Thursday, November 01, 2012

Face-Lift 1083

Guess the Plot

Texas Tango

1. Most places in the world it takes two to Tango, but here in Texas -- it takes three.

2. The year: 1870. The city: Death Gulch, Texas, home of the infamous dance duel. Alphonse the Kid has shot 24 men across the Wild West. But is he tough enough to survive the . . . Texas Tango?

3. Released after five years in a Texas prison, Joe Fane just wants to get on with his life. But first he needs transportation, so he car-jacks an SUV, which happens to contain an Uzi and two dozen gold bars. He probably should fence the gold and live like a king, but instead he uses it to frame his hated father-in-law for theft. It's a "priorities" thing.

4. When sultry Latina dancer Muriel Fuego is accused of murdering her manager, crack homicide detective Zack Martinez knows two things: the Texas Two-Step is for squares, and he’s got to get some of those jazzy dance shoes with the pointy toes and built-up heels.

5. It's Brokeback Mountain meets Strictly Ballroom when two gunslingers meet their destinies, not to the sound of blazing six-guns on the streets of Laredo, but to the strains of an Argentine tango in the Longbranch Saloon. Also, a transvestite ivory-tickler.

6. There are so many Texans on death row they have to execute them two at a time, which is how the long walk to the execution chamber has come to be called the Texas tango. But when ballroom instructor Melina Kerchenko and her student/lover Bob Lucas are sentenced for murdering Bob's wife, they literally tango to their deaths.

Original Version

Dear E-Squared:

After five years in state prison, Joe Fane returns to Houston to serve a six-month parole. Divorced, broke, and jobless, he moves into a halfway house--hardly the lifestyle he enjoyed as son-in-law to rogue banker Charley Shyler. [Change his name to Charley Shyster.] All Joe wants is to do his time and move on.

Charley himself avoided prison only because Joe took a fall. Now, paranoid that his former protege knows too much, Charley takes Joe on a midnight ride, presenting him with a choice: reaffirm his loyalty by making a contract hit, or else. [Spending five years in prison without talking doesn't show he's loyal, but killing some stranger does?] But Joe is no killer; seizing an unguarded moment, he breaks free, [Breaks free of what?] carjacks an SUV, [Where is this midnight ride, downtown Houston?] and escapes. When he abandons the vehicle, he discovers a loaded Uzi and two dozen gold bars. [Most people abandoning a vehicle they car-jacked wouldn't hang around searching it on the off chance that there are gold bars in the trunk or under the passenger seat.]

Joe is elated, then dubious. Is the gold stolen?--probably. Can he fence it?--not quickly. Without certificates of assay, complications would arise. [My admittedly limited research reveals that certificates of assay are rarely provided or expected, especially not with bars big enough to be worth two million dollars per two dozen.] Word would leak out, Charley would hear. And what about the guy Joe car-jacked? [Maybe he was just delivering the gold bars to someone who ordered them online.] [Possible subplot: a guy's boss tells him to hire an armored truck to transport two dozen gold bars across town. But the guy thinks, Hey, I'll drive them over myself, after work, and pocket the armored truck fee. So he's driving across town in his SUV at midnight with the gold bars in a grocery bag, and as he's eating a Taco Bell Volcano Burrito at a red light, suddenly a guy jumps out of the car next to him and pulls him out of his SUV and takes off. So now he's standing there with beans and sauce all over his shirt, wondering how he's gonna explain to his boss that he lost the gold bars.] [It suddenly occurs to me that this guy's story is far more interesting than Joe's story. Can we make Joe the subplot?]

Instead of peddling the gold, Joe plays on Charley's greed. He enlists Molly Teague--an old flame--to pitch a phony land deal, conning Charley into holding the gold as collateral for a two-million-dollar loan. [If you'll lend me two million dollars to buy a plot of land, I'll let you hold onto these gold bars for which I have no proof of ownership and which I don't want to use to buy the land.] Once the money is wired to an offshore account, Joe and Molly will go their separate ways--

--and Joe will tip the FBI to the illicit treasure sitting in Charley's bank. [If I'm Molly, I'm not going my separate way unless that was my offshore account the money went to.] So long, Charley. [If Charley accepts the gold as collateral on a loan, wouldn't the FBI be more interested in the borrower than the lender?]

It almost works.

TEXAS TANGO is an 82,000-word crime novel. Thank you for your time.

Yours truly,


Is the person Joe is supposed to kill in the car with him and Charley? If not, why does he need to escape? He could just say, Okay, I'll kill whoever, and then disappear.

Does Joe have a gun when he steals the SUV? Because it seems to me the guy driving around with stolen gold bars is more likely to be armed than the guy on parole.

Many of my annoying questions undoubtedly are easily answered. You don't need to answer them in the query, but if you can answer a couple and eliminate whatever inspired a couple, it will seem less preposterous. 


Anonymous said...

You may want to do some fact checking on the parole part. Six months parole sounds rather . . . .light. Usually, a person either "kills their number" and is released with no parole or they take parole in lieu of the rest of their time in prison. Most people in prison would say . . . I'll spend six more months here, get good time credit and be free as a bird in the rhree months rather than answer to a parole officer for six months. . . which I doubt would be offered.

I've heard of 3, 5, 10 and even life on parole but six months on parole in a half-way house? i don't think so.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Here are things I've found in used or rented cars:

A small Darth Vader with one leg missing.

A receipt from a wire service for sending $150 to Senegal.

One platform shoe, beige.

Kenny Rogers' Greatest Hits.

Here are things I have not found:

Loaded Uzis and gold bars.

This doesn't sound believable to me. It's the kind of thing that Donald Westlake used to get away with because he had seniority and no one could stop him, but nowadays, I can't see it flying. If your protag actually did something (other than commit an apparently unrelated crime) to get the gold and the Uzi, it might work.

And if the guy is in a halfway house and just wants to do his time and go free, I'm having a hard time buying a situation in which carjacking seems like a good idea. Why not walk, run, take a bus, crawl through a culvert?

Probably Joe's actions make more sense in the novel than they're making in the query.

Anonymous said...

This query bothers me for the same reason the opening did (Continue and Opening, not yet posted). I don't get a feel for the main character, Joe Fane. He stumbles onto the gold, the con job doesn't sound terribly exciting, and the final crushing blow to Charley is an anonymous tip to the FBI?

Other than being elated and then dubious, Joe's emotions are non-existent. Revenge? Greed? Hate? Boredom and ennui?

I'm sure it's more exciting in the book; the query needs to reflect that.

In my humble opinion.

none said...

If he can't sell the gold without these certificates, what makes it possible for him to get Charley to accept them as collateral? If the guy's a banker, he'll know more about gold than Joe does.

The whole phony land deal thing sounds highly contrived as a way to turn the gold into money. Why not ransom it back to the owner? Or turn it into the cops for a reward?

John said...

"...the guy driving around with stolen gold bars is more likely to be armed than the guy on parole..."

If this is Texas, even that driver's dog would be armed. And would probably be a decent marks dog.

Anonymous said...

Author here:

@Evil Editor. Thank you for your comments. For what it’s worth—

I chose Shyler because it was close to Shyster and Shylock without being either.

Charley will video the killing; he’ll sleep better knowing he’s holding that over Joe’s head.

Before Joe abandons the SUV, he wipes it down to remove his prints; in doing so, he finds the weapon and gold.

In reality, gold bars are marked to show weight, purity, and foundry; the bars Joe finds have no markings and are in fact crudely cast. To introduce that story element into the query--that is, to get into the provenance of the bars--would push me past the 250-word limit I was trying to hold. So I shorthanded it by referencing the lack of documents.

The gold bars don’t just pop up from nowhere; they are the MacGuffin in a subplot that intersects and interweaves with the Joe/Charley story clear to the end, in fact, sharing the same climax.

Same goes for the phony land deal—it’s part of a subplot that develops Molly Teague’s motivation for swindling Charley Shyler, and the reasons (besides his overwhelming greed) he falls for it.

Yes, it is Molly’s offshore account the money goes to.

In a minor subplot, Joe is hounded by an investigator with the Texas Rangers (in the query, I said FBI because it’s shorter; I should maybe quit doing that) who faults him for taking the fall that let Charley Shyler off the hook years before. As Joe leaves the country (to meet up with Molly, who has the cash), he will drop a dime on Charley and tell the ranger that the banker is holding a hoard of unregistered gold. As the query implies, the plan fails, but by story’s end, Joe engineers a different, more gratifying comeuppance for Charley, without employing jail time, gunplay, or deus ex machina.

Thanks again for your comments and suggestions. I tried to follow advice you gave several weeks ago: ten sentences on one page that focus on the main character; who is he, what he wants, what’s stopping him, what he plans to do about it. The question that arises, though, is how far into the weeds do we wander? At some point, motivations, set-ups, etc. must go unsupplied, lest we wind up with a detailed synopsis that will be rejected because it’s too long.

Anonymous said...

Addendum to author’s previous post:

Here’s my question:

At what point in a query do we stop revealing story beats? It seems to me, the purpose of the query is not to prompt an agent to sign the author on the spot, but to think, “Wow, I can sell this story,” and request the full manuscript.

We are counseled that brevity in a query is paramount. But brevity necessarily gives rise to unanswered questions; if they’re of an inconsequential nature—and not some jaw-dropping logical disconnect—will an agent (some, all, few, none?) let the full manuscript speak for itself?

Or not?