two plans: the meet and greet with Antonov and the double cross. What you don't describe is how either one goes wrong. We know that they do because Flynn is still involved after the meet and greet and Antonov is still at large and gunning for Flynn after being double crossed. At least, I think that's what happens. You need to fully explain the events of your story in a logical order so the reader can see why the plans failed.

I'm still having a hard time understanding what the bulk of this story is about. Here's the plot, as best I can tell:

FBI consultant turned pawn shop owner Flynn Christopher agrees to let the FBI use his store in a sting to capture Russian criminal Alexei Antonov, who they suspect of running a fake credit card scheme. The plan somehow involves Flynn meeting up with Antonov, after which the FBI will take over. For some reason, it doesn't work. Antonov reveals to Flynn that he's working on a much bigger operation: an illegal diamond mining and processing racket. Antonov knows Flynn has connections to the oawnbrokers of America and wants him to use those connections to fence the Russian diamonds. Antonov then returns to Russia and murders his business partners, setting himself up as the sole head of the diamond operation. He returns to the US and contacts Flynn, wanting to start selling the diamonds. The FBI comes up with a second plan that somehow involves Flynn double crossing Antonov. For some reason, this plan also fails and Antonov is looking for revenge on Flynn.

Is that it? Is that what most of your book is about? If it is, I'd focus on cutting the backstory on the diamond mine, fleshing out the plans and how they go awry and suggesting what Flynn might do to avoid being killed by Antonov, since the FBI seems totally incompetent and unlikely to be able to protect him. If this is less than half the contents of your book, try to get through all of this information in one or two paragraphs and focus on how Flyyn might stay alive with a psychotic criminal after him and what choices he might have to make.

Keep the focus on Flynn and what he knows and experiences as much as possible. The more time you spend on him, the more chance the query reader has to get a sense of who Flynn is and why what happens to him and what he does are interesting and important. The more time you spend on Antonov, the bumbling FBI, and unscrupulous Russian land bosses, the more Flynn seems like a bit player in his own story.

SB said...

I still can't tell what kind of person Flynn is. Given that I'm naturally predisposed to dislike pawnbrokers (since when I think of that profession, I think of someone who buys items from desperate people for far less than those items are actually worth), I feel like in order for me to have any interest in reading Flynn's story, you've got to show that he's got qualities I'll like. Is he actually a really nice guy? Is he the type who somehow stumbles into things way over his head but manages to make it out via his wits? Is he the reluctantly-brave type? Or is he an anti-hero type who's out for himself but it still better than the bad guys and has some other qualities that make him at least entertaining to read, if not actually likable?

PLaF said...

1. Kill the Pawnbroker Association angle, at least in the query. It does not work unless all 5000 members are also known fencers of stolen goods, in which case the FBI would be more interested in them. The association muddles the story.
2. There must be a pre-existing relationship between Flynn and Antonov or at least a compelling reason for Flynn to consider going along with what amounts to a gangster. Are they related? Does Flynn owe him money? Has Antonov kidnapped someone in Flynn’s family?
3. It sounds like all the action is taking place in the mountains and diamond mines. If this is the bulk of your story, then Antonov needs to become your main character and Flynn your secondary character. If Flynn is your main character, then the query needs to include the actions Flynn takes to outwit, outsmart, and outlast Antonov. It does not need to include all the details of the hostile diamond mine takeover.
4. He’s just what Antonov needs: a former FBI agent? Really? Call me skeptical, but that’s the last thing Antonov needs…unless Flynn was a dirty cop. Then, we may have something afterall. Either way, there is no (believable) way Antonov is going to dish all his dirty secrets to Flynn.
5. Dump the info dump on the diamond mine, at least in the query. It can all be reduced to: Antonov controls a secret diamond mine in Russia and he needs Flynn to launder the goods.
6. The way he is presented in the query, Flynn is neither likeable nor dislikable. He must be one of these in order for readers to be interested enough to follow his story, otherwise we do not care when he gets in over his head. What is it about him that made you interested enough to write his story?

Anonymous said...

It is utterly irrelevant how many members the American Pawnbrokers Association has.

Anonymous said...

Author, does Flynn have a genuine problem with his character that he has to solve over the course of this madcap misadventure? Is he hesitant? grumpy? dissatisfied with his humdrum life and hankering (naively) for some chills and danger? Are there any issues he needs to overcome regardless of Antonov? A more descriptive introduction and a climax that turns on his character change would raise the stakes and make the difference other commenters are looking for. For instance, "For years, Flynn Christopher has watched life go by through the window of his pawn shop -- until one day, the FBI drops in and asks him to help set up a sting. Thrilled at first, he...." and climaxing with "Flynn has to shake off the pixie dust and find a way to outwit Antonov." Something like that.